Topic: Religion

The Calusa People

During the 1500s and early 1600s, when Spanish explorers were first making contact with the indigenous inhabitants of the Florida, they made contact with a powerful nation on the southwest coast between Charlotte Harbor and Cape Sable. 1MacMahon, Darcie A. and William H. Marquardt. (2004). The Calusa and Their Legacy: South Florida People and Their Environments. University Press of Florida; pp. 1-2. The first contact was made in 1513 by Juan Ponce de Leon, when he landed at the mouth of the Caloosahatchee River in southwest Florida. His landing boats were attacked by Calusa war canoes, lined with round...

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Mississippian Symbolism at the Ortona Archaeological Site

Archaeologists working at the Ortona site in the late 1990s and early 2000s were astounded to find “landscaping” in the shape of the scepters carried by the Maya elite in the Yucatan Peninsula. Both a mound and a ceremonial pond were over 100 yards/meters long. The discovery has great significance for the understanding of how cultural ideas traveled around the Caribbean Basin and North America, prior to the arrival of European explorers.

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Choctaws and their Beliefs about the Great Flood

The Choctaws, at the time of their earliest acquaintance with the European races, possessed, in conjunction with all their race of the North American Continent, a vague, but to a great extent, correct knowledge of the Oka Falama, “The returning waters,” as they termed it The Flood. The Rev. Cyrus Byington related a little incident, as one out of many interesting and pleasing ones that frequently occurred when traveling through their country from one point to another in the discharge of his ministerial duties, over seventy years ago. At one time he found night fast approaching without any visible prospect of finding a place of shelter for the night, safe from the denizens of the wilderness through which his devious path was leading him. Then and there roads were unknown and paths alone led the traveler from place to place. Soon, however, he discovered a humble cabin a few hundred yards distant, directly to which the little path was leading him, and which he readily recognized as the home of a Choctaw hunter. Several little children were engaged in their juvenile sports near the house, who upon seeing the white stranger approaching, made a precipitate retreat into the house. The mother hastened to the door to learn, the cause of the alarm saw, gazed a moment, and then as suddenly disappeared. As Mr. Byington rode up, he observed an Indian...

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Choctaws Views on the Dead

In the disposition of their dead, the ancient Choctaws practiced a strange method different from any other Nation of people, perhaps, that ever existed. After the death of a Choctaw, the corpse wrapped in a bear skin or rough kind of covering of their own manufacture, was laid out at full length upon a high scaffold erected near the house of the deceased, that it might be protected from the wild beasts of the woods and the scavengers of the air. After the body had remained upon the scaffold a sufficient time for the flesh to have nearly or entirely decayed, the Hattak fullih nipi foni. (Bone Picker) the principal official in their funeral ceremonies and especially appointed for that duty appeared and informed the relatives of the deceased that he had now come to perform the last sacred duties of his office to their departed friend. Then, with the relatives and friends, he marched with great solemnity of countenance to the scaffold and. ascending which, began his awful duty of picking off the flesh that still adhered to the bones, with loud groans and fearful grimaces, to which the friends below responded in cries and wailings. The Bone-Picker never trimmed the nails of his thumbs, index and middle fingers which accordingly grew to an astonishing length sharp and almost as hard as flint and well adapted to the...

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The Choctaw Ya-Yahs

There was a peculiar custom among the ancient Choctaws, prior to 1818, which, according to tradition, was as follows: For many years after the marriage of her daughter, the mother-in-law was forbidden to look upon her son-in-law. Though they might converse together, they must be hidden the one from the other by some kind of a screen, and when nothing else offered, by covering her eyes. Thus the mother-in-law was put to infinite trouble and vexation least she should make an infraction upon the strange custom; since, when traveling or in camp often without tents, they were necessarily afraid to raise their heads, or open their eyes through fear of seeing the interdicted object. Another peculiarity, which, however they possessed in common with other tribes, was, the Choctaw wife never called her husband by name. But addressed him as “my son or daughter’s father;” or more commonly using the child s name, when if Shah-bi-chih, (meaning, to make empty, the real name of a Choctaw whom I know) for instance, she calls her husband “Shah-bi-chih’s father.” Another oddity in regard to names was, the ancient Choctaw warriors seemed to have a strange aversion to telling their own names, and it was impossible to get it unless he had an acquaintance present, whom he requested to tell it for him. The Choctaw Ya-Yahs; Cries Over The Dead Their manifested sorrow and...

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Choctaw Mesmerism, Eclipses, and Dances

Mesmerism was known among the Choctaw, though they regarded it with wonder and dread, and it was looked upon as injurious and hurtful in its results; while those who practiced this curious art had often to pay very dearly for it, for they were frequently put to death. Ventriloquism has also been found among them, and used solely for vain, selfish and evil designs, but to the great danger of the life of the person practicing it, for the Choctaws believe that whatever appears supernatural, is suspicious and likely at any time to be turned to evil purposes. Eclipses...

