Michael Delahoyde, PhD

Professor of English

Cherokee Creation Myth

As recorded by a late 19th-century ethnologist, anyway, this is the cosmology:

The earth is a great island floating in a sea of water, and suspended at each of the four cardinal points by a cord hanging down from the sky vault, which is of solid rock. When the world grows old and worn out, the people will die and the cords will break and let the earth sink down into the ocean, and all will be water again. The indians are afraid of this.

For comparative mythological consideration, gauge a series of creation stories according to how stable they portray the world. For example, if Genesis has the void, or chaos, preceding God’s separations and divisions into order, then what deep-rooted Western cultural fear is being expressed? In the Cherokee story, the sky vault is made of “solid rock,” so that’s reassuring; yet those cords won’t last forever. Always note how precarious a culture’s cosmos is.

There’s a certain “mythological sense” to aspects in these stories, a wisdom commonly dismissed because it does not function in the scientific paradigm with which we currently try to comprehend our world (as if DNA were any more an “explanation” of anything than “the four humours”).

This story gives etiological explanations for topography (why we have mountains and valleys — the Great Buzzard’s flapping), for dietary custom (why the Cherokee do not eat crawfish), for animal talents (certain ones stayed awake several nights as commanded and receive nocturnal vision). There’s an element of trial-and-error intead of a Creator’s pre-omniscience (the sun’s path needs adjusting, as do the original human breeding rates) and an awareness that overpopulation is a disaster.

“How the World Was Made.” The Portable North American Indian Reader. Ed. Frederick Turner. NY: Penguin Books, 1977. 86-88.

Creation Myths