Called by many names, religion is just that,a set of beliefs that guide us to the Creator and other deities.Religion is a SERVICE and WORSHIP of the CREATOR and the SUPERNATURAL.A set of beliefs, causes attitudes, and practices that we hold on to through faith. It is related to an acknowledged Creator or Deity that is consciensously remembered.   Many  do not believe there is a recognizable native american religion. Many native americans far removed from their reservations still believe that the native americans had no religion. I think the Deities are counted as Gods and are therefore viewed by some as equals. Nothing is farther from the truth.    Dieties are additions made possible and necessary for natives to access the spirit world. My people, the Pueblos of New Mexico, have 27 Katchinas and are considered Deities, but they are no more Gods than are the Figures of Joseph and Mary. These figures are revered, for they keep the faithful focused on the real.    Not only are there Fundamentalists and Liberals in Christianity, but in every religion. My reservation has them too. I grew up fundamentalist, that is, I believed everything grandmother taught me as truth and there was no changing it. As I matured and grew older, I realized I had to change if I was to live in the white man's world under the whiteman's laws. The quickest way for a culture to die, is not to adjust to the changing world around us. I did not say to change our culture, traditions and spirituallity, but to make those changes that allows us to move forward, not remain static and move backwards.    But, you know,in its pure form,native american religious rite were few. This greatly changed during the missionary transition period that imposed far-reaching affects on customs and manners. The pure forms of native american religious beliefs  and practices began to disintegrate long before they were forced onto reservations. The first effect was an increase of native american cruelty and barbarity. One such religious rite that fell victim was the 'Sundance' of the Plains Indians. The most important of their public ceremponies was abused and perverted until it became a horrible exhibition of barbarism.    Before 1867, the Plains Indian was not required to mutilate himself to gain favor with his Creator. This was a post defeated nation's jesture to gain favor from a Creator some felt had abandoned them to the mercy of the white invader.    Originally, when a plains warrior found himself in the very jaws of death he might offer a prayer to his Father, the Sun to prolong his life. If he was rescued from eminent death he had to acknowledge the Devine Favor by making a Sundance.The physical ordeal was the fulfilment of a vow. It was a thanks offering to the Great Spirit through the biological parent, the Sun, and it did not embrace a prayer for future favors.    The ceremony might take place six months to a year after the making of the vow,usually in mid-summer.There was a feast and a token give-away, although the give-away was not essential.    Preparing for the Sundance required much preparation and the help of many friends. It was an individual thing. It was not prepared for orher participants. It was for the reciever of the favor and his Creator. It rquired the location of the pole, usually 6-8 inches around and at least 20 feet long. Tobacco was rubed on the tree and it was cut by an axe also blessed with tobacco. It was carried in by warriors, led by a man of distinction. In some occasions a pipe was filled. A tipi was erected a few feet away and the pole was raised. A long piece of rawhide was cut and attached to it was the figure of a man. Along with the man would be tied a figure of a bufallo. A bird, representing 'thunder' might be used in place of the bufallo.The bufallo would be painted black, as would the bird, had it been used instead.The man is painted with red clay. The bird or the bufallo are usually suspended from one end of the crossbar about two feet from the top of the pole.    The red paint was to signify that the man had been dead but was allowed to live by the giver of life. The bufallo represented the support to the man  and was a leading figure in legendary lore.    The man now approached the pole wearing only a loin cloth and his moccasins. His hair was loose and daubed with red clay. He must drag after him a bufallo skull representing the grave from which he had escaped. He became a dancer who was cut on the chest just enough to draw a little blood and cause very slight pain. He stood opposite singers facing the pole dragging the bufallo skull by leather thongs fastened about his shoulders like straps on a back pack. He danced without intermmission for a day and a night always gazing at the sun in the daytime.He blew a whistle made of a bone from an eagle's wing or from the wing of a goose.    