Greensburg Daily News, Greensburg, IN

Columns

May 14, 2014

Ben Morris: Religion, magic and medicine

Looking back in history, nearly every thought and act of the Native American people was hedged or bolstered by religion or magic, which ranged all the way from an amorphous feeling of reverence to the performance of elaborate rituals where every word and gesture was prescribed in advance.

The distinction between natural and supernatural was never sharply drawn by Native Americans, who tended to blend the two into one harmonious whole. The compound term “natural-supernatural,” is so clumsy that it has been reduced to “supernatural” here, even though a certain amount of practical science often went along with the supplication of the supernatural.

For instance, Indian farmers everywhere combined practical science with religion and magic. One without the other was inconceivable. “Religion” is technically regarded by anthropologists as the relation of man to supernatural personalities with anthropomorphic attributes. It includes “animism,” which is defined as the belief in spiritual beings or personalities.

“Gods” are important and powerful spirits whose existence and power are recognized by every mature person in a culture. “Ghosts” are the souls of deceased ancestors, which are propitiated principally by their own descendants, but may also be recognized and supplicated collectively by the society as a whole.

Animism was universal in native North America.

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