Spirituality is central to the beliefs of Native American tribes. The majority of tribes believe that animals, plants, rivers, and more are spiritual beings that deserve to be treated with respect. Many different spirits and beings, both good and evil, are common in Native American stories.
Another important aspect of many Native American beliefs is the idea of balance. In general, while Native Americans consider evil spirits to be bad, they also consider them to be necessary. Without them, the world would not be proportionate.
Therefore, while there are many good-hearted beings in Native American stories, such as the Nunnehi in Cherokee culture, there are also many threatening ones, such as the Skinwalkers in Navajo culture.
The Cherokee have an especially interesting world view in which they don’t consider the spiritual and physical worlds to be different. They believe that there are three different worlds: the Upper World, the Under World, and This World. The Upper World is related to the past and predictability while the Under World is related to the future and change. This World represents the present and is where humans live.
In This World, humans don’t have power over other living things, but coexist with nature and try to maintain the world’s natural equilibrium.
While the Cherokee have many beliefs and believe in many different spiritual and earthly beings, one of the most interesting is the Nunnehi. The Nunnehi are a fairy-like, immortal creatures that live in underground houses in the southern Appalachian Mountains.
It is said that Cherokee hunters would hear music from the Nunnehi as they walked through the mountains, but as soon as they got close the music would come from a different direction. The Nunnehi only appear to humans when they want to be seen.
In general, the Nunnehi are good, helpful beings and there are many Native American stories in which the Nunnehi have helped the Cherokee escape danger. There are also many stories which show the fun-loving nature of these creatures.
In one of these stories, a Cherokee village was having a celebration with fire, music, and dancing. Four women arrived and began dancing with the Cherokee men for hours. The natives believed that they were women from another tribe, but after the party they began walking toward the Nottely River and disappeared into thin air. The Cherokee then realized that they were not women from another village, but Nunnehi.
The Navajo Skinwalker
Not all beings in the Native American world view are good. There are also many evil creatures and spirits that are feared.
One of these are Navajo skinwalkers. The Navajo believe that skinwalkers are medicine men or witches who have reached the highest level in their practice but choose to use this power for evil.
In order to become a Navajo skinwalker, the medicine man or witch must kill a close family member. They transform into their animal of choice at night- which is usually an owl, coyote, fox, crow, or wolf- and torment the other members of the tribe. During the day, they live among the tribe normally.
Tribe members who’ve had experiences with skinwalkers claim that they’ve heard banging and knocking sounds, and some have even seen animal-like figures peering through their windows.
It’s said that skinwalkers wear the skin of the animal that they transform into. And therefore, it’s taboo to wear any animal skins in Navajo culture, except buckskin and sheepskin for ceremonial purposes.
The only way to harm a Navajo skinwalker is to discover its true identity and say its full name out loud. The skinwalker will get sick or even die as a result of the pain and suffering it has caused.
Skudakumooch- The Ghost-Witch
Another terrifying figure, from the Passamaquoddy and Micmac tribes, is Skudakumooch, or the Ghost-Witch. This creature is born from the corpse of a shaman that practiced black magic during his or her life.
This creature presents itself at night and has only the intention to kill. Even more terrifying, the Native Americans believe that victims can be harmed or cursed even from just making eye contact or hearing the voice of the Skudakumooch.
The only way to defeat this beast is with fire.
A wendigo, sometimes called a windigo, is one of the most popular creatures in Native American spirituality. It originates from Algonquian-speaking tribes and is a cannibalistic monster with evil intentions.
According to the Native Americans that have experienced wendigo sightings, these beasts can take the form of animals with human characteristics or they can possess a human body. Some tribes also believe that humans can become wendigos if they become too greedy.
Wendigos are never satisfied with what they have. They are never satisfied with killing, and often eating, just one victim and are always searching for more.
Overall, Native American spirituality and beliefs are both different and wildly fascinating. For nearly every spirit that is helpful and benevolent there is one that is feared and malicious.
But even the wicked spirits and creatures are respected in Native American culture. Without them, the universe would not be balanced. And the balance between good and evil is what helps maintain order and peace in the world.