Spirituality Of Native Americans

Eagles are Sacred in Native American Spirituality

Face detail of Eagle.
Face detail of Eagle. | Source

A simple belief system

The spirituality of Native Americans is an often misunderstood and complex belief system. Yet, when one understands, it is quite simple and straight-forward. It is a love and respect for all Creation.

When many people think of the beliefs of Native Americans, they think of superstitions and mythology, the tales of tricksters, heroes, creation and such. It is true that there is a myriad of mythology in the Native American cultures and languages. You can fill a huge library with nothing but the myths of all the many different tribes. However, their spirituality does not have it's roots in myths alone.

However, let us think about the word mythology, or myths. To Native Americans, their stories are part of their spirituality. They are not considered myths, for that insinuates that their stories or legends are not real. Their legends are real in the concept that they teach moral and spiritual lessons.

The spirituality of Native Americans is not generally thought of as a religion, but it is very much a religion with varying beliefs between each tribe or nation. Similar to Christianity, that has many different branches with varying doctrines, so, too, is the spirituality of Native Americans.

"Our religion is the traditions of our ancestors, the dreams of our old men, given them by the great Spirit, and the visions of our sachems, and is written in the hearts of our people."

- Chief Seattle, 1786 - 1866, as he spoke of religion in his famous speech

— Seth, Chief Seattle

Chief Seattle bust ~

Chief Seattle bust, in Pioneer Square Park, Pioneer Square, Seattle, Washington, USA.
Chief Seattle bust, in Pioneer Square Park, Pioneer Square, Seattle, Washington, USA. | Source

Supreme Being

All tribes believe in a Supreme Being which they call by different names depending on their culture: The Creator, Wakan Tanan, The Great Spirit, The Great Mystery, The One, Grandfather, and many other names. They all mean the same - The Supreme Being , the Creator of all life and nature. Some spiritual leaders have said "The Creator" means the same as God.

Quanah Parker

Quanah, last Chief of the Comanche.
Quanah, last Chief of the Comanche. | Source

"We do not go into ceremony to talk about God. We go into the ceremony to talk to God."

— Comanchee Chief Quanah Parker, 1845 - 1911

Spiritual beliefs

There is not a religion called Native American . Their religious beliefs are cultural, based on each individual tribal customs and traditions. Not all tribes speak the same language and not all tribes have the same identical beliefs.

Protestants, Baptists, Episcopalians, Lutherans, Catholics, Jewish, etc., all believe in God, but do not all have the identical beliefs. This is true of Native Americans also.

Many Native Americans are Christians yet retain their individual tribal traditions and beliefs. Long before Christianity was introduced to the indigenous people of north America, most tribes had a traditional belief and their own version of the great flood story.

They each have the good and evil supernatural beings, as Christians have God and the devil.

Similar to heaven and hell, Native Americans believe in a good place where the spirit goes after death, to the Land of the Ancestors or back to the Creator, because of the good life they led; or, the bad place where the spirit wanders in misery and torment because of bad deeds and a bad heart.

Spirituality is in every part of life for traditional Native Americans. Their music strongly draws on the spiritual side.

Native American Music is Very Spiritual

Bonding through Nature

From the earliest of days they have bonded with Great Spirit through nature. The traditional religious beliefs came not from a church or a book, but from Creation, from Nature or Mother Earth.

Nature taught them their philosophy and the ways that the Creator wanted them to learn. They lived in harmony and balance with Mother Earth and all Creation. The way they cared for Nature shows how their deep respect for Mother Earth bonded them to the Creator. They never desecrated or destroyed nature. If, for example, they needed to gather herbs such as sage, they took only what they needed and never took from the Grandfather plant that gave life to all the others.

When they pray, they pray to The Creator, and to the Four Winds (or Four Directions) with dedication and gratitude. They ask for guidance, wisdom and protection. They ask for blessings for loved ones and their tribe or clan. They ask for healing of the body, mind and spirit. Is this not what most religions teach? And how did they learn these ways, this religion? They learned not only from nature and all Creation, but also with the help of spiritual leaders.

