Native American Spiritualism – Presentation Transcript
This is a student hypothesis from a teaching about one of my very old websites that I placed onto another of my old website in1995 back when tripod was the pride of the internet postings.
Native American Spiritualism
Western Clinical Hebraism
Native American Spiritualism – Presentation Transcript
“The religion of the Indian is the last thing about him that the man of another race will ever understand.”
The Soul of the Indian, Eastman written in 1901
Pequot/Mohegan; Spirituality is not religion to American Natives.
Religion is not a Native concept; it is a non Native word, with implications of things that often end badly, like Holy wars in the name of individuals God.
Native people do not ask what religion another Native is, because they already know the answer.
To Native people, spirituality is about
the Creator, period~ Pequot/Mohegan; –statement and photo
Walking Fox-the Sachem of the Mohegan People of Connecticut
“The opening quote by Eastman describes the inability of Euro-American settlers to understand Native American spirituality. In his book, The Soul of the Indian written in 1901, Eastman explains that the deeply personal nature the Native American’s spirituality held for him as being so strong that he didn’t always freely speak of it. Further, the racial and religious prejudice of the outsider rendered them unable to understand. In addition, by the time anyone attempted to understand and write about it, the original beliefs and philosophy of the Native American were already undergoing rapid disintegration from Euro-American influence.
The quote by Sachem Walking Fox is characteristic of many indigenous peoples of North America, and many will deny that their people have ever truly engaged in “religion” as defined by the early Euro-American settlers. There aren’t Euro-American words to describe the Native American belief. Although many Native American’s adopted the “religious” practices of Euro-Americans, they were able to incorporate their belief in their personal prayers to the “Creator” or “Great Spirit” and most did not abandon their ceremonial traditions.
“The problem is there has always been a tendency of outsiders to confuse “religion” with the living spirituality and ceremony of the Native American.
For example, ancient ceremonial rituals like the Green Corn Ceremony, the Snake Dance, kachinas (ancestral spirits of the Pueblo peoples, believed to reside in the with them for part of each year), the Sun Dance, sweat-lodge ceremonies, and the sacred pipe are not specifically “religious” practices of various tribes, but are seen by the Native American as ceremony symbolic of their day-to-day existence on the Earth, and all of their day-to-day practices are seen as spiritual and ceremonial. There is no separation.
In contrast to the daily spiritual living and ceremony of the Native was, and is still today, the early Euro-American practice of church on Sunday and for the most part, their day to day life tasks were not closely associated with their “religion” or “spiritual” practices.
“Native American Spiritual Healing
The concept of the close tie of the Native American spirituality and ceremony to day-to-day living reveals also the close tie between their spirituality and their natural medicines and healing practices.
The Native American’s reliance and preservation of their natural surroundings could be their greatest strength and was directly responsible for their success as a nation. For this success they showed their thankfulness for all living and non-living things.
“The Great Spirit is our Father, but the Earth is our Mother. She nourishes us: that which we put into the ground she returns to us, and healing plants she gives us likewise.”
Big Thunder of Wabnakis tribe
Early English settlers were impressed with the Native American physique and lack of disease. The early colonists were weak and arrived during the cold months of winter and were not prepared to face the long harsh winters of the new world. They took note and before long, adopted many of the Native uses of plants as medicine. Much was written about the healing powers of these medicines in letters back to Europe and by the 18th century nearly 70% of European plant-drugs in apothecaries were imported from either the Far East or the Americas.
Although the Euro-Americans adopted the medicines of the Native American’s as their own, they were lacking the mind, body and spirit philosophy of the Natives that even current science of the 20th century has proven can have a large impact on healing. Nor did the Euro’s replenish the Earth with what they took from her.
Eventually the diseases brought over by the newcomers began to take hold of the Native American’s health, introducing new and unknown illnesses that the Natives had never seen and their medicines were powerless against.
The Influence of Native American Community
Native American traditions were community based and community specific, and these practices handed down generation to generation build upon the experiences of that particular community. If taken outside of the context of that particular community they would have no meaning. This idea helps to illustrate the reason why when non-native Americans or people from other cultures have tried to replicate Native American ceremony it was seen as a threat to the community to which those practices belong.
The idea of community reflected in the stories, songs and ceremony are based on life within that community for the benefit of the community as a whole and violations of sacred practice or belief are seen as a threat to the whole community not just the individual. This was also true of sickness and disease, when one member was ill, the entire community would perform healing ceremonies.
The Euro-Americans in more developed colonial areas saw the Native American community healing rituals with their songs, chants, dances and the hypnosis some of these rituals seem to invoke as barbaric and heathen. More and more a kind of contemptuous disdain for the Natives developed in these areas.
Missionaries were coming in to “save” the Natives from there heathenism. Their influence had a strong impact on the spiritual culture and traditional ways of the Native American.
Unlike popular belief of many non-natives, the Native Americans did not simply replace one faith with another, nor did they fake it to please the newcomers.
According to Vine Deloria, Jr. in his book God Is Red native beliefs and rituals became intermixed with Christian elements. This is referred to as “religious syncretism—a creative combination of the elements of different religious traditions yielding an entirely new religious system capable of commanding broad popular loyalties”.
