Sunday, May 6, 2012

Becoming a Cherokee Medicine Man

a Cherokee Medicine Man
circa 1880
Think you might want to be a Cherokee medicine man?  Are you ready to commit 15 to 20 years studying the 7 disciplines required?  Cherokee medicine, nvwoti (noo wat ee),  is a practice that has developed over the last 3,000 to 4,000 years  and can’t be mastered overnight!  A Cherokee medicine man, Didanawisgi, typically started studying very young as an apprentice with the dream of one day becoming the high master or  Uku!

Following is a list of the seven disciplines as described by Cherokee Medicine and Ethnobotany - ©David Winston, AHG, 2001:

1. Herbal Medicine - an in-depth knowledge of 400-600 plants, their medicinal and ceremonial uses as well as the plants "personality".
2. Physical Medicine - including the unique Cherokee massage (hiskoliya) using persimmon wood stampers, moxabustion, minor surgery, & midwifery.
3. Dreamwork - not only how to interpret dreams, but how to use them for personal growth, healing, and to gain knowledge.
4. Language/Myths/Laws - Cherokee is a language of amazing subtlety and power. The tsila learns not only the subtleties of every day spoken Cherokee, but a separate "medicine" language. Stories, myths, and laws give meaning to the world and help us to understand our place in the Great Life.
5. Ceremonies - the Cherokee traditionally had 7 major ceremonies, 6 of which marked the important yearly cycles, such as the first new moon of Spring, green corn harvest, mature corn harvest, falling leaves festival, and the beginning of winter/exulting ceremony. Many of these ceremonies are still done today and are as meaningful now, if not more so, than in times past. Ceremonial practice also
includes various types of personal, family, community, and national ceremonies that help maintain balance within the individual, the family, the community, and the nation.
6. The laws of nature - keen observers, the Cherokee have for thousands of years paid attention to the world around them. This collected body of knowledge is extensive and it explains why things act as they do and the cause and effect of their interrelationship - why animals behave certain ways, how the sun and moon interrelate, how men and women interact, the nature of water, the fire, the
earth (ela), and so on.
7. Conjuring - although there is no really good word in English to describe this, various words - conjuring, magic, manipulation, partially explain this practice. This is the ability to enlist the aid of spirits and elemental powers to change things, to heal or doctor, to "change one's mind", to bring luck and to protect the sick or weak from negative influences.

The Cherokee credit two sources for much of their knowledge of medicine .First from the plants (refer to  my  April blog, “A Better Healthcare Plan”).  The second from the ancient cannibalistic monster/wizard known as Stone-clad (nvyunuwi).  He was almost impossible to kill because of his incredible wisdom and because he wore  complete body armor made of stone.  But he met his end when he approached a village and the villagers went to their most knowledgeable wizard and asked for his help.  He summoned seven women, from the seven clans who were in their period, and placed them in the path of the advancing Stone-Clad.  James Mooney, in his "Myths of the Cherokee" describes what happened next,

"with each one that he saw his step grew weaker until
when he came to the last one, with whom the sickness had just begun,
the blood poured from his mouth and he fell down on the trail.

Then the medicine-man drove seven sourwood stakes through his
body and pinned him to the ground, and when night came they piled
great logs over him and set fire to them, and all the people gathered
around to see. Nuii'yunu'wi (Stone-Clad) was a great ada'wehi and knew many
secrets, and now as the fire came close to him he began to talk, and
told them the medicine for all kinds of sickness. At midnight he
began to sing, and sang the hunting songs for calling up the bear and
the deer and all the animals of the woods and mountains. As the
blaze grew hotter his voice sank low and lower, until at last when
daylight came, the logs were a heap of white ashes and the voice
was still."

So, the conjures and songs of Stone-clad and the medicinal plants formed the foundation for the last and first disciplines.  The rest were developed over time and taught orally to each generation.  Ready to enroll?


