SilentFeathers Sacred Pathways

The Heart, Mind, Body, Soul, and Spirit of the True Human Being

7 Sacred Directions of the Cherokee

go-la or Winter

North is the keeper of winter. The North is associated to the color blue and represents sadness, humility and defeat. Winter is the season of survival and waiting. The Cherokee word for North is u-yv-tlv and translates to cold. It is the direction of the Mental, and is the path of Quiet. The key is sharing and teaching.

gi-la-go-ge or Spring

East is the keeper of spring. The East is associated to the color red and represents victory, power, and war. Spring is the re-awakening of Mother Earth after a long sleep and the victory over go-la. The Cherokee word for East is ka-lv-gv. It is the direction of the Spiritual and is the path of the Sun. The key is coming together and honoring the Elders.

go-ga or Summer

South is the keeper of summer. The South is associated to the color white. The Cherokee word for white is and the color represents peace, happiness, and serenity. The Cherokee word for South is u-ga-no-wa and translates to warm. Is the direction of the Natural and is the path of Peace. The key is innocence.

u-la-go-hv-s-di or Autumn

West is the keeper of autumn. The West is associated to the color black. The Cherokee word for black is a-gv-ni-ge and the color represents death. The Cherokee word for West is wu-de-li-gv and translates to where it is hidden. It is the direction of the Physical and is the path of Introspection. The key is to help those less fortunate.

A'-hni' or Center The color for the center is green and represents here, where we are now. The Cherokee word for green is i'-tse-yu'-s-di which means of the new kind.

Above

Above is the color yellow and represents peace and order of the seven worlds above.The Cherokee word for yellow is da-lo-ni-ge

Below

The color for below is orange/brown which represents the chaos and turmoil of the Earth ever changing.

 

Cherokee Moons

JANUARY: Cold Moon Unolvtani

This time of the season is a time for personal and ritual observance, fasting and personal purification. During this season, families prepare for the coming of the new seasons, starting in Windy Moon Anuyi or March. Personal items and tools for planting are repaired, and new ones made. Stories about ancestors and the family are imparted to the younger ones by the elders. A mid-Winter or "Cold Moon Dance" is usually held in the community as well, marking the passing or ending of one cycle of seasons and welcoming the beginning of the new cycle. Hearth fires are put out and new ones made. The putting out of Fires and lighting of new ones anciently is the duty of certain "priest" of certain clans, and coincides with the first new-arrival of the morning star (Sun's daughter, now called Venus) in the east.

FEBRUARY: Bony Moon Kagali

Traditional time of personal-family feast for the ones who had departed this world. A family meal is prepared with place(s) set for the departed. This is also a time of fasting and ritual observance. A community dance officiated by a "doctor" Didanawiskawi commonly referred to as a Medicine-person. Connected to this moon is the "Medicine Dance".

MARCH: Windy Moon Anuyi

"First New Moon" of the new seasons. Traditional start of the new cycle of planting seasons or Moons. New town council fires are made. The figure used to portray this moon is the historic figure of Kanati, one of the many beings created by the "Apportioner" Unethlana. These "helpers" were variously charged with the control of the life elements of the earth: air/earth/fire/water. Their domains are the sky, earth, stars and the Seven Levels of the universe.

APRIL: Flower Moon Kawoni

First plants of the season come out at this time. New births are customary within this time frame. The first new medicine and herb plants that taught mankind how to defend against sickness and conjury come out now. Streams and rivers controlled by the spirit being, "Long Man," renew their lives. Ritual observances are made to "Long Man" at this time. A dance customary at this season was the "Knee Deep Dance" of the Spring or Water Frog.

MAY: Planting Moon Anisguti

Families traditionally prepare the fields and sow them with the stored seeds from last season. Corn, beans, squashes, tomatoes, potatoes, yams and sunflowers are some food planted at this time. A dance traditionally done at this time is the "Corn Dance".

JUNE: Green Corn Moon Tihaluhiyi

First signs of the "corn in tassel", and the emerging of the various plants of the fields. People traditionally begin preparations for the upcoming festivals of the ensuing growing season. People of the AniGadugi Society begin repairs needed on town houses, family homes and generally provide for the needy. The AniGadugi Society is a volunteer help group who see to the needs of the less fortunate, the elderly and the infirm of the villages.

JULY: Ripe Corn Moon Guyegwoni

First foods or the new planting and the roasting ears of corn are ready. Towns begin the cycle festivals. Dances and celebrations of thanks to the Earth Mother and the "Apportioner" Unethlana are given. In the old times this was the traditional time of the "Green Corn Dance" or festival. A common reference of this moon is the "first roasting of ears" (of corn)...sweet corn-moon. This is the customary time for commencement of the Stick Ball games traditionally called AniStusti, "Little War". Today known as "LaCross". Stick Ball dances and festivals are commonly held at this time.

AUGUST: Fruit Moon Galoni

Foods of the trees and bushes are gathered at this time. The various "Paint Clans" begin to gather many of the herbs and medicines for which they were historically know. Green Corn festivals are commonly held at this time in the present day. The "Wild Potato" Clans AniNudawegi, begin harvesting various foods growing along the streams, marshes, lakes and ponds.

SEPTEMBER: Nut Moon Duliidsdi

The corn harvest referred to as "Ripe Corn Festival" was customarily held in the early part of this moon to acknowledge Selu the spirit of the corn. Selu is thought of as First Woman. The festival respects Mother Earth as well for providing all foods during the growing season. The "Brush Feast Festival" also customarily takes place in this season. All the fruits and nuts of the bushes and trees of the forest were gathered as this time. A wide variety of nuts from the trees went into the nut breads for the various festivals throughout the seasons. Hunting traditionally began in earnest at this time.

