Thursday, May 30, 2013

Cherokee Witches: Kâ'lanû Ahkyeli'skï

"Of all the Cherokee wizards or witches the most dreaded is the Raven Mocker (Kâ'lanû Ahkyeli'skï), the one that robs the dying man of life. They are of either sex and there is no sure way to know one, though they usually look withered and old, because they have added so many lives to their own.
He flies through the air in fiery shape

"At night, when someone is sick or dying in the settlement, the Raven Mocker goes to the place to take the life. He flies through the air in fiery shape, with arms outstretched like wings, and sparks trailing behind, and a rushing sound like the noise of a strong wind. Every little while as he flies he makes a cry like the cry of a raven when it "dives" in the air--not like the common raven cry--and those who hear are afraid, because they know that some man's life will soon go out. When the Raven Mocker comes to the house he finds others of his kind waiting there, and unless there is a doctor on guard who knows how to drive them away they go inside, all invisible, and frighten and torment the sick
man until they kill him. Sometimes to do this they even lift him from the bed and throw him on the floor, but his friends who are with him think he is only struggling for breath.

"After the witches kill him they take out his heart and eat it, and so add to their own lives as many days or years as they have taken from his. No one in the room can see them, and there is no sear where they take out the heart, but yet there is no heart left in the body.  ...
"The following is told on the reservation as an actual happening:

"A young man had been out on a hunting trip and was on his way home when night came on while he was still a long distance from the settlement. He knew of a house not far off the trail where an old man and his wife lived, so he turned in that direction to look for a place to sleep until morning. When he got to the house there was nobody in it. He looked into the âsï and found no one there either. He thought maybe they had gone after water, and so stretched himself out in the farther corner to sleep. Very soon he heard a raven cry outside, and in a little while afterwards the old man came into the âsï and sat down by the fire without noticing the young man, who kept still in the dark corner. Soon there was another raven cry outside, and the old man said to himself, "Now my wife is coming," and sure enough in a little while the old woman came in and sat down by her husband. Then the young man knew they were Raven Mockers and he was frightened and kept very quiet.

Typical Cherokee house
"Said the old man to his wife, "Well, what luck did you have?" "None," said the old woman, "there were too many doctors watching. What luck did you have?" "I got what I went for," said the old man, "there is no reason to fail, but you never have luck. Take this and cook it and lees have something to eat." She fixed the fire and then the young man smelled meat roasting and thought it smelled sweeter than any meat he had ever tasted. He peeped out from one eye, and it looked like a man's heart roasting on a stick.

"Suddenly the old woman said to her husband, "Who is over in the corner?" "Nobody," said the old man. "Yes, there is," said the old woman, "I hear him snoring," and she stirred the fire until it blazed and lighted up the whole place, and there was the young man lying in the corner. He kept quiet and pretended to be asleep. The old man made a noise at the fire to wake him, but still he pretended to sleep. Then the old man came over and shook him, and he sat up and rubbed his eyes as if he had been asleep all the time.

"Now it was near daylight and the old woman was out in the other house getting breakfast ready, but the hunter could hear her crying to herself. "Why is your wife crying?" he asked the old man. "Oh, she has lost some of her friends lately and feels lonesome," said her husband; but the young man knew that she was crying because he had heard them talking.

"When they came out to breakfast the old man put a bowl of corn mush before him and said, "This is all we have--we have had no meat for a long time." After breakfast the young man started on again, but when he had gone a little way the old man ran after him with a fine piece of beadwork and gave it to him, saying, "Take this, and don't tell anybody what you heard last, night, because my wife and I are always quarreling that way." The young man took the piece, but when he came to the first creek he threw it into the water and then went on to the settlement. There he told the whole story, and a party of warriors started back with him to kill the Raven Mockers. When they reached the place it was seven days after the first night. They found the old man and his wife lying dead in the house, so they set fire to it and burned it and the witches together."

From James Mooney, Nineteenth Annual Report of the Bureau of American Ethnology 1897-98, Part I. [1900]:
Next week we will take a look at how the Cherokee medicine men dealt with the Raven Mockers.

