I have always imagined that Paradise would be a kind of library.
Jorge Luis Borges

So have I become your enemy by telling you the truth?
Saint John, Letter to Galatians 4:16

Freedom of Religion - Freedom from Religion - Freedom of Public Display of Religion and Traditions

We establish no religion in this country, nor will we ever. We command no worship. We mandate no belief. But we poison our society when we remove its theological underpinnings. We court corruption when we leave it bereft of belief. All are free to believe or not believe; all are free to practice a faith or not. But those who believe must be free to speak of and act on their belief.
Ronald Reagan (Temple Hillel Speech, 1984)

Sunday, December 27, 2009

Chapter 5: Religion and Culture of the Americas

New World - Old Culture


Few ancient civilizations are as old as the Inca in Peru, the only older ones were in Egypt and Babylonia; as far as the Americas, the Inca or Tiwantinsuya is the older than Meso-America, or the various spiritual religions of the tribes of the Native Americans in North America. The Inca historic record were recorded by oral tradition, on stone, pottery, gold and silver jewelry, and woven into the tapestry of the artisans.
The Inca of Peru were fascinated by the Western visitors of over 400 years ago, called the Spanish Conquistadors, who plundered and converted them until they all but became extinct. The treasures brought back to the Old World of Europe transformed the European economy and left the Inca civilization in ruin. The Inca had a central government over the various tribes, most who hid in obscure mountain hideaways.

No one really knows the origins of the Inca from historical record, but there have been several hypotheses on the subject. While the Inca civilization was old, the Inca Empire was only 100 years old when around 1438 the Inca ruler Pachachuti and his army conquered the tribes surrounding the Inca land of Cuzco until the Spaniards arrived in 1532. After 50 years of conquest the entire region was brought under central control in what today are Peru, Bolivia, northern Argentina, Chile, and Ecuador. Each tribe had a leader who fell under the rule of the Inca emperor – there were thirteen in all. Each tribal leader was, in effect, an emperor of his province. The capital was Cuzco and it was the center of hydraulic engineering, agricultural techniques, amazing architecture, textiles, ceramics, and ironworks. Archaeologists have found that ritual sacrifice was practiced and scientific advancement was advanced; however, the Inca appetite for sacrifice was not as extensive as the Mesa-American Aztecs. Archaeological evidence reveals that their knowledge of anatomy and medicine was amazing; they performed corrective dental surgery and even skull surgery without killing the patient.
Pachachuti was the greatest Inca emperor-king of the Americas (9th Sapa Inca), he and his son, Topa Inca, were powerful rulers that built a huge kingdom. Pachachuti was also a great civic planner, as could be seen by his capital city of Cuzco with massive masonry buildings.
The Incas gave their empire the name Tahuantinsuyu, which means Land of the Four Quarters. It covered 2,500 miles along the mountains of the Andean range to the dry coastal dessert called Atacama to the hot, humid Amazonian rain forest. The main Inca area was in the Andean Cordillera region, second in height to the Himalayas. Daily life was spent at altitudes up to 15,000 feet and sometimes 22,057 feet when attending ritual ceremonies. Mountain roads and sacrificial platforms were built in these high altitude places. It is amazing because even modern mountain climbers with their high tech clothing and equipment find it hard to perform at such high altitudes. During its golden age, the Inca Empire was the largest nation on Earth and still the largest state to have existed in the northern hemisphere.

The Inca roads were just as incredible. One road ran almost the entire length of the South American Pacific coast. On the coastline, the roads were not surfaced but merely marked by tree trunks. Their highland roads were paved with flat stones and there were stone walls to prevent travelers from falling off the cliffs. These roads provided the necessary communication and transportation required of such a large empire. The road system, according to Ciezo de Leon, ran through deep valleys and over mountains, through snow, quagmires, living rock, along raging rivers; and in some places it ran smooth and paved, carefully laid out. The builders cut through rock, built walls along rivers, steps and rest areas in the high altitude snow, and amazingly was kept clean of rubbish. There were lodgings, storehouses, Sun Temples and other structures along this extensive road system. All of this done without the use of a wheel – the Incas never discovered the use of a wheel. They had neither carts nor chariots, as the Egyptians did. Rest houses were built every few kilometers so travelers could spend the night, cook a meal or feed their llamas. Their bridges were the only way to cross certain rivers. If one bridge out of hundreds were damaged, the major road could not be used. Every time one broke, the local people would repair it as quickly as possible.
Inca society was made up of ayllus, which were clans of families who lived and worked together. Each allyu was supervised by a curaca or chief. Families lived in thatched-covered houses that were built out of stone and mud. There wasn’t any furniture to speak of and families either sat or slept on the floor. Potatoes were a major food source. The Imperial Incas clothed themselves in garments made from Alpaca wool and many of their religious ceremonies involved this animal.
Inca social structure consisted of the ruler, Sapa Inca and his wives, the Coyas. The High Priest and the Army Commander was next, and then came the Four Apus and the regional commanders. Next were the temple priests, architects, administrators and army generals. Next were artisans, musicians, army captains and the Incan accountants. At the bottom of the society chain were sorcerers, farmers, herding families and conscripts for the Incan army.
The society became stabilized like this for 100 years until the strange light-skinned men came during the rule of Atahuallpa that would change things forever. If the invasion of the gold-seeking Conquistadors weren’t bad enough, they brought diseases that produced a deadly plaque that swept through the Inca Empire quickly. Those that survived the plague had to fight against swords and cannons of the invading Spanish. Even after leading the Spanish to all the gold they had, Lord Atahuallpa was strangled by his Spanish captors. At its peak there were more than six million people. After the Inca Empire was formed there was a universal language spoken called Quechua (kech-wun). The histories, myth, and legends of each tribe became integrated into one culture as Incan. The Incas liked organization and structure. The Amautas, a special class of wise men, kept the traditions of the people, history and legend to pass on.
The Inca were deeply religious and that helped to bind them together. They feared that evil could come upon them at any time. Sorcerers were part of the society in order to protect the people from evil spirits. The Inca believed in reincarnation, so they saved their nail clippings, hair cuttings and teeth in case the returning spirit needed them.
The religious and social center of Inca life was in the large fortress called Sacsahuaman. It was home of the Inca Lord and the site of the Temple of the Sun. Gold and silver decorations were everywhere. All this wealth was from the Inca labor program that every Inca ruler imposed upon the people. About 65 days out of the year a family had to farm to grow food for their own use and to sell/trade. The rest of the time they devotedly worked on the Temple, built bridges (and repaired them), roads, terraces, or extracted gold and silver from the mines. The work was controlled by chiefs in charge of thousands, hundreds or sometimes a group of ten.
The Inca worshiped the Earth goddess Pachamama and the sun god, the Inti. The Inca emperor was sacred and a descendant of the sun god. Inti Raymi, the Feast of the Sun, was the biggest and most important festival in Inca times. It was to worship and honor Apu Inti (Sun God) and was performed every year on June 21st, which is the winter solstice of the Southern Hemisphere in the great Cuzco Main Plaza.
Andean mythology tells us that Incas considered themselves to be descendants of the Sun. During the solstice the Sun is located in the farthest point from the Earth. At sunrise the population had to greet the Sun God with much’ay making kiss sounds and offering it with their fingertips towards the rising morning sun. During the religious ceremony, the High Priest performed llama sacrifice that was either all black or all white. With a sharp ceremonial knife called a Tumi he opened the animal’s chest and with his hands pulled out its heart that was still beating, lungs and viscera so the future could be foretold. Later the animal and its body parts were burned. This was done in the Sacred Fire burning in a huge concave bowl that contained soft or oily material to keep the fire going perpetually. The priests then offered the Sanqhu, holy bread.
Everyone worked in the Inca society except for the very young and the very old. About two-thirds of a farmer’s goods were shared by a tax system.
The Inca ayllu, the clans, had self-supporting farm community. Ayllu members worked the land cooperatively to produce food crops and cotton. All work was done by hand because the Incas lacked wheeled tools and draft animals. They used a wooden spade or foot plow called a taclla, which was a stone-tipped club to break up the clods, a bronze-bladed hoe, and a digging stick. They grew 20 varieties of corn, 240 varieties of potatoes and one or more varieties of squash, beans, peppers, peanuts, cassava,[*] and quinoa.[†] The potato was the most important food. The Inca planted the potato, which is able to withstand heavy frosts, as high as 15,000 feet. The Incas used the freezing night temperatures and the heat of the day to freeze-dry the potatoes until all the moisture was removed. The Incas then ground up the freeze-dried potato to flour. The corn grew up to an altitude of 13,500 feet and they ate it fresh, dried, and popped. Popcorn comes from the Americas. They also made the corn into an alcoholic beverage called saraiaka or chichi. Incas adopted terracing methods because of the terrain and sometimes lack of water available. They built stone walls to create raised, level fields. These fields formed step-like patterns along the sides of hills that were too steep to irrigate or plough. It also kept the topsoil from washing away in heavy rains. Rain usually falls in the Andes between December and May, sometimes there were droughts. The Inca constructed complex canals to bring water to the terraces. They also used natural fertilizer, guano, which are bird droppings. In the highlands they used the remains of slaughtered llamas as fertilizer.
Llamas, alpacas, and vicu-as are camelids and they were important to the economy. They carried material and belongings, they provided wool for clothing and their dung was used as fuel. The Incas also raised other animals such as guinea pigs, ducks, and dogs to be eaten for sources of meat protein.
The Incas mined gold and silver that was abundant in the mountains of their land. They called gold Sweat of the Sun and silver was Tears of the Moon. While silver and gold was abundant, bartering was their money system. Money existed in the form of work. Each subject of the empire paid taxes by laboring on the roads, crop terraces, irrigation canals, temples or fortresses. In return the rulers paid the laborers in clothing and food.
The Inca government, as mentioned previously, was based in Cuzco. The emperor lived there and was the central figure in government. The nobles were sub-rulers and were dedicated to the Inca civilization as a whole. A Jesuit priest by the name of Father Bernabé Cobo described the Cuzco capital as the richest city in the new World. Inca kings and nobles took their riches with them in their tombs in death. It was the richness of the gold and silver and the greed of Spaniards that brought the mighty empire down, combined with new diseases brought to the New World from the Old World.
In the Inca society there were no prisons. The worst crime in the empire was murder, insulting the Sapa Inca or saying bad things about gods. The punishment was being thrown off a cliff. Adultery with a Sun Virgin or with someone’s mate, the couple hands and feet were tied and hung on a wall until they starved to death. Other crimes, such as stealing was punished by chopping off the hands and feet or gouging out the eyes.
Communication between villages and provinces was performed by young men called chasqui who relayed messages. The chasqui runner would start from one post and run about one kilometer to another, who would then take the message and continue to the next post until the message was given to the person it was intended for. It was important that the verbal message was correct, because if it wasn’t the punishment was severe.
The Inca had a calendar based on the observation of both the Sun and the Moon and their relationship to the stars. Names of 12 lunar months are recorded, as well as their association with festivities of the agricultural cycle. Every third year there were 13 moons (months), while all other years had 12. This formed a cycle of 37 moons and 20 of these cycles made up a period of 60 years, which was then subdivided into four parts and could be multiplied by 100. A period of 20 months is also mentioned. Alexander von Humboldt learned this from a Chibcha tribe living outside of the Inca Empire. Whether or not they used a sun dial to tell the time is uncertain.
The Incan religion dates at least as far back as 2250 BC, as determined from archaeological finds of Alvaro Ruiz, co-director of the Norte Chico Archaeology Project.[‡]
O conquering Viracocha!
Ever-present Viracocha!
Thou who art without equal upon the earth!
Thou who art from the beginnings of the world until its end!
Thou gavest life and valour to men, saying,
“Let this be a man.”
And to woman, saying,
“Let this be a woman.”
Thou madest them and gavest them being.
Watch over them, that they live in health and in peace.
Thou who art in the highest heavens,
And among the clouds of the tempest,
Grant them long life,
And accept this, our sacrifice

