Native American Mythology
"I'm a culture hero. We're like gods, except we screw up a lot more and nobody worships us."
General Information on various Native American mythologies and oral tradition
. Obviously, this page covers an enormous variety of different cultures, but they're grouped together here for convenience.
See also these sub-pages for specific cultures:
See Pre-Columbian Civilizations
For the Hollywood History
version, see Magical Native American
Tropes commonly associated with Native mythologies include:
- Animorphism: Iktomi is the most obvious, appearing in the form of a spider.
- Badass Native: At least one per mythology. Of course, considering the cultures in question, this is People Sit on Chairs.
- Big, Badass Bird of Prey: Thunder is anthropomorphized into a bird.
- Body Horror: What happened to Stone Boy's uncles. Also the Sun Dance seemed like this to many non-Indians. Ptesanwin also has an ah, "interesting" punishment for rapists.
- Cain and Abel: Waziyata and Okaga in Lakota myth. At least when Wohpe is involved. This happens once a year. You call it "winter".
- Continuity Snarl: No tribe's mythology has an established canon.
- Clever Crows: Ravens are a Trickster Archetype. Raven-as-individual is sometimes associated as a sort of region-specific equivalent to Coyote in the Pacific Northwest.
- Creation Myth: Done to hilarious extremes in that many cultures have multiple creation myths.
- Deal with the Devil: Uncegila, Uncegila, Uncegila. For those not familiar, Uncegila is a sea monster whose look can kill. Initially, the victim is blinded. A day later, he goes mad. Two days later, he's foaming at the mouth. A day after that, he dies, and his whole family dies. Two orphan brothers, one of whom was blind, killed Uncegila using special arrows that never missed. After that, they were instructed to not listen to it for its first three requests and then do whatever it said from then on. In doing so, they would get whatever they asked. Every day, it came up with more complicated ceremonies, though, and life became boring, getting whatever they wanted, so they stopped listening to it, and it exploded.
- Depraved Bisexual: Iktomi. Oddly, his most depraved behavior is with women.
- Did Godzilla Just Punch Out Cthulhu: Wakinyan versus Unktehi. Bonus points because the Unktehi and Uncegila have a water motif.
- Did We Just Have Tea with Cthulhu?: Winkte (with the double woman) and heyoka (with the Wakinyan) do this in their visions.
- Did You Just Flip Off Cthulhu?: Since plains warriors have a habit of announcing their deeds, they tend to do this when fighting monsters too.
- Did You Just Punch Out Cthulhu?: While the Wakinyan take out the Unktehi, humans take out Uncegila.
- Did You Just Romance Cthulhu?: Some of the Lakota stories get into this range of mortals having relationships with gods. The made-for-TV movie Dreamkeeper's version of the story of Uncegila plays it straight: Uncegila is implied to be the young woman who is also the old woman.
- Do Not Taunt Cthulhu: Averted: Iktomi manages to trick Iya, the eater of everything, into eating him, and then cuts him open and frees everyone.
- Did We Just List All The Tropes About Cthulhu?
- Eldritch Abomination: Uncegila. Also, the wakinyan, who have no eyes but their eyes shoot lightning; no legs but sharp talons; and no beak but their call is thunder. Seeing a wakinyan is enough to make one always do things backward.
- Elemental Rock-Paper-Scissors: Unktehi (water) vs. Wakinyan (lightning). Let's see which one wins.
- The End of the World as We Know It: Ghost Dance
- Evil Is Deathly Cold: Uncegila. To a much lesser extent, Waziyata, the north wind.
- Evil Twin: The Yuma creation myth features one.
- Eye Scream: Uncegila. Is there any trope she doesn't qualify under?
- Fetch Quest: In an Always Male example: Kill a bunch of animals. Your female relatives use their skins to make clothing to give away as a bride price or at a party.
- Fire, Ice, Lightning: Lakota ideas about the four directions associate the west with lightning, north with ice, east with nothing, and south with fire.
- The Force: Wakan as life energy which one can manipulate. Power to manipulate it is In the Blood.
- Four Is Death: Taken literally by the Sioux, who divide life into childhood, adulthood, senescence, and the afterlife.
- Full-Frontal Assault: Atanarjuat, running from Oki.
- Gag Penis: Coyote detaches his.
- In some versions, he borrows someone else's.
- Genius Loci: Constantly. Many areas are sacred or taboo because of such.
- Go Mad from the Revelation: In more modern stories, people with the power to see the future tend to see white contact and do this.
- The Great Flood
- Hijacked by Jesus: To use a Lakota example, Wakinyan (thunder) became angels, Wohpe became the Virgin Mary, and the Pipe became Christ. Many Indians follow a mixture of tradition, Christianity, the peyote ceremony (largely Christian-based), and the Ghost Dance (which has Mormon influences).
- Human Mom, Non-Human Dad: Played straight and inverted/subverted/averted.
- I Have Many Names: Just using Lakota examples, Wohpe or Ptsanwin? Skan or Taku Skanskan?
- Immortality Immorality: Pick a human who becomes immortal. Any.
- Important Haircut: In many cultures, hair is where memory is stored.
- Loin Cloth: Traditional male attire in climates that allow it.
- Magic Loincloth: According to the Ghost Dance, when the world ends, all the Indians will grow really tall, preparing for the flood. After the Apocalypse, the survivors will shrink down to normal size, and, free of shame, remove their clothes.
- Magical Queer: Winkte. Subverted because they can't have sex with each other, just with heterosexuals, who, oddly enough, can have sex with the same gender.
