Extracted from: Myths of the Cherokee. Extract from the Nineteenth Annual Report of the Bureau of American Ethnology. Washington Government Printing Office 1902 Recorded by James Mooney (1861-1921) was an American ethnographer who lived for several years among the Cherokee.
The division of trees into evergreen and deciduous is accounted for by a myth, related elsewhere, according to which the loss of their leaves in winter time is a punishment visited upon the latter for their failure to endure an ordeal to the end. With the Cherokee, as with nearly all other tribes east and west, the cedar is held sacred above other trees. The reasons for this reverence are easily found in its ever-living green, its balsamic fragrance, and the beautiful color of its fine-grained wood, unwarping and practically undecaying. The small green twigs are thrown upon the fire as incense in certain ceremonies, particularly to counteract the effect of asgina dreams, as it is believed that the anisgi'na or malevolent ghosts can not endure the smell; but the wood itself is considered too sacred to be used as fuel. In the war dance, the scalp trophies, stretched on small hoops, were hung upon a cedar sapling and decorated for the occasion. According to a myth the red color comes originally from the blood of a wicked magician, whose severed head was hung at the top of a tall cedar. The story is now almost forgotten, but it was probably nearly identical with one still existing among the Yuchi, former neighbors of the Cherokee. According to the Yuchi myth, a malevolent magician disturbed the daily course of the sun until at last two brave warriors sought him out and killed him in his cave. They cut off his head and brought it home with them to show to the people, but it continued still alive. To make it die they were advised to tie it in the topmost branches of a tree. This they did, trying one tree after another, but each morning the head was found at the foot of the tree and still alive. At last they tied it in a cedar, and there the head remained until it was dead, while the blood slowly trickling down along the trunk gave the wood its red color, and henceforth the cedar was a "medicine" tree.