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Cyclopedia of Biblical, Theological and Ecclesiastical Literature
North American Indians, Religious Ideas of
It is not necessary to separate all the small tribes according to-their religious usages, for they had much in common, and will here be treated accordingly. They do not believe that a dryad was thought to inhabit every tree, but the natives believed in protecting spirits of the woods and trees. These spirits were called, among the northern tribes, Nantena (singular Okki). Among the Iroquois the whole company of spirits was called Ayotkon, or Hondatkons (singular Manitu). As ruler of all good spirits Tharonhiaonagou was worshipped, who was the grandson of the goddess of all evil, Atahefitsik. Both were regarded as living in the land of the blessed. Exalted over these was the great spirit who dispensed grace; he could do as much good as he pleased, but no evil, although he could hinder evil. But only those receive his grace who do good and abandon evil. Sun, moon, and stars, and the natural forces, are objects of nature.
In dreams the great spirit sends protecting beings, who are guides all through life. Only in Virginia was there a visible representation of supreme beings — a human figure, with an apron, in a sitting posture. There are many of these, who are called Kiwasa, and are considered protectors of the dead. In the southern part of North America the cultus took another form. There idolatry was rife, and there were priests, temples, and bloody sacrifices. In Florida the first male born was brought as a sacrifice to the sun, and this shows the transition to the Mexican cultus. In all acts of worship, politics, or friendship, the tobacco pipe played a noteworthy part. The natives were also persuaded of a future life; but their ideas concerning it were taken from their present existence.
They believed in a continuation of life, but with higher joys and all possible success in hunting, fishing, and war; therefore they buried with the dead his clothes and weapons, nourishment for the journey, and even his pipe and tobacco. They assembled around the dead, and praised his deeds of bravery and valor. All his friends and relatives visited him, and after a meal, which was first handed to the departed, the aboriginal Americans left their village and journeyed away without the dead, who became a prey to the wild animals. Others, who had permanent dwelling-places, buried their dead in various ways. A singular practice, only found among the North American tribes, was the voluntary death of aged people. When they became sick, they awaited their death with the greatest composure. Their physicians informed them that they were unable to heal them. Then the dying made the necessary arrangements, and died jovially and without fear.
This was the natural death. But to old people, who could not fish and hunt, life became a burden. The father usually ordered his son to kill him with the club. Then the friends, relatives, and children accompanied him into the woods. Two dogs were killed, that their souls might herald the coming of a warrior into the other world. The old man then smoked a pipe, conversed with his friends, sang his song of death, and gave the sign to his son, whereupon the latter slew him with his club. A small hut was then built over the buried body. The friends of the departed gave away all his goods, even the most costly and precious. Their sorrow was touching; they tortured themselves in the fleshy parts of their body, and sometimes lost so much blood that they died themselves. Often, when a child died, its mother killed herself in the hope of nourishing it beyond death, for they feared that without such nourishment the child would die a second time. The cosmogony of the North American tribes differed from the others in that men were first created and then the world. All human beings originated from woman, and the Turtle tribe, living in the central point of the world, was the first and noblest. (See INDIANS, AMERICAN).
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McClintock, John. Strong, James. Entry for 'North American Indians, Religious Ideas of'. Cyclopedia of Biblical, Theological and Ecclesiastical Literature. https://www.studylight.org/encyclopedias/eng/tce/n/north-american-indians-religious-ideas-of.html. Harper & Brothers. New York. 1870.
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