Haudenosaunee Spiritual Mythology


Last Updated: 1 year These Haudenosaunee spiritual concepts are intended as a general reference guide for students of Eastern Woodland mythology. The format will consist of a Name (and occasionally a translation in the Seneca or Seneca-Mingo dialects) with a description of the divinity.

The Haudenosaunee – commonly known as the Iroquois – are a confederation of closely related tribes located in the northeastern United States and adjacent districts in Canada. In earlier times, their region extended from the St. Laurence Seaway, across almost all of upper state New York, and into northern Pennsylvania. Additionally, they or tribes directly connected to them (such as the Mingo) held predominant influence in much of the rest of Pennsylvania, southern Ontario, and parts of Ohio and West Virginia.

Other tribes in the region who were closely related to the Haudenosaunee. and shared many of the same beliefs and mythologies, were the Huron (Wyandot), Erie, Wenro, and Neutral. The Haudenosaunee were themselves composed of five tribes – the Seneca, Cayuga, Onondaga, Oneida, and Mohawk nations, with a sixth, the Tuscarora, joining later. They are of critical importance in the development of the region.

The Haudenosaunnee rapidly expanded territorially after the 16th century, gaining a lock on all the upper northeast from New England to Kentucky and, by subsequently allying themselves with the British rather than the French, they prevented the French from any significant expansion into the American heartland. It is widely recognized that their union of semi-independent nations, with an elected head and a great council in a central locale, had far-reaching influence over the founders of the United States.

Adekagagawaa – The Great Spiritin visible Aspect as the sun. As such, He governs all the weather spirits, and each of the spirits of the seasons.

Areskoui – The Great Spirit’s Patron of the hunt and of war.

Ataentsic (Also called Atseatsine.) (translation: Woman-Who-Fell-To-Earth) – First woman, mother of Yoskeha and Tawiskaron. The wife of Atseatsan, She is said to have fallen, pregnant, to Earth while chasing a bear to obtain medicine for Her spouse. Giving birth to Her twin sons, She remained on Earth, suffering cruel torments.

Ataentsic is an ambiguous figure – on the one hand She is regarded as Mother to humanity, and the bringer of the gifts of corn and meat. On the other hand, she is said to be a malevolent witch, conjoining with Her evil child Tawiskaron to wreak havoc and injury upon those She can gain control of.

Atseatsan – First man, husband of Atseatsine (Ataensic). A solar divinity, He and His spouse help to raise the sun up into the heavens on long poles, since it is too hot to take hold of directly.

Awaeh Yegendji (translation: Mother Swan) – She is a aged wisewoman living alone in the forest with Her three daughters. Suffering privation, She urged Her children to marry so that She could be provided for and, after lengthy attempts to woo Big Earth’s son, the eldest and youngest daughters are accepted as His mates.

Awataerohi – A disease spirit, caused when it takes up residence within a victim’s body. It can be cured only by holding a particular sort of ritual feast and dance – their are twelve types of Awataerohi illnesses, each associated with it’s own special dance as a cure.

Bean Woman – One of three sisters (the others are Corn Woman and Squash Woman), the Patroness and revealer of the bean vine as one of the three primary staples to humanity.

Breath-of-the-Wind – An aerial spirit, child of Ataensic. Some versions of the Ataensic cycle have it that Breath-of-the-Wind is the mother of Yoskeha and Tawiskaron rather than Ataensic.

Cannibal Woman – It is told that she was one who prepared a meal for herself, but spared nothing for her husband’s dogs. Orendato caused her to cut herself and, sucking on the wound, she found she liked the taste better than the meal she has prepared. She thereupon mutilates herself badly, and finishes by slaying and eating her child. The dogs flee and warn her husband, who then settles elsewhere with them.

Corn Woman One of three sisters (the others are Bean Woman and Squash Woman), the Patroness and revealer of maize as one of the three primary staples to humanity.