OCTOBER: Harvest Moon Duninudi

Time of traditional "Harvest Festival" Nowatequa when the people give thanks to all the living things of the fields and earth that helped them live, and to the "Apportioner" Unethlana. Cheno i-equa or "Great Moon" Festival is customarily held at this time.

NOVEMBER: Trading Moon Nudadaequa

Traditionally a time of trading and barter among different towns and tribes for manufactured goods, produce and goods from hunting. The people traded with other nearby tribes as well as distant tribes, including those of Canada, Middle America and South America. Also the customary time of the "Friendship Festival" Adohuna = "new friends made". This was a time when all transgressions were forgiven, except for murder which traditionally was taken care of according to the law of blood by a clans person of a murdered person. The festival recalls a time before "world selfishness and greed". This was a time also when the needy among the towns were given whatever they needed to help them through the impending lean winter season.

DECEMBER: Snow Moon Usgiyi

The spirit being, "Snow Man", brings the cold and snow for the earth to cover the high places while the earth rests until the rebirth of the seasons in the Windy Moon Anuyi. Families traditionally were busy putting up and storing goods for the next cycle of seasons. Elders enjoyed teaching and retelling ancient stories of the people to the young.

7 Sacred Cherokee Ceremonies

Cherokee ceremonies are held with the cycles of Mother Earth. During ceremony, positive attitudes are far more important than rituals. Ceremonies offer opportunities for community worship, socialization, and bonding. Ceremonial musical instruments used for dancing and festivals include drums, gourd rattles, and turtle shell rattles (leg shackles). As part of worship, stomp dancing is held around the sacred fire and is accompanied by drums, singing, and leg shackles worn by women. Other dancing occurred in a "square", a social area, usually around a center pole or social fire. This was usually an area near the Council House, or the Long House. Our Cherokee ancestors tried to make each ceremony unique in some way, they were creative. Music, dancing, feasting, stick-ball and storytelling were joyous expressions of thanksgiving and occasions for Cherokee bonding at all cyclical ceremonies.

A sacred fire containing seven different types of wood, to represent the seven clans, was prepared and lit prior to ceremony according to scared rites. Direction of movement around the sacred fire during Cherokee ceremony is counter-clockwise. A complete, unbroken circle of "Red Heart" people around the fire produces powerful energy of the Creator's presence carried by the postitive attitudes in the heart of the participants.

1. Great New Moon Ceremony - Celebrated at the first new moon in autumn (October). Since autumn was the season when Cherokee stories say the world was created, it represented the new year celebration. Each family brought some produce from their field to share, such as corn, beans and pumpkins. Ceremonies included dancing, purification by immersing seven times in water, called "going to water". This ceremony gave the Cherokee an opportunity to give thanksgiving to the Great Spirit and the ancecestors for their blessings on us. It was a time to feast, and give thanks to Creator that the cycle would continue.

2. Propitiation of Cementation Ceremony (Friendship Ceremony) - Celebrated 10 days after the Great New Moon Ceremony. This ceremony symbolizes the unity between the Creator and mankind and also dealt with relationships between two people of the same or opposite sex. These relationships were bonds of eternal friendship in which each person vowed to regard the other as himself as long as they both lived. It was a ceremony that was a pledge of universal fraternal or paternal love. It also entailed reconciliation between those who had quarreled during the previous year. It symbolized the uniting of the people with the Creator and purification of body and mind. The New Moon Ceremony was said to have been the most profoundly religious of all the ceremonies. As with other observances, it also involved the rekindling of the scared fire.

3. Bouncing Bush Ceremony (Exalting Bush Festival) - This was a joyous ceremony were the Cherokee expressed unrestrained joy giving thanks to the Great Spirit and his helpers, acknowledging them as the source of our blessings. Dancing and feasting abound, and thansgiving was expressed by everyone tossing an offering of sacred tobacco in the sacred fire.

4. First New Moon of Spring Ceremony - Celebrated in March, at the time the green grass began to grow. Fruits from the previous fall harvest were brought to ceremony and consumed to remember the continuation of the Creator's care and blessing. This festival initiated the planting season and incorporated predictions concerning crop success or failure. It lasted seven days and included dancing and the re-lighting of the sacred fire by the "fire-keeper". There ceremony included sacrificing a deer tongue in the fire. All the home fires were extinguished and rekindled from the sacred fire's coals, symbolizing fresh beginnings, and renewal of life from Mother Earth.

5. Green Corn Ceremony - Celebrated in July or August, when corn is still green but fit to taste. New corn was not to be eaten until after the ceremony took place. Messengers were sent to notify the towns of the nation about when the celebration would take place. Along the way they gathered seven ears of corn, each from a field of a different clan. After the messengers returned, the chief and seven councilors fasted for six days. The ceremony began on the seventh. Again, the sacred fire was extinguished and rekindled. As the with the First New Moon Ceremony, a deer tongue was sacrificed in the sacred fire. Kernels from the seven ears of corn that had been gathered from the clans were also sacrificed. Food that was made from the new corn was brought to the town house and everyone was fed. The Chief and his councilors could only eat corn from the previous year's crop for another seven days.

6. Ripe Corn Ceremony - Celebrated about 40 to 50 (late September) days after the Green Corn Ceremony, when the corn is matured. It was the only ancient ceremony that survived into the 20th century. This is the end of the national cycle of ceremonies. Thanksgiving is offered to the Creator for the harvest of mature, ripe fruit.

7. The Chief Dance (UKU Ceremony) - Celebrated once every seven years. The Principal Cherokee Chief is carried into the Sacred circle of the Sacred Fire, on a white chair, and acknowledged as the Chief of all the people by each of the clans. This ceremony reminds us of the one true Chief, the Great Spirit-Creator. Dancing and feasting follows.

