Topic: Religion

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...

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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...

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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...

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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) 1Bureau of American Ethnology, Bulletin 30, part 2, pg. 960. by the Winnebagoes, and corresponds to the Gitchi Manito of the Central Algonquian tribes, and Wakanda 2Bureau of American Ethnology, Bulletin 30, part 2, pg. 897. 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. 3Bureau of American Ethnology, Bulletin 30, part 2,...

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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...

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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...

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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.

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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

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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.

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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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The Sacred Jeesukawin

The Sacred Jeesukawin: The art of prophecy, or the Jeesukawin, is practiced alone, by distinct and solitary individuals, who have no associates; who at least do not exist, and are never known as societies. Prophets start up at long intervals, and far apart, among the Indian tribes. They profess to be under supernatural power, and to be filled with a divine afflatus. It is, however, an art resembling that of the Medáwin, and founded on a similar principle of reliance, differing chiefly in the object sought. The meta seeks to propitiate events; the jossakeed aims to predict them. Both appeal to spirits for their power. Both exhibit material substances, as stuffed birds, bones, &c., as objects by or through which the secret energy is to be exercised. The general modes of operation are similar, but vary. The drum is used in both, but the songs and incantations differ. The rattle is confined to the ceremonies of the meda and the wabeno. The jossakeed addresses himself exclusively to the Great Spirit. His office, and his mode of address, are regarded with greater solemnity and awe. His choruses are peculiar, and deemed by the people to carry an air of higher reverence and devotion.

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Religion and Ceremonies of the Plains Tribes

The sacred beliefs of these Indians are largely formulated and expressed in sayings and narratives having some resemblance to the legends of European peoples. There are available large collections of these tales and myths from the Blackfoot, Crow, Nez Perce, Assiniboin, Gros Ventre, Arapaho, Arikara, Pawnee, Omaha, Northern Shoshoni, and less complete series from the Dakota, Cheyenne, and Ute. In these will be found much curious and interesting information. Each tribe in this area has its own individual beliefs and sacred myths, yet many have much in common, the distribution of the various incidents therein forming one of the...

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The New Religion

About the year 1800 a new religion was introduced among the Six Nations, the exponent of which alleged to have received a revelation from the Great Spirit, with a commission to preach to them the new doctrine in which he was instructed. This revelation was received in circumstances so remarkable, and the precepts he sought to inculcate contained in themselves such evidences of wisdom and beneficence that he was universally received among them, not only as a wise and good man, but as one commissioned by the Great Spirit to become their religious teacher. The new religion, as it has ever since been called, embodied all the precepts of the ancient faith, recognized the ancient mode of worship giving it a new sanction of the Great Spirit, and also comprehend such new doctrines as came in aptly, to lengthen out and enlarge the original system without impairing it. Charges of imposture and deception were at first preferred against him, but disbelief of his divine mission gradually subsided, until at the time of his death the whole unchristianized portion of the Six Nations had become firm believers in the new religion, which to the present day has continued to some extent as a prevailing faith. This singular person who was destined to obtain such a spiritual sway over the descendants of the ancient Iroquois was Ga-ne-o-di-yo, or “Handsomelake.” a Seneca...

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Listen to the Great Spirit

“Listen further to what the Great Spirit has been pleased to communicate to us. He has made us, as a race, separate and distinct from the pale faces. It is a great sin to intermarry and intermingle the blood of the two races. Let none be guilty of this transgression. “At one time the four messengers said to Handsomelake, ‘Lest the people should disbelieve you and not repent and forsake their evil ways, we will now disclose to you the house of torment, the dwelling place of the evil-minded.’ Handsomelake was particular in describing to us all that he witnessed, and the course which departed spirits were accustomed to take on leaving the earth. There was a road which led upward; at a certain point it branched; one branch led straight forward to the house of the Great Spirit, and the other turned aside to the house of torment; at the place where the roads separated were stationed two keepers, one representing the good and the other the evil spirit; when a person reached the fork, if wicked, by a motion of the evil keeper, he turned instinctively upon the road which led to the abode of the evil-minded; but if virtuous and good, the other keeper directed him upon the straight road; the latter was not much traveled, while the former was so frequently trodden that no grass...

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