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 Cherokee taboos and traditions

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Cherokee Taboos

There are at least nine rules about taboos, which are practiced by the Cherokee tribe.

Some plants and animals that should not ordinarily be killed.

It is forbidden to kill an eagle, wolf, or rattlesnake. There were and are a few people who are trained specialists that deal with killing a wolf, eagle, or rattlesnake. Specialists for taking Eagles come from the Bird Clan and specialists for killing wolves come from the Wolf Clan. It is rarely done but sometimes they are hired to do this.

The reasons for it being done vary but one of the main reasons is to acquire certain parts of these animals for ritual and ceremonial use. Certain rituals, ceremonies, and dances require this. The Eagle Dance, for example, requires the use of eagle feathers.

As to plants, the killing of evergreens is generally avoided but sometimes these are harvested and used usually for ceremonial purposes. When this is done it is done by people who know what they are doing, by people who are aware of the proper forms of ritual associated with the taking of an evergreen. It is more common for a part of an evergreen to be properly taken and used for medical or ceremonial use than the entire plant. For example, in some ceremonies pine boughs are thrown onto the fire.

In some Cherokee families, sometimes sprigs of cedar or pine needles are put into a pot of hot coals. This produces a smoldering effect giving of a great quantity of pungent smoke which is then used for purification.

Evergreen wood is never used for common tools or firewood etc. Like the evergreens, ginseng, is a sacred plant and is respected. When seeking ginseng the first three or four plants are passed by, when the desired plant is found and uprooted with proper prayer some beads are placed in the hole. Any offering would really suffice but traditionally red beads are used for this.

Cherokee preparations for war or for the hunt

Men who are preparing for war must avoid sexual intercourse for four days prior to leaving and four days after returning. During these periods they will undergo purification. This same rule is heeded for going on a large hunt.

Cherokee traditions after killing a deer

After killing a deer the hunter should cut out the hamstrings and leave them behind. He should not leave them in the meat. He should also not leave without offering a prayer for pardon to the deer. He should use the tip of the deer's tongue as an offering of thanks by putting it in the fire. It is also common for people to throw some of the meat from every meal to the fire as an offering of thanks.

Taboos for pregnant Cherokee women

Women who are pregnant should avoid eating squirrel, speckled trout, rabbit, and they should be sparing with salt. They should not loiter in doorways or wear anything tied around their neck such as a neckerchief.

For three months after birth the mother should not prepare meals for her husband and should avoid sexual intercourse with him, she should also avoid touching him in general.

Young children should not touch moles.

This is probably because moles carry lots of diseases and young children often put their hands in their mouths.

Cherokee menstrual taboos

Women in their moon time (going through the menstrual cycle) should be separated from the community by going to stay in a house built by the community for this purpose, they should remain there for the duration of their menstruation.

Women in their moon time should avoid men, they should not be upstream or upwind from them and should never touch them or prepare food for them, they should never take part in any community ceremonies. At the end of their bleeding they should be purified by sweating and going to water before re-entering the community. This is not disrespective to women in any way, quite to the contrary. This is done because of our great respect for women and the creative powers they possess.

A menstruating woman's presence anywhere in the vicinity of a ritual or ceremony could render it ineffective or could cause some other problem. A woman's menstrual cycle is evidence of her creative powers. It is a time when they should be careful because of the strong energies they exude.

Cherokee food taboos

Foods from the opposing realms of this world should not be mixed. For example foods from the upper world of sky such as birds should not be mixed with foods from the lower world of water and underground such as fish.

Cherokee clan taboos

Members of the same clan may not have sexual relationships with each other.

Cherokee death taboos

The mourning period lasts for one year during which the name of the deceased should not be spoken.

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Names of the Cherokee moons
Names and meanings of the months in the Cherokee language.

Little Carpenter, Peace Chief of the Cherokee, 1699-1797
According to his son, Turtle At Home, his father was originally a Mishwakihha, one of the divisions of the Nipissing Indians, and had been captured as an infant and adopted by the Cherokees.

Tsi'yu-gunsini - Dragging Canoe, Chickamaugas Chief
Tsi'yu-gunsini was a war leader who led a dissident band of young Cherokees against the United States in the American Revolutionary War. Dragging Canoe is considered by many to be the most significant leader of the Southeast, and provided a significant role model for the younger Tecumseh, who was a member of a band of Shawnee living with the Chickamaugas and taking part in their wars.

The Raven Mocker is the most dreaded of Cherokee witches
A Raven Mocker can be of either sex, and there is no real way to know one. They usually look old and withered, because they have added so many lives to their own.

Shadow of the Eagle
A Cherokee poem.

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