Dagwanoenyent – The spirit of the tornado, She is the daughter of the wind, and a malevolent witch. She can be slain, but even if She is burned to ashes, She will revivify at the time of the next storm. The only way of insuring Her subdual is to carefully separate Her ashes into three different containers, and keep those containers far from one another.

Daganoweda – Perhaps a deified mortal – he is said to have been a Huron living c. 1550 CE, a prophet who had a vision of all the Iroquian peoples of the St. Laurence region united under a tree of peace. He appeared to Haiohwatha and convinced him to undertake the task of unification. Mythologically, He has become identified as a son of the Great Spirit, assuming human form to preach the message of diverse strengths within the commonwealth and an end to incessant feuding.

Dahdahwat – Any of a variety of spirit creatures who can assume a variety of forms, and appear in dreams. They are dangerous, and can kill if enough attack a victim together.

Dajoji – Spirit of the West Wind, and guardian spirit of the cougar. He is associated with Gaoh, and the two of them will combat violent storms. His battle shriek will cause all who hear it to panic – even the sun itself will hide behind a cloud.

Deadoendjadases (translation: Earth-Circler) – A cannibal giant who lived with His three sisters, and protected a giant strawberry patch. He was eventually brought down by members of the Turkey, Partridge, and Quail clans.

Deagahgweoses (translation: Long Upper Eyelid) – The Patron of tobacco, who makes it by hammering plant-stuff and singing the proper songs to it while doing so.

Deanodjes (translation: He of the Two Teeth) – The Walrus spirit.

Dehodyatgaieweh (translation: He is split asunder) – A Forest Face, partaking in equal measure the essence of the East in one half of His body, and of the West in the other half.

Dehotgohsgayeh (translation: Split-Face) – A giant who dwells in the south, and is a guardian spirit of the hickory tree. He is helpful, and can protect against evil. He also has associations with darkness, bears, and thunder.

Djieien – A monstrous spider spirit, huge and evil, whose vital essence is kept hidden and apart from it’s body, so that it can regain form after even the strongest attacks.

Djigaahehwa – Any of a class of lesser spirits who appear as dwarvish people and have authority over plant life, especially the growth and fluorishing of medicinal herbs. They are of the Husk Face family of spirits.

Djoeaga – The Raccoon spirit, a common character in many tales.

Doonongaes (translation: He of the Two Horns) – A horned serpent who dwells in lakes and ponds. Generally hostile to humans, he is a shapeshifter who can assume human form. He defends his water by causing anyone who dips a hand in it to lose that hand. His special associate is Skahnowa, and his particular enemy is Hinon.

Eithinoha – A female spirit associated with fertility – She is the mother of Onatha.

Faces in the Forest – Any of a class of spirits dwelling in deep woods, and appearing as faces imbedded within the bark of trees or of a pattern of leaves. They are associated with particular trees or locales within the forest. Their orenda (extraordinary invisible power believed by the Iroquois Indians to pervade in varying degrees all animate and inanimate natural objects as a transmissible spiritual energy capable of being exerted according to the will of its possessor ) may be utilized in healing by carving a mask from the living wood of a tree, and using the mask within medicine dances and rituals to portray that particular spirit. In return for gifts of tobacco and white corn mush, they will appear in dreams and teach healing rituals.

False Faces – Any of a class of spirits who serve Shagodyowehgowah and, like He and their less powerful brethren, the Forest Faces and the Husk Faces, may be induced to teach or provide healing in return for gifts of cornmeal mush and tobacco.

Like the other similar classes, False Faces are the subject of carved masks which portray them and are utilized within healing rituals. They dwell in many locales, particularly mountains. Although defeated along with their chief in their bid for mastery over the world, they retain great power, and are useful allies or terrible enemies, depending upon whether one gives them due honor, or ignores them.

Gaasyendietha  – Meteor Fire Lizards, creature who dwell within bodies of water and are only seen when they briefly travel from one lake to another – if they extended their stay above water, they would set the forest afire from their heat. They are dangerous but not necessarily evil, and some tales relate circumstances under which they have aided humans, unlike the Doonongaes, who never help humans.