  1. I am so glad Christie told me about your site. (This is Charlotte, Aunt Charlie) as she calls me. My grandfather's mother was Cherokee (on my dad's side). I'm told she was born on the Trail of Tears. She was born in 1864 I think. I can't seem to get the time line to match up. Charlotte Welch

    1. Thanks for your comment, Aunt Charlie! I would love to hear more about your great, grandmother. My relatives actually avoided the trail of tears and left the year before. However, part of my great, great, ... grandmother's family were on the trail of tears. I had the opportunity to see the register when we visited Tahlequah. The family name was Sonicooie.

    2. AdriomarcuswindwalkerchiefsonApril 7, 2014 at 12:23 PM

      I've been quite interested since childhood of becoming a medicine man and daily I step toward my goal making the peace ever prevalent in mine and others lives. The soul seeks.

  2. Hi, my name is Steven Glenn. I am Cherokee by blood. I have been learning the ways of the people over the past year through hands on ceremonial teachings and books from a wide rage of Native individuals from Lakota and some Cherokee. I want to learn more about our Cherokee people. How medicine works in the Cherokee way. Also I was wondering If I had a Cherokee name? My mother would never tell me. My grandmother I know was full blooded Cherokee, but most of that heritage was hidden from me. Also in times of great stress and hard ships I have seen turtles, Alligator Snapping turtles to be exact. When ever i feel defeated, They are there. I was told that it signifies my spirit animal and is where my name would originate. I have a card and am on the roles. I want to learn more. I want to learn medicine. Good medicine. Do you have any guidence?

    1. It sounds like you are on the right path. In the old times, your grandmother would have given you a name at birth. In many families today, that has been lost. To learn good medicine, you must learn from a medicine man. I don't of any books that can teach you. The Swimmer Manuscript does have some of the old conjures. I wish you well in your search.

  3. Make good use of the mirror.

  4. Replies
    1. You must be born into the right clan and be mentored by a medicine man--your uncle on your mother's side.

  5. linda linhawk@outlook.comSeptember 5, 2016 at 6:06 PM

    We have a friend who is Cherokee and is very ill. He would like a medicine man as he has no love for doctors.
    He lives in So. Calif. How do I find someone to help?
    Thank you, L

    1. Search for "Cherokee Nation website" The closest Cherokee Res to you is in Oklahoma. There should be contact info on there. I recently learned my fathers side of our family has Cherokee greatx6 grandmother. Just knowing this has given me strength and explanations to some aspects of my life. Cherokees,Iowa, Na Ni Moytoy -(Elizabeth Goodman)

  6. I have been through a year of hell with someone who pretended to be a Medicine Man. I really would like to speak to an authentic Medicine Man so that the harm that was done can be undone. I am still suffering from the effects of the impostor. Thanks

    1. I say a prayer of cleansing that i read about God. I "ask for sins and mistakes and any negative forces attached to my life to be washed away with The rain of the holy person". The person who wrote this described the rain as something felt, not seen but known (Like God).That mixed with my prayers for my families well being and thankfullness. I do it daily.

    2. Meant^^"Holy Spirit"^^up there.

  7. Osiyo, are there links to books or medicine men and women that would teach the ways of becoming a medicine man/woman

    1. James, I don't know links to recommend, but a couple of good books to start with are "The Night Has A Naked Soul", by Alan Kilpatrick, and "The Swimmer Manuscript" by James Mooney.

  8. Are there any tribes that allow outsiders (non-tribal blood) to come study with them and learn their ways?

  9. I cannot speak for the tribes. Most are justifiably suspicious. The place to start would be at tribal centers, museums, or education facilities.

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  11. I am 16 years old and ever since I started reading Black Elk speaks, I felt the most connected and the most true, deep, emotions that i have ever felt. Ever since then a small voice inside my soul and spirit has been telling me that I have Native American blood running in my veins, and that I was born to be a medicine man. One month ago I saw a falcon and really noticed it and looked at it, I felt another deep spiritual connection. Since then I have seen falcons so much more often(one time I saw 24 in a day) and each time I saw them I felt more and more connected. I read an interview with black elk Wallace and I just knew that I had to become a medicine man, if it was at all possible, because the more I read about the Native American ways and philosophies, the more I have a longing to help carry on the ways of the most beautiful people on the earth.

  12. It is a worthy dream, Aaron. The Cherokee say "duyuktv", meaning the "right way", or "Cherokee way".