Maya of Yucatan

While the Inca civilization is regarded as a highly civilized people of the ancient American continent, the Maya of Yucatan was also highly developed in several ways. In the 19th century the Maya culture was thought to have originated from Asia, but later archaeological evidence disputed that theory. It extended into Guatemala, Belize and western Honduras. While the culture itself in aboriginal America is unique, the origin of the natives of North, Central and South America dates back to the Tertiary Era probably arriving across the land bridge that once existed across the Behring Strait; therefore the native Americans developed their own culture over the millennium and migrated further and further south. Another theory is that boat people arrived in South America to populate what became the Inca Empire until the Spaniard conquest. It is still believed that there were visits by Northern tribes of Ireland, Scotland or possibly Scandinavian adventurers who reached the shores of what today is called Newfoundland and maybe as far south as Maine in the northern part of North America.
The sacred book of the Mayan was Popul Vuh, preserved since the 16th century, lost many years and then rediscovered. The text is primarily a creation story, first of humanity being created from maize, the symbol of the Mayan change from hunting people to agricultural people, and then on to becoming a great civilization. The description of creation, according to Popul Vuh:
They came together in darkness to think and reflect. This is how they came to decide on the right material for the creation of man … Then our Makers Tepew and Q’uk’umatz began discussing the creation of our first mother and father. Their flesh was made of white and yellow corn. The arms and legs of the four men were made of corn meal.
Scholars believe that the Mayan Book of Creation was first written in hieroglyphics, unfortunately upon the arrival of the Spanish from Europe, most Mayan books were burned, but the stories were passed on orally. Some aspects of the Mayan religion still exists today among the natives of Mexico and Central America, combining it into their adopted religion – Roman Catholicism.
Lost Civilizations entry:
In 1558, a Maya transcribed the Popul Vuh into the Quiche language. Almost two centuries later, a priest, Father Francisco Ximenez, found the manuscript in his church in ChichicastenangoGuatemala and translated it into Spanish. For almost a century, the manuscript was lost. But it was rediscovered and eventually the bark-paper folding book was transferred to the Newberry Library in Chicago, where it is today. … The Mayan culture was complex and their religion was as well. Their form of religion was polytheism and their main gods were: Itzamná; Kukulvá (Quetzalcóatl); Bolon Tzacab; and Chac. As part of their religion there was astronomy, divinationhuman sacrifice, elaborate burial for dignitaries and royalty, and worship in stone-pyramid.
The history of the Mayan priesthood primarily has been passed down by Spanish missionaries, who recorded their experiences and observations of the Mayan religion and its hierarchy. Ceremonies were complex and included purification ceremonies and rituals such as fasting as well as absence from sexual activities. In the 16th century, the Yucatan purification ritual included exorcism of evil spirits. Priests held special tasks and offices, like the katun-priest, oracle, astrologer, and ceremonial sacrifice of human beings. Purification was sometimes performed, it is believed, by blood-letting rituals by making a cut with a sharp knife on the earlobe, tongue or penis. Sacrifice was usually small animals like quail, turkey or fish, but when a ruler was seriously ill or there was a calamity like a drought, humans were sacrificed. Praying accompanied the ritual of offering and sacrifices. The earliest prayers recorded by the Spanish are the Quiché, which is within the creation myths of the Popul Vuh. Pilgrimages were taken to holy places like Chichen Itza for people who lived far distances from shrines and holy locations.
The famous Maya calendar is connected to ritual events and sacrificial shrines. The rites of the 260-day cycle were a science of destiny.
Curing rituals took place called the Ritual of the Bacabs, which is the texts that kept record of the rituals, bacab meaning the sky with depiction of four trees and four carriers.
Rituals were performed to bring good harvests and good weather, to include a ritual for the rain deities for the benefit of the civilization.
The Mayan kings participated in public rituals and special celebrations like the initiation of the planting season, with the rule being the prime focus in the ritual.
Archaeological evidence of incinerated remains and other clues provide evidence that the Maya practiced ancestor worship, especially found in stone carvings of the classic kingdom of Yaxchilian that shows royal ancestors being approached during bloodletting rituals, the spirits of ancestors emerging from the mouth of a serpent.
Science was evident in the Mayan culture, but sciences were generally considered priestly endeavors, especially mathematics and calendars. Evidence shows that they practiced numerology and priestly scribes would record events and details of certain or special rituals. Like other cultures of Mesoamerica, the Maya used a 26-day calendar called the tzolkin, of which the practice of divination was also included and taught to those who were to become priests. A divinatory priest was called a daykeeper, who initiated prayers in front of a fire to pray to the cardinal directions as well as ancestors of those citizens who were present in the ritual. Divinatory techniques included throwing and then counting seeds, crystals, and beans. They also read signs provided by birds. Along with the calendar, astrology was important to study and relate to earthly events, movements of heavenly bodies and constellations. Names of some stars and constellations have been preserved, but not much else.
The Maya believed in the existence of souls, but not in the sense of one. The soul was in four parts: shadow, breath, blood, and bone. If one lost one or more souls it would result in a disease called susto. Mayans believed in a coexisting soul that was like a guardian angel that protected the individual. Sometimes these co-essences, as it has become known, were connected to dark sorcery or provided the individual the ability to change into an alternate being like a werewolf. Menacing souls were called wayob with specific names, some of which were stars.
The Yucatan Maya believed that evildoers descended into an underworld called matnal to be tormented; while others went to a paradise. Those who committed suicide were conducted by the goddess Ixtab to the afterlife. Along with ancestor worship was the worship of heroes, like the Maya twins Hunaphu and Xbalanque. The main deities consisted of:
-   The principal creator god, Itzamná;
- Sky gods, especially the sun god, Kinich Ahau, the moon goddess and the Venus god;
- Gods of the weather and crops, especially the rain god, Chaac, the lightning god (Bolon Dzacab), the deities of the underground, water, thunder, and maize.
- Occupational gods, especially of merchants (Ek Chuah), black sorcerers, midwives and the god of the hunt.
Goddess of sensual love and marriage;
Death gods.
Primarily the Maya were nature worshippers. Priests could create goblins that could assist farmers in the field, make maize grow, and summon rain. The dwarfs were depicted as looking like children. All in all there were nineteen major deities. The MayaMixtec, Zapotec and Aztec all had similar religious beliefs and that the material and supernatural world should remain in balance and that there was order within the concept of the cosmos.


