What Are the Beliefs of the Cherokee Indians?

The central belief system guiding Cherokee Indian life assigns importance to various numbers, rewards good, punishes evil, acknowledges the powers of certain animals and establishes protocols for associating with the spirited Little People. Cherokee Indians, like other American citizens, live according to moral, ethical and religious codes. They attribute historical meaning and significance to natural and commonplace objects, such as the elements of Earth and its natural forces, colors and human traits.

The Cherokee developed a central belief system after the formation of the Cherokee Nation. This system changed and evolved in time, but it plays an important role in guiding the actions of the modern Cherokee people. Cherokee Indians believe in a middle, lower and higher Earth. The middle Earth includes the physical, tangible surface where humans and other animals live. Cherokees call land below the Earth’s surface the Lower World, while the Upper World refers to the atmosphere above.

The Cherokee assign special meaning to certain numbers, primarily four and seven. The number four represents the cardinal directions of east, west, north and south. The number seven symbolizes the seven distinct Cherokee clans, and it represents laudable attributes of purity and sacredness.

The Cherokee ascribe significance to other living beings, especially owls and cougars. They praise nocturnal owls and cougars for remaining awake at night while other creatures sleep. Plants such as cedar, laurel, holly, spruce and pine appear in Cherokee ceremonies and have a significant value in Cherokee medicine.