Native American religion penetrated every aspect of their culture. This makes it difficult for a predominantly white, European, 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. I 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.