The Native American religion

Introduction
Native religion is an enigmatic edifice. The fact that there were many
tribes and that religious practices were handed down orally from one
generation to another makes it even more complex. However, Native
American religion seemed to derive its existence from nature. The
animals, plants, land and other physical natural elements were a focal
point in indigenous religions. The indigenous communities observed the
universe as a womb from which their lives grew. On that note, there was
less need among the indigenous people to reshape or destroy it as the
white settlers did (Occhiogrosso, n.d). Despite the belief in the
divinity the indigenous people still depended on their natural
ecosystems for food. However, this could be described as a means of
attaining balance in all aspects of nature, as opposed to gaining
liberation or salvation as proposed by historical religions. Sadly, the
invasion of Americas by the white peoples chronicled the beginning of
the end of such diverse native beliefs. The massive relocations of the
indigenous people by the white settlers from their lands slowly ate away
at the rich and diverse religious and cultural traditions. Notably, the
emotional attachment the Native Americans had to land was synonymous to
any other indigenous community across the world (Wright, 2013).
Deprivation of the ancestral land was one of the most catastrophic
occurrences in the lives of the many indigenous communities across the
globe. On that note, this paper focuses on the indigenous religion and
its complexities, the beliefs and the cultural practices of the Native
Americans.
An In-depth Insight
Indigenous religion, which shall otherwise be termed as Native American
religion in the rest of the paper, tended to revolve around nature. The
animals, land, plants and other natural endowments were the concrete
foundations around which the indigenous religion was formed. Like every
other culture, the Native Americans had myths too which tended to
explain some events in life. These myths could easily pass for folklores
because they depicted an ordinary people rather than gods. However,
attention is drawn to the divinity that existed in the indigenous
religion. The Native people believed that everything found in nature was
divine and interconnected in some way. In these cultures, mythology
played a significant role as it was used to set examples, as well as,
standards by which the societies lived. Unlike Greek mythologies, which
involved phenomenal characters who had names, the Native American myths
used tags for instance Rabbit boy. This is because the myths stood for
general principles which override personal traits.
The Native American religion included a number of traditions, ceremonies
and practices. The ceremonies marked important events in the indigenous
people’s lives. For instance the practice of consuming specific
hallucinogens was common when people wanted to communicate with the
spirits. This brings us to the greatest aspect of the Native American
religion discussed here under.
Spirituality
Every Native American tribe believed in a common supreme force that was
behind the existence of the whole universe. This force was called the
Great Spirit and its existence is observable in all life forms. The
Great Spirit was a combination of all Indian perceptions of God which
were sky the Father god, mother Earth and Spirits who controlled all
lives. For example, among the Lakota Sioux tribe the Great Spirit was
called Wakan Tankan, this was a combination of earth sky and the
spiritual world. This is synonymous with beliefs in other Indian nations
who believed in a single life force called father but believed to be
either a n animal or a man. The belief in a supreme mother earth was not
exclusive to Indians it goes way back to the Neolithic age. During the
Neolithic age, man and woman shared equal positions in the society, but
the woman was acknowledged as the source of all life: human, plant and
animal life. Notably, women are respected more in the Indian culture
than even the west.
Like any other religion, Indians believed in life after death. The
belief was based on reincarnation into human life form or animal in the
afterlife. Many Indian communities believed that the afterlife would be
a place of adequate hunting ground. This was consistent and synonymous
with the hunting and nomadic cultures of Asia and Scandinavia
(Occhiogrosso, n.d).
Shamanism
It is one of the most common aspects of the Indian life. People who were
spiritually gifted and who used that gift to help the community members
to drift into the spiritual world through dreams were called Shamans. In
some historical contexts, these individuals have been termed as
‘medicine men’. They conducted rituals that enabled them to
communicate with the sprit world. Shamans were also common in other
cultures such as Chinese, Northern Russia and North America.
Animism
From the above analysis, we can deduce that animals were a central part
of the Native American people and religion. The reincarnation of human
to animals in the afterlife was a profound notion. Similarly, the role
of animals in the aspect of Indian mythology is another indication that
animals were a crucial part of the Indian culture (Occhiogrosso, n.d).
Animals were ostensibly given high stature among the Indians to the
extent that they perceived their God as a wolf with human spirit and
human thoughts. This is also observable in the Native American narrative
which involved animal characters. A good example is the narrative of the
Iktome and the Coyote Living (Myth, 2013).
Rituals and customs
Every culture or religion has its customs as well as rituals and the
Native Americans were no exemption. Despite that the Indian beliefs and
cultural aspects have evolved overtime among many Indian tribe, most of
have remained similar (Occhiogrosso, n.d). A common custom was
reciprocity where clans gave away goods to other clans. This ceremony
was called potlatch which simply meant give away. The custom formed a
communal sense of responsibility. This is was common to many indigenous
communities, as well as, the Christian religion where gifts are
exchanged to mark important events such as Christmas. A common
democratic belief was that anyone appointed to a leadership position had
to give away all their possessions to avoid profiting from the
appointment.
The following are some common ceremonies and rituals that are
significant to many Native American tribes:
Sweat lodge cleansing ceremony and ritual.
Vision quest- this was a rite of passage.
Sun dance ritual and ceremony- this was held to give thanks to the Great
Spirit annually every summer
Prepping a girl for womanhood a ritual of ball throwing later became a
game the basis of Lacrosse.
Conclusion
Notably, the Native American religion is common to many religions in the
world as it encompasses all the basic foundation of religion which are
belief in supreme being, belief in life after death and even sacrifices.
Additionally, the religion has myths which attempt to explain the order
of things and events.
References
Occhiogrosso, P., (N.d). Spirituality And World Religion: Native
American Spirituality. Retrieved on 14th October 2013 from
http://www.joyofsects.com/world/indians.shtml
Wright, M., R., (2013). The Indigenous Religious Traditions of the
World. Retrieved on 14 October 2013 from
http://www.academia.edu/1972191/INDIGENOUS_RELIGIOUS_TRADITIONS_OF_THE_W
ORLD
Living Myth, (2013). Native American spirituality: Native American
Myths. Retrieved on 14th October 2013 from
http://mythsdreamssymbols.com/nativeamerican.html
A BETTER UNDERSTANDING OF THE INDIGENOUS RELIGION PAGE *
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