Gadjiqsa – A Husk Face spirit who provides defenses against Ganiagwaihegowa.

Ga-gaah – A crow spirit sent by Adekagagawaato bring corn to humanity.

Gagohsa – The Seneca term for False Face spirits as a class, and the masks that portray them.

Gahongas – Any of a class of spirits in dwarven form, who are specially associated with rocks and stone – they are immensely strong for their size.

Gandayaks – Any of a class of spirits in dwarven form, who have power over living plants of all sorts, and control their growth and health. They also have some power over fish as well. See also Djigaahehwa.

Ganiagwaihegowa – A monstrous bear, nearly invulnerable except to attacks to the soles of his feet. He devours humans, and in some stories dwells in the underworld.

Ganyajigowa – Mud-Hen spirit, a trickster figure in much the same vein as coyote is to many Amerindian cultures. She gives names to many things at the beginning of time, and engages in many contests with other creatures, in which Her guardian spirit proves superior to theirs. She is ultimately slain by a Gaasyendietha.

Gaoh – Master of the Winds, He directs the activities of Dajoji, Keksa’aa Uneuke, Nyagwai, and Uyetani, Offerings of tobacco and white corn mush will placate Him, and earn His aid.

Gaqga – Crow spirit, well known for sociability and thievery.

Gendenwitha – The morning star. Originally a beautiful mortal woman, she was brought into the sky and transformed into a star by a semi-divine suitor who did so in order to protect her from the jealousy of the Dawn.

Godasiyo – A female chieftain who governed the people when the world was young. The Haudenosaunee are matrilineal (descent is traced through the mother and maternal ancestors) in matters of inheritence and descent – but note also the difference between matrilineal and matriarchal, ( a social organizational form in which the mother or oldest female heads the family), which the Haudenosaunee weren’t.

In those times, everyone spoke the same language. Because of trouble over Godasiyo’s dog, she decided to move her village upriver. Coming to a fork in the river, the villagers begin to squabble over which branch to follow, and the paddlers in Godasiyo’s canoe started fighting. The platform she sat upon in the canoe shattered, and she was tipped into the river, becoming a large fish in the process. Since that day, the people who were fighting can no longer speak to one another, since each speaks a separate language.

Godiont – A female chieftain of the people when the world was young. The Haudenosaunee are matrilineal in matters of inheritence and descent (descent is traced through the mother and maternal ancestors- but note also the difference between matrilineal and matriarchal, which the Haudenosaunee weren’t), who arranges for the False Facespirits to dwell in the Genesee Valley. They are mocked by a tribesperson however, and so they leave the valley, instructing Godiont in the making of False Face masks, and their proper use.

Gohone – The divinity of Winter, and things associated with that season. He is a servant of Adekagagawaa.

Gonyahsgweont (translation: Her Throat is Swollen) – The Toad spirit.

Great Spirit – Generic term for the creator and master of all the world; found not only in translations of Haudenosaunee ideas, but used as a term by non-Indians for similar ideas among many tribes. (See Wakan Tanka among the Sioux.) Among the Iroquois, the “Great Spirit” manifests in any of several entities or Aspects – see Adekagagawaa, Areskoui, Hawenniyo, Shagodyowehgowah, Tareyawagon, and Tarhuhyiawahku.

Gwiyee – Seagull spirit. Gulls are regarded as being vain and inclined to chase after people, although they have been commanded not to by Ganyajigowa.

Hadentheni & Hanigongendatha (translation: Speaker & Interpreter) – Two heroes who undergo an initiatory journey in order to become fully a part of the people. Shunned by their village because they know not who they are, they traveled through the forest on a trail which lead them first to the Sun, then to the Moon, then to “Uncle.” Each station prepares them for the next, and Uncle finishes by disassembling each, purifying their bones, and reassembling them. He sends them on to the Afterlife, Hawenniyo’s longhouse, where they are welcomed and instructed in lore. Returning to their village, they teach the people what they have learned, and are accepted in turn.