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Choctaw Religion

The Choctaw never worshiped idols, or any works of their own hands, as other savage nations. They believed in the existence of a Great Spirit, and that He possessed super-natural power, and was omnipresent, but they did not deem that He expected or required any form of worship of them. They had no idea of God as taught by revealed religion no conception of His manifold mercies, or the atonement made for sin. All they felt was a dread of His attributes and character, made (manifest to them by the phenomena of the heavens. But in common with the believers of the Scriptures, they held the doctrine of future rewards and punishments. They differed from them, however, as to the location of heaven and their views of happiness and misery. Heaven, or the happy hunting grounds, in their imagination, was similar to the Elysian fields of the heathen mythology. There the spirit of those who had been virtuous, honest and truthful, while on earth, enjoyed, in common with youthful angels, all manner of games and voluptuous pleasures, with no care, no sorrow, nothing but one eternal round of enjoyment. They believed that angels or spirits seldom visited the earth, and cared but very little about doing so, as being supplied in heaven with everything suitable to their wants, nothing was required from the earth. According to their notion, heaven...

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Six Nations Religion

The pagan, though not so alive to the serene beauties of the Christian life, and not so attracted by the power, the promises, and the assurances of the Christian religion, as to evince the one, and embrace the other, or to make trial of the moral safeguards that its armoury supplies, would yet so honor, one would think, the persuasive Christian influences, operating around him and about him in so many benign and kindly ways, as to abandon many of the practices that savor of the superstition of a by-gone age. Though there has been a decline, if not a positive discontinuance, of his traditionary worship of idols; though his adoration of the sun, of certain of the birds of the air, and of the animal creation, is not now blindly followed, and the invocation of these, for the supposed assuring of success to various enterprises, is rarely put in effect, there is yet preserved a relic of his old traditions, in the designs with which he embellishes certain specimens of the handiwork, with which he oft vexes the public eye. (I must really, though, pay my tribute of admiration for the skilled workmanship many of these specimens disclose.) It is common for him, when at work upon the elaborate carving in wood that he practices, to engrave some hideous human figure, intended, obviously, to represent an idol. Does...

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Letter from Rev. Gilbert Rockwood to Henry R Schoolcraft

Letter from Rev. Gilbert Rockwood to Henry R Schoolcraft. Tuscarora Mission, August 1, 1845. SIR: In the following communication, you can make use of such statements as you may deem proper. If all the statements should not be necessary for your official objects, yet they may be interesting to you as an individual. This mission was commenced about fifty years since, under the care of the “New York Missionary Society.” It was transferred to the ” United Foreign Mission Society,” in 1821, and to the ” American Board of Com. for Foreign Missions,” in 1826. The church was organized in 1805, with five persons. The whole number of native members who have united since its organization is 123. The present number of native members is 53; others 5, total 58. Between July 1st, 1844, and July 1st, 1845, there were only three admissions, two by profession and one by letter. About one-third of the population attend meeting on the Sabbath. Their meeting house was built by themselves, with a little assistance from abroad. They have also a schoolhouse, the expense of which was nearly all defrayed by themselves. There is but one school among them, which is kept the year through, with the exception of the vacations. The teacher is appointed by the American Board. The number of scholars the past year is not far from 50. I have...

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Letter from Rev. Asher Bliss to Henry R. Schoolcraft

Letter from Rev. Asher Bliss to Henry R. Schoolcraft. Cattaraugus Mission Sept. 4th, 1845. DEAR SIR Agreeably to your request I forward you some facts in regard to the establishment and progress of the gospel among the natives of this reservation. The Cattaraugus Mission Church was organized July 8th, 1827, (which is a little more than 18 years.) It consisted of Mr. William A. Thayer, the teacher, his wife, and 12 native members. There have been additions to it from time to time, until the whole number who have held a connection with this church is one hundred and eighteen. Thirteen of these have been white persons and most of them connected with the mission family. Of the one hundred and five native members seven or eight have come by letter from other reservations, so that the number who have united on profession of faith is a little short of one hundred. Twenty-five of these have gone to their final account. Some have died in the triumphs of faith, and we humbly hope and trust that they are among the blessed, in the kingdom of our common Father. A number (as it was natural to expect from converts out of heathenish darkness) have apostatized from Christianity, and returned to their former courses. The proportion of these is not probably more than one in ten. Between sixty and seventy are...

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The Iroquois Origin

Origin of the continent, of the animal creation, and of the Indian race: the introduction of the two principles of good and evil into the government of the world. Iroquois tradition opens with the notion that there were originally two worlds, or regions of space, namely, an upper and lower world. The upper was inhabited by beings similar to the human race; the lower by monsters, moving in the waters. When the human species were transferred below, and the lower sphere was about to be rendered fit for their residence, the act of their transference or reproduction is concentrated in the idea of a female, who began to descend into the lower world, which is depicted as a region of darkness, waters and monsters, She was received on the back of a tortoise, where she gave birth to male twins, and expired. The shell of this tortoise expanded into the continent, which, in their phraseology, is called an a “island;” and is named by the Onondagas, Aonao. One of the infants was called Inigorio, or the Good Mind; the other, Inigohatea, or the Bad Mind. These two antagonistical principles, which are such perfect counterparts of the Ormusd and Ahriman of the Zoroaster, were at perpetual variance, it being the law of one to counteract whatever the other did. They were not, however, men, but gods, or existences, through whom...

