Native Americans belonged to hundreds of tribes when the white Europeans arrived in the Americas. Although they shared many beliefs and practices, most tribes had their own unique form of spirituality.
With the arrival of the Europeans, the spirituality and religion of the tribes was deeply affected. They accepted the influence of Christianity, modified their traditional practices and also adapted to the changing socio-political conditions.
One of the common aspects of the religion of most Native American tribes is the Great Spirit. Native Indians believe that a Great Spirit or Supreme Being created the heavens, the underworld and this world.
The Great Spirit also created the Sun, Moon, stars and the mankind. Native Indians believed that the Great Spirit watched over everything and also commanded the lesser gods and spirits that inhabit the three realms.
Members of the Native Indian tribes performed various rituals and sacrifices to appease the Great Spirit and show their respect.
The Medicine Man, also known as a shaman or a healer, held a very important position in the Native American religion. The shaman was the spiritual leader in most tribes.
He also used herbs and spiritual methods to heal the sick. It was believed that he could directly communicate with the spirits.
This is why the tribal chiefs and other members of a tribe consulted the shaman to understand the omens before a battle, marriage and other events. The shaman also conducted and oversaw religious rituals, ceremonies and festivals.
Native Americans believed in natural spirits. They believed that everything, from a stone to a plant and from an eagle to an ant, had a spirit.
To commune with the spirits, Native Indians performed various rituals such as vision quest. The shaman also played an important role as a medium between the spirit world and the human world.
Native Americans also believed that every person had a guardian spirit, or a specific type of spirit which helped that person during battle and other events of life.
Native Americans believed in three realms, or three worlds, very similar to Christianity and many other religions. These include the upper world or the heaven, the underworld, and this world.
The heaven, they believed, was occupied by the gods and deities. The underworld was home to different forms of evils. This world, the world of mankind, was a bridge between the heaven and the underworld.
Native Americans believed that man had the responsibility of keeping a balance between the two worlds.
European colonization of the Americas began in the 16th century. By the 19th century, Europeans had occupied nearly the entire American continent.
The exposure of Native Americans to the practices of white Europeans brought Christian influences into the Native American religion. Today, the Native Indian religion is a mixture of shamanism, Christianity and other traditional beliefs and practices.