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Native American religion is very closely connected to the land in which Native Americans dwell and the supernatural. While there are many different Native American religious practices, most address the following areas of supernatural concern: an omnipresent, invisible universal force, pertaining to the "three 'life crises' of birth, puberty, and death", spirits, visions, the medicine people and communal ceremony.
Native American spirituality is often characterized by animism or panentheism, with a strong emphasis on the importance of personal spirituality and its inter-connectivity with one's own daily life, and a deep connection between the natural and spiritual 'worlds'. Their lives were steeped in religious ceremonies often directly related to farming and hunting. Spiritual power, they believed, suffused the world, and sacred spirits could be found in all kinds of living and inanimate things-animals, plants, trees, water, and wind. Through religious ceremonies, they aimed to harness the aid of powerful supernatural forces to serve the interests of man. In some tribes, hunters performed rituals to placate the spirits of animals they had killed.
Native American religions tend not to be institutionalized but rather experiential and personal. Individual asceticism through sweat lodge ceremonies and other events along with rituals that appear to resemble idol worship make understanding their faith and religion problematic at best. Native American religions tend to be carried out mainly in a family or tribal location first and are better explained as more of a process or journey than a religion. It is a relationship experienced between Creator and created. For Native Americans, religion is never separated from one's daily life unlike Western cultures where religion is experienced privately and gradually integrated into one's public life. Conversation about theology and religion, even within their society, is extremely limited but to live and breathe is to worship. For Native Americans, a relationship with God is experienced as a relationship with all of creation which interestingly, is ever present and does not require an institution or building. All of creation has life. Rocks, trees, mountains, and everything that is visible lives and is part of creation and therefore has life which must be respected. Achiel Peelman suggests that, strictly speaking, Amerindians do not believe in God but know God as an intrinsic dimension of all their relations.God is known indirectly through an awareness of the relationships or links between various aspects of both the physical and supernatural realms. Spirituality of the Native Americans makes no distinction between these realms; the living and dead, visible and invisible, past and present, and heaven and earth.
Most adherents to traditional American Indian ways do not see their spiritual beliefs and practices as a "religion"; rather, they see their whole culture and social structure as infused with 'spirituality' - an integral part of their lives and culture.
January 24th, 2013
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