In all walks of life, in all cultures, there are born leaders or those who are called wise men/women, meaning the same as spiritual leaders. The Native Americans call them spiritual leaders or holy man/woman. Some of the greatest spiritual leaders in history were or are Native Americans. Most, if not all, of these leaders received their sacred and divine gifts in visions, usually accompanied by a serious illness or near-death experience.

Spiritual Leaders

Have you ever personally known or read about a spiritual leader, and did it make a difference in your life?

  • Yes, and it did make a positive difference in my life.
  • Yes, but it did not change my life.
  • No, but I would like to, for I feel I would benefit from it.
  • No and I feel it would not make a difference in my life.
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Nicholas Black Elk, 1863 - 1950

Black Elk, daughter Lucy Black Elk and wife Anna Brings White photographed in their home in Manderson, South Dakota, about 1910
Black Elk, daughter Lucy Black Elk and wife Anna Brings White photographed in their home in Manderson, South Dakota, about 1910 | Source

Nicholas Black Elk

Black Elk (Hehaka Sapa), a Lakota of the Oglala band, is considered to have been one of the greatest Spiritual Leaders of the twentieth century.

At the age of nine, an illness struck him that affected his entire body. His legs became weak, as did his arms, then the swelling started. His arms and legs became useless, his face puffy, and he was put to bed in his parents tipi, not expected to live.

The boy slipped into a coma. His parents sent for the medicine man and all prayed over him.

During this coma, when he almost died, Black Elk had many great visions and was instructed by six Grandfathers from the Land of the Ancestors on how to help his people and how to pray and learned many things of sacred spiritual matters.

He had been sick for twelve days and when he awoke, he was cured and it was recognized by Whirlwind Chaser, the medicine man who prayed over him and treated him, that Black Elk now sat in a sacred manner and had the sacred knowledge in his eyes and in his soul.

Black Elk became a beloved Spiritual Leader, or Wichasha Wakan (Holy Man), of his people.

"Grandfather, Great Spirit, you have been always and before you no one has been. There is no other one to pray to but you. You yourself, everything that you see, everything has been made by you."

— Nicholas Black Elk, 1863 - 1950

This is a beautiful song of the Cherokee, by Walela. It is very uplifting and inspirational.

Cherokee Morning Song

Lyrics:

Wi Na De Ya Ho
Wi Na De Ya

Wi Na De Ya

Ho Ho Ho Ho

He Ya Ho

Cherokee Translation:

I am of the Great Spirit, It is so
I am of the Great Spirit
I am of the Great Spirit
It is so


© 2010 Phyllis Doyle Burns

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Comments 25 comments

Phyllis Doyle profile image

Phyllis Doyle 6 years ago from High desert of Nevada. Author

I believe that every one, regardless of their faith, needs something to believe in, to rely on, to find comfort in. Spiritual growth is something we all need. My definition of "spiritual growth" is basically: belief in yourself and your faith. To draw comfort and knowledge from what you believe in, to allow yourself to stay true to yourself and your faith, is spiritual growth. This is what I term: Standing Strong In Your Own Truth.


saddlerider1 profile image

saddlerider1 6 years ago

Phyllis Doyle I am pleased to read of the Native people's beliefs. It seems all religions of the world lead to the same place a god. We call it GOD yet we still kill one another in the name of religion or a god. I am with the native spirituality of taking care of the earth and mother nature the Great One will take care of it's people.

With the strong faith that Native peoples had and how wisely they treated life and nature, one would think that they would not have been maltreated as they were by the white man? Where was there God to help them through the strife they were put through and eventual loss of dignity, life and lands?

The Great One sent many peoples to our earth it seems to be wiped out eventually, I don't know why the Native peoples were not treated more humanely.

