Creation myths are connected with religion because that is how the earliest human beings thought, with dreams and reality intertwined and meaning picked from anywhere that seemed suitable at the time, with no particular attempt to find something better. Myth were a way to explain their rituals and/or ceremonies and rituals achieved mythical explanations. The purpose of this paper is to explain what a myth is, how it plays a role in religion and to understand how creation myth are viewed through the eyes of the Cherokee people. The paper will then give a brief history, location and belief system about the Cherokee people. Finally, the paper will discuss how one ceremony in particular plays a role in their creation myth. The Island in the Sky: Understanding Creation Myths of the Cherokee People
The term “myth” has a variety of definitions, based on the context. Yet, the most common definition would be a myth being described as a belief of a legendary story or figure. A myth expresses and confirms society’s religious values and norms; it provides a pattern of behavior to mimic. Some myths focus on creation of earth, the origin of humans and God or goddess. Opinions towards myths vary. Some regard it as a source of spiritual growth, while others see it as falsehood.
The concept of a myth is essential for understanding religion. Without this understanding, it is impossible to see the power of a religion and how it can go through generation after generation. The power of a religion lies in its stories, not directly as stories, but as carriers of truth. For example, think of the story of Job, which had a deep reaction with Christians. It brings something of meaning, of human suffering and of God’s role in it, but it is far from clear what that meaning is. Its possible to say, that on whatever grounds that scriptural narratives of events are false, it’s no less possible to say that they stand true. Some have a deeper meaning; strongly important to human understanding and the task should be to try finding those meanings.
The most common creation myth that I am familiar with, is Christian mythology of how God created the world. It is the most fascinating story of all times. According to the Holy Bible, in Genesis 1:1-2:3, we learn from the text that the earth was formless, empty and dark and God’s spirit moved over the waters preparing to create this creative world. He created this world in only six days. On Day one, God created light and separated the light from the darkness, calling light ‘day’ and darkness “night” (Genesis 1:1-5 NASB). Day two, God created an expanse to separate the waters and called it “sky’ (Genesis 1:6-8 NASB). Day three, God created the dry ground and gathered the waters, calling the dry ground ‘land,’ and the gathered waters ‘seas.’ God also created vegetation, plants and trees (Genesis 1:9-13 NASB). Day four ,God created the sun, moon, and the stars to give light to the earth and to govern and separate the day and the night (Genesis 1:14-19 NASB). These would also serve as signs to mark seasons, days, and years. Day five, God created every living creature of the seas and every winged bird, blessing them to multiply and fill the waters and the sky with life (Genesis 1:20-23 NASB). Day six, God created the animals to fill the earth and also created man and woman (Adam and Eve) in his own image to commune with him. He blessed them and gave them every creature and the whole earth to rule over, care for, and cultivate (Genesis 1:24-31NASB). And on the seventh day God rested (Genesis 2:1-3 NASB).
The Cherokee Indians were the largest and most advanced of the tribes when the Europeans first arrived and came in contact with Native Americans. Cherokee Indians are a tribe that originated in the Southeastern United States. When gold was discovered on Cherokee lands in the early 1830s, the Indian Removal Act was passed. Many fled to North Carolina or the Appalachian Mountains to avoid being forcefully relocated. In 1835, some of the Cherokee Indians signed a treaty with the United States giving the US all of the Cherokee land east of the Mississippi, plus $5 million, relocation assistance and compensation for lost property. (“history.com, Aug 29,2018”). Most of the Cherokee did not want to do this, but they had no choice. In 1838, the US army forced the Cherokee nation to move from their homes in the Southeast all the way to the state of Oklahoma. Over 4,000 Cherokee people died in this march to Oklahoma. Today the forced march is known as The Trail of Tears. The Cherokee’s traditional lands are in the southern Appalachian Mountains; western North and South Carolina, northern Georgia and Alabama, southwest Virginia, and the Cumberland Basin of Tennessee, Kentucky and northern Alabama (“Cherokee History, 2-28-96”).
The creation myth of the Cherokee Indians is very interesting. They believe that the earth is a big island floating in the sea, suspended at each of the four cardinal points by a cord hanging down from the sky, which is of solid rock. It was dark all the time, so God told the animals and plants to stay awake for seven days and nights but some of the animals and plants couldn’t do it. The animals who stayed awake (mostly the owls and panthers) and the plants were rewarded by God. The animals were able to see in the darkness and the plants were able to keep their leaves all year long (pine trees, laurels and cedar) while other plants lost their leaves every winter. The Cherokee believe that when people die and the world is old and worn-out, the cords will break and the earth will sink into the sea (Carr, 9-10-2018)
The Cherokee are a highly spiritual religious group. They concoct a variety of legends around nature, with many utilizing the number seven or four. They also placed admiration on the owl and panther. According to their creation belief, it took seven days for humans to be made, and the owl and cougar were the only animals capable of staying awake during that period of time. Cherokee believe is the premise that good is rewarded and evil is punished. They believe in the Creator Spirit, God. The Cherokee religion uses these same beliefs today.
The Cherokee are religious people who believe in spirits. They perform ceremonies in order to ask the spirits to help them. They would have special ceremonies before going to battle, leaving on a hunt, and when trying to heal sick people. They would often dress up and dance to music during the ceremonies. The most important celebration is called the Green Corn Ceremony, which thanks the spirits for their harvest of corn.
Right after the world was made, Selu, who is referred to as the “Corn goddess,” was the first female. Selu was able to make corn from rubbing her stomach and made beans from rubbing her sides. When she died, her son and his friend were to take her body and drag it in a circle seven times, and then drag her body in a circle over soil seven times. If they did this and stayed up all night, then a crop of corn would appear in the morning. Since the boys failed to follow the instructions, corn will only grow in certain parts of the earth and not overnight (“Cherokee-Mytholgy, n.d.) Selu is a very important part of the Cherokee Indians and that is why they have the Green Corn ceremony to thank her spirit for the production of corn.