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Collection: Sacred Formulas of the Cherokee

Cherokee Bear Song

This song, obtained from A’yû´nini in connection with the Cherokee story of the Origin of the Bear, as already mentioned, is sung by the bear hunter, in order to attract the bears, while on his way from the camp to the place where he expects to hunt during the day.

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Plants Used in Cherokee Medicine

Discover your family's story. Enter a grandparent's name to get started. Start Now The results obtained from a careful study of this list may be summarized as follows: Of the twenty plants described as used by the Cherokees, seven (Nos. 2, 4, 5, 13, 15, 17, and 20) are not noticed in the Dispensatory even in the list of plants sometimes used although regarded as not official. It is possible that one or two of these seven plants have medical properties, but this can hardly be true of a larger number unless we are disposed to believe that the Indians are better informed in this regard than the best educated white physicians in the country. Two of these seven plants, however (Nos. 2 and 4), belong to genera which seem to have some of the properties ascribed by the Indians to the species. Five others of the list (Nos. 8, 9, 11, 14, and 16) are used for entirely wrong purposes, taking the Dispensatory as authority, and three of these are evidently used on account of some fancied connection between the plant and the disease, according to the doctrine of signatures. Three of the remainder (Nos. 1, 3, and 6) may be classed as uncertain in their properties, that is, while the plants themselves seem to possess some medical value, the Indian mode of application is so far at...

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The Cherokee Religion

Discover your family's story. Enter a grandparent's name to get started. Start Now It is impossible to overestimate the ethnologic importance of the materials thus obtained. They are invaluable as the genuine production of the Indian mind, setting forth in the clearest light the state of the aboriginal religion before its contamination by contact with the whites. To the psychologist and the student of myths they are equally precious. In regard to their linguistic value we may quote the language of Brinton, speaking of the sacred books of the Mayas, already referred to: Another value they have… and it is one which will be properly appreciated by any student of languages. They are, by common consent of all competent authorities, the genuine productions of native minds, cast in the idiomatic forms of the native tongue by those born to its use. No matter how fluent a foreigner becomes in a language not his own, he can never use it as does one who has been familiar with it from childhood. This general maxim is tenfold true when we apply it to a European learning an American language. The flow of thought, as exhibited in these two linguistic families, is in such different directions that no amount of practice can render one equally accurate in both. Hence the importance of studying a tongue as it is employed by natives; and...

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The Inâli Manuscript

Discover your family's story. Enter a grandparent's name to get started. Start Now The Inâli Manuscript In the course of further inquiries in regard to the whereabouts of other manuscripts of this kind we heard a great deal about Inâ´li, or “Black Fox,” who had died a few years before at an advanced age, and who was universally admitted to have been one of their most able men and the most prominent literary character among them, for from what has been said it must be sufficiently evident that the Cherokees have their native literature and literary men. Like those already mentioned, he was a full-blood Cherokee, speaking no English, and in the course of a long lifetime he had filled almost every position of honor among his people, including those of councilor, keeper of the townhouse records, Sunday-school leader, conjurer, officer in the Confederate service, and Methodist preacher, at last dying, as he was born, in the ancient faith of his forefathers. On inquiring of his daughter she stated that her father had left a great many papers, most of which were still in her possession, and on receiving from the interpreter an explanation of our purpose she readily gave permission to examine and make selections from them on condition that the matter should be kept secret from outsiders. A day was appointed for visiting her, and on arriving...

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Other Manuscripts Used in Cherokee Formulas

Discover your family's story. Enter a grandparent's name to get started. Start Now Subsequently a few formulas were obtained from an old shaman named Tsiskwa or “Bird,” but they were so carelessly written as to be almost worthless, and the old man who wrote them, being then on his dying bed, was unable to give much help in the matter. However, as he was anxious to tell what he knew an attempt was made to take down some formulas from his dictation. A few more were obtained in this way but the results were not satisfactory and the experiment was abandoned. About the same time A’wani´ta or “Young Deer,” one of their best herb doctors, was engaged to collect the various plants used in medicine and describe their uses. While thus employed he wrote in a book furnished him for the purpose a number of formulas used by him in his practice, giving at the same time a verbal explanation of the theory and ceremonies. Among these was one for protection in battle, which had been used by himself and a number of other Cherokees in the late war. Another doctor named Takwati´hi or “Catawba Killer,” was afterward employed on the same work and furnished some additional formulas which he had had his son write down from his dictation, he himself being unable to write. His knowledge was limited...

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Ceremonies for Gathering Plants and Preparing Medicine

Discover your family's story. Enter a grandparent's name to get started. Start Now There are a number of ceremonies and regulations observed in connection with the gathering of the herbs, roots, and barks, which can not be given in detail within the limits of this paper. In searching for his medicinal plants the shaman goes provided with a number of white and red beads, and approaches the plant from a certain direction, going round it from right to left one or four times, reciting certain prayers the while. He then pulls up the plant by the roots and drops one of the beads into the hole and covers it up with the loose earth. In one of the formulas for hunting ginseng the hunter addresses the mountain as the “Great Man” and assures it that he comes only to take a small piece of flesh (the ginseng) from its side, so that it seems probable that the bead is intended as a compensation to the earth for the plant thus torn from her bosom. In some cases the doctor must pass by the first three plants met until he comes to the fourth, which he takes and may then return for the others. The bark is always taken from the east side of the tree, and when the root or branch is used it must also be one which...

