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Native American Religion

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Native American religion penetrated every aspect of their

culture. This makes it difficult for a predominantly white, European,

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secular society to interpret Native Indian spirituality. There is no

single Native American religion, but rather as many religions as there

are Indian peoples. Religion and ritual were a function of all activity:

from the food quest and other survival-related work to technology,

social and political organization, warfare and art. Religion and magic

were fused with practical science; for example, prayer was used in

conjunction with hunting and fishing techniques, and incantations

accompanied effective herbal remedies in the curing of disease.


would like to elucidate on Native American views in relation to their

As stated by Lester Kurtz, “In a structurally differentiated

society, every institution is given a specialized task; the task of

religious institutions is to tend to spiritual and ethical issues” (167).

Religion played a prominent role in the interpretation of the universe

for the American Indians. It facilitated in the adaptation of human

activity to the patters of nature.

Indians were traditionally a holistic

and reverent people, viewing themselves as extensions of animate

In addition to this holism, other generalizations can be made in

regard to Indian religion. Part of the special intimate relationship with

nature involved a sense of kinship with the natural world and the

attribution of innate souls and human properties to plants, animals,

inanimate objects and natural phenomena. Indian religion generally

also involved the belief that the universe is suffused with

preternatural forces and powerful spirits.

From what tribal populations already know, historians can

conclude there are common characteristics that seem to be shared by

all of the Native Americans. Although there are many points of

contrast, the beliefs of Native Americans are distinguished by some

common convictions. Some of these features are that all the Native

American religions seem to believe in the existence of a high god or

vital force along with lesser gods and spirits. They also believe that

certain individuals possess sacred power and therefore can act as

intermediaries between the tribe and the deities.

Shamanism, (individual sacred power), was a common form of

religious practice, in which individuals sought control of these spirits

through the use of magic. Other traits characteristic of most

traditional Indian cultures was a richness of myths, legends,

ceremonies and sacred objects. Other common traits was the quest

for visions and the use of psychotropic plants to facilitate those

visions. Music and dance was a part of the rituals and the notion of

sacrifice to gain the favor of the gods or spirits. I should state that not

all Native American cultures participate in sacrifice. It can be said that

for Indians the natural world was inseparable from the super-natural.

Myth was a way of understanding reality.

Apart from these shared traits, however, Indian religion

presents a wondrous variety of beliefs, sacraments and systems.

Different tribes or related groups of people had different views of the

supernatural world, with varying types of deities and spirits. Some

Native Americans societies believed in monotheistic and omnipotent

universal spirits, some did not. Indian peoples had variegated

mythologies and lore concerning the creation and structure of the

universe. They had an array of rites, ceremonies, sacred objects and

differing systems of religious organizations. In order to obtain more

clarity on the Native American religion, it is necessary to understand

the religious diversity at the time of European contact.

According to scholars, the religious beliefs, rituals, and myths of

aboriginal American seems to arise from the diffusion and

cross-fertilization of two indistinct cultural traditions: the Northern

Hunting traditions and the South Agrarian tradition. The older

Northern Hunting tradition dates back to the first arrival of

Paleo-Siberian peoples in North America during the Ice Age. Their

ideology and forms of worship were rooted in the ancient Paleolithic

way of life. Hunting and healing rituals and magic, the vision trances

of shamans, and the worship of a Mater of Animals who protects game

and regulates the hunt are all typical features of the Northern Hunting

tradition. These people lived in the Northern part of the U.S. and

As the ancient Paleolithic beliefs and rituals were diffused

southward, they met and intermingled with the younger Southern

Agrarian tradition, which was moving northward, with the spread of

maize from the Valley of Mexico. In this second tradition, priesthood

and secret cults replaced the individualistic shamans of the Northern

Hunting tradition as the religious leaders in society. Hunting magic

and rituals were incorporated into agrarian ceremonies devoted to the

seasonal cycle of crops. The roots of these two belief systems date

back millions of years. Collectively, they form a rich and diverse trivia

of legends, rites and rituals, the core of which remain intact today

Diverse Indian religions have a great deal in common, including

the fact that the word religion, though used for convenience,

inadequately defines their spirituality. In truth, the Indian equivalent

of the word does not appear in any of the hundred of languages and

thousands of dialects spoken in North American. The word implies that

the various aspects of life can be segmented into the sacred and the

secular — a notion country to Native American beliefs. According to

traditional Indian thinking, there is nothing that can be seen or

touched, living or inanimate, that does not have a spirit. Spirituality

and ordinary life are as interconnected as the strands of a tightly

woven rug. There is no separation between the sacred and the

Sacred tradition has taught respect for the natural world, so has

it reinforced the idea of an individual’s responsibility to others and to

the tribe at large. In the world of Indians, however, Christian notions

of good and evil have been viewed in terms of balance and imbalance,

harmony and disharmony. In times past, the ideals of behavior that

were taught by the elders to promote harmony — unselfishness,

patience, forgiveness — were necessary for the very survival of the

community in a harsh and variable wilderness. Indian notions of

personal success and status hinge on spirituality. Good fortune comes

to those who acquire sacred knowledge. Only with the help of

supernatural forces can an Indian hunt well, farm well, bring up

children well, and if necessary , fight well.

In the words of author George Catlin from his book Native

American Indians, “that he witnessed Indians’ sincerity of worship and

he had never seen any other people who spend so much of their lives

in worshipping The Great Spirit” (473). After culminating my research

for this paper on Native American religion, I perceive that Indians

prefer to believe that the Spirit of God is not breathed in man alone,

but that the whole universe shares in the immortal perfection of its

Maker. The heroes and demigods of Indian tradition reflect the typical

trend of their thoughts, their interpretation of personality and

responsibility to the elements, animate or inanimate.

Cite this Native American Religion

Native American Religion. (2018, Sep 12). Retrieved from https://graduateway.com/native-american-religion-essay/

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