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Indian Religion

For the purpose of a brief description of the religion of the American Indians we may define religion as that group of concepts and acts which spring from the relation of the individual to the outer world, so far as these relations are not considered as due to physical forces the action of which is accounted for by purely rationalistic considerations. The scope of religious concepts will depend to a certain extent, therefore, on the knowledge of the laws of nature; and, since the border-line of the natural and the supernatural, as conceived in the mind of primitive man, does not coincide with our view of this subject, there will be marked differences between the scope of religion among civilized nations and that among less advanced peoples. For instance, the causal relations determining the movements of the stars are recognized by civilized man; but at an earlier time it was believed that the positions of the stars influenced in a mysterious manner the fates of man and that their movements could be controlled by his will. Among tribes which held to the latter opinion, views relating to the heavenly bodies would form part of the religion of the people; while among those peoples to which the causal relations determining the motions of the stars are known, these motions are no longer subject to religious interpretations. Owing to the different point of view, it may also happen that certain ideas of primitive man, which from our standpoint would have to be considered as religious in character, are interpreted by the people holding them as purely rationalistic. In our judgment, for...

Blackfeet Religion

In ancient times the chief god of the Blackfeet their Creator was Na’pi (Old Man). This is the word used to indicate any old man, though its meaning is often loosely given as white. An analysis of the word Na’pi, however, shows it to be compounded of the word Ni’nah, man, and the particle a’pi, which expresses a color, and which is never used by itself, but always in combination with some other word. The Blackfoot word for white is Ksik-si-num’ while a’pi, though also conveying the idea of whiteness, really describes the tint seen in the early morning light when it first appears in the east the dawn not a pure white, but that color combined with a faint cast of yellow. Na’pi, therefore, would seem to mean dawn-light-color-man, or man-yellowish-white. It is easy to see why old men should be called by this latter name, for it describes precisely the color of their hair. Dr. Brinton, in his valuable work, American Hero Myths, has suggested a more profound reason why such a name should be given to the Creator. He says: “The most important of all things to life is light. This the primitive savage felt, and personifying it, he made light his chief god. The beginning of day served, by analogy, for the beginning of the world. Light comes before the Sun, brings it forth, creates it, as it were. Hence the Light god is not the Sun god but his antecedent and Creator.” It would be absurd to attribute to the Blackfoot of today any such abstract conception of the name of the Creator as...

Eastern Band of Cherokee, Religion and Morals

The superstitions and religious extravaganzas of ancient times have almost disappeared. Lingering fancies as to witches and witchcraft crop out from time to time among these Indians, but in no more unreasonable forms than among their neighbors. The church organizations are in a languishing condition. While the people as a whole are Christian in theory and no pagan element remains, the early mission enterprises among the Cherokees have not advanced with the intelligence and physical prosperity of the people. Both Baptists and Methodists early occupied the field, and with marked success. At present the old church buildings, indicated on the map, and one adjoining the agency, all equally dilapidated, are uninviting and of no value in bad weather. Schoolhouses are used both for public worship and Sunday-school gatherings, as the population is neither numerous nor rich enough to erect and sustain independent churches. The erection by the government of a suitable building near the agency for public meetings and use upon the Sabbath by the different denominations in turn would meet the demand and prove a great benefit to the people. The Cherokees would contribute the lumber and labor necessary for its erection. Religious denominational jealousies and proselytism have had their part in this apparent religious declension, and the Indians are no less susceptible to such influences than white people. At present the rules adopted for the management of the common or district schools by Superintendent W. H. Spray, of the Cherokee training school, who has charge of all the schools as well, are decidedly in the direction of religious and moral progress throughout the territory. No teacher is...

Religion of the Winnebago

The fundamental religious concept of the Indian is the belief in the existence of magic power in animate and inanimate objects. This gave rise to their idea that there are men who possess supernatural power. This magic power is called Man’una (Earth-maker)1 by the Winnebagoes, and corresponds to the Gitchi Manito of the Central Algonquian tribes, and Wakanda2 of the Siouan tribes. As a verb, “wakanda” signifies “to reckon as holy or sacred, to worship;” the noun is “wakan” and means “a spirit, something consecrated.” “Wakan,” as an adjective, is defined as “spiritual, sacred, consecrated, wonderful, incomprehensible, mysterious.” “Wakan” and various other forms of that word are of common occurrence in the Winnebago language. The Winnebago mythology consists of large cycles relating to the five personages, Trickster, Bladder, Turtle, He-who-wears-heads-as-earrings, and the Hare. Other deities known to them are Disease-giver, Sun, Moon, Morning Star, the Spirits of the Night, One-horn, the Earth, and the Water. The Indian had no understanding of a single, all-powerful deity, the “Great Spirit,” till the Europeans, often unconsciously, informed him of their own belief. He believed in a multitude of spirits that were the source of good or bad fortune, and whom he feared to offend.3 He seems to have had no conception of a future punishment. The mortuary rites of the Winnebagoes, and other tribes, testify to the fact that they believed in a life after death; but as to the nature of “the happy land of the west” their ideas were vague. The Winnebagoes had two important tribal ceremonies, the Mankani or Medicine Dance, and the Wagigo, or Winter Feast. The Medicine...

