In this lesson, you will receive a brief overview of Iroquois religion and mythology. This will include some brief descriptions of gods and the creation myth.
Iroquois Religion at a Glance
Most of our knowledge of Iroquois religion tells us that the Iroquois were a deeply spiritual people who worshiped the Great Spirit, a single creation entity. However, if you travel farther back in time, a different story reveals itself. While the Great Spirit did play a key role in the Iroquois religion, there were several other deities that graced the Iroquois pantheon, as well as an alternate version of the creation myth.
Iroquois Gods: Key Players in the Iroquois Creation Myth
Hawenneyu: King of the gods and chief lawmaker, Hawenneyu was not one to argue with. Like the Greek god Zeus, Hawenneyu could be known for his strict and fatherly-like command over gods and mortals, but could also be known for his cruelty.
When his wife, Iagentci, became pregnant, he suspected she had been with another man, so he opened a hole in the sky and pushed her through.Iagentci: Iagentci plays a key role in the Iroquois myth of creation. When she became pregnant, her husband suspected her of cheating on him with the war god and banished her from the land in the sky. She came to Earth, where with the help of the animals, brought the world into creation.
Eithinoha: Daughter of Iagentci, she was the first person born on the newly created Earth. Through Geha, the wind god, she gave birth to twins, Tharonhiawakon and Tawiskaron. Because Tawiskaron’s flint mohawk was so sharp and hard, she died giving birth to him. Eithinoha went to the underworld, where, like her mother, she began to create the afterlife. To this day, her footprints guide the dead to the underworld.Geha: Geha was the god of the winds. Like many wind gods in Native American myths, Geha was considered a patron of heroes and often aided them in their quests or gave them the swiftness to finish them.
He was also the god of music, as many musical instruments were wind instruments.Tawiskaron: The malevolent of the two twins born to Eithinoha, Tawiskaron had a flint mohawk, which was so sharp, it killed his mother. When Iagentci became upset, he blamed his twin brother, Tharonhiawakon for the incident.Tharonhiawakon: Tharonhiawakon, also known as Sapling, was a benevolent creator.
While he was the good son of Eithinoha, he was banished when his grandmother thought he had killed his mother. The young god was forced to raise himself but did receive some help from his father, Geha. He later went on to finish his grandmother’s work of creation. He made trees, animals, and later humans.
Putting it All Together: The Creation
Before there was the Earth, there was the great island in the sky. It was a perfect place where people lived happily, knew no sadness, and no one was ever born or died. That changed when Iagentci discovered she was pregnant.
Upon telling Hawenneyu, he flew into a rage, tearing apart the tree of light, which was the only source of light, leaving a large hole in the clouds. As Iagentci peered into the hole, Hawenneyu pushed her through to fall to her death in the waters below.Iagentci was caught by two seabirds as she fell. They took pity on her and carried her to the other animals. Realizing she needed a place to live, they all pitched in to make the land.
A little toad brought up mud and the animals spread it on the back of a sea turtle.The land grew until it was the current size of the world.Upon stepping onto the land, Iagentci spread dust into the clouds, creating the stars. She also set to creating the sun and the moon so that she would have light.
Eventually, she gave birth to a daughter, Eithinoha, who would give birth to the twins, Tharonhiawakon, a benevolent figure, and Tawiskaron, a cold and cruel person.Tharonhiawakon made all that was good. He made animals, fish, and plants that humans could eat. He wanted to see prevent human suffering.
Tawiskaron would corrupt his brother’s creations as well as make his own evil things. Tawiskaron made thorns where his brother made berry bushes. He put hard bones into the delicious fish his brother created. He made monsters and created winter. Tharonhiawakon retaliated by creating spring.
The two brothers decided enough was enough and decided to fight each other. At first, it was tough, but eventually, Tharonhiawakon bested Tawiskaron. Because Tawiskaron was one of the Sky People, he could not die so he was made to wander aimlessly on the Earth. Occasionally, the Iroquois believe, he manifests his anger in the form of a volcano.
The Iroquois reverence for the Great Spirit, a major creation entity, is important to Iroquois religion. However, there were other gods and goddesses who also played a role. There is Iagentci, the goddess of creation, and wife to the king of the gods, Hawenneyu. Hawenneyu pushed her from the land in the sky and she fell to a water-covered Earth, where she began the creation of a new land. Iagentci’s daughter, Eithinoha, later became the creator of the underworld after she gave birth to twin deities, one of whom killer her during birth.
Eithinoha’s husband, Geha, was the wind god and protector of heroes. The twins, one good Tharonhiawakon, and one evil Tawiskaron, fought each other for dominance and creation, helping to make the world what it is today. These myths reveal a rich cultural history in addition to the Iroquois belief in the Great Spirit.