Cherokee Formula to Help Warriors

Cherokee Formula of What Those who have been to War did to Help Themselves

Hayi! Yû! Listen! Now instantly we have lifted up the red war club. Quickly his soul shall be without motion. There under the earth, where the black war clubs shall be moving about like ball sticks in the game, there his soul shall be, never to reappear. We cause it to be so. He shall never go and lift up the war club. We cause it to be so. There under the earth the black war club (and) the black fog have come together as one for their covering. It shall never move about (i.e., the black fog shall never be lifted from them). We cause it to be so.

Instantly shall their souls be moving about there in the seventh heaven. Their souls shall never break in two. So shall it be. Quickly we have moved them (their souls) on high for them, where they shall be going about in peace. You (?) have shielded yourselves (?) with the red war club. Their souls shall never be knocked about. Cause it to be so. There on high their souls shall be going about. Let them shield themselves with the white war whoop. Instantly (grant that) they shall never become blue. Yû!

Explanation of Cherokee Formula of What Those who have been to War did to Help Themselves

This formula, obtained from A’wani´ta, may be repeated by the doctor for as many as eight men at once when about to go to war. It is recited for four consecutive nights, immediately before setting out. There is no tabu enjoined and no beads are used, but the warriors “go to water” in the regular way, that is, they stand at the edge of the stream, facing the east and looking down upon the water, while the shaman, standing behind them, repeats the formula. On the fourth night the shaman gives to each man a small charmed root which has the power to confer invulnerability. On the eve of battle the warrior after bathing in the running stream chews a portion of this and spits the juice upon his body in order that the bullets of the enemy may pass him by or slide off from his skin like drops of water. Almost every man of the three hundred East Cherokees who served in the rebellion had this or a similar ceremony performed before setting out-many of them also consulting the oracular ulûnsû´ti stone at the same time-and it is but fair to state that not more than two or three of the entire number were wounded in actual battle.

In the formula the shaman identifies himself with the warriors, asserting that “we” have lifted up the red war club, red being the color symbolic of success and having no reference to blood, as might be supposed from the connection. In the first paragraph he invokes curses upon the enemy, the future tense verb It shall be, etc., having throughout the force of let it be. He puts the souls of the doomed enemy in the lower regions, where the black war clubs are constantly waving about, and envelops them in a black fog, which shall never be lifted and out of which they shall never reappear. From the expression in the second paragraph, “their souls shall never be knocked about,” the reference to the black war clubs moving about like ball sticks in the game would seem to imply that they are continually buffeting the doomed souls under the earth. The spirit land of the Cherokees is in the west, but in these formulas of malediction or blessing the soul of the doomed man is generally consigned to the underground region, while that of the victor is raised by antithesis to the seventh heaven.

Having disposed of the enemy, the shaman in the second paragraph turns his attention to his friends and at once raises their souls to the seventh heaven, where they shall go about in peace, shielded by (literally, “covered with”) the red war club of success, and never to be knocked about by the blows of the enemy. “Breaking the soul in two” is equivalent to snapping the thread of life, the soul being regarded as an intangible something having length, like a rod or a string. This formula, like others written down by the same shaman, contains several evident inconsistencies both as to grammar and mythology, due to the fact that A’wanita is extremely careless with regard to details and that this particular formula has probably not been used for the last quarter of a century. The warriors are also made to shield themselves with the white war whoop, which should undoubtedly be the red war whoop, consistent with the red war club, white being the color emblematic of peace, which is evidently an incongruity. The war whoop is believed to have a positive magic power for the protection of the warrior, as well as for terrifying the foe.

The mythologic significance of the different colors is well shown in this formula. Red, symbolic of success, is the color of the war club with which the warrior is to strike the enemy and also of the other one with which he is to shield or “cover” himself. There is no doubt that the war whoop also should be represented as red. In conjuring with the beads for long life, for recovery from sickness, or for success in love, the ball play, or any other undertaking, the red beads represent the party for whose benefit the magic spell is wrought, and he is figuratively clothed in red and made to stand upon a red cloth or placed upon a red seat. The red spirits invoked always live in the east and everything pertaining to them is of the same color.

