Native American Spirituality.

May 30, 2013 /  by Jerry Alatalo

Soul Of An Indian.

ApsarokaHorse (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

 We came across a book with the title “Soul Of An Indian” written by Charles Eastman (1858-1939) which shares the nature based philosophy and spirituality which humanity is now in the process of returning to. The religion of the Indian is the last thing about him that the man of another race will understand. We know that all religious aspiration, all sincere worship can have but one source and one goal. We know that the God of all spiritual traditions is the same God. Every person that fears God and works righteousness is acceptable to him.

The original attitude of the American Indian toward the eternal, the Great Mystery that surrounds and embraces us, was that he was the supreme conception, bringing with it the fullest joy and satisfaction possible in this life.

No priests are authorized to come between a man and his maker. Worship is solitary and silent. No man may meddle with the religious or spiritual experience of another. No creeds are forced upon any other; there is no preaching, proselytizing or persecution. There are no churches, temples or shrines among us but those of nature.

He needs only the cathedral of nature. Solitary communion with the unseen Creator, God is the highest expression of religious life that can be seen as the “consciousness of the divine.” Young Indians experience the vision quest, which is similar to confirmation or conversion in the Christian tradition.

The young person prepares for the vision quest through purification in the sweat lodge (like a sauna or steam room) where there is the removal of as much human influence as possible. The young man would then seek out the noblest height, the most commanding summit in the region. Taking no material things but sacred tobacco to offer God, he showed humility by wearing no clothing but moccasins and breechcloth.

At the solemn hour of sunrise or sunset he begins a two-day vision quest naked, erect, silent and motionless. He may chant a hymn or offer the filled ceremonial pipe. Facing the Great Mystery in this holy trance the Indian mystic found his highest happiness and the power of his purpose for existence.

After returning to camp he would re-enter the sweat lodge for purification before talking with his friends and guides. The vision or sign was not spoken about unless some aspect needed to become publicly fulfilled. At times, an old man, standing on the brink of eternity, may show to a chosen few the oracle, his vision, from his long past youth.

The Native American practiced a religion which forbade accumulation of wealth and luxuries. To him the love of possessions was a snare, a needless peril and temptation. The rule of life was to share the fruits of his skill with his less fortunate brothers. His spirit was not clogged by pride, envy or greed.

He carried out the divine decree; the divine law. This was a profoundly important matter to him.

Concentrated populations are seen as the mother of evils, both moral and physical. Food is good while overindulgence kills; love is good but lust destroys. He dreaded the loss of spiritual power which resulted from too close contact with other men.

The Indian divided mind into two parts, the spiritual mind and the physical mind. The sun represents the universal father and Earth the universal mother where are found the embryos of plants, animals and men. Our love for the sun and Earth is an extension of our love for our parents. This is a form of physical prayer where appeals become made to the sun and Earth for gifts we may desire.

Nature’s forces of wind, fire, water, ice and lightning are regarded with awe as spiritual powers. We believe the Great Spirit is in all creation and that every creäture possesses a soul, although perhaps not conscious of itself. All of creation is to be revered and honored. He would honor the spirits of those animals that would voluntarily sacrifice their bodies to preserve his own.

He saw miracles everywhere-the miracles of life in seeds and eggs, the actions of nature. The virgin birth would be seen as miraculous as the birth of every child that comes into the world. A single ear of corn contains the same miracle as the loaves and fishes.

We of every spiritual tradition must still face the greatest miracle-the origin and principle of life. Our attitude must the same or similar to the natural philosopher who feels awe when experiencing the divine in all creation.

Jesus’ hard truths about the rich man would have been understood by the Indian. As for the moneyed church where those who attended participated in displays and self-aggrandizement, the Indian had no use for such actions. The Indian would not fail to contrast the lust for money and power with the spirit of the meek and lowly Jesus.

No priest assumes responsibility for another’s soul. Parents were to assume the responsibility for the souls of their children. The mother would teach the newborn soul to love the Great Mystery and brotherhood with all creation. Silence, love and reverence are the first lessons. She later teaches generosity, courage and chastity.

The child thinks that he is a blood brother to all living creatures while the wind is the messenger of the Great Mystery. At the age of eight he is taught by grandparents the wisdom and experience of the human race. The old are teachers and advisers; the young love and revere the grandparents.

The Indian had one inevitable duty-the duty of prayer-the daily recognition of the unseen and eternal. This was more important than daily food. Each soul must meet the morning sun and the new Earth in the great silence alone. In the course of the day if he comes to see striking beauty he stops for an instant to worship. There is no awareness or thought of setting apart one day of the week because all days are God’s.

To the Indian every act is a religious act. He sees the spiritual in all creation and draws spiritual power. He respects the eternal nature of his brother, the animal, and prays in honor to the spirit of his brother whose life was needed to sustain his own.

Friendship is the most severe test of character for it is a bond without thought of gain or pleasure. If need be, each takes a vow to die for the other. We understand now what Jesus was saying when he said “Greater love hath no man than this; that one lays down his life for his friends”.

For the Indian two ceremonies were universal and fundamental, the sweat-lodge and the sacred pipe.

The sweat-lodge (like a sauna or steam room) is essential to the Indian for his effort to purify and recreate his spirit. Used by both healers and patients, every man who is facing death, danger or spiritual crises must enter the cleansing bath; the sweat-lodge. Everything used in the sweat-lodge is held sacred or adapted to spiritual use.

The sacred pipe is reverently used by warriors to acknowledge miracles, give daily thanks or to receive good faith during times of difficulty. It is a form of holy communion where the incense of tobacco is found in place of wine and bread.

The Indian believes profoundly in silence, the sign of a perfect state of intellectual and emotional balance. Silence is the absolute equilibrium of body, mind and spirit. Silence is the Great Mystery; holy silence is his voice. Silence results in self-control, true courage, patience, dignity and reverence. He has learned the lesson where when one guard’s his tongue in youth when one grows older he may mature a thought that will be of service to the people.

It is believed that the love of possessions is a weakness to be overcome. The child must learn the beauty of generosity where he must give away that which he prizes most. Public giving is a part of every important ceremony. Orphans, the aged and the unfortunate are cared for both by family and by all.

In matters of crime such as stealing, lying or murder all adhered to the fact that the Great Mystery knew all things, so people did not hesitate to give themselves up for fair punishment. Long ago lying was considered a crime punishable by death. Believing a deliberate liar was capable of committing any crime, the person was put to death so that the evil might be stopped then and there, allowed to go no further.

The truly brave man yields neither to fear or anger, desire or agony. He is at all times master of himself. His courage rises to the heights of courtesy, loyalty, honor and real heroism. He would not allow cold, hunger, pain, danger, fear or death itself prevent him from doing a good deed.


One thought on “Native American Spirituality.

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