A Dictionary of All Religions and Religious Denominations/Indians
INDIANS, a term alike applicable to the natives of India and America; but as we have considered the former under the name of Hindoos, we shall confine this article to the latter; and begin with the natives of North America, noticing some striking peculiarities of their ancient pagan notions and idolatries.
The aborigines of New England not only believed in a plurality of gods, who made and govern the several nations of the world, but they made deities of every thing they imagined to be great, powerful, beneficial, or hurtful to mankind; yet they conceived an almighty Being, who dwells in the southwest regions of the heavens, to be superiour to all the rest. This almighty Being they called Kichtan, who at first, according to their tradition, made a man and a woman out of a stone; but upon some dislike destroyed them again; and then made another couple out of a tree, from whom descended all the nations of the earth: but how they came to be scattered and dispersed into countries so remote from one another, they cannot tell. They believed their supreme God to be a good being, and paid a sort of acknowledgment to him for plenty, victory, and other benefits: But there is another power, which they call hobamocko, (i. e. the devil,) of whom they stood in greater awe, and worshipped merely from a principle of fear. The immortality of the soul was in some sort univerally believed among them. When good men die, they said, their spirits go to Kichtan, where they meet their friends, and enjoy all manner of pleasures. When wicked men die, they go to Kichtan also; but are commanded to walk away, and to wander about in restless discontent and darkness forever.
Mr. Brainerd, who was a pious and successful missionary among the Indians on the Susquehannah and Delaware rivers, in 1744, gives the following account of their religious sentiments:—" After the coming of the white people, the Indians in New Jersey, who once held a plurality of deities, supposed there were only three, because they saw people of three kinds of complexion, viz. whites, negroes, and themselves. It is a notion pretty generally prevailing among them, that it was not the same God that made them who made us; but that, they were created after the white people; and it is probable, they suppose their God gained some special skill by seeing the white people made, and so made them better. With regard to a future state of existence, many of them imagine, that the chichung, i. e. the shadow, or what survives the body, will at death go southward, to some unknown place, and enjoy some kind of happiness-—such as hunting, feasting, dancing, or the like; and never be weary of these pleasures. They believe that most will be happy; and that those who are not so, will be punished only with privation, being excluded from the walls of the good world, where happy spirits reside. These rewards and punishments they suppose to depend entirely on their behaviour towards mankind, and to have no reference to any thing which relates to the worship of the Supreme Being.".
The original inhabitants of Canada, like other heathen, had an idea of a supreme Being; whom they considered as the creator and governour of the world. It is said that most of the nations which speak the Algonquin language five this being the appellation of the Great Hare, but some call him Michabou, and other Atahocan. They believe that he was born upon the waters, together with his whole court, who were composed of four-footed animals, like himself that he formed the earth of a grain of sand taken from the bottom of the ocean; and that he created men of the bodies of dead animals. Some mention a god of the waters, who opposed the designs of the Great Hare, who is called the Great Tiger. They have a third called Matcomek, whom they invoke in the winter season.
The Agreskoui of the Hurons, and the Agreskouse of the Iroquois, are, in the opinion of these nations, the sovereign being, and god of war. These Indians do not give the same original to mankind with the Algonquins; for they do not ascend so high as the first creation. According to them, there were in the beginning six men in the world; but they cannot tell who placed them there.
The gods of the Indians are supposed to have bodies, and to live much in the same manner as themselves , but without any of the inconveniences to which they are subject. The word spirit, among them, signifies only a being of a more excellent nature than others.
According to the Iroquois, in the third generation there came a deluge, in which not a soul was saved; so that, in order to re-people the earth, it was necessary to change beasts into men. Besides the first Being, or Great Spirit, they hold an infinite number of genii, or inferiour spirits, both good and evil, who have each their peculiar form of worship. They ascribe to these beings a kind of immensity and omnipresence, and constantly invoke them as the guardians of mankind; and they only address themselves to the evil genii, to beg of them to do them no hurt. They believe in the immortality of the soul, and say that the region of their everlasting abode lies so far westward, that the souls are several months in arriving at it, and have vast difficulties to surmount. The happiness that they hope to enjoy is not believed to be the recompense of virtue only, but to have been a good hunter, brave in war, &c. are the chief merits which entitle them to their paradise : this, they and other American natives describe as a delightful country, blessed with perpetual spring, whose forests abound with game; whose rivers swarm with fish; where famine is never felt, but uninterrupted plenty shall be enjoyed without labour or fatigue.