7 Cherokee Clans

Cherokee Clan: Anigilohi

The Cherokee society is historically a matrilineal society; meaning clanship is attained through the mother. Prior to Oklahoma statehood, the women were considered the Head of Household, with the home and children belonging to her should she separate from a husband. There are seven clans in Cherokee Society: A-ni-gi-lo-hi (Long Hair), A-ni-sa-ho-ni (Blue), A-ni-wa-ya (Wolf), A-ni-go-te-ge-wi (Wild Potato), A-ni-a-wi (Deer), A-ni-tsi-s-qua (Bird), A-ni-wo-di (Paint). The knowledge of a person's clan is important for many reasons; historically, and still today among Cherokee traditionalists, it is forbidden to marry within your clan. Clan members are considered brother and sisters. In addition, when seeking spiritual guidance and Indian doctoring, it is necessary to name your clan. Seating at ceremonial stomp dances is by clan, as well.

A-NI-TSI-S-QUA
Members of the Bird Clan were historically known as messengers. The belief that birds are messengers between earth and heaven, or the People and Creator, gave the members of this clan the responsibility of caring for the birds. The subdivisions are Raven, Turtle Dove and Eagle. Our earned Eagle feathers were originally presented by the members of this clan, as they were the only ones able to collect them. At some Cherokee ceremonial grounds, the Bird arbor is to the left of the Deer arbor.

A-NI-SA-HO-NI
The Blue Clan's subdivisions are Panther, or Wildcat and Bear (which is considered the oldest clan). Historically, this clan produced many people who were able to make special medicines for the children. At some Cherokee ceremonial grounds, the Blue arbor is to the left of the Long Hair arbor.

ANI-GI-LO-HI
The Long Hair Clan, whose subdivisions are Twister, Wind and Strangers, are known to be a very peaceful clan. In the times of the Peace Chief and War Chief government, the Peace Chief would come from this clan. Prisoners of war, orphans of other tribes, and others with no Cherokee tribe were often adopted into this clan, thus the name 'Strangers.' At some Cherokee ceremonial grounds, the Long Hair arbor is on the East side, and also houses the Chiefs and other leaders of the ground.

AN-I-WO-DI
Members of the Paint Clan were historically known as a prominent medicine people. Medicine is often 'painted' on a patient after harvesting, mixing and performing other aspects of the ceremony. At some Cherokee ceremonial grounds, the Paint arbor is to the left of the Bird arbor.

A-NI-A-WI
Members of the Deer Clan were historically known as fast runners and hunters. Even though they hunted game for subsistence, they respected and cared for the animals while they were living amongst them. They were also known as messengers on an earthly level, delivering messenges from village to village, or person to person. At some Cherokee ceremonial grounds, the Deer arbor is to the left of the Wild Potato arbor.

A-NI-WA-YA
The Wolf has been known throughout time to be the largest clan. During the time of the Peace Chief and War Chief government setting, the War Chief would come from this clan. Wolves are known as protectors. At some Cherokee ceremonial grounds, the Wolf arbor is to the left of the Blue arbor.

A-NI-GO-TE-GE-WI
The Wild Potato Clan's subdivision is Blind Savannah . Historically, members of this clan were known to be 'keepers of the land,' and gatherers The wild potato was a main staple of the older Cherokee life back east (Tsa-la-gi U-we-ti). At some Cherokee ceremonial grounds, the Wild Potato arbor is to the left of the Wolf arbor.

Cherokee belief System

In a search for order and sustaining that order, the olden Cherokee devised a simple, yet seemingly complex belief system. Many of the elements of the original system remain today. Although some have evolved or otherwise been modified, the traditional Cherokee of today recognize the belief system as an integral part of day-to-day life.

Certain numbers play an important role in the ceremonies of the Cherokee. The numbers four and seven repeatedly occur in myths, stories and ceremonies. Four represents all the familiar forces, also represented in the four cardinal directions. These cardinal directions are east, west, north and south. Certain colors are also associated with these directions. The number seven represents the seven clans of the Cherokee, and are also associated with directions. In addition to the four cardinal directions, three others exist. Up (the Upper World), down (the Lower World) and center (where we live, and where ‘you’ always are).

The number seven also represents the height of purity and sacredness, a difficult level to attain. In olden times, it was believed that only the owl and cougar had attained this level, and since then, they have always had a special meaning to the Cherokee. The pine, cedar, spruce, holly and laurel also attained this level. They play a very important role in Cherokee ceremonies. Cedar is the most sacred of all, and the distinguishing colors of red and white set it off from all others. The wood from the tree is considered very sacred, and in ancient days, was used to carry the honored dead.

Because of these early beliefs, the traditional Cherokee have a special regard for the owl and cougar. They are the honored ones in some versions of the Creation story. They were the only two who were able to stay awake for the seven nights of Creation. The others fell asleep. Today, because of this, they are nocturnal in their habits and both have night vision. The owl is seemingly different from other birds, and he resembles an old man as he walks. Sometimes, the owl can be mistaken for a cat with his feather tufts and silhouette of his head. This resemblance honors his nocturnal brother, the cougar. The owls’ eyes are quite large and set directly in front like a persons, and he can close one independent of the other. The cougar is an animal whose has screams which resemble those of a woman. He is an animal who has habits that are very secret and unpredictable.

The cedar, pine, spruce, laurel and holly trees have leaves all year long. These plants, too, stayed awake seven nights during the Creation. Because of this, they were given special power, and they are among the most important plants in Cherokee medicine and ceremonies.

Traditionally, the Cherokee are deeply concerned with keeping things separated and in the proper classification, or category. For example, when sacred items are not in use they are wrapped in deerskin, or white cloth, and kept in a special box or other place.

