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American Indian Gods

American Indian Gods

In ancient times North America was inhabited by a vast number of Indian tribes. In the limited space available it would be difficult to describe them all, much less discuss the differences between the deities worshipped by each tribe. The mythologies of North America are as varied and numerous as the different Indian nations that inhabited the land. From the Iroquois who inhabited the lush woodlands of what is now the Northeast United States to the Apache who lived in the deserts of northern Mexico, and the Pee Dee who inhabited the woodlands up and down the Pee Dee River, the people of each tribe had their own peculiar interpretation of the supernatural world and their place in it. Any attempt to incorporate all of the deities worshipped by these various tribes as part of a single pantheon is destined to be full of unexplained gaps and conflicting detail.

No matter where they made their homes the Indians of North America lived close to nature — probably closer than any other civilization (or more accurately group of civilizations) in any other part of the world during any period in history. Many tribes lived in temporary or portable housing such as wigwams or teepees, and spent their lives following the game herds upon which their existence depended. Other tribes lived in more permanent hogans and adobe houses, feeding themselves through crude farming and by gathering nature’s bounty. No matter how they provided for their needs, the Indians lived at nature’s mercy. The game herds might roam away and hunting would become difficult, or locusts might come and destroy an entire crop of maize. It should not be surprising that in trying to understand the mysterious forces that meant feast or famine for them, the Indians concluded that nature was full of unseen spirits that sometimes chose to aid and sometimes to ravage their lives.

The Indian world was inhabited not only by men but by an unseen magical force which abides in every aspect of nature — stones, plants, animals, even themselves. Often, this magical force took the form of spirits which were associated with certain animals or plants. Therefore, most Indian deities are associated with some form of nature, such as an animal, a manlike being or even a natural force such as a season or an aspect of weather. In many tribes, children were named in honour of a particular spirit, in the belief or hope that the spirit would return the honour by becoming the child’s supernatural guardian. The Indian view of the supernatural was not confined to their own world. Most tribes believed in an Upper World, where the greatest spirits abided — including those that had preceded the creation of the physical world. There was also a Lower World, where (in many cases) the essence of the dead spent eternity. In some cases, it was believed that the Upper World contained the images which descended to the physical world to become men, and in other instances, the Indians believed that the first men crawled out of deep caves leading to the Lower World. Whether they believed men had come from above, below, or had simply existed for all time, many Indians believed in a powerful deity called anything from the Great Spirit to Father the Sky, the Master of Life, the Great Mystery, or Wakonda. The Great Spirit is foremost among the spirits, and is associated with great power and beneficence.

The Great Spirit is believed to reside in the Upper World, which is normally unreachable by mortal men. Therefore, birds and other winged creatures are often used as intermediaries to this realm. Similarly, snakes and crawling things are often used as messengers to the Lower World, which is likewise unreachable except through death. The Indians share no commonly-held belief regarding the creation of the world, and many tribes simply view the world as having always existed. However, among the tribes that do have creation myths, the world is largely assumed to have been drawn from beneath the water by some powerful spirit — though this spirit is not always thought to be the Great Spirit. Deities from the Indian pantheon are most commonly found in the Upper World and Lower World.

 

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Marlboro,Chesterfield, Darlington County
Pee Dee Indian Tribe
4116 Redbud Road
McColl, South Carolina 29570