Lakota Spiritual Mythology


Last Updated: 10 years

These Lakota spiritual concepts are intended as a general reference guide for students of Plains Indian mythology. The format will consist of a Name (and occasionally a translation) with a description of the divinity.

The description will include areas of authority, attributes,  appearance, and selected comments or stories which might help characterize the divinity better.

Anog Ite (Double-Face Woman)– Originally Ite, daughter of  Skan and wife of Tate. Caught while attempting to replace Hanwi by seducing Wi, she was condemned to bear two faces, one beuatiful and the other hideous. She is in some ways a figure of disharmony, of turning aside from tradition – She appears in dreams to young women, offering to teach them the skill of Quilling (Quilling is a complex and difficult technique of matching, dyeing, and attaching porcupine quills to a robe – full-length quill robes are rare and valued ceremonial garb.), or sometimes other crafts. The role of a quiller is regarded as a valued skill, but often good quillers do not follow societal norms: they spend most of their time attending to the needs of their craft, and seldom marry – many become lesbians, in fact.

Anp – Spirit of light, especially the reddish sunlight of dawn. Created by Skan as sourceless radiance in replacement of Han, the icy emptyness of Makawas thus revealed, whereupon Wi was created; but then things became too hot. It was ordained, therefore, that Han should be recalled from the place of exile under Maka and Anp go there, but only for a short while – they should follow each other in regular fashion in order that Maka be not too hot, or cold, or dark, or bright.

Capa – The Beaver. This animistic spirit is regarded as the source and patron of hard work and domestic tranquility.

Cetan – The Hawk. This animistic spirit is regarded as the source and patron of swiftness in action, and inner stamina.

Han – Spirit of darkness. Evidentally pre-existant to all things, Han was banished to underneath Maka by Skan, who replaced him with Anp. This proved to carry difficulties with it, and so an arrangement was worked out whereby Han and Anp would follow each other to exile beneath Maka and return, thereby balancing light and dark.

Hanwi – The moon; created by Wito to accompany Him. She wanders somewhat, though.

Hehaka -The (male) Elk. This animistic spirit is regarded as the source and patron of sexuality and intimate relations.

Heyoka – The Spirit of perversity and chaos, considered both as a divine entity in it’s own right, and the effects of that spirit upon humans. The entity is double-faced (see also Anog Ite), showing joy on one side and grief on the other. He is said to be the source of meteors, and in other ways exhibits most of the characteristic heyoka attributes.

Mortals who dream of Wakinyan often become heyokas – they laugh when sad and cry when happy, they walk backwards, they wear their clothing backwards or in reverse order, and they often dress in winter gear during summer, and vice-versa. They are known to have healing powers, and can interpret dreams. Thunder and lightning terrify them.

Hihankara (Owl-Maker) An aged crone who stands upon the entrance to the Sky-Road (the Milky Way). She examines each nagiwho who approaches, and if they cannot show her the proper tattoos, she pushes them from the path and they  fall back to earth, to wander there as ghosts.

Hnaska – The Frog. This animistic spirit is regarded as the source and patron of  sorcery and magick in general.

Hogan – The Fish. This animistic spirit is regarded as the source and patron of water in it’s attributes, particularly as a cleanser and purifier.

Iktinike – Son of Wi, banished to earth by His father for telling lies.

Iktomi – Son of Inyan, He resembles a spider to a degree. He can speak to all things living or inanimate (He is regarded as having given the power of speech to humans), and therefore, since He can talk to Wakinyan, He is regarded as heyoka. 

Iktomi is full of wisdom, but a trickster on a par with Micaas, and is responsible for any of a number of difficulties that humans have fallen prey to. He panics animals, and can shapechange or become invisible in order to create problems. His greatest accomplishment was to convince the Lakota to live apart from one another, as nomads, thereby becoming more vulnerable.

Inyan – A primal being, sourceless and the source of all. Because He was lonely, he separated a piece of Himself, Maka, in order to have a place to indwell. The act of creation drained Him of much power, and He coalesced and became hard, Rock, in fact. His blood (water) flowed and became all the rivers, streams, and lakes. As a passive force from then on, He created Wakinyan to be His active companion. His sons are Iktomi and Iya. He is the spirit of Wakan Tanka.

Iya – Child of Inyan, an evil entity responsible, directly or indirectly, for all the subsequent evil beings in the world. Unlike His mischieveous brother Iktomi, Iya desires nothing but destruction and woe.

Ka – First Woman; wife of Wa and the mother of Ite. She aided Ite in her bid to supplant Hanwi, and for this She was banished to Earth and separated from Wa. Here, She became known as Kanka, a great witch, and gives aid or provides difficulties to those She encounters, as She choses.

