This article provides information on Native American religions, their practices and beliefs. You can gain an insight into the religious beliefs of two important Native American civilizations, the Maya and the Inca.
Paganism - Traditional Native American Religion
Pagan religions are known as nature based religions. Paganism denotes religious beliefs and practices that feature polytheism, the worship of multiple God and Divinities. The Pagan form of Native American religion was based on ancient beliefs, practices, gods, symbols, lands, music and myths. Traditional Native American religion made no distinction between the sacred and the ordinary. Every action in life was considered a spiritual dance between the person and the object acted upon. The various actions and thoughts were considered an interaction with the spirit. For example, hunting a beast for food was considered as a communication between the hunter and the beast.
Sacred stories and history played an important part in Native American religion. Many traditional rituals were designed to recreate myths. The dancing ritual is one such important ritual. Masked dancing is an important ritual in Huron, a Native American tribe. The dancers try to recreate the mythical beginnings of their families by bringing in the power of founding beings such as the raven, the killer whale etc. Dakota, a popular Native American civilization made no distinction between the natural world and the supernatural. They emphasized the unity of nature through various religious rituals. Iroquois was a strong Native American civilization, situated to the east of the Mississippi river. The Iroquois religion placed emphasis on the immortal soul. According to them, Great Sprit judges the soul of a man upon his death. They practiced ritual ceremonies in accordance with the various seasonal periods in a year.
Two important Native American civilizations were the Maya and the Inca civilizations. A look into the religious practices of these civilizations will give us a fairly accurate idea on the practices and beliefs of Native American religion.
The Mayan civilization existed as a continuous territory along Southern Mexico, Guatemala and northern Belize around 250 AD. It contained more than 40 cities and over 2 million people. The periods between 300 and 900 were considered the classic period of the Mayas. Ceremonial architectural monuments were built in Maya some 3000 years ago. Mayans believed that the universe functioned in a logical, cyclical and predictable way and that humans can exploit the cyclical nature of the universe by accommodating them into the cycles.
The Mayans worshipped a number of Gods and Goddess and indulged in elaborate religious ceremonies. Many ritual plazas or temples were constructed to honor deities. Temple doorways were decorated with feathered banners. Worshippers took ritual steam baths and dressed in feathered robes and headdresses. They danced to the music of drums with bells tied to their hands and feet. Music, dance, competition, dramatic performances, prayer and sacrifices were significant ingredients of the Mayan worship. Mayans conducted ritual ceremonies to communicate with their deities during the month of July (The Mayan New Year). Elaborate ceremonies were conducted to please Gods during times of famine, epidemics or droughts. Mayans made simple offerings of Corn, fruit, game and blood (which a worshiper obtained by piercing his own lips, tongue or genitals) in order to obtain small favors from God. For major favors, they resorted to sacrifices. The Mayan religion emphasized human as well as animal sacrifices. Separate altars were constructed on top of the temples in order to conduct the sacrificial ceremonies, the sacrificial victims being children, slaves or prisoners of war.
Mayans worshipped a number of Gods and Goddess. Their chief God was Hunab Ku, the eyes and mouth of sun and lord of Heavens. He was the deity of the royal lineage and was worshiped as the God of day and night, responsible for rain, writing and medicine. Yum Kaax, the maize deity was the God of the common people. Women and children worshiped the Deity of Ix Chel (the lady rainbow) as the Goddess for healing, childbirth and weaving. Ixtab was the Goddess of suicide; Mayans believed that suicides went to a special heaven.
Some other important Gods of the Mayans are:
Bacabs – Lord of the seasons
Camazotz –The Bat God and demon of the underworld.
Chac – Rain God, Lord of East and Lord of nine generations
Hurakan – Lord of thunderstorms and whirlwind
Itzamna – Sky God and Healer
Kukulcan – Serpent God
Manco Capac was the founder of the Inca dynasty. The civilization flourished along the Pacific coast and Andean highlands, from the northern border of modern Ecuador to Maule River in central Chile. Inca civilization contained a population of over 12 million people. Cuzco was the capital of the civilization.
Incas worshiped multiple Gods and Goddess. They had multiple sacred sites, which contained the Huacas. Huacas are deities placed on natural objects such as mountains, boulders or streams, the priests offered prayers and communicated with them for advice and assistance. Most of the Inca temples had a priest who was important for prayers and religious ceremonies. The priests performed various functions such as diviner of lungs, sorcerer, confessor and curer. Villac umu, the chief priest of Cuzco had authority that equaled the Inca of the land.
Divination was important in Inca religion and was considered before every important action. Patterns in which spiders’ move, arrangements of coca leaves in a shallow dish, human predictions after the consumption of drink ayahuasca, studying the lungs of a sacrificed white llama were considered suitable methods for divination. The Incas offered human as well as animal sacrifices during troubled and festive times. Incas believed that a sacrificed person became God once death overtook them. Every month of the year, the Incas held a festival to honor their God. The various religious festivals of the Inca are described below:
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