2 QUESTIONS What relevance does Native American religion have for today? What are some elements of Native American religion would interest “New Age” religion and spiritual people?What are some common parts of Native American religion?
3 Native American religion Difficult to define because they are so diverse (hunting-gathering societies to agricultural societies, small nomadic bands to towns, cities, and empires, in every section of America)Estimated that there may have been as many as 2,000 different Native American cultures in North AmericaMust make generalizations based on certain shared religious characteristics seen across Native American tribes
4 Limitations on sources First people came to Americas 15,000 to 20,000 years ago (some Natives believe their ancestors were created in Americas)20,000 years of Native Americans in AmericasInformation only available from last 400 yearsMost sources were from Christian missionaries and explorersDifficult to understand how much Native American religion has been influenced by contact with Europeans
5 polytheistic All nature is alive with spirits Spirits take the forms of animals, plants, and appear in visionsGuardian spiritsSpirits of the dead who live in the Land of the DeadMother Earth – she provides the bounty of the EarthLightening and thunder – individual deities
6 Monotheistic The Supreme Being or High God Separate from the concerns of EarthPeople pray to the nature spirits or ancestors for matters of daily lifeThe High God is appealed to only rarely and is seldom mentioned in religious conversation
7 monisticSome Native Americans believe the High God is a divine or sacred power similar to the Tao.Dakota Sioux believe in Wakan Tanka or “The Great Mysterious”Creative force found in all beings and spiritsAny object or being that has influence over the course of life is seen as a manifestation of this divine power
8 So, is native American religion polytheistic, monotheistic, or monistic (henotheistic)?
10 animismAn animist is someone who believes that the trees, rocks, rivers, plants, and animals are spiritually alive.Spirits in nature have the ability to help or harm.Animists offer some form of worship to these spirits.Native Americans are thus animists in a sense.
11 Animism continuedIf the Supreme Being lives and manifests itself in all creation, nature should be respected and cared for.In general, a different view than white European settlers, who viewed nature as something to be exploited.White Europeans were willing to sacrifice the beauty and life of the land to build a technology that would make life more comfortable and pleasant.Native Americans had a reverent attitude toward nature and sought to live in harmony with it.
12 huntingImportant to Native Americans; both a practical and religious experienceNative American hunters often prayed to the spirit of the animal before the hunt.Only those animals absolutely needed were killedHunters asked for forgiveness from the animalEvery part of the animal was usedEuro-American hunters slaughtered herds, took hides and tongues leaving the bulk of the animal to rot.
14 agriculture Native Americans revere the soil, plants, and trees The soil is personified as Mother Earth. Plants are thought to have spirits.For many Native American people, farming is a religious activity.Hopi of the Southwest continue to farm for corn, even when the bulk of their food comes from “modern” sources
15 Agriculture continued Even gathering clay to make pottery is done with an understanding of the life in the soil.The Papago women of southern Arizona speak of the clay they dig for pots: “I take only what I need. It is to cook for my children.”Cutting down a tree is not done without making an offering to the tree firstTrees are sacred and have feelings that must be respected
16 Contacts with the spirit world Native American people tend not to see the universe as being under the control of an all powerful GodInterested in day-to-day life among multiple spiritsNative Americans seek to maintain good relationships with spiritual beings (forests, streams, and animals, among others) that share the world with humans.
17 SacrificeMost world religions practice some form of sacrifice to please deitiesAnimals, grain, wine, beer, and human blood sacrifice have been offered by different religionsSuch sacrifices were rare among the native peoples of the United States and CanadaHuman sacrifice was used by natives of Central and South America (Maya of Guatemala, Aztecs of Central Mexico, Inca of Peru, and communities of American Southwest).
18 sacrificeSacrifice is used to help human obtain assistance from spiritual beingsSome rituals such as the Sun Dance of the Great Plains Native Americans involve self-torment or sacrificeThis is seen as a way of obtaining the spiritual power necessary for human survivalMedicinal bundles made from animal hides, bones, plants, and minerals are other sources of spiritual power.Medicinal bundles are greatly valued by Native Americans.
19 Why do you think that the great blood sacrifices of other world religions was/is uncommon in native American religion?
20 taboosOne way that Native Americans protect themselves from possible danger from the spirit world is through taboos.Taboos are actions, circumstances, persons, objects, etc., which owing to their dangerousness fall outside the normal everyday categories of existence.Taboo is a kind of religious action that enables people to avoid doing things that would offend the spirits of nature and the ancestors.