Hadjihsa Thokste?ah – Eldest and chief of the Husk Face spirits. He taught humans the proper way of honouring Husk Faces, and instructed humans in what powers Husk Faces held.

Hadu?i  – A Hunchbacked being, a senior member of the False Face class of spirits. He contested with Hawenniyo for mastery but, losing, was bid to assist humans as long as they honoured the False Faces with the appropriate dances and gifts.

Hagondes (translated: Longnose) – A cannibal spirit, represented by a buckskin mask. He is regarded as a bogey-type entity who carries off truculent or ill-behaved children in His basket.

Hagonsadji (translated: Blackface) – Rattlesnake totem spirit.

Hagowanen – Huntsman spirit, who travels the forest bringing down game and reducing the catch to tiny bundles for ease of transfer. Husband to Hongak, He is captured by Djieien, but ultimately rescued by his son Othegwenhda.

Haiohwatha (normally transcribed now as “Hiawatha”) – A deified mortal, a Mohawk medicine man who evidentally lived circa 1570 CE. He apparently was visited by or had a vision of Daganoweda, who convinced him to undertake the herculean task of unifying the Iroquoian tribes of the St. Laurence Seaway region. Spending the rest of his life on this ultimately succcessful mission, he has become recognized as a spirit of lawfulness, order, and pan-tribal organization.

Hanehwa – An Anema (spirit or soul), created by a powerful sorceror or witch as a guardian of their lodge. It is constructed from the flayed skin of an enemy, and will shout if danger approaches.

Hanogahga (translation: The Whistler) A False Face spirit, adept at healing if properly honored.

Hawenniyo – An Aspect of the Great Spirit who figures largely in origin tales concerning False Face spirits. He is said to be master over all, and the progenitor of tobacco.

Hinon (translation: Thunderer) – A divinity associated with thunder and torrential storms, with rainbows, and with healing. He lives within a cavern behind Niagara Falls, and is another Haudenosaunee spirit who has associations with tobacco – He has instructed the people to honor Him by not smoking, but burying small amounts in the soil. Although beneficial to humans, He is inclined to solitude and seldom ventures away from His lair.

Hodesadoghdo – A False Face spirit, noted as a healer.

Hodigohsosga  – A class of False Face spirits, adepts at healing and ritual.

Hongak  – Canada Goose spirit. Spouse of Hagowanen, and mother of Othegwenhda. She gives to Her son a flint amulet containing much of her orenda (spirit), to aid him on his quest.

Honochenokeh – Any of a class of invisible spirits, beneficial to humans.

Hotho – Spirit of Winter; but see also, Gohone. Stories about Hotho revolve around His contest with a hunter who claims Hotho cannot freeze him over the course of a night – by careful preparations the hunter survives, requiring Hotho to submit and allow Spring to commence.

Husk Faces – Any of a class of spirits who dwell within certain types of plants, especially maize, beans, and squash. They, like their brethren the False Faces and the Forest Faces, may be placated by gifts of tobacco and white corn into providing healing. Gadjiqsa and the Djigaahehwaare an examples of Husk Faces.

Hustoyowanen (translation: Long-Snout) – Deer (adult male) totem spirit.

Jokao (translation: Stonecoats) – Any of a class of spirits associated with Winter. Their origins are obscure – some tales relate that they are purely spirits, but other stories say that they were humans who turned cannibal during harsh winters. In either case, their stone coats must be divested by hunters offering them melted deer fat, so that the snow may begin melting and spring occur.

Keksa’aa Uneuke (translation: Young Deer, Fawn) – Spirit of the South Wind, and guardian spirit of the deer, associated with Gaoh.

Keneu – Golden Eagle spirit., closely associated with Hinon.

Nyagwai – Spirit of the North Wind, and guardian spirit of the bear. He is associated with Gaoh.

Ohdowas – Any of a class of dwarven spirits, evil beings who dwell in the under earth and direct the activities of various monsters and other evil entities.

