What's new on our site today! 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.
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.
More recent histories tell another story entirely, drawing attention to the enduring Indian resistance to white domination and, even more important, to the multiple forms of cultural adaptation and accommodation that took place on both sides of the moving frontier.
Cambridge University Press,which focuses on the Ohio valley and shows how a common cultural terrain gradually emerged as its indigenous peoples interacted with missionaries, soldiers, traders, and other settlers, first the French and later the English.
To get the most from this book requires several hours of close reading, but every learned, lucidly written page repays the effort. Oxford University Press, The book sparkles with learning and wit, and its pages are filled with anecdotes that will delight your students.Native American religions are the spiritual practices of the indigenous peoples of the srmvision.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. The Big Religion Chart. This "Big Religion Chart" is our attempt to summarize the major religions and belief systems of the world - Buddhism, Christianity, Hinduism, Islam, Judaism, and dozens more - into a quick-reference comparison chart.
Traditional Native Concepts of Death: This is a good essay accurately comparing Native American religious beliefs about death and the afterlife in several different tribes. Native American Legends: Online collection of American Indian myths and oral history. tographer of Native North American cultures Edward S.
Curtis stated, “There seems to be a explore the beliefs and practices in a variety of indigenous traditions, but without making any claims to universalities. Indigenous Religious Traditions On the most general level, native traditions. Native American religions are the spiritual practices of the indigenous peoples of the srmvision.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.
Comparative religion is the branch of the study of religions concerned with the systematic comparison of the doctrines and practices of the world's srmvision.com general the comparative study of religion yields a deeper understanding of the fundamental philosophical concerns of religion such as ethics, metaphysics, and the nature and forms of salvation. When we think of Native American culture, elements of religious practice inevitably come to the fore. This has probably been reinforced in our thoughts because virtually every TV show or movie that features Native American culture has some kind of religious practice as a prominent feature. Native Americans and Christianity have a history that dates to the the arrival of the first European explorers. This history is marked by genocide, cultural destruction, domination and resistance. Much of the destruction was done for land, politics, and power, but a significant part of it was done for religious reasons, as Christians embarked.
When we think of Native American culture, elements of religious practice inevitably come to the fore. This has probably been reinforced in our thoughts because virtually every TV show or movie that features Native American culture has some kind of religious practice as a prominent feature.