Foolishly the colonists saw who looked down on the Natives as being somehow inferior reverted back to the ways of English medicine and began to import the violent remedies of the English into the New World rather than use the plants available to them. This practice was reinforced when they saw that the Natives herbal remedies were powerless against the new diseases the newcomers introduced.
Fortunately, in the frontier lands of the New World, homesteaders had to rely on what the Earth could provide in the way of plant medicines and they relied on the Indians to teach them in their use. In this way, Native American’s had great influence on the use of plants as medicine that they passed on to the newcomers and many of those remedies are known and used today.
The Ginseng “Gold Rush”
During the mid 18th century, missionaries discovered the heal-all powers or panacea of Ginseng used by the Chinese for 1000’s of years. High dollars were paid for the perfect root and the hunt was on. Mean while another missionary working with the Native North Americans in French Canada discovered that the Natives were using another version of ginseng (Panax) found locally.
Soon the word was out of the huge sums of money the French were making on shipping loads of the ginseng root to China and the rush was on. Frontiersmen and Natives in North America became ‘’sang-diggers’ of the North American outback. They harvested ginseng where ever they could find it with little regard to ritual, giving thanks or preservation of the Earth.
Another clearly misunderstood concept of Native American spirituality is their notion of “spatiality” referring to their ceremonial life and existence deeply rooted in space and place. An example is the Sky-Earth division where ceremonials are structured around North and South. The structure for a Green Corn Ceremony or the design of a sweat lodge, or the direction one turns in a pipe ceremony all are representative of the spiritual relationship of a people within the spatial world around them.
This important concept is also evident in the Native American belief that certain places are known to a particular tribe as powerfully spiritual. For most Native American communities, there are one or more such places that they have long identified as powerful like the Black Hills for the Sioux Nation, Blue Lake for Taos Pueblo, Mount Graham for the San Carlos Apaches and the mountains that comprise the territorial boundaries of any pueblo.
To the Native American these places are considered alive and their words loosely translated to English would be Sacred Mystery or Sacred Power. The Great Spirit is typically experienced as a great unknown but then reveals itself as a space or place, as in the Mystery Above or Below or the Mystery or Powers of the Four Directions.
All of the cosmos and the Earth and the sky are alive and filled with spirit power, including each human being and this is reflected as the interrelationship of all creation. All the two legged, four legged, winged animals and fish and every other living thing and non living thing like rocks and trees and mountains are alive and interrelated.
This idea which is expressed eloquently in the poetry, songs and stories of many tribes is perhaps one of the greatest contributions the Native American people have made to the spiritual sciences of the modern world.
Many herbalists today will tell you that the plants talk to them of their healing power and when to use them for a particular client. This in itself is powerful medicine and the good herbalist will know enough to listen to what the plants have to say.
Throughout history, many conflicts between peoples center on “religious” differences and misunderstandings. Euro-American misunderstanding of the Native American culture and their spiritualism and ceremonial traditions eventually led to conflict. Learning more about Native American spiritualism and ceremonial tradition of the 18th and 19th centuries makes it easier to understand why those conflicts arose.
Some of the reasons for these conflicts were:
Issues of translation
Differences in religious practice and belief
Misunderstanding of the mind-body-spirit healing practices
Influence of missionaries and Euro-Americans on the Native American communities and their spiritual tradition and ceremony
Introduction of disease brought over from the Old World
Ravaging of Earths riches (plants, buffalo, natural beauty)
Desecration of sacred grounds
For many, many years Native Americans endured racial prejudice, loss of life, loss of their sacred grounds and oppression of their spirituality and ceremony. Whole communities were abolished and many were forced from their homelands and placed on reservations. Their cultural ways were looked upon as oddities and they suffered great damage to their proud heritage.
What is not always recognized is that Euro-Americans suffered greatly from these conflicts as well, by their own hands.
Euro-American’s were plagued with iatrogenic disease (disease caused by medical treatment) caused by their harmful apothecary brought over from Europe.
Their inability to understand and trust the medicine of the Native American caused them to miss the opportunity for advancement in plant based medicine.
Much could have been learned about the mind-body-spirit connection and they didn’t learn the importance of sustaining their environment a lesson we are still trying to learn today.
Thankfully, the wars that ensued brought on by all these tensions did not completely wipe away the knowledge passed on between the two cultures.
“Religious” influence of the Euro-Americans blended with the beliefs and traditions of the Native American culture. Similarity between the Euro-American “religion” and Native American spirituality and ceremony of some communities help to confirm the presence of a higher power looking over both peoples.
The efforts of Native Americans to bring back what was lost of their culture and their traditional spiritual ways has done much for the advancement of the Euro-American descendent understanding of environmentalism.
The songs, story-telling, ceremony, poetic literature, artwork and craftsmanship of the Native American have enriched the lives of all.
A Final Word
The lessons learned from both the sharing and the conflicts of these two cultures shapes our world today. Let’s hope we can reflect on the blending of our cultures and the conflicts that tore our cultures apart and become better stewards. We owe it to the Earth we live upon and the riches she bestows upon us.
As students of Western Clinical Hebraism this section of learning about the Native American Culture should have a profound impact on how we learn to heal, mind-body-spirit.
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