The Aztecs were Native American people who lived in northern Mexico, referred to as Central America, until the Spanish conquest led by Hernán Cortés in the early 16th century. According to Aztec legend they originated from a place called Aztlan, in the north or northwest portion of today’s Mexico and the border states of what is today Arizona and New Mexico. Legends say they ventured as far as Utah, but no archaeological evidence has proven this. The Aztecs referred to themselves as the Mexica (thus the name of today’s country – Mexico) or Tenochca. Sometime in the 12th century they wandered about until the 13th century when they settled in the central basin of Mexico. The Aztecs fought with neighboring tribes and sometimes against each other until they found refuge on small islands on Lake Texcoco and founded the city of Tenochtitlan (modern-day Mexico City). Aztec was the original term for the migratory people, but this name is better known for what became a mighty empire, infamous for mass slaughter in the name of religious sacrifice. Such events were public and the atmosphere was almost like a sporting event with victims stretched across an altar built atop the flat-topped pyramid, their hearts cut out while still alive, beheaded and their heads rolled down the many steps of the sacrificial pyramid. The Aztecs became a warrior nation, but also built great structures, surpassed only by the Incas of Peru. They formed a specialized society that was tiered under an imperial administration. Their trading network became quite large and often obtained tribute from tribes far away from their capital city. Their religion and intellectual endeavors bound the Aztecs together.
In the Aztec codex, Tira de la Peregrinacion, called the Migration Scrolls, described an island on a lake with Chicomoztoc depicted as seven temples in the center of the island. The Aztecs felt they were chosen people of Huitzilopochtli. The Aztecs believed that Huitzilopochtli was their protector as well as their war god and helped them search for their promised land. In the beginning stage of development, Tenochtitlan, their capital city, was a difficult place to live because it was located on a marshy island. First they built thatch huts with small temples, but later as they developed, they began to build a civilized city. The Aztecs developed a type of farming called Chinampas, where the land was transformed into a highly productive island for growing food. They built stone buildings and monuments on the marshy ground, which sometimes caused the temples and palaces to sink. The Aztec merely built new ones on top of the old ones. By 1376 the Aztec selected an emperor of royal lineage in order to get respect from their neighbors. The first emperor was Acamapichtli who was related to the last rulers of Culhuacan and his lineage went back to the great Toltec ruler, Quetzalcoatl. By the 15th century, the military strength of the Aztecs had increased enough to form an alliance with their neighbors Texcoco and Tacuba, and this became known as the Triple Alliance. By the time year 1520 came, there were 38 conquered tributary provinces that made payments. Some tribes at the border remained independent. The Aztecs were defeated by the Spaniards because Montezuma, the Aztec ruler at the time, thought Cortez was a returning god, as prophesied. He should have listened to his priests who warned him otherwise. The Spaniard Conquistadors always brought monks and priests with them on their adventures and explorations to convert the heathens. Between their lust for looting and pillaging, what little remained of their culture was destroyed by the Spanish Christian clergy.
The religion of the Aztecs was polytheism similar to the system in ancient Greece and Egypt. The Spanish Conquistadors and monks would write in their records how strangely similar their religion resembled Christianity, which included baptism and confession to priests – but the practice of their religion were outlawed by the Catholic clergy as a demonic paganism. The Christian clergy were horrified in regards to their religious rituals that comprised of occasional cannibalism and frequent human sacrifice. The knowledge of the religion of the Aztecs relies upon the Spaniards’ records, specifically one who wrote a compendium – Father Bernardino Sahagun, entitled A General History of the Affairs of New Spain. It was published from manuscript in the middle of the 19th century, despite being written in the early 16th century. Father Sahagun took the time to master the Nahuatl language and treated the native people with respect and kindness, thus he was able to learn much about their culture and religion. He would have daily conferences with reliable Indians, in which they gave verbal and painted answers to his questions. Father Sahagun trained scribes who copied down the mythologies and hieroglyphic paintings to add to his manuscript. He would then read back the notes and show the pictures to another Indian, who would either verify or discount what was said. In this way, Father Sahagun was able to get an accurate account because of his deep interest in history. The reason why it took centuries to be published was because the brotherhood refused to publish his manuscript after his return to Spain. He appealed to the Council of the Indies in Spain and was finally ordered to translate it into Spanish, by then he was 80 years old. And after the original manuscript was translated, he sent it to Spain and it disappeared for three hundred years, when it was discovered in a crumbling library of the ancient convent of Tolosi in Navarre. It was printed separately by Bushtamante at Mexico and by Lord Kingsborough in his collection in 1830, and has been translated into French by M. Jourdanet. Another person who documented culture and history of the New World was Father Torquemada who arrived in Mexico in the middle of the 16th century. His Monarchia Indiana was first published at Seville, Spain in 1615, and Father Torquemada used much of the material of Father Sahagun’s manuscript that remained unpublished. In his Storia Del Messico, the Abbe Clavigero, who published his work in 1780, provided much to information concerning Mexican history and its mythology.
In the Aztec calendar system there were cycles and the cycles were part of the order of the universe. Every 52 years a renewal had to take place, be it household or within the vast universe. Rituals were important to the fate of humanity, who must accept the natural order of the universal renewal and the concept of time.  The universe was divided into horizontal and vertical dimensions with five directions stemming from a center and 13 tiers above the earth and 9 tiers below the earth.
Most of the Aztec gods were human personifications. The initial creators of life were Ometecutli and Omecihuatl who produced four sons who represented the cardinal directions (opposed to the directions of the universe, if that can be pictured in one’s mind. Two of the sons, Quetzalcóatl and Huitzilopóchtli, created fire, the first humans, the calendar, the underworld and its gods, the heavens, water and its gods, and the earth.
The Aztec believed that there were four ages in Earth’s history, each lasting 2,028 years that ended with disaster. Humans in each period were either transformed or destroyed. Currently, according to Aztec religion, the Earth is in its fifth period or the sun and in the beginning of this period the heaven, Earth, and all of its inhabitants were recreated. Some of the Aztec deities require human blood for nourishment, like Tonatiuh, the sun god, and Huitzilopochtli, the patron of Mexica. War captives were important in order to have mass sacrificial rituals that included extracting the heart of the victim while still alive. Many Murals, similar to the Maya have been excavated that sacrifice and war was major elements of Aztec life. The Spaniards were so horrified of their pagan rituals that they destroyed records that would normally be kept to record the history of the local people they had conquered and converted to Christianity. One major historical text survived the book burning of the Christian Spaniards that was named Codex Mendoza. As with other Mesoamerican societies, religion provided the gist of authority of rulers and the priest class that provided social unity and justification of their warrior ideology.
In the case of the Aztec, unlike the Maya, human sacrifice expanded so extensively that it led to the downfall of its civilization, which had provided the desire to expand its empire in order to fulfill the tasks of mass sacrifices. It was their religion and its priestly class of citizens that expanded the Aztec empire under the leadership of its rulers and that and the Spanish Conquistador that caused it to fall, despite the fact certain priests had seen a comet that provided the omen of the fate of the Aztec empire, they, like the Mayan did not believe that the Spaniards would be the instruments of their destruction. At the end of the Aztec empire it has been estimated that human sacrifice amounted to 20,000 per year.
As was stated, war and tribute was essential to the Aztec empire that provided gained territory, more people, and economic power. Unlike the other Mesoamerican cultures, the Aztec was a warrior state, yet its economy, like the others, depended upon manufacturing, trade and agriculture, along with tributes from other civilized nations. The political offices consisted of the ruler at the head of the central government and a hierarchy of warriors, governors, ambassadors, high priests, administrators, advisors, judges, stewards, and other lesser officials like scribes. Each Aztec state had a tlatoani, a governor. The Aztec Empire at its height covered most of central Mexico with 50 to 60 city states.

