Cosmology: Cherokee

Whether you believe in God, flying spaghetti monsters, or absolutely bugger all, the world’s various creation myths (and their associated heroes and villains) make for fantastic reading. Here is the universe and all its quirks according to the Native Americans of the Appalachia, the Cherokee:

S Memo_06The Milky Way is a trail of corn left by a villainous dog. The animal was caught stealing food from a mill by a group of people, and, after being whipped by the workers, he fled to the north, dropping corn from his mouth as he ran. The Cherokee refer to the Milky Way as the path “where the dog ran”.

The Pleiades, or M45, is one of the most prominent star clusters in the night sky. The Cherokee believe that six of the stars are boys, who performed a ‘feather dance’ in protest at being offered stones for dinner by their mothers, and floated away from the Earth. The Pleiades are known as ‘the Boys’ in the Cherokee tongue.

Interestingly, the creation of the pine tree ties into the myth surrounding the Pleiades. A seventh boy was prevented from completing the feather dance by his mother, who hauled him back to Earth with such force that he sank into the ground. His mother’s tears eventually caused a tree to spring forth from the boy’s resting place.

“The pine is of the same nature as the stars, and holds in itself the same bright light.”

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The highlight of the Cherokee creation myth is undoubtedly the life cycle of the Earth. The Cherokee believed that our world is a floating island in a vast ocean of water. The Earth is attached, via a rawhide cord hanging from a rocky sky, to the four sacred directions; north, east, south, and west.

As the world ages, so does the cord. When the rope breaks, the Earth is plunged into the ocean, and all life is extinguished.

The Moon appears to be linked to sporting competition in Cherokee myths. A player, fearing his team would lose a ball game against a rival town, attempted to throw the ball (illegally) into his opponents’ goal; he missed, and the ball became lodged in the sky vault, creating the Moon. Our lonely satellite serves as a constant reminder that cheating is wrong.

The Sun was plucked from a nebulous realm “above the rainbow”, where the animals dwelled before descending to the Earth. It was positioned on a road running east to west across the sky. However, the Sun’s path was too close to the ground, and the crawfish had its back scorched red.

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The Sun was lifted higher in the sky by the sorcerers and wise men, until it reached the height of four men. There, presumably, is where it remains to this day.

The occurrence of lunar and solar eclipses was attributed to a giant frog, who was trying to consume the Moon or the Sun. The Cherokee warded off the gluttonous amphibian by making as much noise as possible:

“The people would come together and fire guns and beat the drum, and […] this would frighten off the great frog and the Sun would be all right again.”

Interesting how the mention of guns in the above quote brings one crashing back to Earth.


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