American Indian Myths

Updated February 21, 2017 | Factmonster Staff

American Indian tribes share many myths. If a myth is exclusive to one tribe, the tribe is listed in parenthesis.

The Great Spirit in some form or name is found in most American Indian beliefs. It is the unknown power that is found in everything—the air, a rock, the sky. The Great Spirit is often seen as the great creator of life and the universe, aided by other spirits who are in charge of more specific things, such as stars, water, or trees. The Cheyenne call the Great Spirit Heammawihio; the Shawnee, Finisher; and the Algonquin, Gitche Manitou.

Coyote was a popular spirit among western tribes such as the Navajo, Zuni, Sioux, and Chinook. A sly trickster, he made life more interesting for people. Coyote was responsible for sorrow and death, but also for the creation of humans and the Milky Way. There are many stories of Coyote’s mischievous trickery and his contributions to the world.

Raven seemed to have his beak into everything, and like Coyote, was somewhat wily. He could change into a bird, a human or an animal. Raven could bring both good and evil. Always hungry, his search for food often got him into a lot of trouble. Raven was found mainly in Pacific Northwest and southeastern Alaska tribes.

Skywoman (Iroquois) fell through a hole in the sky to a dark watery Earth populated only by animals. Birds caught her and put her on a giant turtle’s back. The turtle grew bigger and became the land. The hole Skywoman fell through brought light to the world, and the beginning of Earth as we know it.

Kachinas (Hopi) are spirits that lived in and controlled everything—the sky, water, plants, animals. The kachinas protected humans and brought them good fortune. Today, the Hopi give their children kachina dolls to teach them about different spirits.

Aningan (Eskimo) is the most important Eskimo god and the Moon spirit. He was a hunter and he also chased his sister, the Sun, around the North Pole during the brief Arctic summer. She was unable to go over the horizon and the Sun never set.

The Breathmaker (Seminole) or Creator, made humans out of clay. He also blew across the heavens and created the Milky Way. When a good Seminole died the Big Dipper becoame a boat and sailed the soul across the Milky Way to the City in the Sky.

Windigo (Ojibwa, Algonquin) was a huge evil demon who wandered the winter woods in search of humans to eat. In a sort of werewolf or vampire way, if a person was bitten by Windigo, he turned into one.

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