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The Sacred Fire of the Iroquois

Sacred Fire. The Sun a Symbol of Divine Intelligence. It was a striking peculiarity of the ancient religious system of the Iroquois that, once a year, the priesthood supplied the people with sacred fire. For this purpose, a set time was announced for the ruling priest s visit. The entire village was apprized of this visit, and the master of each lodge was expected to be prepared for this annual rite. Preliminary to the visit, his lodge fire was carefully put out and ashes scattered about it, as a symbolic sign of desolation and want. Deprived of this element, they were also deprived of its symbolic influence, the sustaining aid and countenance of the supreme power, whose image they recognized in the sun. It was to relieve this want, and excite hope and animation in breasts which had throbbed with dread, that the priest visited the lodge. Exhibiting the insignia of the sacerdotal office, he proceeded to invoke the Master of Life in their behalf, and ended his mission by striking fire from the flint, or from percussion, and lighting anew the domestic fire. The lodge was then swept and garnished anew, and a feast succeeded. This sacred service annually performed, had the effect to fix and increase the reverence of the people for the priestly office. It acted as a renewal of their ecclesiastical fealty; and the consequence...

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Yuchi Folklore

Here are a few miscellaneous beliefs which were recorded in regard to the natural, supernatural, and animal world. They are given about as they were told by the Indians. “If a terrapin in his travels walks around a big tree it is a very bad thing for him. He will dry up. That’s why they never do it.” “The thunder or rain kills snakes. When a storm comes up they must all go back into the ground. If they do not, they will be killed. So if they are killing a calf (sic!) or anything, they must leave it as soon as it begins to thunder or rain.” “When wild turkeys gobble the lightning bugs come up out of their crops. They are like little white things (maggots) before they come out.” The stars are all spiders. Regarding the eclipse they say: – “The toad starts to eat up the moon. Then he gets big. The moon diminishes. But we frighten him away and after that the moon recovers and gets big.” One informant stated that thunder and lightning are caused by a great black snake with rattles on its tail. A being named Konsá nonwi’, the meaning ( if which is uncertain, rides on its back. The snake dives in and out of the Water. At each flash of its wet sides there is lightning and when it...

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Cahuilla Creation Story

With all their geographical proximity to the Yuma and Mohave, the Desert Cahuilla partake essentially of the native civilization of the Shoshonean coastal tribes of southern California. Birth of Mukat and Tamaioit 1The only previously recorded information on the Cahuilla origin story is the outline given by E. W. Gifford, Univ. Calif. Publ. Am. Arch. Ethn., xiv, 188, 189, 1918. T. T. Waterman has summarized and analyzed most of the literature on the origin myths of the southern California Indians in the American Anthropologist, u.s., xi, 41-55, 1909. In the beginning, there was no earth or sky or anything or anybody only a dense darkness in space. This darkness seemed alive. Something like lightnings seemed to pass through it and meet each other once in a while. Two substances which looked like the white of an egg came from these lightnings. They lay side by side in the stomach of the darkness, which resembled a spider web. These substances disappeared. They were then produced again, and again they disappeared. This was called the mis carriage of the darkness. The third time they appeared, they remained, hanging there in this web in the darkness. The substances began to grow and soon were two very large eggs. When they began to hatch, they broke at the top first. Two heads came out, then shoulders, hips, knees, ankles, toes then the shell...

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Religion of the Six Nation Tribes

With the exception of the Tuscaroras, each of the Six Nations has one or more council houses, in which the people assemble for business or purely Indian ceremonies, religious or social. There is also a council house or town hall on the Mount Hope road of the Tuscarora reservation, but the pagan party has no footing among this people. The council houses, formerly built of logs, are practically in disuse, and frame buildings, about 40 by 80 feet, with fireplace or simple chimney at each end, which allows separate sittings for the sexes, have taken their place. A new building of this kind on the Tonawanda reservation and 1 at Carrollton, on the Allegany reservation, are indicated on the maps of these reservations. The sides of 3 ancient council houses at Cattaraugus and of 2 at Tonawanda are also indicated. The religious differences of the Indians actually characterize grouped settlements on each reservation. Thus, the majority of the Christian Indians live upon the central road in Onondaga, upon and east of the main road of Tonawanda; between Salamanca and Red House, in Allegany; and upon the main route from Versailles to Irving, in Cattaraugus. As a general role, both internal and external comforts, conveniences, and indications of thrift are alike in contrast. The pagans chiefly occupy the western and southeastern parts of Tonawanda, the Carrollton district, and the country...

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