Ohohwa – Owl spirit, enemy of all rodentkind.

Ohswedogo – Guardian of the West, placed there by the Great Spirit at the beginning of days to be a help to humans.

Oki – A Huron specific class of invisible Power spirits, carriers of magical energy. Oki are both spirits, and unusual objects such as the sky, shamans, madmen, amulets, etc. Oki will appear in animal form to certain individuals known as Arendiwane (a word thought to be cognate with the Iroquoian orenda) within dreams, there to possess them and make of them powerful sorcerors and medicine men.

Onatha – Fertility Goddess associated with grain, especially wheat. She is the daughter of Eithinoha.

Onditachiae – Turkey (adult male) spirit, associated with power over thunder and rain.

Ondoutaehte – War divinity, a being of ambiguous size and gender – some tales describe Him as a dwarf, others regard Her as an elderly crone – who causes dissension and the need for retaliation.

Onoqgontgowa – The Bumblebee spirit – named by Ganyajigowa despite wanting to remain nameless.

Orenda & Otgon – Not spirits as such, they can assume the force of sentient spirits under some circumstances. Orenda and Otgon are the invisible Power, spiritual and/or magical force which permeates all being. They can be collected and enhanced, but they exist and flow through everything. Orenda is good energy, Otgon is evil energy. (See Wakan among the Sioux for a very similar idea, and note also Okiamong the Huron. Also compare to anima and animus, which in Carl Jung’s school of analytical psychology,  are the two primary anthropomorphic archetypes of the unconscious mind.

Othegwenhda – Child of Hagowanen and Hongak, and a hero-figure treading a gray area between mortal and spirit. He goes on an extended journey to rescue his father, encountering and defeating many foes in what seems to be an initiatory sequence – one such adventure is his slaying of Djieien.

Shadahgeah – A dweller in the mists above the clouds, ruler of all birdkind. Described in some contexts as vulture-like, and in others like an eagle. Very likely there is a connection to some degree or other with the Thunderbird image which appears in many Indian mythologies.

Shagodyowehgowah – A supreme deity, the ruler of the very powerful False Face class of spirits and, according to the Seneca, the author of creation as a whole.

Shodieonskon – A trickster divinity in much the same pattern as Coyote or Ganyajigowa. He plays cruel practical jokes on all manner of people, for personal advantage or simply out of perversity. He is said to be the brother of Death.

Skahnowa – Great Turtle spirit, servant and guardian of Doonongaes.

Squash Woman – One of three sisters (the others are Bean Woman and Corn Woman), the Patroness and revealer of the squash plant as one of the three primary staples to humanity.

Tareyawagon – A supreme deity among the Mohawk, who say that He liberated them as a tribe from imprisonment in the under earth, and led them to the Valley of the Mohawk.

Tarhuhyiawahku – A supreme spirit, the holder-up-of-the-Heavens.

Tawiskaron – The evil son of Ataentsicand, like her, bent on the destruction of humans. Among the Mohawk He is a Winter divinity. Here, He tries to build a bridge of flint into human lands, so that all the creatures of famine can come and devour humans. He is tricked by Sapling and Bluebird into fleeing before the bridge is built, though, so humanity endures.

Tsiyae – Dog spirit. Dogs are favoured and respected creatures in Haudenosaunee tales – aside from their attributes of help with the hunt and conspicuous loyalty, it is recognized that they are very wise, for they hear everything that is said around the campfire, but do not reveal what they know.

Tsohoqgwais – The Chipmunk spirit. He is marked due to an encounter with Bear, who took a swipe at Him and scarred His back.

Twehdaigo – Guardian of the East, placed there by the Great Spirit at the beginning of days to be a help to humans.

Uyetani – Spirit of the East Wind, and guardian moose deity. He is associated with Gaoh.

Yiyantsinni – A group of twelve solar spirits which hold the sun up on long poles.

Yoskeha – The good child of Ataentsic, and the bringer of the secret of fire to humans, which he learned from Turtle.