The circle is a familiar symbol to traditional Cherokees. The Stomp Dance and other ceremonies involve movements in a circular pattern. In ancient times, the fire in the council house was built by arranging the wood in a continuous "X" so that the fire would burn in a circular path.

The rivers, or "Long Man," were always believed to be sacred, and the practice of going to water for purification and other ceremonies was at one time very common [it still is to so many of us]. Today, the river, or any other body of moving water such as a creek, is considered a sacred site, and going to water is still a respected practice by some Cherokee.

The everyday cultural world of the Cherokee includes spiritual beings. Even though the beings are different from people and animals, they are not considered "supernatural." They are very much a part of the natural, or real, world and most people at some point in their lives, have an experience with spiritual beings. One group of spiritual beings still talked about by many Cherokees, are the Little People. They are invisible unless they want to be seen. When seen, they look very much like any other Cherokee, except they are very small, and have long hair, sometimes to the ground. The Little People live in various places, such as rock shelters, caves in the mountains, laurel thickets, etc. They like drumming and dancing, and they often help lost children. Not only physically lost, but sometimes saddened children and those who are going through the tough times of growing up. They are also known to be quite mischievous at times. The Little People need to be dealt with carefully, and it is necessary to observe the traditional rules regarding them. They don’t like to be disturbed, and they may cause a person who continually bothers them to become 'puzzled' throughout life. Because of this, traditional Cherokees will not investigate or look when they believe they hear Little People. If one of the Little People is accidentally seen, or if he or she chooses to show himself, it is not to be discussed or told of for at least seven years. It is also a common practice to not speak about the Little People after night fall.

Traditional Cherokees also believe that after a person dies, his soul often continues to live as a [spirit]. Spirits are believed to have the ability to materialize where some people can see them, although some can not.

Very basic to the Cherokee belief system is the premise that good is rewarded, while evil is punished. Even though the Cherokee strictly believe in this type of justice, there are times when things happen that the system just does not explain. It is often believed that some events that are unexplainable are caused by someone using medicine for evil purposes. Witchcraft among the Cherokee is not at all like that of the non-Indian cultures. To understand and respect the beliefs of traditional Cherokees about using medicine, conjuring, and witchcraft, you must first consider the early types of Indian societies, and consider how this has remained an integral part of Cherokee culture.

Today, many Cherokees still consult with medicine people regarding problems, both mental and physical. Some believe in using both Cherokee medicine and licensed medical doctors and the health care systems. Some Cherokee today, however, will not see a medicine man for any reason and refuse to acknowledge their powers.

The knowledge held by the medicine men or women is very broad in spectrum.

They work for years committing to memory the syllabary manuscripts passed to them by the ones who taught them. Many formulas have been documented in Cherokee syllabary writing in books ranging from small notebooks to full-blown ledgers. If the words are not spoken or sung in the Cherokee language, they will have no affect. Until the words have been memorized, the medicine person will refer to his book. This does not compromise his abilities, as modern medical practitioners often refer to reference books, too. The writings in these books are strictly guarded and anyone who is not in training is strictly forbidden to study or read the books. The words are usually accompanied by a physical procedure, such as the use of a specially prepared tobacco, or drink. Medicine people must be, and must remain, in perfect health for their powers to be at peak. Their breath and saliva contain the powers of their life-force, and are used in their medicine.

As far as the witches referred to above, there are ordinary witches and killer witches. Ordinary witches are considered more dangerous since a person can never be sure he is dealing with one, and they are more difficult to counteract. They may deceive a medicine person, and cause them to prescribe the wrong cure if not guarded. One killer witch who is still spoke of often in the Cherokee Nation is the Raven Mocker.

Some things Cherokee believed were not to be done...

1. There are some animals that should not ordinarily be killed.

It is forbidden to kill an eagle, wolf, or rattlesnake. There were and are a few people who are trained specialists that deal with killing a wolf, eagle, or rattlesnake. Specialists for taking Eagles come from the Bird Clan and specialists for killing wolves come from the Wolf Clan. It is rarely done but sometimes they are hired to do this. The reasons for it being done vary but one of the main reasons is to acquire certain parts of these animals for ritual and ceremonial use. Certain rituals, ceremonies, and dances require this. The Eagle Dance, for example, requires the use of eagle feathers.

2. There are some plants that should not be gathered.

The killing of evergreens is generally avoided but sometimes these are harvested and used usually for ceremonial purposes. When this is done it is done by people who know what they are doing, by people who are aware of the proper forms of ritual associated with the taking of an evergreen. It is more common for a part of an evergreen to be properly taken and used for medical or ceremonial use than the entire plant.

For example, in some ceremonies pine boughs are thrown onto the fire. In my family sometimes sprigs of cedar or pine needles are put into a pot of hot coals, this produces a smoldering effect giving of a great quantity of pungent smoke which is then used for purification. Evergreen wood is never used for common tools or firewood etc. Like the evergreens, ginseng, is a sacred plant and is respected. When seeking ginseng the first three or four plants are passed by, when the desired plant is found and uprooted with proper prayer some beads are placed in the hole. Any offering would really suffice but traditionally red beads are used for this.

3. Men who are preparing for war must avoid sexual intercourse for four days prior to leaving and four days after returning. During these periods they will undergo purification. This same rule is heeded for going on a large hunt.

4. After killing a deer the hunter should cut out the hamstrings and leave them behind. He should not leave them in the meat. He should also not leave without offering a prayer for pardon to the deer. He should use the tip of the deer's tongue as an offering of thanks by putting it in the fire. It is also common for people to throw some of the meat from every meal to the fire as an offering of thanks.

5. Women who are pregnant should avoid eating squirrel, speckled trout, rabbit, and they should be sparing with salt. They should not loiter in doorways or wear anything tied around their neck such as a neckerchief. For three months after birth the mother should not prepare meals for her husband and should avoid sexual intercourse with him, she should also avoid touching him in general.

