Cherokee myths, legends and superstitions

Native American Kathy Van Buskirk explains what her culture and religion mean to her in this week's

I am a full blood Cherokee woman and that is a very special thing to me. In my own way, I feel like I know a lot of the old ways but there are things that I do not fully understand about the Cherokee traditions.

I was born into a family that lived on faith, and being Cherokee there are a lot of things that we do that others don’t. There are things that are done in ways only we would appreciate, for instance, there are certain numbers that play an important role in the Cherokee ceremonies - such as the number four and seven.

They occur in our myths, stories and ceremonies; four represents the four directions (north, east, west, and south). There are also certain colors associated with the four directions.

The number seven represents the seven clans of the Cherokee people and these are: Bird, Deer, Wolf, Longhair, Wild Potato, Blue, and Paint. Other myths, legends, and superstitions are we think the owl is the bearer of bad news or brings bad luck. Because we have been taught that they are messengers which means they bring news.

To us the cedar, pine, spruce, laurel and holly trees have very special powers because the leaves that grow on them stay green all year long. We believe these were the plants that did not sleep for seven nights during the creation. They are some of the most important plants to the native’s medicine and ceremonies.

There are a lot of things that people today consider myths and legends and those are stories like the ones passed down from generation to generation. Natives are very spiritual people and although we can share a few stories, there are a lot of things we are not able to share with others.

Things like these are what we were raised to believe and occasionally I get calls at work from people who want to know of something like our traditions such as: something different that they can do at a funeral or something that is different than in today’s society.

Many people are interested because they are part Cherokee or even another tribe. As an adult now I have many stories and remembrance of things that was taught to us. While growing up I did not think I was any different. People really seem to enjoy hearing stories of things that I thought everyone knew.

Today I like to sit down with the elders if at all possible and listen to their stories, and most of the time we compare our stories. They know so much about things that have happened in their lifetime through what people know today as myths.

So how much are myths and legends? How much is real in our hearts? I think this is something that keeps us unique from all others, but I also know everyone is unique within there own culture. Everyone has a culture to share no matter what that may be and your elders have taught you things only your tribe or culture knows.

Kathy Van Buskirk is a Cherokee from Oklahoma, USA. She has been married for 25 years to Perry. They have two children, Christopher 25 and Melissa 10. She has worked at the Cherokee Heritage Center for 20 years.
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Theresa May is paying the price for mismanaging Boris Johnson

The Foreign Secretary's bruised ego may end up destroying Theresa May. 

And to think that Theresa May scheduled her big speech for this Friday to make sure that Conservative party conference wouldn’t be dominated by the matter of Brexit. Now, thanks to Boris Johnson, it won’t just be her conference, but Labour’s, which is overshadowed by Brexit in general and Tory in-fighting in particular. (One imagines that the Labour leadership will find a way to cope somehow.)

May is paying the price for mismanaging Johnson during her period of political hegemony after she became leader. After he was betrayed by Michael Gove and lacking any particular faction in the parliamentary party, she brought him back from the brink of political death by making him Foreign Secretary, but also used her strength and his weakness to shrink his empire.

The Foreign Office had its responsibility for negotiating Brexit hived off to the newly-created Department for Exiting the European Union (Dexeu) and for navigating post-Brexit trade deals to the Department of International Trade. Johnson was given control of one of the great offices of state, but with no responsibility at all for the greatest foreign policy challenge since the Second World War.

Adding to his discomfort, the new Foreign Secretary was regularly the subject of jokes from the Prime Minister and cabinet colleagues. May likened him to a dog that had to be put down. Philip Hammond quipped about him during his joke-fuelled 2017 Budget. All of which gave Johnson’s allies the impression that Johnson-hunting was a licensed sport as far as Downing Street was concerned. He was then shut out of the election campaign and has continued to be a marginalised figure even as the disappointing election result forced May to involve the wider cabinet in policymaking.

His sense of exclusion from the discussions around May’s Florence speech only added to his sense of isolation. May forgot that if you aren’t going to kill, don’t wound: now, thanks to her lost majority, she can’t afford to put any of the Brexiteers out in the cold, and Johnson is once again where he wants to be: centre-stage. 

Stephen Bush is special correspondent at the New Statesman. His daily briefing, Morning Call, provides a quick and essential guide to domestic and global politics.