Native American

Native American
Origin Myths
What is a Myth?
• It is a traditional story
that usually has a hero
or heroine (main
character) with
supernatural powers. It
is different from fairy
tales because it seeks to
explain a practice or
belief the culture holds
on to, or a natural
• Myths are those accounts
which portray the earliest
possible time, including
creation stories. Other
myths account for the
organization of the world
and society, for instance
how men and women
were created and why
they are different from
one another.
Origin Myths
• Are myths that explain
how life began they
include phenomena
- Customs
- Religious Rites
- Natural Landmarks
- Events beyond people’s
• Different tribes have
different origin myths.
The need to find a
purpose and meaning in
existence is a universal
In a nutshell
• Myths are created to explain the unexplainable.
• The first native American literary texts were
offered orally, and they link the people with the
plants and animals, the rivers and rocks, and all
things believed significant in the life of America’s
first people. The texts tie Indian people to the
earth and its life through a spiritual kinship with
the living and dead relatives of Native Americans.
Coyote, raven, fox, hawk, turtle, rabbit and other
animal characters in stories are considered by
many Native Americans to be their relatives.
Basic Native American Beliefs
• There were a few beliefs that were common to
most Native Americans. All tribes had some sort
of creation myth, which explained how they the
world was made and what their place was in the
world. [Some myths explained that tribes or
families were descended from animal spirits these animals became "totem animals" that
protected your family.] Tribes believed that they
had been given their land and the animals on it
by the Creator. [That is why they did not want to
be forced off their land.] They believed that the
spirits of their ancestors watched over them.
Literary Terms
• Archetype - archetypes are
universal symbols, motifs or
themes that may be found
among many different
cultures. They recur in the
myths of people worldwide.
• Guerin, Wilfred L., et al.
"Mythological and Archetypal
Approaches." A Handbook of
Critical Approaches to
Literature. NY: Harper & Row,
1979: 157-161
• What would be an example
of an archetype?
Examples of archetypes
• Tree: denotes life of the
cosmos; growth;
proliferation; symbol of
• Water: birth-deathresurrection; creation;
purification and
redemption; fertility
and growth.
• Numbers:
• 4 - associated with the
circle, life cycle, four
seasons; female
principle, earth, nature,
The Tree
• Buddha received
• The Cedar Forest is the
enlightenment sitting
realm of the gods in
under a tree.
The Epic of Gilgamesh.
• Adam and Eve ate from
the tree of knowledge
and were expelled from
Significance of the Tree to Native
• The tree links the three parts of the universe. The
underworld is a dangerous place, the middle world
is where humans dwell, and the sky world is where
the powerful deities rule.
• Some tribes believe in reincarnation where
people could be reborn as a person or animal.
Others believe that the spirit leaves for
another world while others remain as ghosts.
Native Americans
• They had a deep
respect for nature and
its interconnection to
the world of spirit
• Animals have spirits
• THINK: What do these
cultures value, believe
to be important