Underwater panther

An Underwater panther is a powerful creature in the mythological traditions of some Native American tribes, particularly Anishinaabe tribes, the Odawa, Ojibwe, and Potawatomi, of the Great Lakes region of Canada and the United States.[1][2] In addition to the Anishinaabeg, Innu also have Mishibizhiw stories.[3]

To the Algonquins, the underwater panther, or Mishibijiw, was the most powerful underworld being. The Ojibwe traditionally held them to be masters of all water creatures, including snakes. Some versions of the Nanabozho creation legend refer to whole communities of water lynx.[4]

Archaeologists believe that underwater panthers were major components of the Southeastern Ceremonial Complex of the Mississippian culture in the prehistoric American Southeast[5][6]



In the Ojibwe language, this creature is sometimes called "Mishibizhiw", "Mishipizhiw", "Mishipizheu", "Mishupishu", "Mishepishu", "Michipeshu",[1] or "Mishibijiw", which translates as "Great Lynx,"[7] or Gichi-anami'e-bizhiw ("Gitche-anahmi-bezheu"), which translates as "the fabulous night panther."[2][8] However, it is also commonly referred to as the "Great underground wildcat" or "Great under-water wildcat."[3][9]


Pictographs of a mishibizhiw as well as two giant serpents[1] and a canoe, from Lake Superior Provincial Park, Ontario, Canada. Attributed to the Ojibwe.[10]

In Native American mythologies of the Great Lakes, underwater panthers are described as water monsters that live in opposition to the Thunderbirds,[11] masters of the powers of the air. Underwater Panthers are seen as an opposing yet complementary force to the Thunderbirds, and they are engaged in eternal conflict.[12]

Underwater panther was an amalgam of features from many animals: the body of a wild feline, often a mountain lion or lynx; the horns of deer or bison; upright scales on its back;[13] occasionally bird feathers; and parts from other animals as well, depending on the particular myth. Underwater panthers are represented with exceptionally long tails,[14] occasionally with serpentine properties.[12] The creatures are thought to roar or hiss in the sounds of storms or rushing rapids.[11]

Mishipizheu were said to live in the deepest parts of lakes and rivers, where they can cause storms.[12] Some traditions believed the underwater panthers to be helpful, protective creatures, but more often they were viewed as malevolent beasts that brought death and misfortune. They often need to be placated for safe passage across a lake.[11] As late as the 1950s, the Prairie Band of Potawatomi Indians performed a traditional ceremony to placate the Underworld Panther and maintain balance with the Thunderbird.[4]

When ethnographer Johann Kohl visited the United States in the 1850s, he spoke with a Fond du Lac chief, who showed Kohl a piece of copper kept in his medicine bag. The chief said it was a strand of hair from the mishibizhiw, and thus considered extremely powerful.[2]

Depictions in art

Ceramic effigy jug of the underwater panther, Mississippian culture, from Rose Mound in Cross County, Arkansas, ca. 1400-1600 CE. Height: 8" (20 cm)

The underwater panther is well represented in pictographs. Historical Anishnaabe twined and quilled men's bags often feature an underwater panther on one panel and the Thunderbird on the other.[14] Norval Morrisseau (Ojibwe) painted underwater panthers in his Woodlands style artworks, contemporary paintings based on Ojibwe oral history and cosmology.[11][13]

The Canadian Museum of Civilization includes an underwater panther in its coat of arms.[11]

"Alligator" mound

In 2003 archaeologist Brad Lepper suggested that the Alligator Effigy Mound in Granville, Ohio represents the underwater panther. Lepper suggests that early European settlers, when learning from Native Americans that the mound represented a fierce creature that lived in the water and ate people, mistakenly assumed that the Native Americans were referring to an alligator.[15]

See also


  1. ^ a b c Conway, Thor. (2010) Spirits in Stone. Sault Ste. Marie, ON:Heritage Discoveries.
  2. ^ a b c Kohl
  3. ^ a b Barnes
  4. ^ a b Bolgiano
  5. ^ Townsend, Richard F. (2004). Hero, Hawk, and Open Hand. Yale University Press. ISBN 0300106017. 
  6. ^ edited by F. Kent Reilly III and James F. Garber ; foreword by Vincas P. Steponaitis. (2004). F. Kent Reilly and James Garber. ed. Ancient Objects and Sacred Realms. University of Texas Press. pp. 29–34. ISBN 9780292713475. 
  7. ^ Freelang Ojibwe Dictionary
  8. ^ "The fabulous night panther" is a translation from Anishinaabe language into French to German, which then was translated into English. The direct translation would be something closer to "The greatly revered lynx." See Freelang Ojibwe Dictionary
  9. ^ "Mishi-Peshu" Gidmark, Jill B. (11/30/2000) Encyclopedia of American literature of the sea and Great Lakes Greenwood Press ISBN 0-313-30148-4; ISBN 978-0-313-30148-3; 10.1336/0313301484. 568 pages, p. 168.
  10. ^ Penney 71
  11. ^ a b c d e Strom, K. "Morrisseau's Missipeshu: Cultural Preservation." Native American Indian Resources. 3 Aug 2006 (retrieved 1 Oct 2011)
  12. ^ a b c Penney 60
  13. ^ a b Penney 207
  14. ^ a b Penney 59
  15. ^ Lepper.


External links

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