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Spirituality Of Native Americans
Eagles are Sacred in Native American Spirituality
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. Their way of life, and their beliefs is their "religion", their spirituality.
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
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.
"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
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.
Have you ever personally known or read about a spiritual leader, and did it make a difference in your life?
Nicholas Black Elk, 1863 - 1950
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
Wi Na De Ya Ho
Wi Na De Ya
Wi Na De Ya
Ho Ho Ho Ho
He Ya Ho
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