The general characteristics and
origins of Native American religion shed light upon the more contemporary
sects. But the development of the numerous individual traditions, passed
down orally, remains unclear. The sheer number of groups and the diversity
of the nuances of belief complicates matters further.
The religions do share some common tendencies. Religion tends to be
closely related to the natural world. The local terrain is elevated with
supernatural meaning, and natural objects are imbued with sacred
presences. Ceremonial rituals involving these supernatural-natural objects
are meant to ensure communal and individual prosperity. These common
underlying features unite a diversity of contemporary Native American
The original hunting knowledge brought with the first North American
immigrants became influenced or usurped altogether by new horticultural
religious influences. Animal ceremonialism, the quest for spiritual power,
Male Supreme Being, annual ceremony of cosmic rejuvenation, few stationary
cult places, shamanism, and life after death beyond the horizon or in the
sky were tenets of hunting pattern religions. Rain and fertility
ceremonies, priestly ritual, goddesses and gods, yearly round of fertility
rites, permanent shrines and temples, medicine society ritualism, and life
after death in the underworld or among the clouds characterized the new
horticultural pattern religions.
Ceremony plays a vital, essential role in Native American religions.
Whereas western religions typically consider ceremony the servant of
theology, Native American religions barely recognize the distinction
between myth and ritual. Often the ritual proves to be established and
secure while the myth is vague and unclear. Indian ceremonies grew up
within local groups; some elements of Indian ceremonials have been traced
back to the Old World. The ceremonies were adapted locally, using both
traditional and borrowed elements, to suit local needs (Underhill, 4).
These ceremonies often began as practical actions. Indians were eager to
embrace ceremonies or portions of ceremonies that provided power to
conquer the difficulties of life. As these practices developed, they were
modified and imbued with additional meanings and purposes.
The medicine men and priests among the Indians were usually merely those
men who thought more deeply and strenuously than the average men in the
tribe. These thinkers tended to live among the more successful tribes. To
think, one needed at least some time free from the chore of procuring
food. These medicine men or shamans were in a different class than the
other men of their tribe. This special status was not dependent on their
hunting and fishing. Contact with other tribes enabled thinkers to build
and expand their belief frameworks, so shamans were more prevalent in
tribes that were accessible to outsiders.
As contemporary Native American religious flowerings are best understood
by first examining the origins of Native American Spirituality, all of the
contemporary sects are best comprehended in light of the traditional
religions. As these differ from their New Age and Christian versions, each
group is also unique compared to other traditional sects. These
traditional sects are best understood as a conglomerate by investigating a
few individual traditional Native American religions.
To learn about Native American Religions you can go to the following links
or perform your own research: