Reverence

 

 

 

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In 1832 George Catlin, the painter, went West and spent eight years with the unchanged Indians of the Plains. He lived with them and became conversant with their lives. He has left one of the fullest and best records we have of the Redman. From his books I quote repeatedly. Concerning the Indian's religion, he says:

" The North American Indian is everywhere, in his native state, a highly moral and religious being, endowed by his Maker with an intuitive knowledge of some great Author of his being, and the Universe, in dread of whose displeasure he constantly lives, with the apprehension before him of a future state, where he expects to be rewarded or punished according to the merits he has gained or forfeited in this world....

" Morality and virtue I venture to say the civilized world need not undertake to teach them....

" I never saw any other people of any color who spend so much of their lives in humbling themselves before and worshipping the Great Spirit. " (Catlin's N. A. Indian,  Vol. II., p. 243.)

"We have been told of late years that there is no evidence that any tribe of Indians ever believed in one overruling power; yet, in the early part of the seventeenth century, Jesuits and Puritans alike testified that tribes which they had met, believed in a god, and it is certain that, at the present time, many tribes worship a Supreme Being who is the Ruler of the Universe. (Grinnell's Story of the Indian, 1902, p. 214.)

"Love and adore the Good Spirit who made us all; who supplies our hunting grounds, and keeps us alive." (Teachings of Tshut-che-nau, Chief of the Kansas. J. D. Hunter's Captivity Among the American Indians, 1798-1816, p. 21).

And, again, Hunter says (p. 216):

"A day seldom passes with an elderly Indian, or others who are esteemed wise and good, in which a blessing is not asked, or thanks returned to the Giver of Life, sometimes audibly, but more generally in the devotional language of the heart.

 " Every Indian of standing has his sacred place, such as a tree, rock, fountain, etc., to which he resorts for devotional exercise, whenever his feelings prompt to the measure; sometimes many resort to the same place. " (p. 221).

A typical prayer is recorded for us by Grinnell.

A Pawnee, in dire distress and despair, through a strong enemy, decided to sacrifice his horse to the unseen powers, that they might intercede for him with the Creator, and thus prayed beforehand:

"My Father [who dwells] in all places, it is through you that I am living. Perhaps it was through you that this man put me in this condition. You are the Ruler. Nothing is impossible with you. If you see fit, take this [trouble] away from me. Now you, all fish of the rivers, and you, all birds of the air, and all animals that move upon the earth, and you, 0 Sun! I present to you this animal. You, birds in the air, and you, animals upon the earth, we are related; we are alike in this respect, that one Ruler made us all. You see how unhappy I am. If you have any power, intercede for me." (Grinnell's Story of the Indian, p. 213.)

Capt. W. P. Clark, one of our best authorities on the Plains Indians, says: "There are no people who pray more than Indians." (Indian Sign Language, 1885, p. 309.)

And, again, he says:

" Indians make vocal petitions to the God or Force which they wish to assist them, and also make prayer by pointing the long stem of the pipe. The Poncas call the sun God or Grandfather ', and the earth Grandmother, and pray to both when making supplications. Running Antelope, a chief of the Uncapapa Band of Sioux, said in regard to pointing the pipe-stem, that the mere motion meant, 'To the Great Spirit: give me plenty of ponies; plenty of meat; let me live in peace and comfort with my wife, and stay long with my children. To the Earth, my Grandmother: let me live long; hold me good and strong. When I go to war, give me many ponies and let me count many "coups." In peace, let not anger enter my heart. (p. 309.)

But the best account of the Indian's belief and mode of worship is given to us by Dr. Charles A. Eastman, himself a Sioux Indian; he has written of the things that were his daily life in youth. He says:

"When food is taken, the woman murmurs a 'grace' as she lowers the kettle, an act so softly and unobtrusively performed that one who does not know the custom usually fails to catch the whisper: 'Spirit partake!' As her husband receives the bowl or plate, he likewise murmurs his invocation to the spirit. When he becomes an old man, he loves to make a notable effort to prove his gratitude. He cuts off the choicest morsel of the meat and casts it into the fire--the purest and most ethereal element." (Soul of the Indian, 1911, pp 47-48.)

"The first hambeday, or religious retreat, marked an epoch in the life of the youth, which may be compared to that of confirmation or conversion in Christian experience. Having first prepared himself by means of the purifying vapor bath, and cast off, as far as possible, all human or fleshly influences, the young man sought out the noblest height, the most commanding summit in all the surrounding, region. Knowing that God sets no value upon material things, he took with him no offerings or sacrifices, other than symbolic objects, such as paints and tobacco. Wishing to appear before Him in all humility, he wore no clothing save his moccasins and breech clout. At the solemn hour of sunrise or sunset, he took up his position, overlooking the glories of earth, and facing the 'Great Mystery,' and there he remained, naked, erect, silent, and motionless, posed to the elements and forces of His arming, for a night and a day to two days and nights, but rarely longer. Sometimes he would chant a hymn without words, of offer the ceremonial 'filled pipe.' In this holy trance or ecstasy the Indian mystic ''found his highest happiness, and the motive power of his existence. " (Soul of the Indian,  Eastman, pp. 7-8).

 " In the life of the Indian there was only one inevitable duty, the duty of prayer the daily recognition of the Unseen and Eternal. His daily devotions were more necessary to him than daily food. He wakes at daybreak, puts on his moccasins and steps down to the water's edge. Here he throws handfuls of clear cold water into his face, or plunges in bodily. After the bath, he stands erect before the advancing dawn, facing the sun as it dances upon the horizon, and offers his unspoken orison. His mate may precede or follow him in his devotions, but never accompanies him. Each soul must meet the morning sun, the new, sweet earth, and the Great Silence alone!

"Whenever, in the course of the daily hunt, the red hunter comes upon a scene that is strikingly beautiful or sublime--a black thunder cloud, with the rainbow's glowing arch above the mountain; a white waterfall in the heart of a green gorge; a vast prairie tinged with the blood red of sunset he pauses for an instant in the attitude of worship. He sees no need for setting apart one day in seven as a holy day, since to him all days are God's." (Soul of the Indian, Eastman; PP. 45 6.)

In the light of all this evidence, is it to be wondered that most of the early historians who lived with the primitive Indians of the Plains, were led to believe, from their worship of God, their strict moral code, their rigid laws as to foods clean and unclean, and their elaborate system of bathings and purifications, that in these red men of the New World, they had indeed found the long lost tribes of Israel?

 

 

   

 

 


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