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Religion According to Chief Jahtlohi Rogers

By Chief Charles Jahtlohi Rogers, M.D.
Cherokee Nation of Mexico
Part 1 - Introduction
Part 2 - Ancient Religious Beliefs Of The Cherokee People
Part 3 - The Great Spirit
Part 4 - Fragments Of The Cherokee Religious Beliefs
Part 5 - Cultural Transformation


Chief John Ross, one of the most famous mixed - blood Cherokee Chiefs, he was 1/8 Cherokee. (Photo - Right)
Chief John Ross, one of the most famous mixed - blood Cherokee Chiefs, he was 1/8 Cherokee.

One of the ancient stories tells of a certain exemplary Cherokee man who, after having fasted for seven days, went to the top of a high mountain during a thunderstorm and there he saw with his own eyes the thunder beings and the place where they came from.

From the beginning of time, God has always had a witness in the earth. God made His presence known to Abraham in order to make a covenant with him to have a witness in the earth of His Supreme Glory. Abraham was an idolater when God appeared to him to reveal His glory. By the grace of God Abraham turned away from vain idols to walk with God, the Creator of all things, which is also the Cherokee’s concept. The New Testament states that by faith Abraham believed and because of his obedience to the Great Supreme Being, God promised, “I will show you, I will make you and I will bless you” (Hebrews 11:18, NKJV). The Old Testament gives accounts of God appearing to Abraham again and again to build faith in his heart, to make a covenant with him and to prompt him to obedience to fulfill the promise even when it seemed impossible.

Another account to be noted from the Old Testament is when God appeared to Moses face to face in Exodus 33:11, “...the LORD spoke to Moses face to face, as a man speaks to his friend” Moses also encountered God on a mountain top where he received the ten commandments for God’s people.

Anyone can sit down among a primitive tribe that has never heard of God or the teachings of Jesus Christ, and find that they know right from wrong. You can ask a man, “What do you do if another man tries to take your wife,” and he will answer, “I will attack him. It is wrong to take another man’s wife.” Missionaries have witnessed, even among the most primitive cultures on the face of the earth, people living in a “conscience dispensation,” which is when people feel that God is among them.

From the Scriptures in the Christian Bible, we also learn that men know God from conscience and creation but have refused to honor him. The greatest judgment God can inflict on us is to let us have our own way. As we can clearly see in Romans 1:20 26, we are called to consider the work of our Creator. Right before our very eyes we behold nothing more obvious than the creation of God’s wisdom and power. All of mankind is a witness to what God has done and is doing in the earth. Every human can see afar off the heavens in all its glory, the work of Omnipotence.

For since the creation of the world His (God) invisible attributes are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even His (God’s) eternal power and Godhead, so that they are without excuse, because, although they knew God, they did not glorify Him as God, nor were thankful, but became futile in their thoughts, and their foolish hearts were darkened. Professing to be wise, they became fools, and changed the glory of the incorruptible God into an image made like corruptible man and birds and four footed animals and creeping things. Therefore God also gave them up to uncleanness, in the lusts of their hearts, to dishonor their bodies among themselves, who exchanged the truth of God for the lie, and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever. Amen. (Romans 1:20.26,NKJV)

Scientists are still trying to figure out the production created by the very finger of God. The eternal power of the Godhead is clearly seen and understood by the things that are made. Every person who has not received divine revelation of Jesus Christ may see that God exists. There is no speech or voice of a preacher not heard today (Psalm 19:13). Creation is seen in all its glory, splendor, beauty and excellence; it cannot be denied that this is truly the work of God, the Author of all things.

Although one may not personally know God, surely we are witnesses to His power and perfection by what we see in all creation. Greatly should He be praised and magnified and be reverentially feared because He is the Giver of the breath of life. The Supreme Being of all creation has all power of heaven and earth; therefore in humility and reverence all mankind should adore and give honor to the Great Spirit, God. He can open the windows of heaven and cause rain to fall on the crops of the just and unjust. In the heat of the day He can call the clouds in to perform a canopy called ‘the spreading of the clouds’ to protect his people (Job36:24 33, NKJV).

