kan. "He looks at sun, moon, and stars, but knows not who made them, or of what they are composed; he hears the winds, but, as their nature and source are to him unknown, they are wakan."
To the Indian, wind and his own breath are of all nature most like his conception of the spirit force, and so these are regarded as symbols, even as embodiments, of the spirit. The principal Creek god is "the Lord of Breath"; of the Cherokees, "The oldest of the winds"; of the Choctaws, simply "storm-wind."
Like the Aryans, the Indians believe in immortality, and perform elaborate ceremonies for the benefit of departed souls.
Not content with souls and spirits in themselves and in the forces of nature, they give them also to animals; so that in the dog companion is often the guardian spirit of the Indian.
As you have already noticed, there are spirits of unequal rank and unequal powers in the Indian animism, but, though a principal spirit is at times found, yet there is no idea of a single all-powerful spirit from which all others come!
Now for some examples of the Indian polytheism. Compare the following story with some myths of early Europe. It is given in the words of Mr. Knortz: "When the world still lay in darkness, say the Mixtecas, there appeared a god, 'lion-serpent' by name, and a goddess, 'tiger-serpent.' They went to live on a high mountain, where two sons were born to them, one of whom they named 'Wind of the Nine Serpents,' and the other, 'Wind of the Nine Caves.' When the elder of these wanted amusement, he assumed the form of an eagle and flew about in the world; but the other changed himself to a winged serpent, in which shape he could fly not only through the air, but also through rocks and mountains." How nearly is this play of fancy like that which in dark Europe created dragons for the fabled knights.
The Algonquins have a hero-god, Menabuscho, whose remarkable adventures Mr. Knortz recounts at some length. Among others is an incident of the mysterious value of dragon-oil, which we have learned in the Siegfried myth: "Then he (Menabuscho) set out to war against the great chief Pearl-feather, who had slain his grandfather. He shot the serpent standing guard, and with the oil of the royal beast greased his boat, so that without stopping it ran through the fatal sea of misfortune." After death it became the privilege of Menabuscho to lead the souls of Indians into paradise.
There are numerous myths of the creation of the world and of man; others of a deluge from which only a single pair, man and woman, escaped.
These few examples give but an incomplete and very inadequate presentation of Indian mythology. But they are sufficient to show the presence of animism, and add another straw to the already accumulated evidence that animism is the first definite shape which religious feeling takes.