6. Young children should not touch moles.

7. Women in their moon time (going through the menstrual cycle) should be separated from the community by going to stay in a house built by the community for this purpose, they should remain there for the duration of their menstruation. Women in their moon time should avoid men, they should not be upstream or upwind from them and should never touch them or prepare food for them, they should never take part in any community ceremonies. At the end of their bleeding they should be purified by sweating and going to water before re-entering the community. This is not done to disrespect to women in any way, quite to the contrary. This is done because of our great respect for women and the creative powers they possess. A menstruating woman's presence anywhere in the vicinity of a ritual or ceremony could render it ineffective or could cause some other problem. A woman's menstrual cycle is evidence of her creative powers. It is a time when they should be careful because of the strong energies they exude.

8. Foods from the opposing realms of this world should not be mixed. For example foods from the upper world of sky such as birds should not be mixed with foods from the lower world of water and underground such as fish.

9. Members of the same clan may not have sexual relationships with each other.

10. The mourning period lasts for one year during which the name of the deceased should not be spoken.

Cherokee Marriage Customs

Cherokee marriages were as much between the Grandmothers of a clan as between the couple themselves. It was not permitted to marry within your own clan. A potential suitor had to select a young woman from another clan. Typically, the clan leaders would be consulted before such a selection was made.

Elias Boudinot wrote the following article in The Cherokee Editor on February 18, 1829 regarding Cherokee Clan marriage customs:

"This simple division of the Cherokees formed the grand work by which marriages were regulated, and murder punished. A Cherokee could marry into any of the clans except two, that to which his father belongs, for all of that clan are his fathers and aunts and that to which his mother belongs, for all of that clan are his brothers and sisters, a child invariably inheriting the clan of his mother.

When a young man had chosen a girl he wished to marry he would kill a deer and bring an offer of deer meat to the home of the girl he was interested in. If she chose to marry him, she cooked the deer meat and offered it to him. If she rejected the deer meat, it was assumed to be a denial of this suitor. This courtship required approval of both clans before courtship could occur.

It was only permitted to court one woman at a time. Although there are examples of polygamy in the ancient culture, this practice was not generally engaged in. There were also instances of same-sex cohabitation, however, there was never a concept of same sex marriage or same sex courtships.

There are historical instances of "extended families" where another male or female would cohabitate with a married couple. Provided all parties were in agreement, including the clan leaders, this conduct would be allowed. These are the only examples of same sex relationships known to have existed in ancient times. The age of consent for Cherokee young people was typically fifteen for girls and seventeen for boys, but was not a strict practice.

If the couple chose to marry, the groom had to obtain the approval of his clan leaders to complete the marriage. Typically, he required the approval of his Clan Grandmother and her relatives. The bride had to obtain the approval of her mother's sister, or if unavailable, her Grandmother or Great Aunt. If all parties agreed, then the couple was permitted to marry.

Cherokee Sacred Plants & Trees

Cedar, pine, spruce, laurel and holly trees are among the most important plants in Cherokee medicine and ceremonies.

The cornerstone of Cherokee crops - corn, beans, and squash - are known as the three sisters. There is a legend to explain how they came to the Cherokee people.

Each of the seven clans also has a sacred wood. They are:

Birch = AniGatogewi, the Wild Potato Clan.

Beech = AniGilohi, the Long Hair Clan.

Oak = Ani Kawi, the Deer Clan.

Maple = Ah-ni-tsi-sk-wa, the Red Tailed Hawk Clan.

Ash = Ah-ni-sa-ho-ni, the Blue Holly Clan.

Locust = Ah-ni-wo-di, the Paint Clan.

Hickory = Ani'-Wah' Ya, the Wolf Clan.

Cherokee Sacred Places

The Cherokee consider all rivers and streams to be sacred places. Every day began with the going-to-water ceremony, when everyone entered a stream near their village, faced east, and prayed to the seven directions: the four cardinal points, the sky, the earth, and the center—the spirit. They gave thanks for a new day, and washed away any feelings that might separate them from their neighbors or from the Creator, emerging cleansed physically, mentally, and spiritually.

You will here Cherokee descendants say 'go to water'. This is for cleaning and close spiritual connections. Many of us go each day.

Cherokee medicine men, medicine, and medicine ways

Cherokee Medicine

Didanawisgi is the Cherokee word for medicine man. A common thread woven through all Native American remedies is the idea of "wellness" a term recently picked up by some in the modern medical professions. A state of "wellness" is described as "harmony between the mind, body and spirit." The Cherokee word "tohi" - health - is the same as the word for peace. You’re in good health when your body is at peace. The "medicine circle" has no beginning and no end and therefore represents a concept of "harmonious unity."

Cherokee medicine is a prevention-based system that incorporates the whole person, rather than the cure-based system that is used by most modern doctors of medicine today, which focuses on the disease. It is the belief among American Indian "doctors" that to achieve wellness we must have a strong connection to all things natural and both create and receive harmony not only within ourselves, but also in all our relationships. Once harmony is restored, illness and other health distortions simply disappear. To some, this would be a "cure." In the Cherokee tradition, this is just good health - the way it should be.

Here the goal is to first help the patient recover - to cure the sickness rather than treat the symptoms- to help the patient find his or her balance - the harmony of our living. The ceremony performed is as important as the potion or salve made from the plants or herbs. This is what is now known as holistic healing - a healing of the complete person.

The United States Pharmacopoeia, which is the modern doctor's drug Bible, (companion to the Physician's Desk Reference or PDR -the one that lists all the known side effects of every drug used by modern doctors), first appeared in 1820, and listed over two hundred drugs used by american Indians and aquired from natural plants. Those 200 cures represented 90% of what was listed in that first Pharmacopoeia. Since then, 1000s of new drugs have been chemically created in labs which try to replicate and alter the active ingredients in plants already perfected by nature.

