Much of the mythology of the Iroquois (a confederacy of originally Five, later Six Nations of Native Americans) has been lost. Some of their religious stories have been preserved, including creation stories and some folktales.
Hahgwehdiyu is the creator god. He was said to have planted a single maize plant in the body of his mother Atahensic. This plant was a gift to mankind. In many variants of the creation myth, Atahensic (also known as Ataensic) was a Sky Woman who fell to the Earth. She died in childbirth and her body fertilized the earth so that her granddaughters could grow many things.
Hahgwehdiyu has an evil twin brother named Hahgwehdaetgan.
Gaol is the personification of the wind. Gohone is the personification of the winter. Adekagagwaa is the personification of the summer. Onatha is a patron of farmers, particularly farmers of wheat. A giant named Tarhuhyiawahku held the sky up.
The Jogah are nature spirits, similar to nymphs and fairies. Ha Wen Neyu is the “Great Spirit”.
The first people were created by Iosheka, a beneficent god who healed disease, defeated demons, and gave many of the Iroquois magical and ceremonial rituals. Another of his gifts was tobacco, which has been used as a central part of the Iroquois religion. This god is also venerated in Huron mythology.
The North Wind is personified by a bear spirit named Ya-o-gah. He lived in a cave and was controlled by Gah-oh. Ya-o-gah could destroy the world with his fiercely cold breath, but is kept in check by Gah-oh.
Sosondowah was a great hunter (known for stalking a supernatural elk) who was captured by Dawn, a goddess who needed him as a watchman. He fell in love with Gendenwitha (“she who brings the day”; alternate spelling: Gendewitha), a human woman. He tried to woo her with a song. In spring, he sang as a bluebird, in summer as a blackbird and in autumn as a hawk, who then tried to take Gendenwitha with him to the sky. Dawn tied him to her doorpost. She changed Gendenwitha into the Morning Star, so the hunter could watch her all night but never be with her.
Virginia surveyor William Byrd II, in his History of the Dividing Line Betwixt North Carolina and Virginia (1728), recorded a tradition of a former religious leader, which had been current among the Tuscarora tribe. They were an Iroquoian-speaking tribe that, although historically in North Carolina, because of warfare migrated to join the rest of the Iroquois Confederacy in New York. In this account, many centuries before their tribe had become so dishonest that no man’s property nor wife was considered inviolate,
, their God, being unwilling to root them out for their crimes, did them the honour to send a Messenger from Heaven to instruct them, and set Them a perfect Example of Integrity and kind Behavior towards one another. But this holy Person, with all his Eloquence and Sanctity of Life, was able to make very little Reformation amongst them. Some few Old Men did listen a little to his Wholesome Advice, but all the Young fellows were quite incorrigible. They not only Neglected his Precepts, but derided and Evil Entreated his Person. At last, taking upon him to reprove some Young Rakes of the Conechta Clan very sharply for their impiety, they were so provok’d at the Freedom of his Rebukes, that they tied him to a Tree, and shot him with Arrows through the Heart. But their God took instant vengeance on all who had a hand in that Monstrous Act, by Lightning from Heaven, & has ever since visited their Nation with a continued Train of Calamities, nor will he ever leave off punishing, and wasting their people, till he shall have blotted every living Soul of them out of the World."1
The Great Peacemaker
1.Jump up ^ William Byrd II, History of the Dividing Line, entry for Nov. 12, 1728.
League of the Iroquois
Clan mother ·
Great Law of Peace ·
Great Peacemaker ·
Settlement of the northern shores of Lake Ontario ·
Categories: Iroquois mythology