Most of the natives of South America have an idea of a supreme Being, whom they call the Grand Spirit, by way of excellence; and whose perfections are as much superiour to other beings, as the fire of the sun is to elementary fire. They believe this omnipotent Being is so good, that he could not do evil to any one, even if he were inclined. That, though he created all things by his will, yet he had under him spirits of an inferiour order, who, by his assistance, formed the beauties of the universe; but that man was the work of the Creator's own hands. These spirits are, by the Natches, termed free servants, or agents; but at the same time they are as submissive as slaves: they are constantly in the presence of God, and prompt to execute his will. The air, according to them, is full of other spirits of more mischievous dispositions, and these have a chief, who was so eminently mischievous, that God Almighty was obliged to confine him; and ever since, those aerial spirits do not commit so much mischief as they did before, especially if they are entreated to be favourable. For this reason the savages always invoke them, when they want either rain or fair weather. They give this account of the creation of the world, viz. that God first formed a little man of clay, and breathed on his work ; and that he walked about, grew up, and became a perfect man: but they are silent as to the creation of women.
The greatest part of the natives of Louisiana had formerly their temples, as well as the Natches; and in all these temples a perpetual fire was preserved.
The aborigines of East and West Florida own a supreme benevolent Deity, and a subordinate one, who is malevolent; neglecting the good god, who does no harm, they bend their whole attention to soften the latter, "who, they say, torments them day and night.
The Apalachians, bordering on Florida, worship the sun, but sacrifice nothing to him which has life: they hold him to be the parent of life, and think he can take no pleasure in the destruction of any living creature. Their devotion is exerted in perfumes and songs.
The divinities of the ancient inhabitants of Mexico were clothed with terrour, and delighted in vengeance. The figures of serpents, of tigers, and of other destructive animals, decorated their temples. Fasts, mortifications, and penances, all rigid, and many of them excruciating to an extreme degree, were the means which they employed to appease the wrath of the gods. But of all offerings, human sacrifices were deemed the most acceptable. At the dedication of the great temple at Mexico, it is reported there were 60 or 70.000 human sacrifices. The usual amount of them was about 20,000.
The city of Mexico is said to have contained nearly 2000 small temples, and 360 which were adorned with steeples. The whole empire of Mexico contained above 40,000 temples, endowed with very considerable revenues. For the service in the grand temple of Mexico itself, above 5000 priests were appointed; and the number in the whole empire is said to have amounted to nearly a million. The whole priesthood, excepting that of the conquered nations, was governed by two high-priests, who were also the oracles of the kings. Beside the service in the temple, their clergy were to instruct the youth, to compose the calenders, and to paint the mythological pictures. The Mexicans had also priestesses, but they were not allowed to offer up sacrifices. They likewise had monastic orders, especially one, into which no person was admitted under sixty years of age.
Notwithstanding the vast depopulation of America, a very considerable number of the native race still remains both in Mexico and Peru. Their settlements in some places are so populous, as to merit the name of cities. In the three audiences into which New Spain is divided, there are at least two millions of Indians; a pitiful remnant indeed of its ancient population; but such as still forms a body of people, superiour in number to all the other inhabitants of this vast country.
The sun, as the great source of light, of joy, and fertility in the creation, attracted the principal homage of the native Peruvians. The moon and stars, as co-operating with him, were entitled to secondary honours. They offered to the sun a part of those productions, which his genial warmth had called forth from the bosom of the earth, and reared to maturity. They sacrificed, as an oblation of gratitude, some of the animals who were indebted to his influence for nourishment. They presented to him choice specimens of those works of ingenuity, which his light had guided the heart of man in forming. But the Incas never stained his altars with human blood ; nor could they conceive that their beneficent father, the sun, would be delighted with such horrid victims.
The savage tribes of Guiana believe the existence of one supreme Deity, whose chief attribute is benevolence; and to him they ascribe every good which happens. But as it is against his nature to do ill, they believe in subordinate malevolent beings, like our devil, who occasion thunders, hurricanes, and earthquakes; and who are the authors of death and diseases, and of every misfortune.
The natives of Amazonia, have a vast variety of idols, whom they consider as subordinate to one supreme Being; but of that Being they have very confused notions. They stand in great awe of their priests, and hold them in the utmost veneration. They have a particular house, or rather hut, for the celebration of their ceremonies, and this is to them what others call a church or temple. Here the priests address themselves to their gods, and receive answers from their oracles. When they go to war, they apply to their priests for assistance against their enemies, and the first thing the priests do, is to curse them. Upon their going out to war they hoist at the prow of their canoes that idol, under whose auspices they look for victory; hut, like too many called christians, they never pray to their gods, except in cases of difficulty, when they feel their need of divine assistance or support.
- Neal's History of New England, vol. i. p. 83-85.
- Brainerd's Journal
- Charlevoix's Voyage to North America, vol. ii. p. 141-155.
- Robertson's History of South America, vol. i. p. 387.
- Modern Universal History, vol. xi. p. 374.
- Charlevoix's Voyages, vol. ii. p. 273.
- Kaimes' Sketches, vol. iv. p. 155.
- Kaimes' Sketches, vol. iv. p. 216.
- Robertson's Hist. of South America, vol. ii.p. 384, 385.
- Priestley's Lectures on History, p. 440.
- Critical Review, vol. liv. p. 312.
- Robertson's History of America, p. 391.
- Robertson's History of America, vol. ii. p. 309, 310.
- Kaimes, vol. i. p. 150.