There is a legend among the Cherokee that tells of the origin of medicine. It tells how the animals and birds met in council to decide what to do about the encroachment of man upon their world and how carelessly he was treating them. One by one they listed ailments and maladies that would afflict the humans. Had they succeeded, humans would surely have disappeared by now. But nearby, listening to the council were the plants and herbs and, not being troubled by the humans, they agreed to supply a remedy for each and every one of the diseases the animals wanted to thrust upon humankind.

Cherokee Medicine Men

Cherokee medicine people can be male or female. They believe there are evil medicine people and good ones. In fact, there are many kinds of medicine people in the Cherokee culture. Just as many modern doctors specialize in one area of expertise, so do most natural healers. Most medicine people are really good at curing some things, and don't even try to cure others. And like modern medicine practitioners, there are still a few general practitioners who will try to treat most things, but will refer you to someone else if it's something beyond their personal knowledge.

When something happens outside their realm of understanding, that cannot be explained by the rules of their culture, Cherokee people will say someone has been practicing bad medicine.

The Cherokee believe in witchcraft, but not in the context witches are thought of in anglo cultures. There are two kinds of witches in cherokee culture: ordinary witches and killer witches. Ordinary witches are considered more dangerous since a person can never be sure he is dealing with one, and they are more difficult to detect and counteract. They may deceive a medicine person, and cause them to prescribe the wrong cure if not guarded against. One killer witch who is still spoken of often today, and is mentioned in many Cherokee legends of the Cherokee Nation is the Raven Mocker.

Cherokee medicine men and women study for many years, and learn specific treatments from a written Cherokee syllabary given to them by their mentors. It is forbidden for anyone to look at this book if it isn't theirs, and it is often written in code, or parts are passed on verbally to keep the whole from falling into the wrong hands. Medicine ceremonies which are incomplete or performed out of context can do more harm than good and in the hands of the untrained can be downright dangerous.

Some Cherokee people see only Cherokee medicine people for mental or physical illnesses. Others prefer a combination of treatment from a medicine man and conventional modern medicine. Some Cherokees no longer believe in the powers of traditional medicine people.
The Cherokee Medicine Apprentice (tsila)

Cherokee medicine (nvwoti) is an ancient system of medical/spiritual knowledge and practices that developed over the last 3,000-4,000 years.Training in Cherokee medicine takes 15-20 years and the apprentice (tsila) needs to master seven interconnected areas of knowledge:

1. Herbal Medicine - an in-depth knowledge of 400-600 plants, their medicinal and ceremonial uses as well as the plants "personality". Many apprentices/medicine people today only know 100-200 of these plants and their uses.

2. Physical Medicine - including the unique Cherokee massage (hiskoliya) using persimmon woodstampers, moxabustion, minor surgery, and 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. In some Christian churches, this is called faith healing.

When the world was still young, the Cherokee (ani yvwiya) received much of their traditional medicine and ceremony from two sources. Stone Clad (nvyunuwi), an ancient wizard (ada'wehi), showed the people the dual nature of life. First he preyed on the Cherokee, then later when they killed him he gave them many of their songs, ceremonies and formulas.

The other source of Cherokee medical knowledge was the plants themselves. There is a Cherokee legend to explain Why Men Became Sick and How the Plants and Herbs Saved Them.

To the Cherokee, the use of herbs is only one tool of many necessary for regaining one's health. Traditionally it was (and still is) believed that it is crucial to not only heal one's body, mind and spirit, but to re-integrate the ill person with the family, the community and the Earth. This is a holistic perspective beyond our culture's limited understanding. None of us can truly be well unless we recognize our connection to the rest of the Great Life.

Cherokee medicinal plant chart


Black Cohosh (Cimcifuga racemosa_ - rheumatism, andodyne, emmenagogue,backache.

Bloodroot (Sanguinaria canadensis) - coughs, fungal infections, antiseptic.

Blue Cohosh (Caulophyllum thalictroides) - nervine, parturient, andodyne, rheumatism.

Butternut bark (Juglans cineria) - laxative, liver tonic.

Collinsonia (Collinsonia canadensis) - swollen breasts, sore throat.

Ginseng (Panax quinquefolius) - adaptogen, bitter tonic, nervous problems.

Goldenseal (Hydrastis canadensis) - stomachic, bitter tonic, antiseptic.

Lobelia (Lobelia) - inflataemetic, antispasmodic-palsy, expectorant.

Mayapple (Podophyllin peltatum) - laxative, cathartic.

Passionflower (Passiflora incarnata) - liver pain, earache, nervine.

Pink Root (Spigelia marilandica) - vermifuge.

Pleurisy Root (Asclepias tuberosa) -expectorant, heart trouble, bronchitis, pleurisy.

Poke Root (Phytolacca americana) - rheumatism, skin conditions, as poultice for swollen breasts.

Prickly Ash (Xanthoxyllum spp.) - arthritis, joint pain.

Sassafras (Sassafras albidum) - skin problems, rheumatism, eyewash,carminative, gout.

Slippery Elm (Ulmus fulva) - bulk laxative, diarrhea, sore throat, heartburn.

Tobacco (Nicotiana rustica) - antiseptic, expectorant, emetic, antispasmodic,tetanus, snake bite.

Wild Indigo (Baptisia tinctora) -emetic, purgative, as poultice for inflammation and gangrene.

Wild Yam (Dioscorea villosa) - heart pain, intestinal pain, menstrual pain.

Witch Hazel (Hammamelis virginiana) - sore throat, bath sores, bruises, rheumatism,tuberculosis.