I enjoyed this writing and am looking forward to following you. I am a believer in spirituality and the paranormal as well. Peace


Phyllis Doyle profile image

Phyllis Doyle 6 years ago from High desert of Nevada. Author

Saddlerider, I am a great believer in living in harmony and balance with Mother Earth. I have a strong affinity to the Native American peoples and their beliefs. Many people have thought along similar lines as you: why would Creator allow his people to be so mistreated and die in such large numbers? I, too, have often asked "Why?". We may never know the answer to that till we cross over to the land of our Ancestors. My thought is that Creator put us here to learn and the only way we can do that is to make the most we can of each day, for die we will some day in our predestined way.


muley84 profile image

muley84 6 years ago from Miami,FL

Excellent hub! You show that there are many paths, but only one God.


Phyllis Doyle profile image

Phyllis Doyle 6 years ago from High desert of Nevada. Author

Hi muley84. Thanks for the comment. It is like my son always says: there is more than one way to San Jose -- it depends on where you are coming from and what your mode of transportation is. That is his favorite analogy when discussing faith and spirituality.


Jewels profile image

Jewels 6 years ago from Australia

There are great spiritual teachings to be passed by indigenous cultures. the Australian Aborigine transfers knowledge of the dreamtime in similar ways to the American Indian. So much knowledge and wisdom.


Phyllis Doyle profile image

Phyllis Doyle 6 years ago from High desert of Nevada. Author

Thank you for your comments, Jewels. I love to study different cultures and their spiritual beliefs.


pennyofheaven profile image

pennyofheaven 6 years ago from New Zealand

Great spiritualist Native Americans. Thanks I enjoyed reading your hub!


Phyllis Doyle profile image

Phyllis Doyle 6 years ago from High desert of Nevada. Author

pennyofheaven, thanks for stopping by and for your comment. I will have to hop over and read some of your hubs. Nice to meet you!


dohn121 profile image

dohn121 4 years ago from Hudson Valley, New York

While in college, I took a class in Native American literature and enjoyed it thoroughly. Steeped with tradition and myth, we can learn a great deal from such an incredible and perhaps ideal culture. Some of the books that I read (from the top of my head) were by Greg Saris, including Powwow Highway and Grand Avenue. To this day, I still remember them. Perhaps God is one and the same in accordance with all cultures. Thank you for sharing this.

Dohn


Phyllis Doyle profile image

Phyllis Doyle 4 years ago from High desert of Nevada. Author

Dohn121, thank you so much for stopping by and reading. I have such a strong affinity to Native American peoples for the way they have always held Mother Earth and all Creation in great respect. I personally believe that "God is one and the same in accordance with all cultures" and just has different names and different messengers. I appreciate you sharing your thoughts on your college classes. Cultures and history are two of my favorite subjects.


lrc7815 profile image

lrc7815 4 years ago from Central Virginia

Beautiful Hub Ms Doyle. It is good to see others opening the door to understanding.


Phyllis Doyle profile image

Phyllis Doyle 4 years ago from High desert of Nevada. Author

lrc7815, thank you so much for the visit and lovely comment.


Indian Chef profile image

Indian Chef 3 years ago from New Delhi India

Very nicely written hub Phyllis. Hubs like these bring people closer by knowing their faith and thus less chances of hurting people if you know about them. voting it up and sharing on hubpahes and twitter.


Phyllis Doyle profile image

Phyllis Doyle 3 years ago from High desert of Nevada. Author

Thank you Indian Chef for your kind words. I like writing on spirituality and the many aspects of it. I am deeply spiritual, so see/sense it in others. Thank you for your comment, sharing and voting -- I greatly appreciate it.


Phyllis Doyle profile image

Phyllis Doyle 3 years ago from High desert of Nevada. Author

I updated this hub by adding capsules, more images, and a video. I hope you enjoy reading about Native American spirituality.

I have come to realize, with the help of my own spiritual teachers, that one of my tasks in life is to open my heart to all Creation, help others find their own spiritual path, and know myself. By knowing your true Self, one is able to give so much more to others.

