In Native North American lore, whirlwinds are associated with spirits of the dead and with evil. The Shoshoni of Wyoming, Montana, Idaho and Colorado believe that whirlwinds are apparitions of dead people and that they can be dangerous. According to legend, a company of Shoshoni women went out walking one day, and a whirlwind arose. One of the women cursed it. The whirlwind attacked her and broke her leg, and destroyed her tent.

The Gros Ventre also believe whirlwinds are spirits of the dead, and observe that whirlwinds often are seen in cemeteries when there is no wind anywhere else. In the myths and folktales of the Mandan-Hidatsa, whirlwinds are the vehicles by which the spirits of the dead travel about. The winds swirl up out of the graves. Among tribes in California and other parts of the West, whirlwinds are said to be evil spirits; a dead shaman’s dust; or a shaman’s “pain.” The latter refers to animated objects, such as crystals and stones, which are believed to be both the source of a shaman’s power and the cause of illness. Various beliefs hold that whirlwinds can poison, will cause miscarriages or will carry off children.


  • Eliade, Mircea. Shamanism. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1964.
  • Hultkrantz, Ake. Native Religions of North America. San Francisco: Harper & Row, 1987.


The Encyclopedia of Ghosts and Spirits– Written by Rosemary Ellen Guiley – September 1, 2007

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