Support 100 years of independent journalism.

  1. World
  2. Americas
  3. North America
2 April 2007updated 27 Sep 2015 5:44am

Cherokee myths, legends and superstitions

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

By Kathy Van Buskirk

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.

Select and enter your email address Quick and essential guide to domestic and global politics from the New Statesman's politics team. A weekly newsletter helping you fit together the pieces of the global economic slowdown. The New Statesman’s global affairs newsletter, every Monday and Friday. The best of the New Statesman, delivered to your inbox every weekday morning. The New Statesman’s weekly environment email on the politics, business and culture of the climate and nature crises - in your inbox every Thursday. Our weekly culture newsletter – from books and art to pop culture and memes – sent every Friday. A weekly round-up of some of the best articles featured in the most recent issue of the New Statesman, sent each Saturday. A newsletter showcasing the finest writing from the ideas section and the NS archive, covering political ideas, philosophy, criticism and intellectual history - sent every Wednesday. Sign up to receive information regarding NS events, subscription offers & product updates.
  • Administration / Office
  • Arts and Culture
  • Board Member
  • Business / Corporate Services
  • Client / Customer Services
  • Communications
  • Construction, Works, Engineering
  • Education, Curriculum and Teaching
  • Environment, Conservation and NRM
  • Facility / Grounds Management and Maintenance
  • Finance Management
  • Health - Medical and Nursing Management
  • HR, Training and Organisational Development
  • Information and Communications Technology
  • Information Services, Statistics, Records, Archives
  • Infrastructure Management - Transport, Utilities
  • Legal Officers and Practitioners
  • Librarians and Library Management
  • Management
  • Marketing
  • OH&S, Risk Management
  • Operations Management
  • Planning, Policy, Strategy
  • Printing, Design, Publishing, Web
  • Projects, Programs and Advisors
  • Property, Assets and Fleet Management
  • Public Relations and Media
  • Purchasing and Procurement
  • Quality Management
  • Science and Technical Research and Development
  • Security and Law Enforcement
  • Service Delivery
  • Sport and Recreation
  • Travel, Accommodation, Tourism
  • Wellbeing, Community / Social Services
I consent to New Statesman Media Group collecting my details provided via this form in accordance with the Privacy Policy

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.