Thank you to all readers who visit and comment. I greatly appreciate it.


Shyron E Shenko profile image

Shyron E Shenko 2 years ago

This is really beautiful, and I do believe.

Voted up, UABI and shared.

I am part Cherokee on my mother and father's side.

Thank you for this, it is good that people know that Native Americans are just like everyone else.

Have a blessed week

Shyron


Denise Handlon profile image

Denise Handlon 2 years ago from North Carolina

Phyllis, what a wonderful hub this is emphasizing and honoring the spirituality of a culture.. I have always been interested in Native American history and spirituality because of the connection I felt in my heart for the teachings. I just recently gave one of my N.A. books to my granddaughter, age 14. It is a book written by Grey Wolf about the significance of the change of seasons. Her animal totem is the wolf, and she has named herself 'Wolf'. I will be sharing this with her, as well as FB and Google. Thanks! UP/U/A/B/I


Phyllis Doyle profile image

Phyllis Doyle 2 years ago from High desert of Nevada. Author

Hi Denise. I so appreciate your reading this hub and for your lovely comment. That is so wonderful you can share with your niece and I hope she likes the book and my hub. I have always had a great affinity to Native American spirituality and find so much peace in it, for it is so in balance and harmony with Nature. Thank you so much for all the votes and the sharing, how delightful. Wakan Tanka Kici Un (Lakhota for "May Great Spirit Bless You".


Phyllis Doyle profile image

Phyllis Doyle 2 years ago from High desert of Nevada. Author

Many blessings to you, Shyron. Thank you so much for your votes, reading and commenting, I really appreciate this. The Cherokee are a strong Nation and never allowed their language, traditions and beliefs die. They have struggled, overcome the wrongs done to their ancestors, fought hard and survived to become stronger than ever. Thanks again, Syron.


LindaSmith1 profile image

LindaSmith1 2 years ago from USA

So many people have misconceptions of the Indians because of the way television has depicted them to be heathens. Those who consider them to be pagans need to rethink their stance on that one. They can learn a thing or two reading this.


Phyllis Doyle profile image

Phyllis Doyle 2 years ago from High desert of Nevada. Author

Hi Linda. You are so right - there are many misconceptions about our Native American people. Thank you so much for reading and commenting, I appreciate it.


Writer Fox profile image

Writer Fox 2 years ago from the wadi near the little river

The Native American Indian culture has always fascinated me. I especially enjoy learning about their civilizations before the Western Hemisphere was discovered by Europeans. Enjoyed your research and presentation. Voted up! (I wanted to Pin the eagle picture, but notice that you have that option turned off.)


pstraubie48 profile image

pstraubie48 21 months ago from sunny Florida

Phyllis

the quote that 'we come to talk to God' is so powerful. this may sound strange but I talk to God and with him each day. He keeps me lifted up and encouraged.

My Momma's side of the family is part Cherokee. My Momma was no doubt very much a Native American...she worshipped God and His creations. She had a relationship with soil and hence with plants and animals like no other. And she passed that on to her children. Not as strongly connected as she was but close...our love for the land and all of the nature's wonder is strong within us.

This is a beautiful sharing Phyllis.

What a lovely way to begin this gorgeous Saturday morning

Angels are winging their way to you...sorry I have not been to see you sooner... ps


Phyllis Doyle profile image

Phyllis Doyle 21 months ago from High desert of Nevada. Author

A lovely and cheerful good morning to you, Patricia. Your comment is very uplifting and good to wake up to - thank you. I know the way of bonding with soil and plants and it is wonderful - your mother must have truly enjoyed her gifts and it brought her peace within. Mother Earth and Nature are so respected by the Cherokee and all Native American tribes. My nephew-in-law is full blood Cherokee from the Eastern Band, so my great nephew and his children are part Cherokee.

I have been a bit out of the visiting myself the last month or so. I had back surgery and am still recuperating,.

Thanks again, Patricia, for reading, commenting, and for the Angels.

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