Tuesday, March 15, 2016

Native American Religion - Singing to the Sprits

Native American Religion - Singing to the Sprits


Singing to the Spirits

HIS RELIGION

The life of the Indian is one vast and glittering mosaic of rite and ritual. His warfare, his dress, his medicine, his ceremonies, his wooing, and his dying are all of them expressive of a dominant idea that pervades his life and controls his purpose. He lives constantly and absorbingly in a] mystic land. He is beckoned by unseen hands and is lured into the realms of mystery by the challenge of voices silent to all other ears. His dress is studded with resplendent colours significant of the green earth, the blue sky, and the cry of his soul for a place in the great beyond. Like the high priest of old, he wears on his breast the fiery filaments of his faith.
The Indian sits in the tabernacle of the mighty forest or on the heights of some deserted and wind-swept mesa, beats his tomtom or drones song upon song, prays to the Great Mystery, pleads with the fires of the sun to give him strength and life and health, and calls the sun his father. The whispering winds tell his tale to the clouds. He peers into the depths of the stars, watches the aurora as the death dance of the spirits, answers the high call of the thunder as the voice of the Great Mystery, utters the cry of his soul to the lightnings—the arrows of taowity—communes with the rivers and the lakes, the moon, and the legion of wild beasts, and all of it with a pitiful longing that his days of fasting and his vicarious devotion may bring upon his life and his tribe the favour of the gods.
These primitive men hold time and money and ambition as nothing. But a dream, or a cloud in the sky, or a bird flying across the trail from the wrong direction, or a change 
of the wind will challenge their deepest thoughts. To the Indian mind all signs are symbolic. Their ceremonies are as complicated as any of ancient Hebrew or Greek tradition. The Indian aspires to be a great hunter, he seeks fame as a noble warrior; he struggles for the eagle feathers of distinction, but his greatest longing is to become a Medicine Man and know the Great Mystery. All medicine people of the tribes carry on their necks, or in a pouch at the belt, some sacred thing used in their magic practices—the claw of a bear, the rattle of a snake, a bird's wing, the tooth of an elk, a bit of tobacco. Every Indian carries his individual medicine, and his medicine is good or bad according to his success. If he finds a feather at wrong angle in his path, his medicine is bad for that day. The Indian fasts and dances and chants, using his mind, his spirit, and his body as pliable instruments in the making of his prayer. He finds in the veritable exhaustion of his body the spirit path made clear for his dreams, until the very stars seem as the eyes of the gods, and the sighing of the pines comes to him as the rustle of eagle wings to bear his spirit to loftier realms. Instead of the common acceptation that the Indian has no religion whatever, every single act of his life carries with it some ceremonial function, and his whole being is surrounded by a shining host of ceremonial spirits. The Indian goes with [prayer thoughts to the water. His bath is a sacrament. He cuts the long supple willow withes that grow on the banks of the stream, enters the sharpened end into the soil, bends and ties the feathery tops into an arch; over the arches thus made he throws his blankets; meanwhile, gathered stones have been heated in the burning fire. These stones glowing white with heat are placed in a tiny pit underneath the covering of this booth, now to be called his sweat bath. First one stone until four have been counted are placed by the attendant in the pit, and then the fiery pile is thrown in promiscuous fashion on the heap. The Indians enter the closed covering, the ceremonial pipe is smoked, a gourd of cold water is handed to each; they then disrobe, the attending priest lowering the blanket over the entrance. Cold water is then poured over the heated stones, filling the enclosure with steam. In silence they commune with the Great Mystery until one of their number is blessed with a vision; then a call is made and the attendant lifts the blanket, almost immediately lowering it again. This action is repeated until the vision has been vouchsafed four times, when they all come forth and plunge into the river. These sweat baths are always located on the banks of a flowing stream. The Indian sees in every ripple of the flashing water that comes to meet him a shining token of the medicine he has seen in his vision. ]They then repair to the wigwam and listen in solemn silence to the chanting cadences of the Indian who has been favoured.