Lucy Wahnenauhi stated, “The Cherokees believed in one God whom they called Oo n hlah nau hi, meaning ‘Maker of all things,’ and Cah luh luh ti a hi, ‘The One who lives above.’ They acknowledged God as their friend and believed He had unlimited power and was Creator of all things made.” Wahnenauhi also stated that the Cherokees also believed there was an Evil Spirit, whom they called Skee nah. They believed Skee nah was malicious in influence and the cause of all trouble, calamity and sickness. Many missionaries back then did not believe there was such a thing as an evil spirit, devil or universal spirit called Satan, nor was there any correspondence in Cherokee theology. However, Wahnenauhi derived her connotation from the Cherokee New Testament, which speaks of the Devil.

Satan had many names in the Christian Bible that ranged from evil spirit, the devil, lying spirit, serpent, and wicked one, to power of darkness. There are many accounts in the Bible of the devil causing sickness, disease, trouble and calamity. The Cherokee also attributed disease to the patient’s body having been tricked into illness by something bad existing in the patient’s mind or in his nutritional habits; once explained in this manner, the patient would understand and their body would correct the health imbalance. Correct arid clean nutrition and prevention were taught daily.


Many Mayan carvings suggest racial mixtures.(Photo - Left)
Many Mayan carvings suggest racial mixtures.

In John Payne’s writing of the Cherokee beliefs, he also included extensive duplications of the first five books of the Bible, which caused readers to conclude that early in the historic period the Cherokees began to weave the newly learned Biblical materials into the origins of their legends. Nevertheless, the ancient beliefs and stories vary slightly, perhaps because they were not rewritten so much, to some instances in the Christian Bible. Regardless of Payne’s study, the Cherokee people attributed their existence to the Creator. They built their religious belief upon foundations and pillars built by the express creations of God and not of men, and they were reserved as such.

The Cherokee people did hold on to the fragments of their beliefs for many centuries. The Chief Supreme Being believed in by the Cherokees of the eighteenth century was the same “Mysterious Being” or “Being Beyond Human Comprehension” (which would always be a mystery to man), (Ye ho waah), whom the more ancient Cherokees had said was both God and King, appearing sometimes on earth as a man.

Ye ho waah taught the first hymn called Yo wa to the first Cherokee priests or ministers, known as the office of the Uku. Over time the song was described as being part of the old language and was no longer understood. Some of the old language words were still employed in the song in the nineteenth century. Only those chosen by the Uku could perform the song after undergoing rigorous testing, which included abstinence from food and sex and the fulfilling of special observances of prayer, purification and vigils.

The Christian Bible warns, “Gather up the fragments that remain, so nothing is lost.” (John 6:12, NKJV)

Fragments represent the evidence of the awesome miracles that our Creator has performed on behalf of His people. They are the glorious things God has performed in our lives.

The Cherokees had a Sacred Ark that carried the sacred fires and other Holy things, which were the fragments of their religious beliefs - fragments that represented the everlasting bond between the creator and the Cherokee people.

During the time of Moses, it is recorded that ancient Israel had poor memory and often forgot about the great works of God and would not wait for His counsel. (Psalm 106:813, Psalm 78:38 42)

Like ancient Israel, over a period of time the Cherokees slowly began to forget the fragments of their ancient religious beliefs. There were many accounts and revisions to the Mortality Story. One could only speculate that, through time, the Cherokees’ memory became poor and much of their ancient beliefs were lost. Modifications to the stories over the years have lead to doubt and confusion. The Christian Bible says that God is not the author of confusion (1 Corinthians 14:33).

