Seeking Native American Spirituality: Judging from the email I get, there are a lot of people out there trying to learn about traditional Native American religion and spirituality these days. Many of them are trying to do this on the Internet. Sorting through these sites can be a nightmare.
First, at the time of European contact, all but the simplest indigenous cultures in North America had developed coherent religious systems that included cosmologies—creation myths, transmitted orally from one generation to the next, which purported to explain how those societies had come into being.
They also venerated or placated a host of lesser supernatural entities, including an evil god who dealt out disaster, suffering, and death.
Third and finally, the members of most tribes believed in the immortality of the human soul and an afterlife, the main feature of which was the abundance of every good thing that made earthly life secure and pleasant. An Iroquois funeral as observed by a French Jesuit missionary, early s At left: The Library Company of Philadelphia Like all other cultures, the Indian societies of North America hoped to enlist the aid of the supernatural in controlling the natural and social world, and each tribe had its own set of religious observances devoted to that aim.
Individuals tried to woo or appease powerful spiritual entities with private prayers or sacrifices of valuable items e. These uncommon abilities included predicting the future and influencing the weather—matters of vital interest to whole tribes—but shamans might also assist individuals by interpreting dreams and curing or causing outbreaks of witchcraft.
As even this brief account indicates, many key Indian religious beliefs and practices bore broad but striking resemblances to those current among early modern Europeans, both Catholic and Protestant. They, too, propitiated their deity with prayers and offerings and relied upon a specially trained clergy to sustain their societies during periods of crisis.
Finally, the great majority of early modern Europeans feared witches and pondered the meaning of their dreams. Important as it is to appreciate the affinities between the religious cultures of Indians and early modern Europeans and Euro-Americansthere were real differences that must be kept in mind.
The most important is that Indians did not distinguish between the natural and the supernatural. By contrast, Protestant and Catholic traditions were more inclined to emphasize the gulf that separated the pure, spiritual beings in heaven—God, the angels, and saints—from sinful men and women mired in a profane world filled with temptation and evil.
Guiding Student Discussion When you take up Native American religion in class, you could spend hours describing the specific beliefs and rituals of the major tribes spanning the North American continent, but this barrage of information might leave your students feeling overwhelmed and confused.
It might be more profitable to begin by promising yourself to avoid any approach to Native American spirituality that is too exhaustively detailed. Thus you might start by describing the most salient and definitive characteristics of Indian spirituality and its most basic similarities to and differences from Euro-American Christianity, about which many students may also have only the vaguest notions, so your remarks will do double duty.
Draw upon this specific information to build toward more sweeping statements about the general character of Native American religiosity. Consult these works for wonderful descriptions of Native American religious cultures and read from the following examples.
Muskogees along the Gulf of Mexico Joel W. Catawbas of the Carolinas James H. Iroquois of upper New York Daniel K. If you can find time to do more in class, your best students may be fascinated by examples of how native peoples adapted Christianity to their particular historical circumstances and needs.
And having got them, what you do next is to offer some examples, as many as you can work into the time available, of how and why native peoples selectively borrowed from Christianity, picking and choosing certain elements of Catholic or Protestant belief and ritual which they then combined with traditional Indian practices.
Many of the books cited in this essay describe the varying ways in which individual Native Americans and whole tribes participated in this process. For examples, you may read more on the following tribal groups.
Indians did not simply replace one faith with another, nor did most converts cynically pretend to embrace Christian convictions. Instead, native beliefs and rituals gradually became intermixed with Christian elements, exemplifying a process known as religious syncretism—a creative combination of the elements of different religious traditions yielding an entirely new religious system capable of commanding broad popular loyalties.
Essays on Acculturation and Cultural Persistence [Athens: University of Georgia Press, ]. In both versions, native peoples figured primarily as passive victims.The history of American religions is dominated by the presence of Christianity brought to the New World by European settlers.
Columbus's discovery in marked the beginning of a massive "white" invasion that would consume the entire continent of North America over the next four centuries. Essay on Women and North American Native Religions My Religion My Tribe, My Life: The Importance of women in Native American Religion Introduction "In February , the great Cherokee leader Attakullakulla arrived in South Carolina to negotiate trade agreements with the governor and was shocked to find that no white woman was present.
Native American religion includes a number of practices, ceremonies, and traditions. These ceremonies may be in honor of a number of events.
The practice of taking certain hallucinogens was commonly used to gain greater insight or communicate with the gods. North American Indian religions rely on icons to give meaning to the immediate environment and the cosmos in general. Icons also symbolize the elemental powers of nature – the spirits, the supernatural world, and the forests.
Native American Religions: Essay by an Osage writer about the religious traditions of Indian communities. This is the best overview of native spirituality I've seen on the Internet. Native American Spirituality: Generic overview of American Indian religious beliefs and related issues.
Native American religions are the spiritual practices of the indigenous peoples of the schwenkreis.com article focuses on Native North Americans. Traditional Native American ceremonial ways can vary widely and are based on the differing histories and beliefs of individual tribes, clans, and bands.