- Mons: In one Lakota story, Ksa (the Lakota god of wisdom) uses a porcupine as one while Gnas (a trickster) uses a skunk. The skunk's smell is super effective! against the porcupine. Ksa loses and becomes Iktomi.
- Noble Wolf: The wolf is usually portrayed more positively than in Western mythology. See for example Coyote.
- No Swastikas: The Hopi and Navajo don't use the swastika anymore.
- Numerological Motif: The number four shows up a lot.
- Odd Job Gods: And many of them, especially in Pueblo cultures
- Our Monsters Are Weird: Iktomi is sometimes a man, sometimes a spider. Uncegila is a giant water creature who, by revealing its seventh spot, guarantees the death of not only the viewer, but his whole family.
- Parental Incest: In Lakota mythology, Unk (contention) and Iya (the all consuming-one). They make many monsters together.
- Public Domain Artifact: Many, but primarily the sacred buffalo calf pipe, seven arrows, ghost shirts, dream catchers, and medicine wheels. Expect a lot of New Age appropriation of these. Real natives are not pleased.
- Sasquatch: Known as Ts'emekwes, Sásq’ets and various other names.
- Sea Monster: Unktehi, who is described as a snake with legs that can puff himself up to cause the rivers to overflow.
- Single Gender Race: The Piegan provide one for each gender.
- Sixth Ranger Traitor: A common trope on the plains, due to the emphasis on male solidarity. An aside, in a Five-Token Band, you can expect that if there is an Indian, he'll be the Sixth Ranger or this.
- Sixth Ranger: Up, down, and the center are often considered ancillary directions in addition to the usual four. In Lakota tradition, for instance, the four directions are the sons of the wind god. His wife cheated on him with the sun and bore him a son. This son, the whirlwind and god of love, was raised by the wind god's youngest son, the south wind, and as punishment, the boy's parents cannot see him.
- Skinwalker: Common in several Native American myths, kind of like the Wendigo.
- Theme Table: In some mythologies, there are many things which there is one of corresponding to each compass direction- for example, in Navajo mythology each direction is linked to (among other things) a colour, a type of corn, a type of rain, a type of animal, and one of the underworlds the Navajos passed through in Diné Bahaneʼ, the creation myth, while in Aztec mythology each direction has (among other things) a corresponding god, a corresponding colour and a corresponding age of the universe with a sin and a catastrophe which ended it.
- Trickster Archetype: Coyote, Raven, Iktomi, Rabbit
- Kokopelli's family-friendly picture is the trope image. His wanted poster reads: Charges: despoiling maidens, seducing wives, and gambling. Sometimes travels with horny woman, who calls herself Kokopelli-mana. May have been involved in the bankruptcy of Pueblo Bonito in the 13th century. He has a very big... flute which is always prominently depicted in traditional artwork.
- Turtle Island: The Iroquois are the Trope Namer.
- Twincest: In one Eskimo story, the moon rapes his sister, the sun. Also Rape as Drama.
- Unsettling Gender-Reveal: In one Apache story, Coyote demands a girl, and gets a boy dressed like a girl instead.
- Vagina Dentata: Done literally in one Ponca myth.
- Villainous Incest: And how!
- Vision Quest: Two Words: Obvious Trope, but not done in the Hollywood way.
- Wendigo: The Wendigo. May be an Eldritch Abomination.
- Word of Dante: Between New Agers and anthropologists, there are a lot of Dantes out there.
Other Tropes which may be found in various stories include:
- Adam and Eve Plot: Common to any origin tales.
- Bears Are Bad News: The Origin Story of Devil's Tower in Wyoming involves one or more gigantic bears trying to kill frightened children and the Creator raising the tower up under the kids to save them.
- Biggus Dickus
- Canon Discontinuity: The "matriarchal" Sioux when complete matriarchy doesn't exist.
- Fanservice: A lot of it, from Walking Shirtless Scene to Zettai Ryouiki—all male.
- Gag Penis: Coyote attempts to molest a woman by extending his phallus all the way through a gopher warren and up her skirt.
- Gambit Pileup: What a Trickster Archetype ends up doing most of the time.
- Heel-Face Revolving Door: Iktomi
- Lovecraft Country: Particularly common in white portrayals, but you can expect the usual small-town America references to UFOs and cryptozoology in Real Life.
- Pop-Cultural Osmosis: Kokopelli figurines; Eagle feathers; you name it.
- Proud Warrior Race: Plains mythology has a lot of war.
- Rule 34: There actually is a book called Sex Lives of American Indians. Everything in it's bullshit, though. For the homosexuals and Yaoi Fangirls, there's Spirit and the Flesh, where all you need to know is that there are sacred native transvestites who can't have sex with other transvestites but otherwise Everyone Is Bi. Everything else in it seems to invoke Rule 34, though. Finally, for the heterosexual females, you can just go to a powwow and watch the ladies grab a dancer's braids or lift up his loincloth.
- Shirtless Scene: Depending on culture area, this can range from wearing a shirt all the time except under the blanket to Shirtless Scene to Walking Shirtless Scene to total nudity.
- Shota Con: A Pawnee marriage custom: At puberty, a boy marries his mother's brother's wife. His co-husband teaches him how to be a man, while his wife teaches him about sex.
- Shout-Out: The Ghost Dance is a Shout-Out to the Bible.
- Take That: The Ghost Dance apocalypse has a pretty bad ending for white people. And the Indians who support them.
- Walking Shirtless Scene: Real Life example: Crazy Horse.
- Who Wants to Live Forever?: The initial view many tribes had of Christianity.
- Zettai Ryouiki: As with all accurate native clothing, fanservice is almost exclusively male: A loincloth and leggings leave a little area on the legs.