Native Languages of the Americas: Haudenosaunee/Iroquois Legends, Myths, and Stories
This is our collection of links to Iroquois folktales and traditional stories that can be read online.
We have indexed our Native American myths section
by tribe to make them easier to locate; however, variants on the same
legend are often told by American Indians from different tribes, especially if those tribes are kinfolk or neighbors to
each other. On this page, we have included myths and legends from the
Cayuga Tribe, and
five allied tribes of the northeast woodlands who speak similar languages
and share many cultural similarities, including much of their folklore.
Enjoy the stories! If you would like to recommend an Iroquois legend for this page or think one of the ones on here
should be removed, please contact us and let us know.
There is no one consistent body of Iroquois mythology, for several reasons. First, the Iroquois were a far-ranging people,
with communities established in such distant locations as Ohio, upstate New York, and North Carolina. Without a written
language, or even a single shared spoken language, Iroquois folklore in such far-flung areas sometimes diverged a lot.
Second, after Europeans arrived, the Iroquois people were decimated by disease and warfare, and the
traditions of the survivors began to blend together in random ways, obscuring previously consistent tribal differences.
And third, the adoption of Christianity began to confound Iroquois
traditions, as both Christian Indians and traditionalists began retelling old stories to fit their needs.
For these reasons, there is a large amount of variation in the identity and traits of the characters
from traditional Iroquois stories. We have included a basic overview here, but please click
on each character's name for more detailed information about his or her role in Iroquois mythology.
The mother goddess of the Iroquois tribes, said to have fallen through a hole in the sky.
The Twin Gods:
Sky Woman's grandsons (or in some versions, her sons,) often credited with the creation of humans.
One of the twins (variously named Sapling,
Good Spirit, Good Mind, Right-Handed, etc.)
was the benefactor of the Iroquois and created many things to help the people; his twin (variously named
Bad Spirit, Bad Mind, Left-Handed, etc.)
was his counterpart, creating many obstacles for humankind.
Powerful storm spirits who live in the sky and cause thunder and lightning.
Their leader is the thunder god Hino.
The Great Spirit:
This is one of the most confused elements of Iroquois mythology, strongly influenced by Christian missionaries and the traditions of the
neighboring Algonquian tribes. In some Iroquois traditions the high god is referred to as
Hawenniyo (or Raweno), and may be an aspect of the thunder god Hino.
In other Iroquois traditions, the high god is called Sky-Holder
(or Taronhiawagon) and is sometimes conflated with the culture hero Sapling or Good Spirit, other times with the original husband of
Sky Woman. In other Iroquois traditions, there is no high god at all, though the Huron name
Orenda is sometimes used to refer to an abstract Great Spirit.
Spirit of the Corn, a fertility goddess and one of the Three Sisters of Iroquois agriculture.
Little people of Iroquoian folklore. They are dwarf-like nature spirits about 2 feet tall.
Mythological giants of the Iroquois tribes, with skin as hard as stone.
Monster in the form of a giant disembodied head, usually created during a particularly violent murder.
A giant, hairless bear monster. Some people associate them with mammoths.
A dragon-like horned serpent of the Great Lakes, feared for its habit of capsizing canoes and eating people.