"Col. John Johnston was the Piqua Agency Indian agent circa 1830 and probably gave more of himself to his Indian friends (children), than any other. The article below was developed by him.
John Johnston, Indian Agent Wapaghkoneta, May 7, 1822
The Shawnee believe that Religion is a very good thing, keeps them at peace with others, as well as peace in their own minds; all those who respect Religion prosper and are forever happy; believe that their Religion came down from Heaven, believe there are two roads; the Virtuous and good after death go to a place of happiness, where they shall want nothing that they can desire; the bad will go to the torment and endless misery; that their conduct in this life will be decisive of their state in the world to come. That there is one great and supreme God, the maker of all things, the master of life; they call him We-she-Ma-ni-tou, from We-she, something that is supremely beautiful, excellent or desirable, and Ma-ni-tou, God.
Have the strongest confidence in their maker, believe that he constantly governs the world and all things in it, that they could not exist a moment without his power and goodness. They are in constant practice of praying for favours and assistance in making sacrifices and oblations to procure divine aid; but have no idea of a general judgment.
The pleasure they anticipate in a future state of existence is more corporeal than mental. Their ideas on this subject are in a degree conformable to the doctrine broached by Baron Swedenbourgh.
"The Shawnee, believing their Religion to be of divine appointment and suited to their condition, are opposed to receiving Christian instruction.!!!"
The emphasis placed on the last line is mine. The Shawnee were among the very last of the Eastern Woodland tribes to begin the conversion to Christianity and there are many who resist it to this day.
Different native religions evolved to match the needs and lifestyles of the individual tribe.
Indians worshiped an all-powerful, all-knowing Creator (a being that assumed a variety of forms and both genders [gender was very rarely an ambiguous state]).Indians worshiped an all-powerful, all-knowing Creator (a being that assumed a variety of forms and both genders [gender was very rarely an ambiguous state]).
Most tribes believed in heaven where the Creator had provided everything they would need to continue in a life of abundance and happiness where they would live forever with all of their relations that had passed over before them.
Tribal people everywhere believe in nature. There is a natural order to all things. God(s) is/are the one(s) who bring(s) natural order. Breaks in that natural order are bad. Continuation of that natural order is good. The tribes of the eastern woodlands believed that a Devine Being had created a world of plenty in which humans were only one part. All of nature contained this divine spirit and was to be respected. People were put on the earth only to manage the land so that it would be productive for all living creatures. "God" had made the land in perfect balance therefore, the people were to take only what they needed and leave the land as they found it. They thanked the spirit of a tree for dying and providing them with firewood and thanked an animals spirit for giving of its body to feed them and its hide for their clothing and shelter. The view of the Judeo-Christian community has always been that humans were to dominate nature and could change it for their advantage. This made no sense to the people of "the New World".
The ceremonies of tribal people are to keep that order in balance. Life among the people is kept in balance with their environment. The ideal for the individual is to find their place in the structure of the tribe and thereby maintain the balance of the community. For that to happen the individual must be internally balanced. They must be at peace within themselves and thereby contribute to the peace of the community.
The term 'Shaman' is of Siberian origins and, in my opinion, should not be ascribed to Aboriginal Americans. The idea of the "Medicine Man" is purely a White Man concept. Many of these holy people did not practice medicine at all. Priest is the more accurate term. Many of these priests were women, who seemed to be more in contact with the spiritual world because of their role in the miracle of childbirth.
Access to the spirit world came through dreams, which their priests would interpret for them.
The metal goods that the Europeans exchanged for Indian furs, were useful and necessitated some
interaction with the Puritans. As the fur trade increased in New England, it demanded that Indians defy the Creator/God by slaughtering many more animals than they needed. Such a heavy emphasis on furs disrupted their traditional culture and economy and fostered intertribal wars over trapping grounds. By 1675 tribal leaders were ready to push the Puritans out of their land and regain the integrity of their traditional religion and culture. In King Philip’s, or Metacom’s, War various tribes united in this mission. They destroyed outlying settlements, pushing the Puritans back to their coastal strongholds. At first the colonists attacked the 'praying' towns, which they believed were dens of spies and sympathizers of Metacom. Yet gradually these “civilized” Indians were used successfully against their hostile countrymen. In fact, it was a Christian Indian who eventually killed Metacom in 1676,
which ended the war.