Cherokee pharmacopoeia of medicinal plants and herbal remedies

The botanical diversity in Western North Carolina is extensive; it is estimated that in times past the average ani yvwiya would have been familiar with 100-200 plants and a medicine priest (didahnewisgi) might know as many as 600 useful plants. From this tremendous quantity of available plants, many commonly used Cherokee medicines made their way into American medical practice.

We can thank the Cherokee and othe rEastern native peoples for introducing many of our most popular botanical remedies. While many useful plants became widely used by herbalists and physicians, others were underutilized or totally neglected. Today, many herbalists limit their materia medica to a small variety of herbs. This over-reliance on a few plants has contributed to the decimation of many wild plant populations. (i.e. Ginseng,Ladies Slipper, Goldenseal, Bethroot, and more recently Echinacea angustifolia, Lomatium, and Helonias).

Are we using these plants with respect? The Cherokee use a great variety of medicines not only to prevent overutilization of species, but also because they believe that every plant has its specific use in relationship to human ailments.

Contributions Towards a Cherokee Pharmacopoeia


Each plant in this obviously partial listing is an effective medicine and, equally important, is abundant throughout large areas of the U. S. or is easy to cultivate.

BALMONY (Chelone glabra)
Taste: bitter
Energy: cool, dry
Part Used: herb
Dosage: Herb tea: 1 tsp. dried herb to 8 oz. of water, steep 1 hour. Drink 4 oz. before meals.
Dosage: Extract: 30-40 drops, 3 times per day.
Western classification: aperient, anthelmintic, bitter tonic, cholagogue.

Balmony or Turtlehead is a beautiful herb with either white or pink flowers (C. lyoni). It grows in damp deciduous woods and is frequently found along side of small branches (creeks). Balmony is an effective digestive bitter: stimulating saliva, gastric, liver and gall bladder secretions. It is especially useful for people with poor fat metabolism, usually accompanied by gas, nausea, belching and a chronically sluggish bowel.

Associated skin problems ( psoriasis, eczema or acne) and non-hepatitis jaundice respond to its effects as well. Mixed with other anthelmintics (Elecampane, Garlic, Wormseed, Quassia) it is useful in treating pinworms andgiardia.

DOGWOOD (Cornus florida)
Taste: bitter
Energy: cool, dry
Part Used: bark, flower, berries
Cherokee Name: kanvsita
Western Classification: anodyne, antiperiodic, antispasmodic, astringent, bittertonic.
Dosage: Bark tea: 1/2 tsp. dried bark to 8 oz. of water. Decoct 15 minutes, steep 1/2 hour.Drink 4 oz. 3 - 4 times per day.

The Dogwood is a small shrubby tree, with lovely early spring flowers. The white flowers (they areactually sepals) have been used as a substitute for Chamomile for colds, colic and flu. The bark was once used similarly to quinine for malaria and other periodic fevers. It is still useful for many chronic fevers, especially if accompanied by diarrhea or muscle aches (Dengue fever). Lower back pain, prolapsed uterus and musclespasms (legs and feet) all respond to regular use of the tea. Mixed with Butternut Bark, Dogwood is effective for pinworms in children. Externally the bark poultice can be used as a wash for bed sores and ulcers.

DWARF GINSENG (Panax trifolium)
Taste: sweet, bitter
Energy: cool, moist
Part Used: root, leaf
Cherokee Name: yunwi usdi
Western Classification: adaptogen, carminative, nutritive.
Dosage: Leaf tea: 1 tsp. dried leaf to 8 oz. of water, steep 1 hour. Drink 2-3 cups per day.

The small, delicate Dwarf Ginseng is a common spring ground cover in Eastern deciduous woods. The small bulbs are edible (rather bland and starchy) and can be cooked in winter stews to strengthen the lungs and resistance to colds. The leaves (which contain Ginsenosides) are added to almost any traditional herb formula to increase its effectiveness and activity. The Dwarf Ginseng, like its larger relative, is used for fatigue, nervous exhaustion, allergies, anorexia and depleted conditions such as chronic fatigue, TB and mononucleosis.

RABBIT TOBACCO (Gnaphalium obtusifolium)
Taste: sweet, bitter
Energy: cool, dry
Part Used: herb
Cherokee Name: katsuta equa
Western Classification: astringent, carminative, diaphoretic, expectorant,nervine.
Dosage: Herb tea: 1-2 tsp. dried herb to 8 oz. of water, steep 40 minutes. Drink 2-3 cups per day.

Common in fields and clearings, Rabbit Tobacco is frequently found in Cherokee homes as a remedy. The tea is used for colds, flu, coughs, diarrhea, strep throat and children's fevers. Mixed with other medicines it is also used for colitis (with Wild Yam and Catnip), asthma (with Lobelia, Wild Cherry Bark and Sweet Cicily) and vaginal candidiasis (with Yellow Root). Externally the tea is applied to cuts, sore muscles and bruises.The leaves are chewed by some people in preference to Tobacco, others mix the two to moderate Tobacco'semetic qualities.

SOURWOOD (Oxydendron arborum)
Taste: sour
Energy: cool, dry
Part Used: leaf
Cherokee Name: udoqueya
Western Classification: antiseptic, astringent, diuretic, nervine.
Dosage: Leaf tea: 2 tsp. dried leaf to 8 oz. of water, steep 40 minutes. Drink 2-3 cups per day.

Sourwood with its racemes of white bell-like flowers is a favorite pollen source for mountain bees. The honey from this source is famous for its unique taste and fragrance. In contrast to the honey's sweetness, the leaves are tart and drying. The leaf tea is an effective urinary tract antiseptic primarily due to its arbutin content. Chronic UTIs with burning urine respond well to its soothing action; it is also beneficial for BPH. The tea is also frequently used for apthous stomatata, thrush, edema, chronic prostatitis, diarrhea, nervous stomach and frazzled nerves (a nice hot cup of the tea with a generous dollop of sourwood honey works wonders!).

