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Lakota Religious Traditions

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    Lakota, a word meaning ‘allies or friends’ were religious people. They turned to the stars, using naked eye observations, for guidance from the spirits. The stars tell stories of their creation and hold information pertaining to birth and the sun dance rituals. Lakota people cherish their oral stories that have been passed down from generation to generation. Overall they embrace religion in all aspects of their life. For them religion encompassed their entire being and was integrated in their daily lives. There are seven sacred rites the Lakota abide by. These rites came to the Lakota people through the White Buffalo Calf Pipe.

    The sacred pipe has been passed down from generation to generation. Only those with the intentions to do good may handle the pipe and hold the knowledge regarding how to use it properly. A holy spirit brought the pipe to the Lakota people in the hopes of peace and spirituality. Lakota people today pray for the spirit who brought the pipe asking her to watch over their loved ones, feeding them and providing shelter (Dooling, 2002). The first rite is to renew life. Using a sweat lodge that resembles the dome shape of the universe and the womb of a pregnant woman, the Lakota people prayed for health and well being for all.

    They prayed for their loved ones’ spiritual and physical health through a ceremony inside the lodge. Hot stones were placed in the middle of the dark lodge and water was poured over the burning red stones creating steam. All necessities for good health were included in this ceremony: earth, water, fire and air (Powers, 2005). The second rite is crying for a vision. One person agrees to go on a vision quest and waits on a hill with nothing but a pipe and a blanket for four days in hopes to connect with spirits and gain knowledge and insight. The Lakota often made a special war shield following a vision quest.

    The design on the shield was supposed to offer them special protection and guidance and were often directed to make the focus of their visions the central element of their shields. The third rite is keeping of the spirit. When a loved one dies, a mourner sets up a special place for the deceased’s spirit. The spirit is taken care of for one year to purify the soul (Powers, 2005). The fourth rite is the Sun Dance. Every year Lakota gather together and those who chose to participate dance, pledging to make offerings of their flesh in the hoes that strength would be given to their nation.

    Many also do this in hopes to fulfill personal vows. The Sun Dance has been sad to be the most important rite for the Lakota. The vision quest consists of one man isolated on hilltop, communicating with the mystery power, while the sun dance integrates all of the people communicating with nature and the many spirits (Powers, 2005). The fifth rite of the Lakota people is making relative, known as a formal adoption of people as relatives. The sixth rite is the puberty ceremony, where the young woman is recognized as a woman capable of bearing life.

    Prayers made during the ceremony are said to ensure the young girl will grow up to have all the virtues of a Lakota woman. The seventh right is a game consisting of throwing a ball. A girl will throw a ball up into the air and the young man who catches the ball is considered more fortunate and knowledgeable than the others (Powers, 2005). In accordance with the Sun Dance, self-sacrifice occurs, as it is thought be involved in the creation of life. It is thought that the original creation of this world occurred Inyan, “The Rock”, gave his own blood to create the Earth and sky. The Rock was the firs of the superior gods.

    He was present in the beginning when there was nothing else living. To use his powers there must be living creature, so he sacrificed a part of himself, giving his blood and spreading it around in the shape of a disc to create Maka (Earth). His blue blood created the blue waters of Earth. Today, Lakota Sun Dancers are participating in the renewal of life by repeating this mythical example of self-sacrifice (Goodman, 1992). As Inyan sacrificed his blood to create our world, the sun dancers voluntarily sacrifice their flesh and blood to symbolically recreate the world and renew life on earth each year.

    Men will tie themselves to the Center Tree that the sun dancers join around and women cut pieces of flesh from their arms. These sacrifices are done so that the rest of the world and all of its beings may live. The sun dance honors all of life, no man for man (Goodman, 1992). Goodman describes, in Lakota Star Knowledge, the hope that the circle of life be a cycle, consisting of: Giving, receiving, bearing, being born in suffering, growing, becoming, giving back to earth that which has been given, and so finally to be born again. So it is told that only in sacrifice is identity possible and found.

    It is only through the suffering in sacrifice that finally freedom is known and laughter in joy returns to the world. The Lakota people see life as a series of recurrent travels, and each person has a purpose to fulfill that will support and benefit the entire community. Lakota Oral Traditions are sacred stories said to touch on four levels of consciousness, which correspond to our physical, emotional, intellectual, and spiritual natures. These relate to the unfolding of the four stages of life people live through: childhood, adolescence, maturity, and old age. After a person dies one of their four souls goes up to the Milky Way.

    An old wise woman examines their spirit and decides if they will retire to the heavens or return back to earth and have another chance to live in harmony (Mizrach, n. d. ). The point where the Milky Way splits marks the two different paths for the retiring souls. People who lived an immoral life were forced to head down the part of the Milky Way that ends in a nebula, tumbling through space forever. Those who lived a proper life took the other road to the promised home of departed souls. This is why the birth of a child is very important to the Lakota. They have had the closest most recent contact with the spirit world (Powers, 2005).

    Believing that the Milky Way is the first stop the spirit goes after death is only one example of the importance of the stars to the Lakota people (Mizrach, n. d. ). Birth is a very sacred ritual for the Lakota. They have midwives chosen by the spirits to help instruct pregnant women on various life changes during pregnancy o insure a healthy birth. There are to adhere to a strict diet during pregnancy. The firs kick of the child calls for the welcoming ceremony. The parents and relatives of the fetus are told to begin talking to it, easing the unborn child into the world. During labor the midwife prays to a spirit called “blue woman”.

    It is blue woman’s job to help open the womb and allow for a successful birth. She also helps with the re-incarnation of spirits, and then after death aids them back into the stars, their place of origin (Goodman, 1992). After the birth, a ceremonial cleansing occurs of the child. Sage is burned in the hopes of expelling the negative energy around the birth. The baby is then washed and a chosen woman extracts mucus from its mouth. Putting her fingers I the baby’s mouth also gives the baby some of her own character, thus this woman must be chosen wisely. The umbilical cord is placed in a turtle or salamander shaped pouch, both animals are said o help establish good character qualities.

    The entire birth process is a very sacred ceremony. This shows the Lakota’s appreciation for life and re-incarnation. Knowledge of constellations such as the turtle, salamander, and the big dipper, where the blue woman resides, is necessary for this process (Goodman, 1992). Overall the Lakota people embraced religion throughout their lives. Each stage of life had to be met in accordance with their understanding of star knowledge and Lakota oral traditions. They called upon religious figures and spirits for life changing ceremonies and events such as the sun dance, childbirth, and the sacred rites.

    References

    Goodman, Ronald. Lakota Star Knowledge: Studies in Lakota Stellar Theology. Rosebud, SD:Sinte Gleska University, 1992. Mizrach, S. (n. d. ) Lakota Astronomy. Retrieved November 2, 2012 from: http://www2. fiu. edu/~mizrachs/lakota. htm Powers, William K. , James Garrett, and Kathleen J. Martin. “Lakota Religious Traditions. ” Encyclopedia of Religion. Ed. Lindsay Jones. 2nd ed. Vol. 8. Detroit: Macmillan Reference USA, 2005. 5295-5298. Gale Virtual Reference Library. Web. 29 October, 2012. Yellowtail, Thomas. Native Spirit: The Sundance Way. Ed by Michael Oreon Fitzgerald. Bloomington, IN: World Wisdom, 2007.

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