American Indian religions, North

American Indian religions, North
Religious beliefs and practices of the indigenous peoples of North America.

They are characterized by a conviction that spirit moves through all things, animate and inanimate, and that the living are intimately connected with the souls of the dead. They discover recognizable beings in the natural world of animals, plants, and trees, as well as in natural features such as mountains, lakes, and clouds. Because North American religions were so highly localized, it is impossible to determine how many have existed, and their beliefs have varied widely. Whereas Iroquois elders speak of a perfectly wise and good Creator who planned the universe, the Koyukon envision the creator as Raven, a trickster god who is only one of many powerful spirits. Whereas nearly all Navajo ceremonies are performed on behalf of individuals in response to specific needs, most Pueblo ceremonies are performed communally and scheduled according to the cycles of nature. However, all native North American religions share certain features: ancestral lands and locally sacred spots are important; access to some knowledge is restricted, and initiation is required to acquire it; kinship obligations are central; the oral tradition includes narratives that record human interaction with nonhuman powers; and generosity is a religious act. Contact with Europeans led to development of new religious movements, including the Ghost Dance tradition and the Native American Church. See also Mesoamerican religions.

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Universalium. 2010.

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