21 TABOO: INTERACTING WITH MENSTRUATING WOMEN Women participate in child production and thus have special powersMenstruating women are seen as especially powerfulInteracting with or even being looked at by a menstruating women could ruin a hunter’s abilities for life; even weapons could be rendered useless; wild game could be driven awayMenstruating women were often kept separate
22 TABOO: AVOIDANCE OF THE DEAD Native Americans feared that the spirit of the dead would remain for a time and attempt to take family and friends with it.Native Americans avoid the dead except in cases of extreme emergency.Among the Navaho and other tribes of Arizona and New Mexico, dead bodies, their clothing and belongings are greatly feared. They are reluctant to touch the bodies of victims of automobile and other accidents.Care of the dead is often left to non-native people
23 CONCERN ABOUT FINAL RESTING PLACE Steps taken to keep bodies away from contact with the human worldSometimes, names of dead are not spoken for many years after their deathsDead buried by special members of tribe not immediate familyThese people were ritually unclean for a time and unable to partake of tribal meals
24 CONTROVERSY NATIVE AMERICANS AND THE SCIENTIFIC COMMUNITY REGARDING THE DEAD Archaeologists and scientists often study human remains to learn about the diets and health of prehistoric peopleNative Americans are troubled by what they see as a disrespect for the deadThey have fought for the return and reburial of the remains discovered by archaeologists
25 CEREMONIES AND RITUALS Native Americans sought to control the forces of the spiritual world with ceremoniesThe purpose of ceremonies, rituals, songs, and dances is not necessarily to worshipThey are a means of renewing the partnership between humans and the spirit worldCeremonies and rituals include dancing, singing, fasting, ordeals, bathing, and observing taboos.
26 DANCE: A POPULAR RITUAL The entire community participatesUsed to prepare for a hunt, agricultural season, or for celebration; they were also used in the preparation for warUsed as a rite of passageDance is accompanied by the beating of drums, singing of songs, shaking of rattles, and playing of flutes
27 DANCE: CONTACT WITH THE SPIRIT WORLD Rhythms can be simple or complexSeveral people banging on a log to complex rhythms played on animal skin drumsVerses could be simple and repetitive or tell detailed stories of creation or heroes of the pastHours of song and steady rhythm are hypnoticLong hours of dancing in this atmosphere prepares the participants to interact with the spirits
28 RITUALS FOR HUNTINGAnimals were important to Native Americans for food and raw materials (hides for warmth, bones for tools and weapons)Rituals prepared hunters for their workHunting could be unpredictable; one season their would be an abundance of game and the weapons could be very accurate; another season game could be scarce and weapons ineffectiveSpirits of animals and the hunters and weapons themselves had to be properly prepared
29 PUEBLO HUNTING RITUAL Pueblo ritual of the southwest Men dressed as deer and crawled around to the beat of a drum and the singing of songsHunters acted as if they were killing them and the animal actors as if they were dyingSympathetic or imitative magic – persons imitating the game animals in the ceremony were symbolically called forth and killed in the belief that this would occur during the real hunt
30 THE VISION QUESTTo gain special power in life, Native Americans often seek visions that put them in contact with the spirit worldVisions sought by young people at the time of pubertyOne day they go alone into the wilderness to live alone until a vision is receivedThe young person lives without food, limited water, and with hardly any possessionsDone to appear poor and humble before the spirits
31 VISION QUEST CONTINUED Sometimes, the young person is painted to resemble a famous person from the tribeWhen the vision comes, the spirits often appear in the guise of animals in a dreamlike or trancelike stateThe animal may become the person’s special guardian; the person may change his/her name to include the animal’s nameA bond is formed with that animal that lasts for life
32 VISION QUEST CONTINUED Spirits may appear as a man or a womanIf no vision occurs after a few days, then the young person may cut his/her flesh or even cut off a finger as a sign of sincerity.When the vision comes, the young person returns to the community as a full member of the group, having moved through this rite of passage.
33 VISIONS THEN AND NOWVisions are sought by Native Americans at other times in life – ex. On the eve of a major battleVisions sought in connection with hunting such as the great buffalo hunts in the 19th centuryToday, they are sought before making major life decisions such as marriage, running for political office, or moving from the reservation for employment or education
34 SUN DANCE Practiced Native Americans of the Great Plains Dance takes place during the summer, on the solstice when the sun is near its peak; lasts usually three days and nights.Dancers seek a visionGather in a lodge especially built for the purposeSacred pole in the center of the lodge cut from a tree chosen for this sacred purposePeople may be hung from the pole by hooks through pectoral muscles in order to contact the spiritsContact with the spirit world for too long can be dangerous, so they fight to free themselves from the hooks quickly.
35 SMOKINGNatives smoked strong tobacco (Nicotina rustica plant) from long, decorative pipes (works of art, valued possessions that could be traded)Most people cannot take more than six puffs from the pipe without feeling almost intoxicated(not like mass-produced tobacco grown today)Native Americans (men mostly) did it occasionally to enhance bonding between tribal leaders, agreements among tribal membersNot smoked as a habit
36 PEYOTE Spineless cactus that grows in American Southwest and Mexico Natives of Central America and Southwest ate it to have visionsPeyote has 9 narcotic alkaloids including mescaline (which is used to make acid)Most states have drug regulations banning mescalineFederal courts have upheld the state lawsNative Americans continue to appeal to federal courts including the Supreme Court as they feel that their religious freedoms under the Bill of Rights are being abridged.Why is this a significant issue?