Iroquois Legends

These traditional oral stories are Iroqouis Legends, which include  Cayuga Legends, Oneida Legends, Onondaga Legends, Seneca Legends, Mohawk Legends, and Tuscarora Legends.

Common Characters Found in Iroquois Legends

The Creator (Shongwayadihsonh, in Cayuga): The high god of Iroquois mythology, a benevolent teacher and caretaker of the world. In some traditions the Creator is referred to as Orenda or the Great Spirit. 

Sky Woman: (Lotsitsisonh or Atsi’tsiaka:ion in Mohawk) The Cayuga mother goddess, said to have fallen through a hole in the sky. 

The Twin Gods: Sky Holder and Flint (Right-Handed and Left-Handed Twins in Tuscarora )
The culture heroes of the Cayuga tribe. In most Iroquois legends, the Twins are grandsons of Sky Woman and their mother dies in childbirth; however, in Cayuga legends the twins are often said to be Sky Woman’s sons. 

Sky Holder, the Good Spirit twin (sometimes known as Sapling,Djuskaha in Seneca;  Maple Sapling or Okwiraseh or Tharuhyawa:ku in Mohawk; Right-Handed Twin, Good Spirit, Good Mind, or Ka’tikenhrakwahst in Tuscarora) was the benefactor of the Cayugas and according to some tellings, the creator of humankind. He slew monsters and created many things to help humankind. In some Onondaga communities Sky-Holder is considered the same entity as Sapling, while in others, they are considered to be distinct. 

His twin Flint, the Bad Spirit twin (Warty or Othagwenda in Seneca;  Flint or Tawiskaron in Mohawk;  Left-Handed Twin, Bad Spirit or Bad Mind, Ka’tikenhra:ksen in Tuscarora) created everything negative and dangerous in the world, and according to some tellings, was responsible for introducing death to the world. 

The Thunders (Hadiwennodagyes in Cayuga,Hadiwennoda:dye’s in Onondaga): Powerful storm spirits who live in the sky and cause thunder and lightning. Although they are dangerous beings and their gaze can bring death to mortal men, they usually play a positive role in Cayuga legends and are typically portrayed as honorable and fair. The thunder god Hine in Seneca and Tuscarora, or Hinon in Mohawk (also known as Hinen or Heynuh) is their eldest brother and leader, often called “Grandfather” by the Senecas. 

Onatah: Spirit of the Corn, a fertility goddess and one of the Three Sisters of agriculture. 

Stone-Throwers: (Jigahenh, in Cayuga, Yakonenyoya’ks in Mohawk; Enkwehsayen, in Tuscarora) Little people of Iroquoian folklore. They are dwarf-like nature spirits about 2 feet tall. 

Stonecoats: (Ganehwa:s in Cayuga; Atnayalho in Oneida; Otneyarhed in OnondagaAtenenyarhu, in Mohawk; Thunenhyarhen in Tuscarora) Mythological giants of the Iroquois tribes, with skin as hard as stone. 

Flying Head: (Kanontsistóntie’s in Mohawk; Kunenhrayenhnenh, in Tuscarora) Monster in the form of a giant disembodied head, usually created during a particularly violent murder. The head comes back to seek revenge on the murderer and sometimes his children or neighbors.

Naked Bear: (Hnyagwai’go:wah, in Cayuga; Uya’kwaher, in Tuscarora): A giant, hairless bear monster. Some people associate them with mammoths. 

Onyare: A dragon-like horned serpent of the Great Lakes, feared for its habit of capsizing canoes and eating people. 

The Great Peacemaker (Hononhsoni:donh) and Hiawatha: The legendary founders of the Iroquois Confederacy and architects of the Great Law. 

Dry Fingers (O’nya:ten, in Cayuga): Disembodied mummified arm of Cayuga ghost stories.

Dry Hand: Disembodied mummified arm of Seneca ghost stories.

Drum Dancers (Tehotikal:luhe’, in Oneida): Little people of Iroquoian folklore. They are dwarf-like nature spirits about 2 feet tall. 

Stone Coats (Atnayalho, in Oneida): Mythological giants of the Iroquois tribes, with skin as hard as stone. 

The Great Peacemaker and Hiawatha: The legendary founders of the Iroquois Confederacy and architects of the Great Law.

Godasiyo: Legendary female chief of the Seneca and Tuscarora tribes.

Hoop Snake (Ti’karenweh, in Tuscarora): Mythological water spirit the size and shape of an ordinary snake, but with immense strength. In Tuscarora stories, Hoop Snakes lived underwater and were feared for their ability to catch humans and drag them underwater to drown.  

Iroquois Legends:

  • Cayuga Legends
    • The Story of the False Faces
    • The Story of the Great Turtle
    • The Story of the Three Sisters
    • The Story of the Tree of Peace
  • Oneida Legends
    • The Story of Hiawatha
    • The Story of the Deganawida
    • The Story of the Great Law of Peace
    • The Story of the Founding of the Iroquois Confederacy
    • The Story of the White Dog Sacrifice
  • Onondaga Legends
    • The Story of Tadodaho
    • The Story of the Stone Giants
    • The Story of the Great Serpent
    • The Story of the False Faces
    • The Story of the Medicine Lodge
  • Seneca Legends
    • The Story of Cornplanter
    • The Story of Red Jacket
    • The Story of Handsome Lake
    • The Story of the Ghost Dance
    • The Story of the Longhouse Religion
  • Mohawk Legends
    • The Story of Joseph Brant
    • The Story of Thayendanegea
    • The Story of the Battle of Oriskany
    • The Story of the Trail of Tears
    • The Story of the Mohawk Nation
  • Tuscarora Legends
    • The Story of the Tuscarora War
    • The Story of the Flight of the Tuscarora
    • The Story of the Founding of the Tuscarora Nation
    • The Story of the Tuscarora Language
    • The Story of the Tuscarora Culture

Article Index:

Onondaga Creation Story

Onondaga Creation Story, Oral History

The Onondaga (Onöñda’gega’ or the People of the Hills) are one of the original five constituent nations of the Iroquois (Haudenosaunee) Confederacy.

In the beginning of the earth there was no land, just water.

The Legend of the Peacemaker

In an ancient time, the Haudenosauneewere ruled by warfare and anarchy, and people lived in fear and hunger, preyed upon by powerful warriors and tyrants.

One day, a canoe made of white stone carried a man, born of a virgin, across Onondaga Lake to announce the good news of peace had come, and killing and violence would end. “Peace,” he said, “is the desire of the Holder of the Heavens. Peace comes when people adopt the Creator’s mind, which is reason.”

For years The Peacemaker traveled teaching the Path of Peace—that “all people love one another and live together in peace.” One by one he convinced each person, village and nation to accept his teaching. Hiawatha, an Onondaga, was his spokesman.