Black is always typical of death, and in this formula the soul of the enemy is continually beaten about by black war clubs and enveloped in a black fog. In conjuring to destroy an enemy the shaman uses black beads and invokes the black spirits-which always live in the west-bidding them tear out the man’s soul, carry it to the west, and put it into the black coffin deep in the black mud, with a black serpent coiled above it.

Blue is emblematic of failure, disappointment, or unsatisfied desire. “They shall never become blue” means that they shall never fail in anything they undertake. In love charms the lover figuratively covers himself with red and prays that his rival shall become entirely blue and walk in a blue path. The formulistic expression, “He is entirely blue,” closely approximates in meaning the common English phrase, “He feels blue.” The blue spirits live in the north.

White-which occurs in this formula only by an evident error-denotes peace and happiness. In ceremonial addresses, as at the green corn dance and ball play, the people figuratively partake of white food and after the dance or the game return along the white trail to their white houses. In love charms the man, in order to induce the woman to cast her lot with his, boasts “I am a white man,” implying that all is happiness where he is. White beads have the same meaning in the bead conjuring and white was the color of the stone pipe anciently used in ratifying peace treaties. The white spirits live in the south (Wa´hala).

Two other colors, brown and yellow, are also mentioned in the formulas. Wâtige´i, “brown,” is the term used to include brown, bay, dun, and similar colors, especially as applied to animals. It seldom occurs in the formulas and its mythologic significance is as yet undetermined. Yellow is of more frequent occurrence and is typical of trouble and all manner of vexation, the yellow spirits being generally invoked when the shaman wishes to bring down calamities upon the head of his victim, without actually destroying him. So far as present knowledge goes, neither brown nor yellow can be assigned to any particular point of the compass.

Usinuli´yu, rendered “instantly,” is the intensive form of usinu´li “quickly,” both of which words recur constantly in the formulas, in some entering into almost every sentence. This frequently gives the translation an awkward appearance. Thus the final sentence above, which means literally “they shall never become blue instantly,” signifies “Grant that they shall never become blue”, i.e., shall never fail in their purpose, and grant our petition instantly.

Cherokee Original


Hayi! Yû! Sge! Nâ´gwa usinuli´yu A´tasu Gi´gage´i hinisa´latani´ga. Usinu´li duda´ntâ u´nanugâ´tsidasti´ nige´sûnna. Duda´ntâ e’lawi´ni iyû´nta a´tasû digûnnage´i degûnlskwi´tahise´sti, anetsâge´ta unanugâ´isti nige´sûnna, nitinû´nneli´ga. A´tasû dusa´ladanû´nsti nige´sûnna, nitinû´nneli´ga. E’lawi´ni iyû´nta a´tasû ûnnage´ ugûn´hatû ûnnage´ sâ´gwa da’liye´kû’lani´ga unadutlâ´gi. Unanugâ´tsida´sti nige´sûnna, nûneli´ga.

Usinuli´yu tsunada´ntâ kul’kwâ´gine tigalû´nltiyû´ni iyû´nta ada´ntâ tega´ye’ti´tege´sti. Tsunada´ntâ tsuligali´sti nige´sûnna dudûni´tege´sti. Usinu´li deniû´neli´ga galû´nlati iyû´nta widu´l’tâhisti´tege´sti. A´tasû gigage´i dehatagû´nyastani´ga. Tsunada´ntâ tsudastû´nilida´sti nige´sûnna nûneli´ga. Tsunada´ntâ galû´nlati iyû´nta wite´’titege´sti. Tsunada´ntâ anigwalu´gi une´ga gûnwa´nadagû´nyastitege´sti. Sa’ka´ni udûnu´hi nige´sûnna usinuli´yu. Yû!


Mooney, James. Sacred Formulas Of The Cherokees. Published in the Seventh Annual Report, Bureau of Ethnology, pp. 301-399. 1886.

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