North American People

Ancestral spirits are an important aspect of the North American indigenous people; however, some believe that spirits abide in all living things, not just humans. Elders are closer to the spirits of ancestors than others, possibly because shortly he will be joining them, but in traditional custom, elders within a tribe are deemed important for their wisdom and life experiences. Elders teach that all life is sacred and the people of all tribes are one, the whole range of life being spirit.
Another common factor is that all people proclaim there is one Great Spirit and all life and everything within the universe comes together in the circle. Thoughts and actions are governed by the circle of life, as well as nature, moon, sun and the stars above them. Foremost in the circle is the center, which is the symbol of the Great Spirit and the circle of life. Ceremonial dances are performed in a circle - around a fire, a drum on a pole, and in the ceremonial use of the sacred pipe. A circle drawn split with an image on each side also recognizes that the circle of life can be divided between life and nature. This was sometimes used as artwork on the Plains warrior shields. This concept is also depicted in the story of two sons of Mother Earth, in the totems of the Kwakiutl, and in the ceremonies of the Sundance. While the circle can sometimes be divided, it is in balance with the circle. Contentment can only be reached by harmony with the surroundings found in nature.
The relationship of people is symbolized by a triangle within a circle. Four powers control the world in its structure and that is represented by a circle within a box that shows the four corners of the drawn box.
Four is the number that is most sacred (wakan). Four stands for the four quarters of the earth ... the four winds ... seasons ... colors ... four things of which the universe is made (earth, air, water, fire). There are four virtues which a man should possess ... We Sioux do everything by fours ... [Lame Deer]
While four may be the number of importance, the number seven holdsa sense of mystery and importance as well. The mystery of sevens is ancient wisdom and can be found in other parts of the world as well. There is the Seven Sacred Rites of the Sioux, the seven prophecies, the seven fires, and the seven stopping places of the Ojibwa Midewijin in their long migration journey.
Finaly, looking at symbolism, there is the quartered circle - all are related to each and each to all. It represents the consciousness of knowing there is a whole universe surrounding us, sharing in his needs of life and in prayers communicating with the spirit world.

California Tribes – There were once many tribes that were native to California with different languages and cultures, but were decimated by disease and the Spanish Missionaries, as well as the practice of making natives slaves during the Spanish Colonial Period of America. Some of the tribes were completely exterminated with little trace, such as the Esselen of Big Sur. Some of the tribes on the Northwest coast and the Southern desert have survived. Thanks to 19th century anthropologists and some scholarly monks, information about the California tribal culture, mythology and religion is available, as well as scholars affiliated with the University of California.