Thursday, May 23, 2013

Cherokee Witchcraft: Conquering Stone Clad

Mayan ballplayer
wearing stone "donut"
Last week I introduced a particularly frieghtening and evil Cherokee witch, Nûñ'yunu'wï, which means “dressed in stone” or “Stone Clad”.  I promised to tell how the evil witch was finally conquered.  Quoting, again, from James Mooney:

“The hunter was frightened, and felt sure that it meant mischief, so he hurried on down the mountain and took the shortest trail back to the camp to get there before the old man. When he got there and told his story the medicine-man said the old man was a wicked cannibal monster called Nûñ'yunu'wï, "Dressed in Stone," who lived in that part of the country, and was always going about the mountains looking for some hunter to kill and eat. It was very hard to escape from him, because his stick guided him like a dog, and it was nearly as hard to kill him, because his whole body was covered with a skin of solid rock. If he came he would kill and eat them all, and there was only one way to save themselves …

“He could not bear to look upon a menstrual woman, and if they could find seven menstrual women to stand in the path as he came along the sight would kill him.

“So they asked among all the women, and found seven who were sick in that way, and with one of them it had just begun. By the order of the medicine-man they stripped themselves and stood along the path where the old man would come. Soon they heard Nûñ'yunu'wï coming through the woods, feeling his way with his stone cane. He came along the trail to where the first woman was standing, and as soon as he saw her he started and cried out: "Yu! my grandchild; you are in a very bad state!" He hurried past her, but in a moment he met the next woman, and cried out again: "Yu! my child; you are in a terrible way," and hurried past her, but now he was vomiting blood. He hurried on and met the third and the fourth and the fifth woman, but 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. Nûñ'yunu'wï was a great ada'wehï 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.

Cherokee Medicine Man Swimmer
“Then the medicine-man told them to rake off the ashes, and where the body had lain they found only a large lump of red wâ'dï paint and a magic u'lûñsû'ti stone. He kept the stone for himself, and calling the people around him he painted them, on face and breast, with the red wâ'dï, and whatever each person prayed for while the painting was being done-whether for hunting success, for working skill, or for a long life-that gift was his.”

In his book, “The Night Has a Naked Soul”, Alan Kilpatrick explains, “Much of the prestige bestowed upon the Cherokee conjuror can be traced to the ancient myth surrounding the ritual murder of the monster, Stone-Clad, by a medicine man. … This man-eating monster, who operates outside the moral community of humans, is brought under control by the polluting force of ‘unclean’ women.  Then Stone-Clad (and his secret powers) are consecrated and “re-purified” by the cleansing action of the ancient fire.”

Next week we’ll take a look at another evil Cherokee witch and how the medicine man dealt with him.


Thursday, May 16, 2013

Cherokee Witchcraft: Nûñ'yunu'wï

Part 1: Nûñ'yunu'wï

Voodoo Devil
Mankind seems to have an inherent fascination with witchcraft.   From Merlin in King Arthur’s court to Voo Doo in the Carribean it is celebrated in some cultures and, as with the Salem Witches, denounced by others.  The Cherokee had their share of witches.  Sometimes the difference between a witch and a medicine man was a very fine line.  But the distinction was important because the medicine man was revered, but the witch was reviled. 

Swimmer, Cherokee Medicine Man
Although James Adair made mention of Cherokee witchcraft in 1775, it wasn’t until 1891 that any serious research was published.   James Mooney’s monumental works, “Myths of the Cherokee”, “Sacred Formulas of the Cherokees”  were the culmination of 36 years of research living among the Cherokee while working for the Bureau of American Ethnology.  These works are still the most comprehensive and authoritative publications on the subject.  His notes were later the subject of the book "The Swimmer Manuscript".

In the 1960’s, the subject was comprehensively studied by two distinguished scholars, Dr. Jack Frederick Kilpatrick and his wife, Mrs. Anna Gritts Kilpatrick, both Cherokee.  They interviewed hundreds of Cherokee and collected texts and notes written in native script (Sequoyah syllabary).  They translated these texts and published numerous books and monographs.  Later, their son, Alan Kilpatrick, studied their work and collection and wrote a very enlightening book, “The Night Has a Naked Soul”,  that looks at traditional Cherokee religious practices from a Cherokee anthropologist’s point of view.

Kokopelli with his magic cane
used sometimes as a flute
other times as a planting stick
In this Native American Antiquity series, I want to pull from these sources and take a look at what the characteristics of a Cherokee witch were.  Let’s start with Nûñ'yunu'wï, which translates as “Stone Clad”.   Quoting from Mooney, “This is what the old men told me when I was boy.

“Once when all the people of the settlement were out in the mountains on a great hunt one man who had gone on ahead climbed to the top of a high ridge and found a large river on the other side. While he was looking across he saw an old man walking about on the opposite ridge, with a cane that seemed to be made of some bright, shining rock. The hunter watched and saw that every little while the old man would point his cane in a certain direction, then draw it back and smell the end of it. At last he pointed it in the direction of the hunting camp on the other side of the mountain, and this time when he drew back the staff he sniffed it several times as if it smelled very good, and then started along the ridge straight for the camp. He moved very slowly, with the help of the cane, until he reached the end of the ridge, when he threw the cane out into the air and it became a bridge of shining rock stretching across the river. After he had crossed over upon the bridge it became a cane again, and the old man picked it up and started over the mountain toward the camp.