This pattern of Indians being forced into giving up their culture and then being used to force others into giving up theirs as well, continued right up to the close of the Indian Wars and right on through the 20th and into the 21st Centuries, although without the bloodshed that had been inflicted on the "Heathens" by the "Christians" in earlier days.
Among the tribes of North America the basic tenants of their religion take many different forms. To think that all indigenous people of North America believe the same things in the same way would be like saying all Europeans go to the same church. The boundaries of Europe have, to a large degree, been shaped by religious wars.
That is one thing unheard of among the tribes of the Americas; Religious Wars. Here in the "New World", tribes may fight for territory. They may fight for revenge. They may fight over some slight that one tribe felt they had received from another, but you do not ever hear of a war fought over RELIGIOUS beliefs. It seems that each tribe understood that ones beliefs were ones beliefs and they did not have to be shared universally. Even within the tribe, each individual was free to believe or not believe as they wished and as long as it caused no disruption to the "natural order" of things it was accepted. If it did interfere, you were free to take others who agreed with you and start your own band, but never was it said that you were wrong for what you believed.
The "Mythology" for each tribe IS their religion. The Indian accepts the eternal existence of the world. Events which occured in the distant past determined how things continued for all time. When the bear scratched the back of a chipmunk producing the stripes on its back, all chipmunks would have such stripes. When the first dog howled at the moon in frieght, that determined that all dogs would howl at the moon. (Which was the case until man started messing with nature and bred dogs that rarely get outside to even see the moon.) When a person was taught a particular ceremony, that same ceremony must be performed by all future generations.
Within most tribal beliefs is the idea that transgressions of rules of conduct will bring punishment. That punishment may consist in the removal of the transgressor , who may be banished from the tribe or killed by members of their own clan. For another to carry out the execution would call for revenge. As there were no forms of incarceration, the only way one could avoid these punishments was by purifing ones self by fasting and ridding the body of all impurities by vomiting, bathing, and participating in ceremonial activities like the Sweat Lodge.
The Shawnee believe in Wishi-Moneto, a supreme being who rules the entire universe and distributes blessings upon all who earnes his favor, and desperate sorrow upon those who merite his disfavor. The Shawnee see one manifestation of Wishi-Moneto as a Grandmother who rules the destinies of her children. She eternally weaves a great net which, when finished, will be dropped over the world. She will then draw the net back up to the heavens. Those who have proven themselves worthy will be caught up in the net and taken to a better life, those who fall back through the net will suffer an unspeakable fate as the world comes to an end. Each Shawnee will be judged of his own conduct and will be held accountable for it. They live by their own standards, and shrug off value judgments placed among them by people outside of their tribe. The "Golden Rule" of the Shawnee is: "Do not kill or injure your neighbor, for it is not him that you injure, you injure yourself. But do good to him, therefore add to his days of happiness as you add to your own. Do not wrong or hate your neighbor, for it is not him that you wrong, you wrong yourself. But love him, for Moneto loves him also as he loves you."
Today, Indians follow many spiritual traditions.
Many Native families today have been devout Christians for over a century.
Others, particularly in the Southwest have retained their ancient traditions somewhat intact.
Most follow a personal faith that combines traditional and Christian elements.
The Native American Church is a continuation of the ancient Peyote Religion which had used a cactus with psychedelic properties called peyote for about 10,000 years. Incorporated in 1918, its original aim was to promote Christian beliefs and values, and to use the peyote sacrament. Use of peyote is restricted to religious ritual which is protected by the U.S. Constitution, and it is not harmful or habit forming, and has a multi-millennia tradition. There has been considerable opposition from Christian groups, from governments, and from within some tribes.
Pan Indianism is a recent and growing movement which encourages a return to traditional beliefs, and seeks to create a common Native religion.
Most traditionals object to Profit-making groups holding sweatlodges, sundances, shaminism, and vision quest programs for the public and having our precious Sacred Pipe and other religious items sold openly at flea markets, New Age stores, etc.
~~~Links to other sites about~~~
~~~Native Religions and beliefs ~~~
Encyclopedia of North American Indians~Religious Rights
Encyclopedia of North American Indians~Religion
Native American Religion in Early America
Understanding Native American Spirituality
"We must be united
We must smoke the same pipe
We must fight
each other's battles
And more than that,
We must love the Great Spirit."
~His appeal to other tribes
to join his confederacy~