Presentation on theme: "Native American Religion"— Presentation transcript:
1 Native American Religion Great diversity – many tribes (from small to large)Ute, Mohawk, Apache, Navajo, Delaware, Hopi, Sioux, Iroquois, Cherokee, etc.ExpressionsRitualsBeliefsMeaningHolistic; more than rational; their approach to life is supra-rationalNo separation between the sacred and the mundaneBook “poverty” (WS 570)No written text; an oral traditionThere is no “theology” here, much less any “systematic theology”The power of the spoken word (Gill 39) [consider a “poker game”]Many storiesStories of the past, of the “fathers,” of natural phenomena, of heroic exploitsthe way of bequeathing values and beliefThe “word” is a very powerful instrument of education
2 God There is a “supreme God” He is “up there”A certain inaccessibilityThe “Supernatural” is a more adequate category for lifeThere is an “immediacy” about “God”Our immediate experience and feelingGreat Spirit (WS 594)Many lesser deities and divinities under the “supreme God”
3 Reality All nature, every aspect of it, is sacred Underhill 21 Reality is like a “spider’s web”Close kinship with all nature: “Mother corn” “brother coyote” “mother earth”, “sister rabbit” etc.This is not meant as a denigration of human beings, but as an elevation of natureJust as a scientist approaches nature with a magnifying glass, the Native American sees all natureas a living, holistic organismas sacredas a “temple”The “Center” and the “four directions” must be fixed properly
4 Human BeingWe have a body and at least 2 and sometimes several “souls”One like a life or breath soul (departs with the death of the body)One was a free soul (and can leave the body)We are a being-in-relationshipWe are akin to all of nature (brother coyote) – modern human beings have lost thisWe live “equidistant from all boundaries”Personal names are private, sacred (they lengthen as one matures)Relationships are defined through relational terms (much like Korea, Japan)Rites of passage are importantSeparation, transformation, reinsertionConception and birthNamingMarriageDeath
5 Religious roles:Shaman or medicine manPriestMessiah
6 One very Important rite of passage is the vision quest (WS 606-7 Quest for a vision: preparation, purification, the quest, the returnPreparation (boy at the right age and with appropriate training)What to expect, how to conduct yourself, how to seekPurificationPrayer, cleanliness, fasting, isolation, meditation, etc.The questLeft in the mountains, etc.; the young man must seek for a visionHe may have “helping” spiritsHe may be tested (a herd of buffalo; a bear, etc.)He must “risk his life” because the vision is more important than physical lifeHe may achieve success, or he may failIf he fails, he returns to the village, to prepare and try againIf he succeedsHe experiences a profound life-changing vision (perceptions, values, etc.)He returns to the village a different person; a changed personNew expectations, new obligations, new roles, etc.He may spend the rest of his understanding the vision he has receivedBlack Elk Speaks (a profound vision when young, book written when old)“The Three Circles of Existence” (p 28f)
7 Human Problem Bad death, disease, famine, short life, etc. A great problem is to have confusion in heart or mindWS 277 problems come from thinking or acting only for oneselfOne’s soul can be “stolen” (black magic; must take preventive measures)The modern Native American Indian society has high rates of alcoholism, suicide, and other social problems.Much of this has been catalyzed by the decadent society of the WestThere is a lack of proper education for Native American IndiansThis is one of the collective sins of the “American” people
8 Salvation (Healing)Long, productive, happy life in this world, with peace, joy and prosperityMany childrenMedicine bundle (examined soon)Harmony and balance with people and with nature“Enjoy the beautiful land, know the spirits intimately”It is not easy to know the spirits intimatelyThere are religious figures in NA religion, which helps in this processIn the West, we have ministers, priests, and chaplainsIn NA tradition, we have shaman, priest, and medicine manWe also have the Trickster and the Clown….
9 These interesting figures are significant in their religious roles Mythical figuresTricksterClownThese interesting figures are significant in their religious rolesAkin to the Freudian “id”The human desire to be free of rules, to be unbounded is played out in the Trickster storiesThe Trickster defies definition: an existence without boundariesThe Clown is the master of symbolismThe NA clown often acts “contrary”: he does everything backwardRides backward on his horsePuts his boots on the wrong feetWalks backwardWears heavy clothing in summer and goes naked in winterSays “yes” when he means “no”, etc.A major symbolic role of the NA clown is the portrayal of all things that are forbidden, unnatural, or considered inhuman.They will eat whatever is considered defiling, etc.These figures serve to break us loose from our everyday consciousness, and to put us in an altered state of awareness, in which state we are more open, more susceptible to higher influences
10 ConductLive equidistantly from all boundaries [TF: up, down, front, behind, right, left]In other words, live in a balanced manner; harmonious in all respectsWS 381-2; 244“Religion” is a “centering” processIt is necessary to maintain a purity of heart (WS 381-2)WS 244 – keep heart pure; related to destinyFamily conduct: WS 178, 700, 173*Appropriateness re: natural world the idea of “taking”It is not appropriate to “take” something, when one is expecting “something”It is always appropriate to “give” first, and then receive from nature (the idea of “taking” is foreign to the Native American Indian)Imagine their sensitivity to the modern American way of life (greed, ambition, “rat race”)Extremely important ritualsRitual of the “peace” pipe (instrument of meditation; “self-directed”)Purification rites: sweat lodgeThe medicine bundle….
11 The (sacred) medicine bundle (Gill 68) A seeming common thing, which is actually an esoteric religious object.They are not public property, and they are rarely, if ever, displayed.A simple description would scarcely hint that they are among the most sacred of items.Commonly consist of an array of things (feathers, bones, claws, teeth, minerals, deer tail, herbs, etc.)Throughout one’s life, one accumulate “meaningful items” (memories, etc.)They have enormous spiritual power, even the power of healingConsidered to be alive, they have the power to heal, to be clairvoyant, to call animals, to assure success in a hunt, even to attract someoneThey are the place of residence of living spiritsThey are kept by the most responsible persons and families and cared for constantly.Opening a bundle is ordinarily a complex affair, highly constrained by ritual prescription.It is through the stories of their origin, the histories of their owners and use, the occasions and manner of their use that these objects come to bear significance of a magnitude that infinitely surpasses their commonplace material character. It is in the power they generate, in the significance they evoke, in the awe and respect they command that the symbolic powers of these sacred medicine bundles must be understood and appreciated.
12 Destiny Usually no word for eternity Ideally a long life in this world Details about the soul and its destiny is not clear (Underhill 77)Spiritual world (WS ; ; 742)Rebirth is an accepted beliefWS 53-54The Ghost Dance religion (messianic in nature)The White Buffalo and its significance
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