Cherokeethe more familiar tribal name is called the Tsalagi in their language. Originally they lived in the region of the Alleghany Mountains, and expanded their territory to the states of Virginia, Tennessee, North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia, and Alabama. For a long period in their history they held a feud with the Iroquois and eastern tribes such as the TuscarawasCatawbaCreeks, and Shawnee. But their downfall was when they pitted themselves against the government of the United States in 1839, and after a series of battles during which the Cherokee was pushed towards the Mississippi; they were eventually evicted from their lands and marched to Oklahoma in the middle of the winter by the US Army. This tragic event is known as the Trail of Tears, one of the most shameful events and actions ever performed by the US government. Many Americans today claim descent from the Cherokee people, some stating that they are descendants from a Cherokee Princess, which is not possible because such a position in the Cherokee Nation never existed. Once brutalized and segregated, many Americans today claim to have Cherokee blood, much to the amusement of full-blood Native Americans, the First Nation people, of today.
The religion of the Cherokee, much like their traditional/historical culture is centered on nature and all living things around them, as you will find with many tribes of North America. In the early 19th century, Christian missionaries had succeeded in suppressing native religious beliefs, further than those who were forced to attend public schools and even were not allowed to keep their given names, all in the name of civilizing them. Actually, the Cherokee people were one of the five civilized tribes of North America in their attempt to retain their culture, but live in cohabitation with the European settlers/intruders. Today, the Baptist Christian denomination predominates Cherokee religion in Oklahoma and North Carolina. Some tribes believed, in their original religion and culture that there was a Supreme Being, a Great Spirit, that ruled/controlled everything. There were also animals, elemental, and ancestral spirits. It is not known for sure that the original Cherokee religion believed in a Supreme Being, but only the various supernatural forces that have remained in Cherokee history. The Cherokee believed that the spirits, in a combination, created the world and there were seven tiers of heaven, earth and water.
Priests, in the days when Cherokee were free from the influence and power of the European intruders, exercised influence due to their divining and healing abilities, but otherwise was not an influential hierarchical individual within the society of the tribe. Later, in the 19th century, Christian Cherokee converts were ordained and was the important factor in converting the Cherokee Nation. There were six important festivals within the custom of ceremonies, three of them held in the autumn of the year, coordinated with the village council meetings held. The Propitiation Festival lasted ten days after the first moon of autumn and the Great New Moon Feast was devoted to ritually eliminating illness among the villagers, as well as promoting tribal unity. After a period the six festivals were formed into one big one called the Green Corn Festival. Singing was an important part of ceremonial activities and religious and other texts (Christian) are sung in the Cherokee language. Disease was caused by a malevolent spirit or by someone violating a taboo. Curing techniques consisted of herbal medicines, ritual purification, and the enlistment of spirit or a combination of all three.
Death was not natural, even if from old age to the aboriginal Cherokee and was believed to be caused by evil spirits or witches. Because evil spirits were connected with death, it was feared. However, if one was to be successful in the afterlife, one had to ensure their actions on Earth were good. Funeral ceremonies had great significance in religious ritual and customs, and Eastern Cherokee regard the funeral ritual as an important part of one’s life cycle.
Numerology takes an important role in ceremonies of the Cherokee. The numbers four and seven are often found in mythical tales and ceremonies. Four represents the four cardinal directions – east, west, north and south. Certain colors are also associated with those directions – North is blue, West is black, East is red, and South is white. The number seven represents the seven clans of the Cherokee Nation and also represents the Upper World, Lower World and Center – the center being where one lives or where one is located. Number seven also represents purity and sacredness, a difficult level for mortals to obtain. In ancient times only the owl and cougar attained this level and have special meaning. During the course of Cherokee history the pine, cedar, spruce, holly and laurel plants also are at the level of seven. Cedar is the most sacred of all. Cedar wood was used to carry the honored dead. Sacred items are stored by wrapping them in deerskin or white cloth and kept in a special box or special place.
The circle is symbolic and important in Cherokee ritual. The Stomp Dance and other ceremonial rituals involve circular patterns. In ancient Cherokee history, the fire in a council house was arranged so it would burn in a circle. Rivers are sacred because water is used for purification and other important ceremonies. Any moving body of water is a sacred site, still today’s custom of Cherokee people.
In the Cherokee social and religious system, good is rewarded and evil is punished. Unexplainable events, not attributed to evil spirits, it is believed that someone is using medicine and/or magic for evil purposes; however, witchcraft is not viewed in the same way among Cherokee or other native tribes the same way that Europeans have viewed witchcraft historically. Natural medicines, herbs, conjuring and witchcraft has been used throughout the history of the Cherokee, an integral part of its culture. Like the Wicca, witchcraft (in the sense of magic) is normally used for good, and frowned upon if used for evil. A famous killer witch in Cherokee lore was the Raven Mocker. Even today, Cherokee still consult with trained medicine people (men and women) for both mental and physical ailments. Some Cherokee accredited doctors still use the traditional medicines used throughout Cherokee history. Raven Mocker is not really one person, but an identification of a particularly fearful, evil witch. A Raven Mocker can be a male or female and they are especially dangerous because someone might not be able to recognize that they are a Raven Mocker. When someone is sick or dying, the Raven Mocker comes in the night to take life. He/she flies through the air with arms outstretched like wings on a bird and there is a wind noise heard, as well as sparks trailing from behind. When the Raven Mocker dives, it makes a similar sound of a raven, and thus the name. Unless a Cherokee doctor is there to chase away a Raven Mocker or several of them in competition for the life of the individual, the life will be taken. It is said that when a dying person is fighting for a last breath, it is the invisible Raven Mocker doing his deed to steal the life. Only a medicine man can recognize or see a Raven Mocker when they make themselves invisible. If a medicine man stays with a sick person, the Raven Mockers will be afraid to enter. Family usually request that a medicine man stays with a dead person until he/she is buried. Hearts/souls cannot be stolen after burial by the Raven Mocker. Cherokees believe that after a person dies the soul continues as a ghost. Some ghosts have the ability to materialize, while others do not.
The Beloved Woman, the Ghigua, was chosen by each clan to attend the Council of Women held annually. They were chosen for their bravery and other outstanding qualities and were a high honor to be chosen. The Ghigua was in charge of the Council of Women and has a voting seat in the Council of Chiefs. The Ghigua was responsible for prisoners and decided their fate. She was also a sage and the clan’s guide. Sometimes the Beloved Woman would act as an ambassador or a peace negotiator. When children were born, the naming ceremony was held, officiated by the Beloved Woman. A day or two after birth, a priest would pass/wave the infant over a fire four times while saying a prayer to the fire for special blessings. On the fourth or seventh day after birth, the priest took the child to a river and commended the child to its Creator, praying for a long and happy life. After the prayer, the child’s mouth and nostrils were covered and immersed seven times before returning the child to its parents. Finally, the naming ceremony was held, a name provided to the child that was based upon the infant’s birth, or something unusual about the infant. Later in life, depending upon the character of the person or achievements, a new name might be given. After christening the new name with water, the priest began the healing ritual of daily immersion in water until about two years of age. After about the age of four or five, fathers or elder brother(s) took over from mother and priest and began training boys what was required to hunt, handle weapons, et cetera. Girls helped their mothers and older sisters responsible for teaching the younger girls. Children born under unusual circumstances might be raised as holy men – a prophet or visionary. Twins were usually chosen for this purpose. Some boys were promised from birth to the priesthood and were called devoted sons.
Spiritual beings played an important part in a Cherokee’s life. The spirits were not considered supernatural, but a part of the natural world of living things. Like the Irish, the Cherokee believed in Little People, spiritual beings of nature who were only visible if wanted to be seen. When they were seen, they looked like miniature Cherokee people with long hair that sometimes reached the ground. They lived within natural places, such as caves, rock shelters, plant thickets, and so on. They liked playing drums and dancing, and often helped children who were lost from their village. And, as the Little People (Wee Folk in Ireland) – they could be mischievous. Cherokees believed that they had to be dealt with carefully by certain rules. The Little People liked their privacy, and could cause a person to be mentally confused for the rest of their lives, if their privacy was invaded too much. Because of this, Cherokee people will not investigate if they believe that Little People may be in the area. If any of the Little People are seen, by accident or Little People decide to show themselves to a human, it was not allowed to be discussed or mentioned for seven years (the number seven comes to play again). It was taboo to speak of Little People in the hours of darkness.
The moons of the months were significant and identified because their traditional calendar is primarily based upon the moon in terms of months. A chart of this can be found in James Mooney’s book or at the website Cherokee Blood. There is the Cold Moon (January), Bony Moon (February), Windy Moon (March),Flower Moon (April), Planting Moon (May), Green Corn Moon (June), Ripe Corn Moon (July), Fruit Moon (August), Nut Moon (September), Harvest Moon (October), Trading Moon(November), and Snow Moon (December).
Seven Clans makeup the Cherokee Nation: Wolf Clan, Panther Clan, Long Hair Clan, Bird Clan, Deer Clan, Bear Clan and Paint Clan. [Experience Festival] The Wolf Clan is the largest and provided most of the war chiefs of the Cherokee people. The Wolf Clan are the keepers of the wolf and the only clan who could legally kill a wolf. The color for the wolf clan is red.
The Paint Clan or War Pain Clan is called Ani Wo-di and the clan of the Shaman, sorcerer, medicine man, and priests. It is the smallest clan, and the most secretive because of the knowledge they possess and must guard. They are the only ones who are allowed to make the special paint and dyes that are used for warfare and ceremonial purposes. The Ani-Wodi keep magical and sacred crystals made of pure quartz rods placed in a pouch made of otter or deer skin and tied around their neck. [Cherokee Blood] Crystals are only used to determine the guilt of murder cases – the crystal is placed in front of the accused and if it illuminates the face of the accused, he/she is guilty. The guilty person must then leave the village and the territory before sundown. Then the ritual hunt begins. The chief selected a member of the victim’s clan to obtain revenge of the murder, and was to hunt him down and kill him.
Cherokee used ceremonial pipes filled with native tobacco or aromatic herbs, lit from a sacred fire and passed it around the council circle during meetings that involved difficult decisions and when it was decided that the Great Spirit must sanctify any proceeding. Once a puff from the pipe was taken, a person would speak truth.
Women in the Cherokee clan has great social power, and it was common for girls to choose their life mates.
There were prayers for several occasions, like purification rituals and serenity prayers.