Mayan ballplayer
with stone "donut" around his body

“The hunter was frightened, and felt sure that it meant mischief, so he hurried on down the mountain and took the shortest trail back to the camp to get there before the old man. When he got there and told his story the medicine-man said the old man was a wicked cannibal monster called Nûñ'yunu'wï, "Dressed in Stone," who lived in that part of the country, and was always going about the mountains looking for some hunter to kill and eat. It was very hard to escape from him, because his stick guided him like a dog, and it was nearly as hard to kill him, because his whole body was covered with a skin of solid rock. If he came he would kill and eat them all, and there was only one way to save themselves …”

I love this story because I think it is an excellent example of the creative story-telling of the Cherokee.  Next week, we will find out what one thing could stop Nûñ'yunu'wï and then discuss the characteristics this amazing witch may share with other witches and what the implications may be.

Thursday, May 9, 2013

Cherokee Misconceptions

Plains Indians by Caitlan
I am currently writing a seven book series titled "The Cherokee Chronicles".  The Cherokee Chronicles was born out of the research I have done over the years on Native American cultures.  I discovered that what I thought I knew about Native Americans was based on the Hollywood fixation on the Plains Indians and the stereotypical ‘noble savage’.   In an introduction to the book “Incidents of Travel in Yucatan, Victor Wolfgang von Hagen wrote, “The acceptance of an indigenous ‘civilization’ demanded of an American living in 1836 a complete reorientation; to him an ‘Indian’ was one of those barbaric, half-naked tipi dwellers, a rude sub-human people who hunted with animal stealth.”

The Cherokee were nothing like the savage, nomadic, hunter-gatherers portrayed in movies and TV.  The Cherokee never lived in tipis; they have never worn feathered headdresses (except maybe to please tourists); they didn’t ride horses until the Europeans brought them over; there were no Cherokee princesses; they didn’t follow the buffalo around; the “squaw” didn’t humbly follow ten paces behind her husband; they didn’t worship a panoply of gods; they weren’t, by any definition of the word, savages.

Cherokee Chief in London 1762

When describing the “Ascent of Man”, author and philosopher Jacob Bronowski observed, “The largest step in the ascent of man is the change from nomad to village agriculture.”  Long before the Europeans came to America, the Cherokee had made that giant leap and were an agriculturally-based culture that built permanent, framed, mud stucco houses in well-organized villages secured by palisaded walls.  They had sophisticated social structures and highly developed government.   Each village was governed by a peace chief and a war chief.  During peace times, a white flag flew over the majestic, seven-sided council house and the peace chief ruled.  In times of war, a red flag flew over the council house and the war chief ruled.  Villagers were organized by families or clans.  Each clan had its purpose and responsibilities within the tribe and its members were governed and lived by the rules of each clan.   Each of the seven clans preserved and taught one of the seven tenants that enabled the pure to ascend through the seven levels of personal development.
Reconstruction of Cherokee house
The Cherokee were a matriarchal society.  The children were born into the clan of their mother and were raised by the tenants of her clan.  The women owned the houses and fields.  The highest ranking women were known as the “Beloved Women” and were responsible for divining justice.  Women could marry and divorce as they pleased.  When a man proposed, he brought a deer to her doorstep.  She would confide in her grandmother for advice.  If she decided to accept marriage, she simply brought in the deer and prepared an acceptance feast.  A divorce was simple.  The woman simply placed her husband’s belongings outside the house on the doorstep.   When he came home, he got the message.

If a clan member committed a crime, it was up to his clan to administer justice.  The punishment for murder might require his family to bind his hands and feet and push him off a cliff to his death on the rocks below. 

There were no Kings (and consequently no Princesses).  The Cherokee Government at both the local level and at the national level was bicameral – a “white” organization that governed over the peace and “red” organization that governed over war.  The person of highest authority in the white branch was the High Priest, known as the “Uku”.   Below him were assistants and priests from each clan and they were responsible for administering civil law, invoking blessings and prayers for religious well-being, removing the uncleanness from polluted persons to restore them to physical well-being, and they planned and supervised the important ceremonies and celebrations throughout the year.

