The Great Medicine Dance

Creation myth of the Cheyenne people

Richard Erdoes
  • Richard Erdoes

The Tsis-tsistas people have danced the great medicine dance for a long, long time, longer than anyone can remember or even imagine. The dance represents the making of this universe, and was conceived and taught to the people by the Creator, Maheo, and his helper, Great Roaring Thunder. It portrays the making of the sun, moon, and stars; of rain, wind, and snow; of Grandmother Earth and the blue sky above her; of the mountains and rivers; of all living things, big and small. The dance is performed especially in times of starvation, distress, and widespread death. This, our most sacred ceremony, was brought to us by the Sutai medicine man Horns Standing Up, under the guidance of the Creator himself.…Instructing [Horns Standing Up and a “good looking woman”] in the holy ways to perform the sacred ceremony, Maheo spoke for four days. When they had learned all there was to know about the dance the Creator said: Now you will leave and teach the people what I have taught you. And if they perform the ceremonies in the right way, they will be favored for generations to come….”

— from “The Great Medicine Dance” in American Indian Myths and Legends (Pantheon 1984), Richard Erdoes and Alfonso Ortiz

The Great Medicine Dance is a creation myth of the Cheyenne people that explains how God came to bestow agriculture, and therefore life, on humans. The version told above comes from Josie Limpy, “an old, chain-smoking lady belong to the Sutai division of the Cheyenne,” and recorded by (pictured) Richard Erdoes (1912–2008) in his and Ortiz’s book.

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