October 25, 2008

Native religions dead and gone?

Someone responded via e-mail to Navajo Preachers Bash Navajos:The Native American religious ceremonies are a thing of the past. The ceremonies were an important part of existence before the teaching of the Bible, feeding the spiritual being of the native people. The practice made the people whole, with each tribe exercising its own method or ritual. As a result of each tribe performing its own ritual, the religious practice defined the tribe and became a live form or spiritual existence. Before the Bible, these religious practices were practiced as a means for continued existence, which is not necessary anymore. Today, many traditional religious practices are contaminated by progress and other non-traditional influences. In essence, the pure form of these religious practices performed previously no longer exist today.

Today the native religion is practiced by those who are not necessarily "completely" traditional--remember now I am talking in general terms, all tribes nationwide. The native religions in many respects have evolved into the dark side of man, feeding the spirit with impure, unworthy and soiled practices--witchcraft. It would be great to turn back the clock and reinstate the native religion in the pure form because there were many positive aspects of the practice, which cannot be duplicated by the highly trained professionals of today, including doctors, nutritionists, church leaders, etc. and yes psychics. We all as modern-day native people have to make choices including religious ones, but as you know, there cannot be a mixture or duplicated practice of any religion, including native religion with non-native religion.
Comment:  I don't know anything of the sort, friend. Several of your claims are flatly false:

1) It's true that some Native religious practices died out as their practitioners disappeared. But hundreds, perhaps thousands, of them are still, er, practiced religiously.

2) Many Native cultures have successfully combined Native and Christian religious practices. Only Christian fundamentalists would think this isn't possible or desirable.

3) Native religious practices have always evolved over time. Change isn't "contamination."

4) Why would Native practices be subject to contamination but not Christian practices? As many people have noted, Jesus probably would be appalled if he saw a typical Christian religion with its grandiose churches, ostentatious icons and rites, and wealth-oriented televangelists.

5) The Bible may have helped individual Natives, but it hasn't helped Natives as a whole. It arguably inspired avaricious Europeans to cross the ocean with their dreams of conquest and disease-ridden bodies.

Red Jacket speaks

This posting reminds me of an excellent quote on Native beliefs:We understand that your religion is written in a book. If it was intended for us as well, why has not the Great Spirit given it to us? Why did He not give to our forefathers the knowledge of that book, with the means of understanding it rightly?

Brother, you say there is but one way to worship and serve the Great Spirit. If there is but one religion, why do you white people differ so much about it? Why not all agree, as you can all read the book?

Brother, the Great Spirit has made us all. But He has made a great difference between His white and red children. He has given us a different complexion and different customs. Since He has made so great a difference between us in other things, why may we not conclude that He has given us a different religion, according to our understanding?

Brother, we do not wish to destroy your religion or take it from you. We only want to enjoy our own.

Chief Red Jacket (Seneca), 1805
For more on the subject, see Hercules vs. Coyote:  Native and Euro-American Beliefs.

Note:  I've edited this message slightly to fix its mistakes and make it more readable.


Anonymous said...

Native religions may not be dead in the practical sense, however, as a Native person I am of the opinion that certain ceremonies have indeed been "contaminated" by the co-opting behaviour of legions of New Age practioners, many of whom portray themselves as "more Native than Native."

Genevieve Lopez said...

But that isn't really contamination of the actual ceremony; misinterpretation of a thing detracts from many people's understanding and appreciation of it, but that doesn't detract from the thing itself.

As well, any group aping on another (New Agers co-opting Native-- and usually also other "primitive" or "exotic", such as Hinduism/Buddhism/etc.-- belief systems) often perpetuates a shallow doppelganger of whatever religious practices they find most fun/convenient/interesting, and frequently end up diminishing even the words that describe these.

Otherwise, I agree wholeheartedly with Rob on this; why shouldn't religion also keep up with the times and technology of today? Why is combining or revising parts of a religious system such a bad thing? Especially considering that context often plays such a major part in religious doctrine and practice, as well as resources for worship and other ceremonies affecting how these are carried out. In today's socioeconomic and political climate, it should be readily apparent that religion, like the rest of our cultures and histories, shouldn't remain static.

Anonymous said...

Religion is poison, a sham of the priests finding ways to coup the guilable into paying for their lifestyles. If someone wants to be led around by a white shyster or native shyster that's their problem.

dmarks said...

To the religious bigot, any religion is a "poison". Except, of course, for the religion that the bigot happens to have.

Genevieve Lopez said...

@ dmarks: Cosign.

The anonymous poster's concept of religion seems very narrow, considering they think all religions have priests and a lifestyle being paid for by the faithful; what about the monks and nuns who make vows of poverty? What about religions without designated priests, or religions where the followers of it aren't "led around" by anyone, or asked for anything? What about religions not led by whites or natives?

I sense a troll in the dungeon.

dmarks said...

Good points, Gen.

Anonymous said...

Re: Contamination of Native Ceremonies

"But that isn't really contamination of the actual ceremony; misinterpretation of a thing detracts from many people's understanding and appreciation of it, but that doesn't detract from the thing itself."

A Tree Sweat

Years ago (1980), in Fresno, California, I was invited to a sweat by a self-proclaimed "New Age witch" who thought it was "cool" that I was Lakota.

Anyway, besides inviting women to this sweat, fully violating Lakota religious protocols in the process(and let's face it, it is primarily the Lakota religion that is most fanatically embraced by New Agers, wannabes and the like), this woman told me that any other types of sweats were invalid if they did not include "special prayers for the trees," hence, her term for her version of a traditional "Lakota-oriented" sweat - a "tree sweat!"

Genevieve - if this is not contamination of an "actual ceremony," then I do not for the life of me know what is.

Genevieve Lopez said...

But it's not a "contamination" of the thing itself; the sweat ceremony remains as it was. What this New Age woman did was a perversion of an established ceremony (thus becoming a "contaminated" interpretation), and she definitely showed off her ignorance and pretentiousness, but you can't claim some thing as contaminated or tainted when it in fact still exists as it already was.

Rob said...

In a typical traditional ceremony, Natives used to pray for a good hunt. Nowadays most Natives don't hunt their own food except in a supermarket. They still may conduct the ceremony, but its meaning has evolved over time. It's become more symbolic than literal.