Keya – The Turtle. This animistic spirit is regarded as the source and patron of health, safety, and healing rituals, especially surgical treatments. Turtle amulets are often given to small children, because He provides general protection.

Maka – The Earth. Created by Inyan from His own substance, Maka was cold and barren, but did not know it until Skan created Anp. Thereafter, Maka complained to Skan, and He created Wi to warm Her. The sun was too hot, though, and Maka continued to complain, so Skan arranged that Anp and Hanshould follow each other in regular order, which satisfied Maka.

Mato – The Bear. This animistic spirit is regarded as the source and patron of passionate emotions. He is also a healer, and is regarded as being mischieveous in much the same manner as Iktomi.

Mica – The Coyote. He is a trickster par excellance, and their are many stories about Him – He is, in fact, simply the Lakota version of a trickster divinity who appears in the mythologies of most Indian tribes. He is especially involved in the Ta Tanka Lowanpi, the girls puberty rite ritual.

Young women who experience their first menses are isolated, and instructed to carefully bundle the blood, so that it may be lodged in a tree (tree spirits will aid in fertility). Iktomi persuades Mica to try and carry off such bundles, thereby gaining control over the girl – but if they are protected, He cannot identify them.

Okaga – The spirit of South. Bringer of the south winds, and a fertility spirit associated with warm weather.

Skan – The spirit of Sky. Created by Inyan, He listened sympathetically to the complaints of Maka about how cold and dark it was. He therefore banished Han to a place behind Maka, and created Anp. But light alone does not warm, and by it Maka could see how barren She was, so Skan created Wi.

The sun proved too hot and inhospitable for life, and Maka continued to complain. Skan therefore recalled Han from exile, and arranged with Han and Anp that they should walk around Maka, following each other in regular order, so that She was neither too hot nor too cold, too dark nor too bright.

Sungmanito – The Wolf. This animistic spirit is regarded as the source and patron of the hunt and of war.

Sunka (pronounced shoon-ka)- The Dog. This animistic spirit is regarded as the source and patron of faithfullness and companionship.

Taku Skanskan – An aerial spirit associated with chaos. Master of the four winds, and master of the four Night spirits (Fox, Raven, Vulture, Wolf), he directs these servitors in bringing change – usually baneful (i.e. disease, war, famine, etc.), but sometimes helpful (i.e. warm winds from the southsignifying Spring).

Ta Tanka – (translation: Great Beast) The (male) Buffalo. This animistic spirit is regarded as the source and patron of plentiful food, health, and general tribal well-being. He teaches the proper rituals, and thus has magical competence as well.

Unusual for totem spirits, Ta Tanka is regarded as remaining within the physical remains of the animal, especially the skull – occasional finds of wooly mammoth skulls were regarded as belonging to Him. He is locked in eternal conflict with Mica, and is called upon as the defender of young women’s menstrual bundles associated with the Ta Tanka Lowanpi (girls puberty rite ritual), that Mica wants to steal out of the trees they are lodged in, so as to control the girl they belong to.

Tatankan Gnaskiyan -(translation: Crazy Buffalo) A malevolent spirit who attempts to wreak havoc upon love affairs, causing feuding, murders, or suicides.

Tate – The Wind. Created by Skan to be His companion (evan as Unk was created for Maka), Tate in turn took Ite as His wife. She bore Him four sons, but while pregnant again plotted to supplant Hanwi as the companion of Wi.

She was banished for this, but Tate recieved permission for He and his children to dwell upon Maka so as to be near Her. They settled in the middle of the world, where Tate established a lodge and sent His four elder sons to the cardinal points, to establish dominion over them (see also, Wani and Yum).

Unhcegila – A malevolent spirit dwelling in secret places, and resembling a large reptile. He is responsible for disappearances and mysterious deaths.

Unk (translation: Contention) – Created to be a companion for Maka, and by Inyan the mother of Iya. She was the cause of much quarreling and other problems, so She was banished to the depths of the waters, where She, with Iya, became the progenitor of all evil beings.

Unktehi – Any of a class of spirits, males living within water and females on land. They resemble giant ruminants with long tails, and are regarded as being often dangerous or malignant – they cause flooding and are responsible for contaminated water sources. They are also teachers though, and instructed humans in the proper method of body painting for ceremonial purposes.

Wa – First Man; husband of Ka and the father of Ite. He aided Ite in her bid to supplant Hanwi, and for this He was banished to Earth and separated from Ka. Here, he became known as Wazi, a great wizard, and gives aid or provides difficulties to those He encounters, as He choses.