The Creator made it clear to the Cherokee people that changes or modifications of the ancient beliefs were only profitable if they were progressing and continuing in their beliefs. However, if the modifications were attempts to conform to popular belief, they would experience disastrous results in their religion and government.

Over time the Religious Festivals of the Cherokee people became obsolete. The festivals showed their devotion to the Creator and the keeping of His commandments. It was a time where they fasted, prayed, and gave thanksgiving offerings of the first fruits to the “Maker of all things”; a time of cleansing and purification from the old so Ye ho waah could bring in the new. The old fires were put out and new sacred fires were placed in every home. The new fires represented cleansing, rebuilding and lighting.

Ancient tradition also says that Ye ho waah commanded the people to rest from all work on the seventh day and to show their adoration for him by holding their hands entirely still while they rested with their palms open and upward on their knees. The people were to confine themselves to talk about the Supreme Being that dwells on high on the seventh day.


A traditional seven sided house. Seven is a sacred number for the Cherokee.(Photo - Right)
A traditional seven sided house. Seven is a sacred number for the Cherokee.

Most historians tend to deal with the political aspects of the Cherokee culture. The white men recognized that religion, or wanting to live good lives, rather than politics, was at the core of the ancient Cherokee life.

In time the fragments of the Cherokee ancient beliefs would be lost as the whites cunningly planned to pierce the Cherokee religion so erosion would set in. White men wanted to capitalize on the Indians. The Cherokees had become a grand and glorious people of influence and prosperity. They knew nothing about the outside world or what was going on in it, and they decided they wanted to learn what they could from the white men’s ways. What started out innocently, turned out to be a conversion to the whites’ manner of life. Soon the fragments of their ancient beliefs would be lost in the transformation of their culture.

Although the whites enjoyed trade with the Cherokees, conflicts over land and money would occur. Eventually the Cherokees became outnumbered and outgunned, and they did not have any other alternative but to accept what came their way, due to the fact that the old religion was practiced by only a forty percent minority; a larger consensus would have equaled power to resist negative changes. They became a people of uncertainty. In doubt and confusion, some of the clans began to let the whites guide them as trusting children. Some Cherokees did not permit their clans to marry outsiders. The full bloods began to be persuaded by the whites and mixed bloods, which caused the altering of their festival procedures, and more importantly the practical training of these procedures. For example, the green corn festival originally taught young men to publicly proclaim their work for and support of their mothers (remember, this was before social security or government support).

The mixed bloods began to out number the full bloods. As they increased in number, the power of the Cherokee religion declined. The mixed blood parents convinced the young Cherokees that the old ways, of which they themselves were ignorant, were heathen. Without even knowing that they were rejecting a legacy of direct contact with God, the children soon began to stray away from the ritual lifestyle, while the full blood held on to their personal convictions, even though diluted and fragmented. Ultimately, everything about the Cherokee people became so modified and confused, the old ways began to lose their appearance of having any effectiveness whatsoever.

In 1736, a Jesuit named Christian Priber spent 9 years with the Cherokee people. His mission was both political and religious. He gained great favor and influence with tribal leaders. Priber became an unofficial secretary to the principal headman. Nevertheless, he served both the church and French government. His primary goal was to disrupt tribal relations between the Cherokees and the English traders and colonist. Eventually he was captured and imprisoned by the English.

Later the Catholic Church made attempts to work as missionaries among the Cherokee people. Their efforts to convert and educate were unsuccessful until more contemporary times.

In 1740, Cherokees obtained their first horses and a trail was opened between Augusta, Georgia and the Cherokee Country. Twenty years later, the Cherokees possessed large herds of horses. By 1775, each Cherokee man owned anywhere from two to twelve mounts. They obtained cattle, hogs and domesticated bees. The Cherokees were already farming many European fruits, vegetables, and domesticated potatoes and trading for coffee.

In the late eighteenth century, the English brought over spinning wheels and looms, along with farming tools. Gradually the Cherokee people were becoming a part of the white man’s world.