The Chinook tribes lived on and near the Columbia River area in the Northwest, in what is now Upper Oregon and lower Washington states. Fishing, of course, was their chief endeavor, but there also traders and gamblers. Their language was widely used in the Northwest by European settlers and traders. The Chinook believed in redistribution of wealth, a form of socialism, in a practice known as Potlatch, in which the wealth was redistributed during an important ceremony. Lewis and Clark interacted with Chinook tribesmen during their famous expedition and were the first to write about them in 1805.
Today they are part of the First Nation people and have retained important values within their social system, along with many other tribes that make up the First Nation that live in the US and Canada – North America:
- Respect Mother Earth.
- Respect the Great Spirit.
- Respect our fellow man and woman.
- Respect for individual freedom.
We must all stand together as a force of love. Be united NOW. There is only one way. Communication. Knowledge. Arm yourself with truth, love and perseverance. Extend your family. Join with others in giving. We are all related. People of the earth take back your heritage. I am not speaking of skin color or religion. Our heritage is this earth … Our heritage is also extended beyond this earth into the heavens where the spirit once lived before our birth into this world. You are bound to both.
The Ten Indian Commandments
Treat the Earth and all that dwell thereon with respect.
Remain close the Great Spirit.
Show great respect for your fellow beings.
Work together for the benefit of all mankind.
Give assistance and kindness wherever needed.
Do what you know to be right.
Look after the well-being of mind and body.
Dedicate a share of your efforts to the greater good.
Be truthful and honest at all times.
Take full responsibility for your actions …
[Great Dreams]
Now in the 21st century there are approximately 1,500 Chinook people.
Important things in life for Chinook was and still is, fishing, and so it would be appropriate that they have a ritual called the First Salmon Rite when they celebrate the annual salmon run. Another important religious rite was the individual’s spirit quest, an ordeal/rite that was required of all male and some female youth in order for them to acquire guardian spirits that brings them special powers, luck and sacred songs and dances are learned during this rite. Their main theme in their religion was animism, which is a belief that natural beings or objects have supernatural spirits. You will find this in most of the North American religious beliefs and cultures.


