For the Cherokee, ceremony is an essential way of connecting with one another in the community and giving thanks to the Great Spirit for the bounty of crops and blessings provided. Earlier gatherings focused on tradition and heritage with activities for learning about plants and food, skills in hunting and even light-hearted competitive games.
In preparation of any ceremony, the Cherokee sent men out to hunt seven days beforehand. They also choose seven women to cook and perform a religious dance the night before. More so, seven men are chosen to plan the ceremony itself. Traditionally, there were many gatherings and ceremonies throughout the year, however these were the most sacred.
First New Moon of Spring
This ceremony typically takes place in March to celebrate the beginning of planting season. After having been shut away in their winter huts with a fire burning during the cold months, everyone emerges renewed and refreshed. It is a time for cleansing and purification.
The fire keeper prepares the new sacred fire and all houses and lodges are cleaned and hot coals from this new fire replaces the old ones. This symbolizes new beginnings and a renewal from Mother Earth. Predictions about crop success and failures are made. A deer tongue is then thrown into the Sacred fire. This ceremony lasts for seven days.
The Green Corn Ceremony or Selutsunigististi
There are two major ceremonies done yearly that honour the cultivation of corn. This one is done in August when the corn is ripe enough to eat. A message is sent out to the villages and along the way, seven ears of corn are gathered from fields of different clans.
The elders fast for six days prior and no new corn is to be eaten until the ceremony comes to an end. A cleansing ceremony is performed followed by prayer and the sacred fire is again extinguished and rekindled.
The stomp dance is done and corn kernels and tobacco are thrown into the fire as thanksgiving of new corn. Food that was made from the new corn is brought and everyone is fed.
Ripe Corn Ceremony or Donagohuni
This festivity is done in early fall when the corn is mature and ready for harvest. A leafy tree is placed in the center of the grounds and the corn dance is done by men carrying green boughs.
During this time, the women are prohibited from the sacred circle. Participants drink a special black drink made from herbs and roasted holly for purifying purposes. The drink is said to induce ritual vomiting therefore cleansing the digestive system. Afterwards the corn dance is performed by incorporating the motions used in harvesting the crops. This festival lasts for four days.
Great New Moon Ceremony or Nuwatiegawa
The new moon which falls closest to the Fall Equinox is the time of this ceremony. This is the Cherokee new year. Divining crystals are consulted for predictions of what the new year has in store for the people. Friendships are rekindled and gifts may be exchanged. This gathering celebrates friendships and making right relationships.
Propitiation of cementation ceremony or Atohuna
Celebrated 10 days after the New Moon Ceremony, this symbolizes the unity between man and the great spirit. Relationships are renewed and each vow to regard one another as they would themselves. This is the time to reconcile any disagreements and forgive one another.
Men exchange garments with one another to symbolize eternal friendships. The yowah chant is sang and seven selected men cleansed the council house by beating the roof with sticks made of sycamore. There is a sense of universal love and commitment to each other as a tribe.
Bounding Bush Ceremony or Elawatalegi
A thanksgiving to the Spirits for the blessings of abundance. A cleansing ritual is done near running water. The sacred fire is rekindled. Everyone gathers around and tosses a handful of tobacco into the fire. This ceremony lasts four days and is the last before the winter sets in. It is done in preparation of surviving the hardships of cold months.
Uku dance ceremony
The Uku or Ouga is the Cherokee word for chief. Every seven years, the principal chief is carried to the sacred circle and acknowledged. New clothing is given to the Uku and dances are done in his honour. This is usually held in the wintertime.
These festivals together make up the Cherokee yearly religious cycle, many of which are still observed by the various clans today. Sharing stories, feasting and dancing are all an integral part of the community of the tribe. It is important to remember and honour the traditions of the elders. By doing so, we essentially connect with ourselves and our heritage.