Through out history, historians have had the ability to pass on the knowledge ofthe past because of written documents and other forms of evidence thatacknowledge the existence of past civilizations and cultures. When there are nowritten documents, whether lost or never created, it can be more difficult forhistorians to explain past civilizations. The Native Americans were a group thatkept no written records.
The information that we know today was passed down fromgeneration to generation through oral traditions. Despite the information wehave, there is much more that researchers don’t know about because aconsiderable amount of information has either been lost or has been impossibleto obtain. But from what we already know, historians can conclude there arecommon characteristics that seem to be shared by all of the Native Americans. Iwill also include the creation myth of the Osage Indians and the afterlifebeliefs of the Lakota Sioux. Although there are many points of contrast, thebeliefs of Native Americans are distinguished by some common characteristics(p.
54 Nigosian). Some of these characteristics are that they all seem to believein the existence of a high god or vital force along with lesser gods and spiritsand that certain individuals possess sacred power and therefore can act asintermediaries between the tribe and the deities. In the ceremonies associatedwith ritual and initiation, they engaged in certain traditional rites that weredesigned to perpetuate the smooth operation of the natural order, includinghuman society, and they all believed that by repeating stories or bystorytelling they kept the world alive (p. 54 Nigosian).
Therefore, the NativeAmericans viewed life evolving around a holy force that holds all thingstogether, which leads to the basic goal of staying in “harmony with allnatural and supernatural powers (p. 62 Nigosian). ” This leads me to believethat the spirits they had for different aspects of nature and their environmentwere the primary deities they worshipped or venerated. “By and large, however, believed that the aid of the high god may be propitiated byritual action (p. 62 Nigosian). ” And in spite of disparities among regions, themajority of the Native Americans believed in the active roles of both good andevil spirits.
Amid the good spirits are mythical such as “thunderbirds, aswell as mountains, rivers, minerals, flint, and arrowheads. ” The evil spiritswere “giant monsters, water serpents, tiny creatures that haunt woods andponds, and the spirits of the dead that come to inflict pain, sorrow, or death(p. 62 Nigosian). ” Each tribe also had a “culture hero,” whose job was tosocialize the tribe.
In opposition or contrast was the “antihero,” or betterknown as the trickster. Another common feature of Native American traditions iscreation myths. “In these imaginative stories, no distinctions are made amonggods, spirits, the universe, nature, animals, and human beings. On the contrary,the stories imply a close mystical relationship binding each element (p. 64Nigosian).
” Although the Native Americans had several types of creationstories, “the two most common themes are those of creation emerging out ofchaos” and creation as a result of conflict between good and evil forces (p. 64Nigosian). The following is a basic gist of the Osage Indians’creation story. Once, the Osage Indians lived in the sky. Wanting to know their origin, theywent to the sun.
The sun told them that they were his children. Then theywandered about until they came to the moon. She told them that she had givenbirth to that and that the sun was the father. Then she told them to go settleon the earth.
When they came to the earth, they found it covered with water. Sothey wept, because no on would answer them, and they couldn’t return to theirformer place. While floating around in the air, they searched for help from agod but with no avail. The animals were there, too, and they appealed to theelk, the most finely and most stately. The elk then jumps into the water andcalls for the wind, which then lifted up the water like a mist. The elk thenprovides land and food.
As for the concept of an afterlife, it seems that NativeAmericans were not as concerned with the hereafter as they were with theirimmediate life. However, an afterlife was a common belief that varied with thedifferent tribes. Here is an example, the afterlife belief of the Lakota Sioux. “The Lakota Sioux Indians have beliefs that are unique to their heritage. Theybelieve in a reincarnate religion with certain ideas about the afterlife. It isbelieved that a person lives through four stages of life, or generations.
Thesegenerations are childhood, adolescence, maturity, and old age. When a persondies, one of the four “souls” from the generations travels along theWanagi Tacanku Southward, where the soul meets with an old woman who judges thesoul’s earthly virtues. She then directs it either to the spirit world, a hazyanalog of earthly life where there is an unending supply of buffalo and wherepeople rejoin their kin, or back to earth. If sent back to earth, the soul livesas a ghost in order to haunt others and to entice them to join the soul inhaunting the living. Parts of the soul being sent back to earth illustrate thereincarnate idea of this religion in that other aspects of the four souls areinvested into unborn fetuses.
This receiving of the souls is what gives thefetuses life (http://www. creighton. edu/~amd/afterlife. html). The NativeAmericans were a very diverse peoples that many different aspects of religionthat varied from tribe to tribe.
Interestingly, the Native Americans did nothave a concept of individual sin and salvation. If they did, it would have beenpossible that they would have had an entirely different set of beliefs. However,they did have strong similarities that were equally important to each tribe. Itwas very apparent that they loved the earth and that played a key role in termsof creation and an afterlife.