Wakan – Not a divinity, or even a spirit, as such, the concept of wakan is a very central one and should be commented upon. Wakan means “mystery”, “something marvellous”, “a sacred essence”. It is an impersonal force within all things, animate and inanimate alike. Some things have more of it than others, though – language is wakan, food is wakan, medicine (magic) is wakan, birth and death are wakan. To be a Wicasa Wakan (a shaman or “medicine man”) is to develop a great deal of wakan within oneself, and to utilize it conducting rituals, interpreting dreams, healing, and understanding hanbloglaka, the language of the spirit world.

Wakanpi – The general term for spirits, supernatural beings, and divinities. They can be benign or malignant, but all watch over humans, and all expect the proper ceremonies to be given them.

Wakan Tanka (translation: the Great Mystery) – Often designated by non-Indians as “the Great Spirit”. In a certain sense, Wakan Tanka is the supreme power of the Lakota universe. The term has a double meaning – technically it refers to all the spiritual powers of the universe, as if assembled together around a council fire.

As imagined though, the “council” of the spirits becomes a single entity, and this is the second meaning of the term – the collective power of all the Gods, considered as a specific entity. This entity informs all space and time, and is present in all things animate and inanimate.

The spirit underlying Wakan Tanka itself is Inyan, who caused all things to be by sacrificing His own nature, and thereby infusing all things with His nature. Wakan Tanka can be addressed directly in prayer and ritual, but His influence within the world is diffused through His elements and aspects.

Wakinyan (translation: the Mysterious Flyers) – Thunderbirds. These creatures appear in the mythologies of a number of Indian nations. Among the Lakota, four types are recognized: black, blue, red, and yellow. All dwell in the west, and fly above the clouds. Their voices are as thunder, and they are eternally at war with the Unktehi. To speak with them, even in a dream, is to become heyoka. They are generally benign, having created the grasses and offer protection from Waziya.

Wamaka Nagi – The soul of an animal, generally a domestic favourite of a human. Dogs or horses were often interred with their deceased masters so as to accompany them upon the Sky Road (the Milky Way).

Wambli – The Eagle. This animistic spirit is regarded as the source and patron of councils, especially war or hunting councils. Wambli also oversees battles and hunting kills as well.

Wanagi – The soul (nagi) of a deceased human (the soul within a living human is a Woniya). Wanagi will leave the earth to travel the Sky Road (the Milky Way), but first they must successfully pass Hihankara, a crone who determines if they have the proper marks and tattoos. If they do, all is well, but if not, She throws them from the Road and they tumble back to Earth, to wander as ghosts.

Wani – The four elder sons of Tate, representing the cardinal points and the four winds. They have authority over health, fertility, and the weather in general – combined as the single entity called Wani, they/He govern inner strength and vitality.

Wasicun – Not a divinity in and of itself, and not precisely an animate spirit, wasicun is nevertheless an important concept. In general, it refers to anything hidden or mysterious, or the container that such a thing is held in.

It often refers to the medicine bag borne by the Shaman, containing objects imbued with great power that he uses in his work. Such objects, together with the bag they are within, are thought to take on an independent existence in their own right, and thus must be carefully dealt with.

The term can be applied to any of a wide variety of mystery and power; one such application was to people of European descent when the Lakota first came in contact with them.

Waziya (translation: Blower-From-Snow-Pines) – The north wind, bringer of winter and, thus, also a patron of famine and disease. He guards the dancing sky (the aurora borealis), and is constantly in conflict with Okaga and with the Wakinyan. He has special control over ice and snow.

Wi – The Sun. Created by Skan in order to warm Maka, it proved too hot, and needed to be moderated by the eternal dance of Anp and Han. Note that the term “Wi” can refer to either the sun or the moon, and under such circumstances is differentiated into Anpetu Wi (Daytime Wi, the sun) and Hanhepi Wi (Niighttime Wi, the moon).

Wiyohipeyata – The West, the spirit ands wind associated with the finishing of things, and having authority over all things which occur by night.

Wiyohiyanpa – The East, the spirit and wind associated with the beginnings of things, and having authority over all things which occur by day.

Wohpe – Daughter of Skan, a divinity of perfection of form, and joyfulness in spirit. She teaches games, social skills, and certain dances. She gifted humanity with the proper use of the pipe rituals, and of the ceremonial usage of tobacco, in the form of the White Buffalo Maiden. She is also credited with devising the Lakota calendar.

Wo Nagi – The soul, or spiritual essence, of food. All things, whether animate or inanimate, have souls, foodstuff not excepted. It is important to give due reverence and gratitude to one’s provisions, lest the Wakanpi become angered. See also, Wamaka Nagi, Wanagi.

Yum (translation: Tornado) – The Whirlwind, fifth child of Tate and Ite, who was separated from His mother and raised by His father, with the help of Wohpe. He has authority over games good and bad luck, and matters of romance.

Zuzeca – The Snake. This animistic spirit is regarded as the source and patron of hidden things, concealed knowledge, and outright lies.