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Native American Cedar Mythology

Cedar is one of the most important Native American ceremonial plants, used by many tribes as an incense and purifying herb. Cedar is especially associated with prayer, healing, dreams, and protection against disease. Many Salish tribes consider the cedar tree a symbol of generosity and providence, and had special rituals regarding the felling of cedar trees. Cedar is commonly used as part of sweat lodge ceremonies, and is also one of the herbs frequently included in medicine bundles and amulets. Cedar leaves and bark are used as medicine plants in many tribes as well.

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The cedar tree itself is also of great importance to many Native American tribes, particularly on the Northwest Coast. Northwestern tribes used hollowed-out logs of red cedar to make their imposing fishing and war canoes (which could be as long as 60 feet), built their homes from cedar planks, and carved their spectacular totem poles and other important cultural artwork like wooden masks and bentwood boxes from cedar wood. They also made clothing, textiles and fine-grained basketry from cedar root fiber and shredded cedar bark. Few Northwest Coast Native people today remember how to make dugout canoes, but cedar carving and cedar-root basketry are still vibrant art forms in the Pacific Northwest.

Cedar trees are also used as a clan symbol in some Native American cultures. Tribes with Cedar Clans include the Hopi tribe.

Native American Legends About Cedar

Glooskap and the Fearful Warrior:
    Mi'kmaq Indian legend about a man who turned into a cedar tree.
The Men Who Visited the Sun:
    Potawatomi legend about the origin of the first cedar tree.
Tribal Uses of Juniper and Red Cedar:
    Article by an Ojibwe author on the tribal importance of juniper and cedar.
*Two-Men-Who-Changed-Things:
    Makah legend about the beginning of the world, including the origin of the first cedar tree.

Recommended Books of Cedar Stories from Native American Myth and Legend

Plants of Power: Native American Ceremony and the Use of Sacred Plants:
    Interesting book about the importance of cedar and other native plants to traditional Native American spirituality.
The Great Canoes:
    A fascinating book of photographs, interviews, and oral history about cedar dugout canoes of the Northwest Coast.
Strength of the Earth: The Classic Guide to Ojibwe Uses of Native Plants:
    Book of Ojibwe traditions regarding Indian cedar trees and other woodland and prairie plants.
Native Plant Stories:
    Excellent collection of Native American stories about plants, by Abenaki storyteller Joseph Bruchac.
Native American Medicinal Plants:
    Comprehensive book on the names and traditional uses of herbs throughout Native North America.
*Sacred Trees:
    Interesting book on the role of trees in world mythology and religion, including Native North America.
The Meaning of Trees: Botany, History, Healing, Lore:
    Another good book about the folklore and cultural symbolism of trees worldwide.



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