SPICEBUSH (Lindera benzoin)
Taste: pungent, sweet
Energy: warm, dry
Part Used: bark, leaf, fruit
Cherokee Name: nodatsi
Western Classification: antiseptic, carminative, diaphoretic, emmenagogue,expectorant.
Dosage: Bark/Herb tea: 1 tsp. dried herb to 8 oz. of water, steep 1 hour (covered).Drink 2 -3 cups per day.

Spicebush is one of the most common understory shrubs throughout second or third growth Eastern forests. Early in the spring it is covered with small yellow flowers which perfume the air. Every part of Spicebush (aka Spicewood) is medicinal; the tea of this herb is used extensively for colds, flu, coughs, nausea,indigestion, croup, flatulence and amenorrhea. The inhaled steam is used to clear clogged sinuses and the decoction of the twigs makes a soothing bath for arthritic pain (some of the tea is also taken internally). Spicebush is also commonly used as a beverage tea and the fruits can be used as a spice in baking.

SUMACH (Rhus glabra, R. copallina, R. typhina)
Taste: sour
Energy: cool, dry
Part Used: berry, bark
Cherokee Name: qualagu
Western Classification: alterative (bark), antiseptic, astringent, diuretic.
Dosage: Berry tea: 1 tsp. dried fruit to 8 oz. of water, steep 30 minutes. Drink 2 - 4 cups per day.Bark tea: 1/2 tsp. dried bark to 8 oz. of water. Decoct 15 minutes, steep 1 hour. Drink 4 oz., 3 times per day.

Sumachs are small shrubby trees that have highly visible clusters of bright red berries each autumn. Its toxic relative Poison Sumach (R. vernix) has white fruit and prefers swampy areas instead of the dry open environment where other sumachs are found. Sumach berry tea is highly effective for urinary tract infections (itacidifies the urine), thrush, apthous stomatata, ulcerated mucous membranes, gingivitis and some cases of bedwetting (irritated bladder). The fruit tea can be taken hot or chilled as a refreshing beverage similar in taste to Hibiscus or Rose Hips. The bark is a strong astringent (used for diarrhea, menorrhagia) and it has an effect onthe female hormonal system. Traditional the bark is used for alleviating menopausal discomfort (hot flashes,sweating) and as a galactogogue. Externally the berry or bark tea has been used as a wash for blisters, burns and oozing sores. In middle eastern countries, the dried fruit is ground into a powder and used much as Americans use paprika in daily cooking.

SWEET CICILY (Osmorhiza claytoni)
Taste: sweet
Energy: warm, moist
Part Used: root
Western Classification: carminative, demulcent, expectorant, immune tonic, nutritive.
Dosage: Root tea: 1 tsp. dried root to 8 oz. of water. Steep 2 hours (cooking 3-4 hours is evenbetter). Drink 2-3 cups per day.

Sweet Cicily is a small herbaceous member of the Apiaceae family. Growing in moist woodlands, it is easy to overlook until you sample its sweet anise-tasting root. Cherokee have long considered this root to bean important medicine for increasing strength, weight and resistance to disease. The tea can be used for colds, sore throats, dry coughs, flu and digestive disturbances (gastritis, nausea, gas). Sweet Cicily strengthens what the Chinese call the "wei qi", making it useful for preventing colds and other external pernicious influences.The root can be used as a substitute for licorice or astragalus with many similar applications.

TULIP TREE (Liriodendron tulipifera)
Taste: bitter
Energy: cool, dry
Part Used: bark
Cherokee Name: tsiyu
Western Classification: anodyne, astringent, bitter tonic, febrifuge.
Dosage: Bark tea: 1-2 tsp. dried bark to 8 oz. of water. Decoct 20 minutes, steep 1 hour.Drink 4 oz. 3 times per day.

Tulip Tree or Tulip Poplar is a large, straight growing member of the Magnolia family. Its yellow, green and orange flowers are large and showy and they mature into a densely packed cone of winged seeds. The smooth young bark harvested in the spring makes a wonderful basket perfect for gathering herbs or berries. This same bark is used as a medicine for periodic fevers, diarrhea, pinworms, as a digestive aid and for rheumatic pain. The decoction is used as a bath for fractures, sprains, hemorrhoids and is applied to snakebites received in dreams (if left untreated, traumatic arthritis will often develop in the area bitten).

YELLOW ROOT (Xanthorhiza simplicissima)
Taste: bitter
Energy: cool, dry
Part Used: root
Cherokee Name: dalanei
Western Classification: antibacterial, antifungal, antiseptic, bitter tonic,cholagogue.
Dosage: Root tea: 1-2 tsp. dried root to 8 oz. of water. Decoct 10 minutes, steep 1 hour.Drink 2 cups per day. Extract: 20-40 drops, 2-3 times per day.
Yellow root is a shrubby berberine containing plant that is found growing along branches and springs.It is abundant throughout the southeast and is regularly substituted for the increasingly scarce Golden Seal. Xanthorhiza is milder than Hydrastis but is more appropriate for long term use. It is especially effective as a digestion/liver bitter for people with sluggish bowels, a tendency towards hemorrhoids and faulty fat digestion. Mixed with fresh Black Walnut hull extract and Spilanthes, Yellow Root is an effective treatment for local thrush,(vaginal candidiasis) and systemic candidiasis. The tea makes a soothing gargle for strep throat,apthous stomatata, ulcerated mucus membranes, herpes and pyorrhea. Externally it is useful for conjunctivitis, bedsores, bleeding hemorrhoids, ringworm and athletes foot.

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