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Native American Religions

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Native American Religions happen to be one of the oldest and most enduring forms of religion. They comprise a large number of distinct tribes, states, and ethnic groups. Native Americans arrived on the North American Continent fifth-teen thousand to twenty thousand years ago. Native Americans have literally sources that exist from only the last four hundred years even though Native American life covers perhaps twenty thousand years. Over three hundred tribes have been recognized by the United States government. Native Americans are the only known ethnic group in the United States requiring a federal permit to practice their religion. In the state of Virginia, Native Americans face a unique problem. Virginia has no federally recognized tribes.

Native American Religions have also been known as American Indians, Amerindians, Amerinds, Aboriginal, Indians, Indigenous, Original Americans, Red Indians, or Red Men. Native Americans religions are polytheistic. Native American Religions are remarkably free of priesthood. Native Americans are very personal in that they encourage individuals to contact the spirit world alone. Native Americans believe that many levels of Gods and Spirits exist in the universe. They think of the High God or Great Spirits as a personal God. They believe in the Supreme Being in a manner found in many basic religions. Native religions have some of the qualities of monotheism, polytheism, and monism. Native American has been exposed to Christian eschatology for more than four hundred years. The influence of Christianity has been so strong that today most Native Americans are Christians. They are interested in the day-to-day life among the multiple spirits found in the world.

Native Americans have a reverent attitude toward the land, trees, rivers, and mountains. Native Americans who practiced agriculture revere the soil, plants, and tree. Hunting was an important part of life within many Native American Cultures. The hunter would pray to the spirit of the animal before the hunt. Hunting was a religious pursuit in which the hunters saw the animal as a fellow creature, with a similar spirit. After all hunting’s one would ask the animal for forgiveness. They would basically perform a taboo. A religious action that enables people to avoid doing things that would offend the spirits of nature and the ancestors. This was one of the ways the Native American would protect themselves from possible danger from the spirit world. Another widely observed taboo is the avoidance of the dead. Taboo concerning about the dead led Native Americans to be greatly concerned about their final resting places.

There is no heaven for those who have been righteous and no hell for those who have been wicked. Native Americans often seek to control the forces of spirit world with ceremonies. The purpose of their ceremonies, rituals, songs, and dances is not necessarily worship. They are a mean of renewing the partnership between humans and the spirit world. Long hours of dancing in this atmosphere prepare the participants for contact with the spirit world. Holy week is also celebrated a song and dance. Native Americans often gain special powers by seeking visions that may place them in connection with the spirit world. Visions are sought by Native Americans at other times in life. The spirit may appear after a period of fasting and prayer, or sometimes without any preparation.

The Sweat Lodge is probably the most important Native Ritual. The sweat lodge usually occurs before and after every other major ritual like the “Sundance” and “Vision Quest”. It is also a “stand alone” ritual meaning that it occurs whenever it is needed. Its original purpose was to cleanse or purify individuals. Mother sweat lodge essentially translates in to returning to the womb.

The Sun Dance last from four to eight days starting at the sunset of the final day of preparation and ending at sunset. It showed continuity between life and death – regeneration. It shows that there is no true end to life, but a cycle of symbolic and true deaths and rebirths. All of nature is intertwined and dependent on one another. This gives an equal ground to everything on the Earth. The sun dance was a significant part of the Crow Indian people’s  spirituality. It was a spiritual retreat in which a large number of participants would fast, pray and dance for a period of days. They asked for answers to events going on in their lives. Traditional Native Americans seem to believe in two souls, neither of which is considered immortal. One soul is the life, or the breath, that accompanies the body. The other soul is known as the free soul. One of the most common elements of Native American Religions is the use of tobacco and the sacred pipe in religious ceremonies. Tobacco was originally grown and used only for religious purposes by Native Americans. The tobacco used in religious ceremonies is stronger than the tobacco used in cigarettes. The ritual tobacco is occasionally smoked in rolled from corn husks.

Most Native American tribes had traditional gender roles. Men hunted, traded and made war, while women gathered plants, cared for the young and the elderly. Women ever had the task of making weapons and tools, they took care of the roofs of their homes and often helped their men hunt buffalos. Many Native American people believed in the unusual power of a woman at these times in life. During a women menstruation she was kept away from ordinary society. Native Americans today have a special relationship with the United States of America. In conclusion, Native Americans can be found as nations, tribes, or bands of Native Americans who have sovereignty or independence from the government of the United Statesry society. Like other religions, Native American belief systems include many sacred  narratives. Such spiritual stories are deeply based in Nature and are rich with the symbolism of seasons, weather, plants, earth, water, sky and fire. The idea of an all powerful Great Spirit, a connection to the Earth, diverse creation narratives and collective memories of ancient ancestors are common. Traditional worship practices are often a part of tribal gatherings with dance, rhythm, songs and trance.

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