North American Folk Religions
North American Folk Religions are presented as native religions, as they were before the “white” European arrived. In this section I will not discuss “black” folk religions as this is discussed in the section African Traditional Religions.
When north America was discovered in 1492 by Columbus they brought with them Christianity, which was thrust upon the native Americans. They also brought disease and higher technology ie guns which devastated the native population.
It is a sad fact that during history of north american folk religions whenever a higher technology society meets a lower technology society this devastation always happens.
When Columbus arrived there were a little more than 800 native tribes across what is now the United States and Canada. Each tribe had it’s own religious beliefs that were somewhat similar.
Native traditions and history was being wiped out by the European invasion, and lost to history as the native peoples did not have the written word to rely on put rather just the oral.
Although there are differences in much of the north american folk native religious belief, there is much that is the same. Mr David Ruvolo, in his paper “A Summary of Native American Religions” reduces it to three indian nations for simplicity as will I.
These nations are, the Iroquois nation of the eastern woodlands, the Dakota tribes of the central plains and the Apache tribes of the southwestern desert.
Iroquois Nation North American Folk Religion
The Iroquois were the most advanced and well organized of the North American tribes whose society evolved around the wilderness that surrounded them. The fact that their area was very fertile allowed them the luxury of time after the food gathering process.
They believed in a monotheistic all powerful creator known as the “Great Spirit” or “Ha-wen-ne-yu” who was for the most part considered above their comprehension. The Great Spirit wishes were communicated to the world by a lower class known as “Invisible Agents” or “Ho-no-che-no-keh”.
The Iroquois also believed in the concept of evil in the world who was represented by the brother of the Great Spirit and was known as the “Evil Minded” or “Ha-ne-go-ate-geh”. This evil spirit also had it’s lower class of spirits to serve it.
The Iroquois did believe in the existence of an immortal soul and upon the death of the mortal body this soul was judged by the Great Spirit.
The Iroquois did practice seasonal systematic worship and were led by men known as “Keepers of the Faith” or “Ho-nun-den-ont”. The belief system of the Iroquois was not completely unlike the belief systems of the Europeans, therefore integration of the religions was possible.
Dakota or Sioux Nation North American Folk Religion
The Dakota nation was much less organized and more spread out than the Iroquois nation and their society was based on the hunting of buffalo. As such they lived a nomadic life style. The Dakota nation was more spread out and much less organized than the Iroquois nation.
According to Raymond J. DeMallie, the Dakota world was “characterized by it’s oneness, it’s unity.” There was no separation between the natural and supernatural worlds and was shared in by the practice of rituals. The common denominator of these two worlds was known as “Wakan Tanka”.
In the Dakota world nothing was real it just had the appearance of being real.
Wakan Tanka used inferior people known as “Wakan people” to interact with the material world and control the lives of men. The Wakan people were worshipped and praised by mortal man.
Most religious ritual centered around their interaction with the buffalo.
The belief system of the Dakota was completely unlike the belief systems of the Europeans, therefore the integration of the religions was not possible and ir for the most part has become extinct.
Apache Nation North American Folk Religion
There is not much known of the Apache tribes as their desert existence kept them as rather elusive. Survival was very difficult and forwarded them little time to cultivate religious beliefs.
Their religion concentrated on spiritual cultural figures that were responsible for the Apache lifestyle but who seldom interfered in the daily activities.
To the Apache death was the ultimate foe and was not to be celebrated. The lands they lived on where sparse and it took most of their time simply to survive. The individual was encouraged to establish his own relationship with the spiritual world.
The Apache religion was headed by leaders known as “shaman” and their power was in their ability to heal.
The belief system of the Apache was not compatible with Christianity and they did not embrace it.
Return from North American Folk Religions to Homepage