Pawnee mythology

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Pawnee mythology is the body of myths and legends belonging to the Pawnee concerning their gods and heroes. The Pawnee are a federally recognized tribe of Native Americans, originally located on the Great Plains along tributaries of the Missouri River. They spoke a Caddoan language.


Beliefs and practices

Tirawa (also called Atius Tirawa) was the creator god. He taught the Pawnee people tattooing, fire-building, hunting, agriculture, speech and clothing, religious rituals (including the use of tobacco and sacred bundles), and sacrifices. He was associated with most natural phenomena, including stars and planets, wind, lightning, rain, and thunder.

The solar and lunar deities were Shakuru and Pah, respectively. Four major stars were said to represent gods and were part of the Creation story, in which the first human being was a girl. The Morning Star and Evening Star mated to create her.

Archeologists and anthropologists have determined the Pawnee had a sophisticated understanding of the movement of stars. They noted the nonconforming movements of both Venus (Evening Star) and Mars (Morning Star). The Pawnee centered all aspects of daily life on this celestial observation, including the important cultivation cycle for sacred corn.

They built earthwork lodges to accommodate the sedentary nature of Pawnee culture; each lodge "was at the same time the universe and also the womb of a woman, and the household activities represented her reproductive powers."[1] The lodge also represented the universe in a more practical way. The physical construction of the house required setting up four posts to represent the four cardinal directions, “aligned almost exactly with the north-south, east-west axis.[2]

Along with the presence of the posts, four other requirements marked the Pawnee lodge as an observatory:

Through both the historical and archaeological record, it is clear that the Pawnee lifestyle was centered on the observation of the celestial bodies, whose movements formed the basis of their seasonal rituals. The positions and construction of their lodges placed their daily life in the center of a scaled-down universe. They could observe the greater universe outside and be reminded of their role in perpetuating the universe.

According to one Skidi band Pawnee man at the beginning of the twentieth century, “The Skidi were organized by the stars; these powers above made them into families and villages, and taught them how to live and how to perform their ceremonies. The shrines of the four leading villages were given by the four leading stars and represent those stars which guide and rule the people.”[4]

The Pawnee paid close attention to the universe and believed that for the universe to continue functioning, they had to perform regular ceremonies. These ceremonies were performed before major events, such as semi-annual buffalo hunts, as well as before many other important activities of the year, such as sowing seeds in the spring and harvesting in the fall.

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