To the east of the Cherokee settlements were the English, to the west were the French and to the south were the Spanish. All three competed for trade advantages and for every piece of land on which they could get their hands. Finally the cooperative trading efforts of the Cherokees became obsolete. Skins and textiles were no longer excepted as exchange for goods. The whites now had currency. Not long afterwards the economic system of the Indians collapsed.

Mr. Ridge was very typical of Cherokees with European admixture.(Photo - Left)
Mr. Ridge was very typical of Cherokees with European admixture.

All wild game began to disappear as the whites grew in population and power. Even fishing became subject to strict restrictions set in motion by the whites. The Cherokees efforts to raise livestock became limited by regulations. The whites began to take charge of lumbering the forests, mining the land, excavating the ground for chemical interests, and taking charge of the water streams and lakes by building dams across the valley where the Cherokee homesteads had stood.

The white men’s government began changing as well. The clan tribal loyalty was compromised by the demands of a newly formed republican government. The French and the English became rivals. Immediately both sides acted to pull the Cherokees apart. Although the French were diplomatic, the English were able to supply guns and ammunitions, as well as other militant resources the Cherokees desired.

In the mid 1700s, the French were losing control to the British and the Cherokee leaders of Virginia, North Carolina and Georgia were being pitted against one another. Some Cherokees did discern what was happening and sought to turn the tables on the foreigners.

In the last half of the eighteenth century, the whites began a rivalry for tribal control between the leaders of the towns of great Tellico and Chota. The Cherokees were kept in a constant state of turmoil and their ways of life became forever interrupted by the ways of the new world.

Throughout the late eighteenth century, tribal leader Attakullakulla controlled tribal policy by learning the import ways of the white colonization and began guiding tribal policy away from the old ways of Cherokee life. He encouraged the Cherokees to cooperate more closely with the white settlers. During Attakullakulla tribal reign, farming replaced hunting as the dominant economic factor. The wars between tribes stopped. He also bargained for colonial forts and military garrisons to protect the Cherokees from warring neighbors. None of Attakullakulla efforts resolved the Cherokees problems. Their settlements were always in the way of relentless white settlers, which resulted in waves of wars from 1756 to 1794. Much of the Cherokee settlements were annihilated.

Tame Doe, the sister of Attakullakulla, gave birth to a daughter named Nancy. Nancy grew up and married the noted war leader Kingfisher of the Deer Clan. She was at his side in 1755 when he was killed by the Creek warriors at the battle of Taliwa. Nancy immediately picked up his weapons and gathered the Cherokee warriors to an overwhelming victory. Chota chose her to fulfill the vacant position of a Beloved Woman.

The Cherokees believe that the Supreme Beings spoke to the people through Beloved Women. They were also given the power and authority to make decisions on what to do with prisoners of war.

Nancy also headed up an influential women’s council that consisted of a representative from each Cherokee Clan, and she sat as a voting member of the council of the Chiefs. Later she married a white leader named Bryant Ward, but after 10 years of marriage, he returned to his white wife and children in South Carolina.

Numerous settlements had been made in Cherokee land, which was a direct violation of the royal decree of England. When the Revolutionary War broke out the Cherokees sided with the English They attacked the frontier settlements of Virginia, the Carolinas and Georgia. Seven hundred warriors attacked the settlers of Watuga.

Chief Rogers performs the peace pipe ceremony with the noble governor of Coahuila, Sr. Enrique Martinez y Martinez.(Photo - Right)
Chief Rogers performs the peace pipe ceremony with the noble governor of Coahuila, Sr. Enrique Martinez y Martinez.

Nancy Ward helped Isaac Thomas and two other white men escape from Chota to warn the Watuga area. Soon after she obtained the reputation of being a friend of the settlers.