The red branch of government consisted of a complimentary set of officials whose responsibilities were exclusively related to war.  Author Thomas E. Mails explained, “If either of the two organizations was in any way subordinate to the other, it was the red group, since the Great High Priest could make or unmake the war chiefs.  In addition, the red officials were at frequent intervals elected by popular vote, while the white officials were either to some extent hereditary or subject to appointment by the Great High Priest. … In most instances, red officials acquired their rank as the result of bravery in battle …”

Mails goes on to say, “An assemblage of Beloved Women … was present at every war council.  These served as counselors to the male leaders, and also regulated the treatment dealt to prisoners of war.”

The Cherokee maintained a well-organized military.  The Wolf Clan was primarily responsible for providing warriors, therefore, children of the wolf clan were trained in warfare from the time they could walk.  Many games were created to help develop children’s skills.  And some games became as prominent and important to the village and the nation as football, baseball, or soccer is to us today.   It is said that sometimes war between tribes was avoided by settling the dispute through an Anetsa (Ball Play game similar to La Crosse).

The Cherokee definitely don’t fit the stereotypes we attribute to Native Americans. They deserve to be remembered as a civilized society.

[Right: reconstructed Cherokee seven-sided Townhouse behind dance field -- Cherokee Visitor Center, Tahlequah, OK.]

-- Courtney Miller

Thursday, May 2, 2013

7 - Incidents of Travel: Mayan Ruins

Part 7: Incidents of Travel: Conclusion

Let the author read this to you by clicking here.

Stelae at Copan
by Frederick Catherwood
When John Lloyd Stephens first travelled to Central America and walked among the ruins left by the Maya, he early on realized that the buildings, statues, and carvings were not done by a “savage or primitive race”.  He recognized that the original inhabitants of the Americas were a civilized and sophisticated people.  At his first encounter with the Stelae in Copan, he observed, “The sight of this unexpected monument put at rest at once and forever, in our minds, all uncertainty in regard to the character of American antiquities, and gave us the assurance that the objects we were in search of were interesting, not only as the remains of an unknown people, but as works of art, proving, like newly-discovered historical records, that the people who once occupied the Continent of America were not savages.” [refer to Part 4 of this series]

In 1842, when he returned to Yucatan to further explore the ruins, he reconfirmed his previous conviction, “I am happy thus early in these pages to have an opportunity of recurring to the opinion expressed in my former volumes, in regard to the builders of the ancient American cities.

“The conclusion to which I came was that ‘there are not sufficient grounds for belief in the great antiquity that has been ascribed to these ruins’; ‘that we are not warranted in going back to any ancient nation of the Old World for the builders of these cities; that they are not the works of people who have passed away and whose history is lost, but that there are strong reasons to believe them the creation of the same races who inhabited the country at the time of the Spanish conquest, or of some not very distant progenitors.”

In the final pages of his last book, Incidents of Travel in Yucatan, Stephens addressed the arguments
Storming of Teocalis
by Emanuel Leutze
against his opinions on the origins of the Mayan cities.  He was still unaware that the Mayans were the builders, but was convinced that the cities were built by the people that the Spaniards found on their conquest.  Before Stephens, this idea had been rejected for mostly three main arguments.  First, there were no lasting traditions carried on by the locals.  Stephens argued, “… may this be accounted for by the unparalleled circumstances which attended the conquest and subjugation of Spanish America?”  He went on to cite the proclamation by the Pope “entreating and requiring the inhabitants to acknowledge and obey the church as the superior and guide of the universe. … But if you do not comply … I will carry on war against you with the utmost violence.”

The second prevailing argument “that a people possessing the power, art, and skill to erect such cities never could have fallen so low as the miserable Indians who now linger about their ruins” was disputed by Stephens for the same reason.  He argued, “… their present condition is the natural and inevitable consequence of the same ruthless policy which laid the axe at the root of all ancient recollections and cut off forever all traditionary knowledge.”

Finally, the lack of historical accounts or reference to the cities by the conquering Spaniards was refuted by Stephens, “On the contrary, we have the glowing accounts of Cortez and his companions, of soldiers, priests, and civilians, all concurring in representations of existing cities, then in the actual use and occupation of the Indians, with building and temples, in style and character like those presented in these pages.”

He summarized, “These arguments then – the want of tradition, the degeneracy of the people, and the alleged absence of historical accounts – are not sufficient to be entered upon at the conclusion of these pages; but all the light that history sheds upon them is dim and faint, and may be summed up in few words.”

Travels of John Lloyd Stephens

Over time, Stephens’ beliefs proved to be substantially accurate and his popular books contributed to a groundswell of interest in the lost cities of the Maya.

-- Courtney Miller

Link to Part 1