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The Cherokee Alphabet

Discover your family's story. Enter a grandparent's name to get started. Start Now The sacred Cherokee formulas had been handed down orally from a remote antiquity until the early part of the present century, when the invention of the Cherokee syllabary enabled the priests of the tribe to put them into writing. The same invention made it possible for their rivals, the missionaries, to give to the Indians the Bible in their own language, so that the opposing forces of Christianity and shamanism alike profited by the genius of Sikwâya (Sequoyah). The pressure of the new civilization was too strong to be withstood, however, and though the prophets of the old religion still have much influence with the people, they are daily losing ground and will soon be without honor in their own country. Such an exposition of the aboriginal religion could be obtained from no other tribe in North America, for the simple reason that no other tribe has an alphabet of its own in which to record its sacred lore. It is true that the Crees and Micmacs of Canada and the Tukuth of Alaska have so-called alphabets or ideographic systems invented for their use by the missionaries, while, before the Spanish conquest, the Mayas of Central America were accustomed to note down their hero legends and priestly ceremonials in hieroglyphs graven upon the walls of their...

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Cherokee Formula to Frighten Away A Storm

Discover your family's story. Enter a grandparent's name to get started. Start Now Cherokee Formula for This Is To Frighten A Storm Yuhahi´, yuhahi´, yuhahi´, yuhahi´, yuhahi´, Yuhahi´, yuhahi´, yuhahi´, yuhahi´, yuhahi´-Yû! Listen! O now you are coming in rut. Ha! I am exceedingly afraid of you. But yet you are only tracking your wife. Her footprints can be seen there directed upward toward the heavens. I have pointed them out for you. Let your paths stretch out along the tree tops (?) on the lofty mountains (and) you shall have them (the paths) lying down without being disturbed, Let (your path) as you go along be where the waving branches meet. Listen! Explanation of This Is To Frighten A Storm This formula, from A’yû´nini’s book, is for driving away, or “frightening” a storm, which threatens to injure the growing corn. The first part is a meaningless song, which is sung in a low tone in the peculiar style of most of the sacred songs. The storm, which is not directly named, is then addressed and declared to be coming on in a fearful manner on the track of his wife, like an animal in the rutting season. The shaman points out her tracks directed toward the upper regions and begs the storm spirit to follow her along the waving tree tops of the lofty mountains, where he shall...

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Importance Attached To Names in Cherokee Formulas

Discover your family's story. Enter a grandparent's name to get started. Start Now In many of the Cherokee formulas, especially those relating to love and to life-destroying, the shaman mentions the name and clan of his client, of the intended victim, or of the girl whose affections it is desired to win. The Indian regards his name, not as a mere label, but as a distinct part of his personality, just as much as are his eyes or his teeth, and believes that injury will result as surely from the malicious handling of his name as from a wound inflicted on any part of his physical organism. This belief was found among the various tribes from the Atlantic to the Pacific, and has occasioned a number of curious regulations in regard to the concealment and change of names. It may be on this account that both Powhatan and Pocahontas are known in history under assumed appellations, their true names having been concealed from the whites until the pseudonyms were too firmly established to be supplanted. Should his prayers have no apparent effect when treating a patient for some serious illness, the shaman sometimes concludes that the name is affected, and accordingly goes to water, with appropriate ceremonies, and christens the patient with a new name, by which he is henceforth to be known. He then begins afresh, repeating the...

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Cherokee Formula for Song For Painting

Discover your family's story. Enter a grandparent's name to get started. Start Now Cherokee Formula for Song For Painting Yû´nwehi, yû´nwehi, yû´nwehi, yû´nwehi. I am come from above-Yû´nwehi, yû´nwehi, yû´nwehi, yû´nwehi. I am come down from the Sun Land-Yû´nwehi. O Red Age’yagu´ga, you have come and put your red spittle upon my body-Yû´nwehi, yû´nwehi, yû´nwehi. And this above is to recite while one is painting himself. Explanation of Song For Painting This formula, from Gatigwanasti, immediately follows the one last given (For going to water), in the manuscript book, and evidently comes immediately after it also in practical use. The expressions used have been already explained. The one using the formula first bathes in the running stream, reciting at the same time the previous formula “Amâ´yi A´tawasti´yi.” He then repairs to some convenient spot with his paint, beads, and other paraphernalia and proceeds to adorn himself for the dance, which usually begins about an hour after dark, but is not fairly under way until nearly midnight. The refrain, yû´nwehi, is probably sung while mixing the paint, and the other portion is recited while applying the pigment, or vice versa. Although these formula are still in use, the painting is now obsolete, beyond an occasional daubing of the face, without any plan or pattern, on the occasion of a dance or ball play. Cherokee Original (YÛ´nWE´HI UGÛ´nWA’LI II.) Yû´nwehi, yû´nwehi,...

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Cherokee Treatment for Gunwani’ Gistu’ni

Discover your family's story. Enter a grandparent's name to get started. Start Now Cherokee Treatment for Gunwani’ Gistu’ni Yû! Listen! Quickly you have drawn near to hearken, O Blue Sparrow-Hawk; in the spreading tree tops you are at rest. Quickly you have come down. The intruder is only a bird which has overshadowed him. Swiftly you have swooped down upon it. Relief is accomplished. Yû! Yû! Listen! Quickly you have drawn near to hearken, O Brown Rabbit-Hawk; you are at rest there above. Ha! Swiftly now you have come down. It is only the birds which have come together for a council. Quickly you have come and scattered them. Relief is accomplished. Yû! Explanation of Gunwani’ Gistu’ni This formula, also for Gûnwani´gistû´ni or Atawine´hi, was obtained from A’wan´ita (Young Deer), who wrote down only the prayer and explained the treatment orally. He coincides in the opinion that this disease in children is caused by the birds, but says that it originates from the shadow of a bird flying overhead having fallen upon the pregnant mother. He says further that the disease is easily recognized in children, but that it sometimes does not develop until the child has attained maturity, when it is more difficult to discern the cause of the trouble, although in the latter case dark circles around the eyes are unfailing symptoms. The prayer-like several others from...

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