After the onslaught of Europeans and their influence, the rite was exagerated and distorted into a ghastly display of physical strength and endurance under great pain. Now, instead of the man dragging the skull by a lariot wrapped around his shoulder, he had an incision made through the skin on his back, skewers inserted, a lariot tied to each end of the skewers and the other end of the lariot tied to the bufallo skull, which he dragged behind him all day or untill the flesh tore, releasing the skull. After the skewers were attached to the back, the man would have incisions made through his chest just above the nipples. Skewers would be inserted through and a lariot attached on each end of the skewers at both nipples, then brought together in a 'V' and attached to one lariot and that lariot attached to the pole (The Spirit Tree). The man would dance all day and all night in tremendous pain until he either tore himself away from the pole or was assisted by an elder who pulled on him until his flesh tore, thus releasing him. There has been times when the man was elevated off the ground in an attempt to get the flesh to tear on its own.    Today, the Sundance is still performed. It is no longer as a vow or a favor to the Creator, but is performed to ASK FAVORS of the Creator. Some do it as a show of sacrifice for their people. But in all, it has become more of a macho thing and has totally negated the primary purpose of it creation.    Today, also, many ELDERS, who no longer live on the reservations induct white men into a Sundance. Some for money. Some as an honor, but in any event, it has been basterdized so much it has lost its power.    Perhaps the most remarkable organization ever known among native americans was the "Great Medicine Lodge". The conception of the Lodge was a result of the influence of the Jesuit missionaries. It was established by the forefathers to resist the encroachment of the priests. The Medicine Lodge originated among the Algonquins and extended gradually throughout native america finally affecting the Souix of the Mississippi Valley and formed a strong bullwark against the work of the pioneer missionaries.    Most of the religious rites practiced today have a strong element of Christianity attached. The only religious leader of any note today who rose in power and stature found their claims in the gospel story. There is no doubt indians held medicine close to spiritual things. When medicine was practiced originally it was commonly called rites, but today the ritual is called healing ceremonies. These rites were viewed by non-indians as witchcraft. The term was attached to any religious or healing act the non-indian did not comprehend or was not in keeping with their narrow scope of understanding. But yet, healing by natural herbs was a practice even non-indians employed. Our medicene employed only healing bark, roots, and leaves with whos properties we were familiar.  They were used in the form of a distillation or tea. The sweat lodge was in general use always.    The Cherokee as we know them today,still believe in one God. He is called by many names by many tribes, but He is the same God. The One who created all people. who desires that we all develop a strong spirituallity, and that we all live in ultimate relationship with the Devine Presence in the world.  There are 21st Century Christians who have learned and follow the same sense of value for spiritual existence and closeness with their Creator and all that was created. There are 21st Christians who follow a loving Christ and desire to become Christ like in humility and service...The same foundation on which native american religion began.   None of us comes here in modern native america un affected by this Christ.Our challenge is to understand His message of love, forgiveness, respect, justice, and service to humanity which has been distorted and abused by many-just as native american religion has been.If we take the time to examine both with open hearts we will find that the similarities are amazing.   There have been actions and consequences from both native americans and non-indians tht have created riffs, mistrust, and the inability to function as One Human Family. There are both Christians and Indians still today who preach love and yet exclude acceptance into the Creator's family on the faulty ground they claim in the name of the Creator and Jesus. And from first hand experience, I can tell you that there are native americans living on reservations who have no sense of genuine spirituallity. There are medicine men who charge hundreds of dollars to perform sacred ceremonies from their own people. Gifts are expected because custom requires it. Setting a price BEFORE the ceremony is performed is not what dedicated medicine men are about.The people are expected to take care of their medicine man's NEEDS. There are natives who come to ceremonies drunk and leave their empty liqour bottles and beer cans on sacred ground.    We must sage and pray, for this is the way. The Creator of the Cherokee, the Shawnee, the Souix, the White, Brown,Black,and Yellow is the same Creator of all.We should bond with Him and each other and live as one family in the image in which we were all created.    We cannot go back in time-we can only move forward. While celebrating the traditions of the past, we have the unique opportunity to do what has not been done in two thousand years, LIVE IN A COMMUNITY IN LOVE,JUSTICE, PEACE AND HARMONY- THE DEVINE DESIGN.          The next e=mail will be a little lighter.Maybe a little tid-bits about my walk on the 'Red Road' and my struggle to stay on it. Also my Grandmother's last ceremomy before she crossed over.
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