Ethnological Information Regarding the Cusabo

Ethnological information regarding the Cusabo is scanty and unsatisfactory, the interest of the colonists having been quickly attracted to those great tribes lying inland which they called “nations.” Such material as is to be had must be interpreted in the light of the fuller information to be gathered from larger southern tribes like the Creeks, Cherokee, Choctaw, and Chickasaw. Nevertheless it is of interest to know that certain features of the lives of these peoples were or were not shared by the ones better known. The material gathered by the Spaniards as a result of the Ayllon expedition has been given in connection with the account of that venture, and will not be considered again. The region to which it applies is too uncertain to consider it definitely under this head. From the time of the French settlement in 1562, however, we have a sufficiently clear localization, from the French, Spanish, and English narratives successively. The greater part of our information comes, however, from the French and English, the Spaniards not having been interested in the people among whom they came or not having published those papers which contained accounts of them. The following general description of the appearance of the natives, and their mental and moral characteristics, is from Alexander Hewat. It does not apply to the Cusabo alone, but Hewat was probably better acquainted with them than with any other Indians. In stature they are of a middle size, neither so tall nor yet so low as some Europeans. To appearance they are strong and well made; yet they are totally unqualified for that heavy burden or...

Synopsis of Wabeno Songs

The following synopsis, referring by figures to the hieroglyphic devices, exhibits the words of the chants and incantations in their simplest forms, together with the key-sign or ideographic terms of pictorial notation. Synopsis of Wabeno Songs. Plate 52 (see below) Chant, or Incantation 1. My lodge crawls by the Wabeno power. 2. Under the ground I have taken him 3. I too am a Wabeno 4. I make the Wabeno dance 5. The sky the sky I sail upon 6. I am a Wabeno spirit this is my work. 7. I work with two bodies. 8. The owl! the owl! the black owl! 9. Let me hunt for it. 10. The burning flames. 11. My little child, I show you pity. 12. I turn round in standing. 13. The Wabeno s power. 14. Wabeno, let us stand. 15. I have made it with my back. 16. I have made him struggle for life. 17. I dance till day light. 18. Dance around. 19. And I too, my son. 20. He that is a Wabeno I fear. 21. Your body I make go. 22. I paint my tree to the sky. 23. I wish a son. 24. My wabeno sky. 25. My body is a great Wabeno. 26. My son s bone the crawling bone. 27. They will fly up, my friends. 28. The turkey I make use of. 29. The wolf s skin I have. 30. There is no spirit no Wabeno spirit. 31. Great Wabeno. I make the Wabeno. 32. What spirit, brother, do you see? 33. At night I come to harm you. 34. At night I...

Songs of the Wabeno

Pictorial Signs used in the Society of the Wabeno; A Description of the Character and Objects of this Institution; Etymology of the term; The Season favorable for this, and other Ceremonial observances; Vicissitudes of Indian Life; Fallacy of the Indian Theology; Interpretation of the Pictorial Mnemonic Signs of the Wabeno, with the text of the Nuga-moon-un; Synoptical Table, showing the Ideographic value of the Symbols.

Native American Origin Synopsis

Where such a race can be supposed to have had their origin, history may vainly inquire. It probably broke off from one of the primary stocks of the human race, before history had dipped her pen in ink, or lifted her graver on stone

Medawin or to Meda

Medawin: The Meda, or Meda-wininee, is in all respects a (priestly) magician. He is distinct from the Muskekewininee, or medical practitioner. They assemble, not to teach the art of healing, but the art of supplicating spirits. They do not rely on physical, but supernatural power.


Kekeenowin: This class of signs is devoted to the forest priesthood. There are two institutions among the North American Indians, which will be found to pervade the whole body of the tribes from the Atlantic to the Pacific, and from the Gulf of Mexico to the Arctic Ocean, however the terms by which they are denoted differ, or the minor rites of the institutions themselves may be modified. They are called in the language from which we adopt most of the aboriginal terms in this treatise, the Medawin, and the Jeesukawin. In other terms, they are the art of medical magic, and of prophecy. Both are very ancient in their origin, and very generally diffused, practiced and believed in. It is impossible duly to consider the pictorial art as existing among them, without some prior notice of these leading and characteristic institutions. For, a very large proportion of both the simple representative and symbolic signs they employ, derive their force and significancy from the relation they bear to these institutions.

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