The religious beliefs of the indigenous peoples of North America are based on numerous myths and legends.
Primarily, the religion of the Native Americans is related to narratives concerning nature. The people assign religious symbolism to the change of seasons, weather, plants and animals as well as the elements of earth, sky, fire and water. Traditional rites of worshipping spirits among the Native Americans take place during general meetings of tribes and are accompanied by dances, chants, rhythms and a state of trance.
The classification of beliefs of individual tribes traditionally includes nine movements:
In this article, we will cover the features of separate branches of the religion of the Native Americans, including the religions of the Incas, Mayans and Aztecs.
Religious tales and rituals of Native Americans vary depending upon the geography of a settlement and the traditions of individual tribes. However, stories about creation, collective memories of ancient ancestors, veneration of the Earth, and the notion of a single, superincomprehensible, and all-seeing Great Spirit are characteristic of most branches of Native American religion.
The Algonquian subgroup includes the Abenaki, Anishinaabe, Cree and Lenape tribes. Algonquian groups lived in the vicinity of the Great Lakes in the Northeastern United States.
The Abenaki religion recognises Tabaldak (Lord) and Nivaskovogan (Great Spirit) as the highest deities. According to the beliefs of the Abenaki, the Great Spirit summoned the giant tortoise Tolba from the cosmic waters and created the Earth on its shell.
According to the Delaware religion of the Lenape tribe, the Supreme Spirit of Kishelamakank created the spirit helpers, the Grandfathers of the North, East and West, and the Grandmother of the South. In unision they created the Earth.
Anishinaabe religions are characterised by hunting cults and cults of patronising the spirits and totems. Gitchi-Manitou is the supreme deity of Anishinaabe. Great reverence is led by shamans and representatives of the community of healers, such as Midewiwin.
On the west coast of Ontario in the prairies of Canada, the Cree religion has become widespread. Cree rites are more often associated with hunting. The Dance of the Sun is the most important rite. The dances are accompanied by prayers and fasting.
Prairie tribes include the Blackfoot, Crow, Lakota, Pawnee and others. Historically, they inhabited the states of Montana, Alberta, Dakota and Nebraska. Most of the Prairie Tribes spoke the Sioux languages. In sources on the ethnography, you can find the definitions of Sioux peoples and Sioux religions.
According to the Blackfoot religion, Napia (the Sun God) created the Earth, man and all creatures from the mud extracted from the mouth of a turtle. In the Lakota religion, the great creation happened by the will of Inyan (God the Rock). He created the Earth to curb his power and sacrificed most of his blood, which became water.
This group includes not only the beliefs of the Iroquois and Muscogee tribes but also other tribes of the Southeast and Northeast of the United States, including the Cherokee, Choctaw, Winnebago, Huron and Seneca.
The Muscogee religion believes that initially there was only water in the world. A clay hill was the only part of the land, where Hesaketvmeze (Lord of The Breath) lived. He gave birth to Brother Moon and Sister Sun and created humanity from the clay.
According to the Iroquois religion, the land was the thought of Hagvediu (God of Good and Light), who ruled over a huge island hovering above the clouds.
The Huron religion is built on the principles of shamanism and animism — the belief in the existence of spirits and souls inherent in every creation and phenomenon of nature. The Hurons held communion by the smoking of tobacco. This is one of the surviving rites, which is rooted in the religion of the ancient Native Americans.
In the religion of the tribes of North America, the image of the main deity sometimes appears in female form. The Seneca religion is an example. The Seneca revere the “gifted ancient body” Igentchi, Mother Earth or the First Mother.
The Cherokee religion has links to cosmology. This comes from the representation of the universe, which consists of three interconnected worlds: the Upper and Lower worlds of spirits and the world of people
There are signs of a cosmological system in the Choctaw religion. The Choctaws consider the sun to be a creature endowed with life. Fire brings people closer to it. The fire has a mind and is constantly in contact with the sun.
The religion of the tribes of the northern part of the continent keep the myths of the Inuit, Tsimshians and Haida at its core. Traditional religious practices of the Inuit are built on animism and shamanism. The Haida religion is also animistic with the Raven is its central character. He has the power of the creator. He freed the sun and created the land of Haida-Gwaii – the stars and the moon. The primacy of the image of the Raven is also supported by the Tsimshian religion.
The beliefs of the Kwakiutl, Nootka, Lummi and Salish tribes spread to the territory of Vancouver Island and the central coast of British Columbia.
In the Kwakiutl religion, the image of the Raven is again encountered. According to the belief of the Kwakiutl, Raven flew over the endless sea and, not finding a place to land, decided to create islands by throwing small pebbles into the water. Raven then created trees and grass. He created the first man and woman from wood and clay.
In the Nootka religion, the influence of whaling is traced. Legends about sea monsters have survived to this day with the mention of the Octopus as the antagonist of the Raven.
