Cherokee Spirituality – An Overview
Some of the practices of the Cherokee are surprisingly familiar to Pagan practitioners. One such practice is the creation of sacred space. The Cherokee practice circle casting, or more specifically, they create a sphere of sacred space. One difference is that they construct and take down the circle in the widdershins direction. Following are the correspondences:
North – The Path of Quiet, animal – deer (A wi), color – Blue (sadness, humility, defeat), Season – Winter, Lesson – calm and healing
East – The Path of the Sun, animal – eagle (u wo ha li), color – Red (victory, power, war), Season – Spring, Lesson – personal truths and interpersonal experience, family commitment
South – The Path of Peace, animal – rabbit (Tsi sdu), color – White (peace, happiness, serenity), Season – Summer, Lesson – curiosity, playfulness, innovation, creativity
West – The Path of Introspection, animal – bear (yona), color – Black (hidden things), Season – Autumn, Lesson – knowing ourselves well, the Ancestors, Land of the Dead
Above – Color – Yellow, represents peace and order of the Seven Worlds
Below – Color – Orange/Brown, represents chaos and turmoil of the Earth – ever-changing
Center – Color – Green – the Kitawha place, this is the place we are now and where we are connected to all others.
Before entering the circle, each person is smudged by the Medicine Man or Woman, sometimes males are smudged by males and females by females. Smudging is done in a particular way, beginning with the heart – where Cherokee’s believe our souls reside. Generally, small children are not allowed in circle, nor do people leave the sacred space. The people believe that by wearing items owned by their dead ancestors (or perhaps a bit of their ashes in a bag) that they are taking those people into the ceremony as well, so the sacredness is quite important.
After entering the circle, the participants may go to a particular cardinal point depending on their need. For example, healing prayers would be offered at the North.
The Cherokee are Pantheists, believing that spirit resides in all animate and inanimate objects. One should thank the sacrificing spirit when killing game or taking anything (such as harvesting herbs). Tobacco, sage, and corn meal are common gifts for this purpose. They also make use of crystals for healing, magic, and divination.
The Cherokee regard the number Seven as sacred, thus they celebrate 7 sacred ceremonies. The ceremonies are celebrated when the first sliver of the new moon is observed. In case of cloudy weather where the tribe cannot view the moon, the ceremony does not take place. The seventh ceremony is only held every 7 years.
Following is a brief description of the Ceremonies:
First New Moon of Spring – celebrated at about the time the grass begins to grow. Prior to the ceremony, the women perform the friendship dance. During this festival, all the house fires are extinguished and restarted from the sacred fire. Each family would sacrifice the tongue of the next deer killed in the newly kindled fire in their home.
New Green Corn Feast – When the corn has reached the ripeness that it is “fit to taste” an ear is gathered from each of the seven clan and thanks is offered by the Uku (High Priest).
Ripe Green Corn Feast – starts 40 -50 days after the New Green Corn Feast. If the corn is ripening as expected, a dance is held. 20 days after the dance, a great feast is celebrated with much happiness and exultation.
Great New Moon Festival – This is celebrated at the appearance of the first new moon in Autumn and marks the beginning of the Lunar year. This festival celebrates the creation of the Earth.
Propitiation and Cementation Festival – A day or two after the Great New Moon Festival the Uku and seven counselors meet to determine the date (which is always 7 days later). This festival marks the expression of devotion for the source of blessings. It is also a time for cleansing impurities and the replacing of fires in the home.
Bounding Bush Festival – This marks the end of the festivals for the year. It is a joyous feast where offerings of wild tobacco are offered to the great sacred fire.
Ookah Dance – This festival occurs every seven years and is the time when thanks are offered to the Creator.