I am writing this because the riechwing theocrats that are trying to take over my country, they may one day be able to prohibit me for practicing my spiritual path. That they want to make Christianity the National religion, to subsidize it with taxpayer money and demand fealty from all Americans, personally makes me physically ill. My hope is that others will recognize the intrinsic value that Native American’s place upon their lives, the world in which they live and their interactions with all living things in the world. I have practiced Native American Spiritualism for more than 17 years; it has fostered in me a deep appreciation for all who share this planet with me. I hope that this information will be helpful in bringing forth a better understanding of how Native American spirituality evolved and what it brings to the table for a human being who practices it. I have paraphrased much from another writer who clearly understands the rich and emotionally fulfilling life that Native American spirituality can bring to one who practices it and incorporates it within them. I wish to acknowledge Donna Ladkin from Green Spirit, who did all of the research that is quoted here. I worked diligently to paraphrase and bring to life from my own understanding of the spirit world, the richness that comes from the enlightenment of Native American spirituality.
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Crossposted at European Tribune
When the European’s arrived in the New World there were over 1000 different indigenous tribal groups scattered throughout the North American Continent. These tribal affiliations each created their own beliefs, rituals and spirituality. It would be a fallacy to state there is one belief system for all Native American cultures. Having stated this, there are indeed many commonalities that clearly cross into the varied practices of the indigenous peoples of North America.
That spirituality played a central role in the lives of Native Peoples cannot be emphasized enough. It was through their spirituality that Native peoples related to the Earth Mother. This constant awareness of the spirit guides, offered Native Americans a life journey that balanced all aspects of the living being that is a human being.
I have found this path and hope that you will find the same joy in living, the same happiness in having a life worth living, the same spiritually fulfilling pleasure in walking upon the Earth Mother.
For as Angie Debo writes:
they [the Indian] were deeply religious. The familiar shapes of earth, the changing sky, the wild animals they knew, were joined with their own spirit in mystical communion. The powers of nature, the personal quest of the soul, the acts of daily life, the solidarity of the tribe–all were religious, and were sustained by dance and ritual.
Angie Debo. The History of the Indians of the United States (Pimlico,1995), p.4.
These are some of the key aspects in which Native American peoples share in terms of their spirituality. It is this communion that gives to us the spiritual power to walk upon the earth and know that our lives are indeed in tune with the Great Spirit. That the spirits of the world fills my life, that I am a part of a greater theater of life, brings embodiment within my soul.
The Land is the basis of Native American Spirituality, not the owning or possessing of the land, but how the human beings were part and parcel of the Earth Mother. That one was a part of a greater whole, that the land was/is the anchor, in which all life is sustained. The relationship between the land and the people was one of mystical inter-dependence. Geronimo, the Apache leader exemplifies the relationship between the people and the land.
For each tribe of men Usen created He also made a home. In the land for any particular tribe He placed whatever would be best for the welfare of that tribe…thus it was in the beginning: the apaches and their homes each created for the other by Usen Himself. When they are taken from these homes they sicken and die.
Lee Miller, (ed.). From the Heart, Voices of the American Indian (Pimlico, 1997).
Geronimo’s words clearly emphasis the reason for the wide disparity of festivals, rituals and rites that were practiced within each tribal affiliation. Each tribe’s rituals are specific to the region of the land that is called home by the tribe. The plains tribes such as the Apache and Sioux celebrated in worship of the sun and the seemingly endless skies that were a part of their everyday lives.
Those cultures like the Sioux that relied on the Buffalo for food, clothing, shelter and implements, also saw the buffalo in a pivotal role in their spirituality. Clearly displaying it within the context of its overwhelming symbolism on shelters, clothing and songs.
And here Angie Debo suggests,
When Garry, of the Spokanes of eastern Washington said, ‘I was born by these waters. The earth here is my mother,’ he is not using a poetic figure of speech; he was stating what he felt to be the literal truth.
Angie Debo. The History of the Indians of the United States (Pimlico,1995), p.4.
Now would be a good place to develop an understanding of the interconnect between the land and the Native peoples. To fully comprehend this interconnect, one must understand the nature of the Creation of the human beings and how the land and they came to know each other.
Native American Creation Mythology
There are many differences that can be seen in the creation mythologies of different tribes, yet there are two very distinct similarities that create a glaring contrast with the Judeo-Christian creation mythology. For me the most significant one is there is no original sin concept, no damning of human beings for some initial wrongdoing, that human nature is evil and has been cast out of the place where we really belong. The second area, there is no Kingdom of Heaven, where this life is but a testing ground for us to prove our worth to enter the true spiritual home.
In his book, The Earth Shall Weep, James Wilson expands on this point:
Yet for all their range and variety, these stories often have a similar feel to them. When you set them alongside the biblical Genesis, the common features suddenly appear in sharp relief; they seem to glow with the newness and immediacy of creation, offering vivid explanations for the behavior of an animal, the shape of a rock or a mountain, which you can still encounter in the here and now. Many tribes and nations call themselves, in their own languages, ‘the first people’, the ‘original people’, or the ‘real people’, and their stories place them firmly in a place of special power and significance…Far from telling them that they are locked out of Eden, the Indians’ myths confirm that (unless they have been displaced by European contact and settlement) they still live in the place for which they were made; either the site of their own emergence or creation, or a ‘Promised Land’ which they have attained through long migration.
James Wilson.The Earth Shall Weep (Picador, 1998), pp8-.
The Native Americans experience earth as home, this home has been made specifically to meet the needs of the peoples of the earth. The magnitude of this implication is huge, it clearly demonstrates why Native Americans in their daily lives treat the Earth with respect and dignity. For them it clearly shows that the ‘Kingdom of Heaven’ is happening here and now, not in some mythical place in the future. Secondly it means that the earth is not a dumping ground, or a way station for human beings on their way to somewhere better.