Historically, the Pomo, Yute, Ohlone, and Miwok tribes settled in Northern California.
The Miwok religion gives the role of creator to Coyote. According to one of the legends of the Miwok, the Coyote Spirit waved its tail in four directions: south, east, north and west. Where there was a Coyote, the water dried up and the earth appeared.
The religion of the Ohlone also mentions supernatural anthropomorphic creatures with the names of local birds and animals including the coyote, eagle, hummingbird and hawk. There are several myths about the creation of the world and man, in which animals act as creators.
The Pomo religion is based on the legends of the confrontations between Coyote and Cougar (Puma) and Coyote and Lizard, as a result of which the world of people appeared.
The Ute religion sees the creator as a humanoid. The old man Pokoh created different tribes from the soil. He didn’t want people to wander and travel, thus every Utah Indian had to live and die in his native land.
The religion of the tribes of the Southwest Coast of North America is formed by the Navajo, Hopi and Zuni groups.
According to the Navajo, or the Dine religion as the representatives of the tribe call themselves, there are both earthly and holy people. Dine believe that before reaching Earth people passed three other worlds, the Earth is considered the fourth.
Most of the legends about the creation of the world in the Hopi religion are centred around the creator father of Tava, the Spirit of the Sun. Corn is endowed with the sacred role of the Mother. As people eat the corn, it becomes their flesh as mother’s milk becomes the flesh of the child.
The cosmological religion of the Zuni places Avonavilon, the All-Theod, the Creator and Lord of All, at the head of the great creation. He became the Sun Father. The Great Waters formed Mother Earth and Father Heaven and they produced humans and all beings.
The Mayan and Aztec religions are part of the Mesoamerican genre. Mesoamerica is a historical and cultural region that geographically covers the territory of Central America from the centre of Mexico to Nicaragua and Honduras.
The religion of the ancient Maya is known for its cosmological explanations of the existence of space and time and the creation of life on Earth, as well as superstitions based on the cycles of agriculture.
The Aztec religion supports several creation myths. The most common of them says that the current world was preceded by four great centuries, and each was ended with an apocalypse. The gods gathered to sacrifice themselves and create the fifth century. The Pantheon of the Aztecs has about a hundred gods, personifying the phenomena of nature, animals, patron gods of crafts, objects and states.
The Mayan and Aztec religions today arouse great interest among ethnographers and they are supported by communities of descendants or those who identify with them.
The civilisation of Mesoamerica, the tribe of Tarasco (it is also Purepecha) is rarely mentioned. The Purepecha were famous for their power in the pre-Columbian era and feuded with the Aztecs. However, the Purepecha religion was similar to the Aztec religion. They also revered many gods, each associated with a specific colour, attribute, totem, and calendar day.
South America was inhabited by the tribes of Chono, Huilliche, Guarani, Mapuche, Inca and Chibcha (Muisca).
The central image in the primordially Mapuche religion is assigned to the supreme god-thunderer Pilyan. Most of the modern Mapuche are Catholics, but since the 1990s, the descendants of the ancient Mapuche have embarked on a course to revive their traditional cults.
The Chono and Huilliche followed the Chiloe religion. This name derives from the Eponymous Pacific Island in southern Chile. The descendants of the Chono tribe did not survive to the present day, and the Huilliche assimilated. There is practically no information about the postulates of the primordial Сhiloe, but it is known that the Chono was greatly influenced by Jesuit Christians.
Information about the mythology of the Muisca has been almost completely lost. This was a natural consequence of the death of the people with the arrival of the Spaniards in South America. Some evidence has survived to this day thanks to the records of chroniclers. The god Chiminigagua, the creator of the universe, was the pinnacle of the Muisca pantheon. He created the sun, the moon, the earth, and all living things.
Written sources of Guaraní mythology have also not been preserved. According to some reports, among the Guaraní, there was a legend about the supreme God Omnificent Tupaa and the Goddess of the Moon Arasi, who united and created all living things.
A feature of the Inca religion is its eclecticism. It combines myths and legends of civilisations that have left their mark on the territory of South America. Quechua, Yunki, Nazca, Chimu and many others were among them. The pantheon of the Inca religion, like that of the Maya and Aztecs, has many facets, and some gods patronise the same essences. This is due to the policy of the Incas towards the conquered tribes. The Incas did not forbid the belief in other gods, but on the contrary, ranked them among their pantheon.
To date, it is difficult to give an unambiguous answer to the question “What religion do the Native Americans have?”. Some of the indigenous tribes have disappeared, some have assimilated and follow Christianity. Among the Native Americans living in the United States, the Native American Church, founded in the late 19th century in Oklahoma, has authority. Its creed can be described as a mixture of local religions and Christianity. The descendants of the ancient Iroquois preach the Longhouse religion, in which the Christian doctrine is combined with the cult of fertility.