In 1776, Colonel William Christian led two thousand troops in a horrific raid against the Cherokee towns. Out of respect to Nancy Ward, Chota was spared. In 1780, the Cherokees again prepared an attack on the Watuga settlements while the men were away. Nancy Ward once again warned the whites, but when the soldiers returned from King’s Mountain and learned of the threat, they set out to teach the Cherokees a lesson they would never forget.

Despite the pleas of Nancy Ward for mercy and friendship, Chota was destroyed along with other Cherokee towns. Afterwards, she and her family were placed into protective custody. Once Nancy was released, she returned to help rebuild Chota. On July 20, 1781, she was the featured speaker for the Cherokees that brought about a peace treaty between the Watugans. She continued her mission to make dramatic pleas for peace between the Indians and the whites. After the war years ended, Nancy Ward settled in Chota, which was no longer the Capital of the nation, but was still a city of refuge. For years she took orphans into her home. Nancy died in 1822 as a woman of honor among the Cherokee and white history.


From 1794 to 1836, the Cherokees fled to hill country to build a thriving community that was run by mixed bloods. Change after change kept coming to the tribe as a whole that eventually shook their traditional faith and beliefs.

In confusion and doubt the Cherokees became more open and responsive to the missionary efforts of the Moravian, Presbyterian, Baptist, Methodist and Quaker Churches. During the next thirty years, the Cherokee nation underwent many changes and moved their tribe closer to the whites to become more a part of their civilization. They began to learn the ways of the white men. The Cherokees wanted to learn to read and write. The full bloods did not welcome the change and considered it bad.

The Presbyterian Church established a mission in Hiawassee, Tennessee in 1803. Their school opened in 1804 with twenty to thirty Cherokees in attendance. The students learned the Bible and how to pray, and to read, spell and write. Due to the cultural differences and the fact the students could not speak English, the first conversion did not take place until 1810.

Domestic and religious changes, intermarriage, loss of confidence, whiskey, contributions of the mixed bloods and the mission schools all took their toil on the Cherokees. They began to wear the white men’s clothes and adapt to their lifestyle. The Cherokees had their own cabins and all other amenities just like the white settlers.

Chief Jahtlohi Rogers asks the one Creator for blessings upon the Nation of Mexico & it’s families. Pictured are 3 Mexican Governors of Coahuila (our home state), Tamaulipas, and Nueva Leon.(Photo - Left)
Chief Jahtlohi Rogers asks the one Creator for blessings upon the Nation of Mexico & it’s families. Pictured are 3 Mexican Governors of Coahuila (our home state), Tamaulipas, and Nueva Leon.

The Green Corn Festivals had now become corrupted with guns and whiskey. The priests became known as conjurers, which caused this once great ancient religion to struggle and waver in what they once believed.

Payne believed the changes were caused by the influx of pagan worshipers. It was a sure sign these were a people in exodus because of the ways of foreigners, both Native American and European. Sickness and tormenting evil spirits now haunted the Indians. The new conjurers were unsuccessful in helping the people spiritually. What once were sacred holy festivals were now tainted with new customs and beliefs from many religious and pagan beliefs.

Before 1750, the Cherokees had a core group of families from which came the Cherokee leaders. These families would also supply the ministers or priests of the Cherokee religion. This system is found in Semitic tribes and some other Native American tribes (Caddo, for example). The thinking or reasoning was that the youths of these families were trained from an early age because the amount of training was considerable by any standards of modern professions; leading families were responsible for training leaders. But as the old religion slipped away, and these families acted in irresponsible, oppressive, and self serving ways, things fell apart; the last trained Uku to come from a “leading family tradition” surrendered his position and it never existed again. However, these truths live on, smoldering, perhaps someday to flame again. Somewhere in time, these Cherokee Native Americans integrated with or were themselves originally a people in exodus; either way, each group became the other. All Cherokees are their descendants.

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Fragments Of The Cherokee Religious Beliefs  

copyright © 2012 Cherokee Nation of Sequoyah
     Must have permission to use or reprint by Charles Jahtlohi Rogers MD.

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