There is no dominion concept in Native American Spirituality, there are significant differences in how Native Americans, interact with the other inhabitants of the Earth, i.e.; animals, plants and minerals. These companions of our Earth are co habitants, who are here for us to learn from and live with on our Home.
There is respectfulness to the interdependence between human beings and the other forms of life on our planet. The many stories that demonstrate the need to share our home with not only the living beings that inhabit it, but also natural forces, like the wind and rain.
Finally, these myths inform us that creation itself is an ongoing process. All that is, is part of an ongoing Creation Story, it didn’t just happen millions of years ago and end there. Most importantly, the Spirit that first infused the world is still with us now, and can be experienced as ‘immanence’, spirit that imbues all things.
Native American spirituality sees all things from the context that everything has been given a spirit and spirits communicate with each other all the time. For human beings to survive they must strive to understand these dialogues between the manifestations of these spirits and not insult the spirits of the wind or the earth.
Spiritually, Consciousness is not just the domain of human beings, for everything has its own life force and spirit. All the world created with man must be understood and acknowledged, if Human beings are to continue to survive on this planet. My spiritual path expects me to understand and acknowledge when I have cause pain or hardship up one of the other spirits that live in my world. I acknowledge the gift of life that is given when I eat the food that is offered up to me daily. I pray to the wind, the sun, the rain and the earth that I walk upon, offering up my willingness to understand what each spirit is offering me in my walk upon this earth.
Winona LaDuke articulates it clearly in this passage:
According to our way of looking, the world is animate. This is reflected in our language, in which most nouns are animate…Natural things are alive, they have a spirit. Therefore, when we harvest wild rice on our reservation we always offer tobacco to the earth because, when you take something, you must always give thanks to its spirit for giving itself to you.
Winona LaDuke. Resurgence, Sept/Oct, Issue 178, p.8.
And John Mohawk most eloquently expresses the indigenous relationship to creation when he writes:
The natural world is our bible. We don’t have chapters and verses; we have trees and fish and animals. The creation is the manifestation of energy through matter. Because the universe is made up of manifestations of energy, the options for that manifestation are infinite. But we have to admit that the way it has manifested itself is organized. In fact, it is the most intricate organization. We can’t know how we impact on its law; we can talk only about how its law impacts upon us. We can make no judgment about nature.
The Indian sense of natural law is that nature informs us and it is our obligation to read nature as you would a book, to feel nature as you would a poem, to touch nature as you would yourself, to be a part of that and step into its cycles as much as you can.
John Mohawk. Resurgence., Sept/Oct, Issue 178, p11.
Because everything in indigenous spirituality has been given a spirit, it also recognizes that some landscapes, earth formations and certain types of matter represent a super natural embodiment of sacredness.
Indigenous peoples oral histories speak of the special significance of sacred rocks, hills or mountains, where specific rites or rituals were performed. It is within the sacred places, especially mountaintops, or isolated wilderness areas where Native Americans perform their rites of passage, initiation ceremonies, where people go to fast and pray and perhaps the dreams of vision quest will open before them.
The unfortunate reality is that so many modern people view this sensibility as nothing more than superstition at the least and for some, out right satanic worship.
I can’t tell you how many times I have been accused of devil worship or worse because I practice Native American spiritualism. I have my fetish, my medicine bag, my prayer feathers and my smudges and those who don’t know any better, condemn when they would be better off just being quiet. I don’t wear my spiritual embodiment as a fashion statement. I wear my coyote fetish around my neck, my medicine pouch is also with me either around my neck or in my pocket. These have unfortunately be seen by some people, when they pop out of my shirt and I have been asked if I am a devil worshiper. I am appalled at some of the ignorance that is being perpetuated in some of the evangelical churches today.
In his book, Sacred Earth, Arthur Versluis, challenges us to examine our motives and our thinking, when he tells the story of the desecration of Shunganunga Bluff, overlooking Topeka, Kansas, with a water tower.
A sacred high place, where for ages people have gone to fast and be alone with the spirits – a point at which above and below meet – must not be dug into and damaged, for it is charged with spiritual power. When a sacred place is desecrated – which is what the great disk-like water tank gouged in the side of the hill entails – one can expect that there will be consequences. One can feel the disturbed energy in the air around the water tower; there is wild graffiti completely encircling the tank, and everywhere around that bluff one feels the sense of desecration.
Arthur Versluis. Sacred Earth; The Spiritual Landscape of Native America (Inner Traditions, 1992).
We have now come full circle, like life itself, back to the very basis of Native American Spirituality. The relationships between human beings, the land and all the creations that inhabit this Earth. This quote from Weatenatenamy, Chief of the Cayuse nation, clearly goes to the heart of why I am a Native American Spiritualist.
I wonder if the ground has anything to say: I wonder if the ground is listening to what is said…the earth says, God has placed me here. The Earth says, that God tells me to take care of the Indians on the earth; the Earth says to the Indians that stop on the Earth feed them right. God named the roots that he should feed the Indians on; the water speaks the same way…the grass says the same thing… The Earth and water and grass say God has given our names and we are told those names; neither the Indians nor the Whites have a right to change those names, the Earth says, God has placed me here to produce all that grows upon me, the trees, fruit, etc. The same way the Earth says, it was from her man was made. God, on placing them on the Earth, desired them to take good care of the earth do each other no harm. God said.
Lee Miller, (ed.).From the Heart, Voices of the American Indian (Pimlico, 1997) p.333.