The Hopi tribes occupy high desert plateaus of the Southwest United States and are one of the best known Native Americans. The prime population live on the Hopi Reservation in northeastern Arizona, surrounded by the much larger Navajo Reservation. The two native nations have longed shared the area and the partition of this area is known as Big Mountain, as a result of Acts of Congress in 1974 and 1996, has resulted in controversy. 2000 census reveals that the Hopi population is 6,946 people. According to Hopi oral tradition, the Hopi are clans from different areas – Canadian Athabascan migrations that formed the modern Navajo and Apache nations, ending in the latter part of the 15th century, may have forced the Hopi to move from the bottom of mesas to the tops where they could defend their villages more easily. The three mesas are known as the First, Second and Third Mesas by the order of Spanish encounters. The Hopi, unlike the nomadic Navaho, have been village dwellers for many centuries. There were nine villages when the Spanish arrived – SikyatkiKoechaptevelaKisakoviSichomoviMishongnoviShipaulovi,ShungopaviOraibi and Awatovi. The Hopi village of Old Oraibi, located on the Third Mesa was founded around 1100, the oldest continually occupied settlement in the United States. Hopi are organized into matrilineal clans, meaning when a man marries, the children become members of the wife’s clan. A clan could extend across several villages. Children are named by the women of the father’s clan. A person can change their name when initiated into one of the religious societies, such as the Kachina.
The Hopi still practice their traditional ceremonies, which take place according to the lunar calendar and are observed in all the Hopi villages. Hopi have been skilled farmers for a long period in history. They also are noted for their art and handiwork, such as carved Kachina dolls, earthenware ceramics, and jewelry made from sterling silver and colorful natural gem rocks.
When a child is born it receives an ear of corn and on the 20th day after birth, the child is taken to the mesa cliff and held facing the rising sun. When the sun touches the baby, it is given a name. Traditionally, Kat’sina dolls (Kat’sina meaning life bringer) that are made by maternal uncles, are given to young girls at the spring Bean Ceremony and Home Dance.
Hopi believe that the world was created by Taiowa (sun father) and Sotuknang, his nephew. The first creature made was Kokyangwuti, a spider woman, who then created the first humans.

First Nations

Aboriginal people of Canada are known as First Nations, which is a group of tribes called bands who are considered the first peoples. The following are the First Nations people:
Abenaki, Acolapissa, Algonquin, Chickasaw, Chitimacha, Comanche, Delaware, Erie, Houma, Huron, Illinois, Iroquois, Kickapoo, Mahican, Mascouten, Massachusetts, Mattabesic, Menominee, Metoac, Miami, Micmac, Mohegan, Montagnais, Narragansett, Nauset, Neutrals, Niantic, Nipissing, Nipmuc, Ojibwa, Ottawa, Penacook, Pequot, Pocumtuc, Pottawatomie, Sauk, Fox, Shawnee, Susquehanna, Tionontati, Tsalagi, Wampanoag, Wappinger, Wenro, Winnebago.
Pacific Northwest: Achomawi, Chemakum, Chukchansi, Clayoquot, Coast Salish, Cowichan, Haida, Hupa, Hesquiat, Karok, Klamath, Koskimo, Kwakiutl, Lummi, Makah, Nootka, Puget Sound Salish, Quileute, Quinault, Shasta, Snohomish, Totowa, Tututni, Willapa, Wiyot, Yurok.
Southwest: Acoma, Apache, Cochiti, Havasupai, Hopi, Hualapai, Isleta, Jemez, Jicarilla, Keresan, Laguna, Maricopa, Mohave, Navajo, Pima, Qahaitka, Taos, Tewa, Tigua, Tohomo O’Odham, Yuma, White Mountain Apache, Yavapai, Zuñi.
Great Basin: Cahuilla, Chemehuevi, Comanche, Cupeño, Diegueño, Mono, Northern Paiute, Shoshone, Washoe.
Great Plains: Arapaho, Arikara, Assinboine, Atsina, Brule, Cheyenne, Chiewyan, Cree, Crow, Dakota, Hidatsa, Kainah, Mandan, Ogala, Osage, Oto, Piegan, Ponca, Quapaw, Sarsi, Siksika, Teton, Wichita, Yanktonai.
Plateau Region: Cayuse, Chinook, Kalispell, Klickitat, Kootenai, Nespelim, Nez Perce, Salish, Spokane, Tallit, Umatilla, Walla Walla, Yakama.
Alaska: Inuit, Yupik, and Inupiat - not Eskimo - a name of European origin describing the several tribes of Arctic regions of Greenland, Canada, and the United States. Natives of Alaska are offended when referred to as being "Eskimo", something that many do not know. The term Eskimo is a description of all three tribes as a group, like native Americans of all tribes were erroneously called "Indians".
California: Kato, Maidu, Miwok, Pomo, Wailaki, Wintun, Yokut, Yuki.
[Encyclopedia Britannica, 1910]
As you can see by the tribe listing that it would take volumes to cover all the Native Americans’ customs, culture and beliefs, and indeed, the Handbook of North American Indians is a 20-volume set put together by several scholars, historians and anthropologists. There is also a Handbook of North American Indians that has 27 chapters concerning the language of American Indians, Eskimos, and Aleuts.
Phenomenology of Religions, its chapters, annexes and appendices are protected under US and international copyright laws - please respect that. Linked/Sourced excerpts may be used if author is identified and linked. No commercial reproduction may be produced without the express permission of the author. Unless otherwise identified, photographs/images are public domain or the property of Keith Allen Lehman.

[*] Starchy root.

[†] Cereal.
[‡] Archaeology Magazine.

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