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Native American Bulrush (Cattail) Mythology
Cattails, also known as bulrushes,
had a number of practical uses in traditional Native American life: cattail heads and seeds were eaten, cattail leaves
and stalks were used for weaving mats and baskets, cattail roots and pollen were used as medicine herbs,
and cattail down was used as moccasin lining, pillow stuffing, and
diaper material. In the southwestern tribes, cattails also have more symbolic meaning.
Cattails are associated with water
and rain by the Pueblo tribes, and used ceremonially in rain dances. The Mexican Kickapoos associate cattails with
water serpents and make offerings to the snake people before gathering cattails. The Navajo believed cattail leaves
were a protective charm against lightning. And many southwestern tribes used cattail pollen as a traditional face paint.
The Cattail is also used as a clan symbol in some Native American cultures. Tribes with
Cattail Clans include the Osage tribe.
Native American Legends About Cattails
Lox and the Black Cats:
In this Wabanaki story, the trickster villain Lox uses cattail plants to fool his enemies and escape punishment.
The Reed Dancers Manabush and the Cat-tail Reeds:
Algonquian stories about the culture hero being tricked by some swaying cat-tails.
Recommended Books of Cattail Stories from Native American Myth and Legend
Manabozho and the Bullrushes:
Charming picture book about a hero dancing with the cattails, by an Ojibwe author and illustrator.
Strength of the Earth: The Classic Guide to Ojibwe Uses of Native Plants:
Book of Ojibwe traditions about the meaning of cat tails and other woodland and prairie plants.
Native Plant Stories:
Excellent collection of Native American stories about plants, by Abenaki storyteller Joseph Bruchac.
Native American Ethnobotany:
Comprehensive book on the names and traditional uses of plants throughout Native North America.
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