a vast mythic and legendary lore and thousands of significant formulated songs and prayers, which must be learned and repeated in the most exact manner; they have also hundreds of musical compositions; the so-called dances are ceremonies which last for nine nights and parts of ten days, and the medicine-men spend many years of study in learning to conduct a single one properly.” The most prominent and revered of the deities of the Navaho is Estsanatlehi, the “woman who rejuvenates herself,” of whom it is believed that she grows old, and then, at will, becomes young again.
The numerous Indian tribes subjected to the environment of the Great Plains have developed in great detail some special religious observances, ceremonial institutions, secret societies, ritual observances, &c. The mental life of these Indians was profoundly influenced by the buffalo and later not a little by the horse. Various aspects of Plains culture have recently been discussed by Goddard, Kroeber, Wissler, Dorsey, Fletcher, Boas, &c., from whose investigations it would appear that much intertribal borrowing has taken place. Among some of the Algonkian (Arapaho, Blackfeet, Cheyenne, &c.), Siouan (Ponka, e.g.) Caddoan, Shoshonian, Kiowan and perhaps Kitunahan stocks the “sun-dance” in some form or other prevailed at one time or another. According to Wissler (Amer. Anthrop., 1908, p. 205), this ceremony, as now practised by many tribes, “is the result of a gradual accumulation both of ceremonies and ideas,”—the torture feature, e.g., “seems to have been a separate institution among the Missouri river tribes, later incorporated in their sun-dance and eventually passed on to other tribes.” Some other complicated ceremonials have apparently grown up in like manner. As ceremonies that are quite modern, having been introduced during the historical period, Dr Wissler instances “the Ghost dance, Omaha dance, Woman's dance, Tea dance and Mescal eating,” of which all, except the Ghost dance, “flourish in almost all parts of the area under various names, but with the same essential features and songs.” Other interesting ceremonies of varying degrees of importance and extent of distribution are those of “the medicine-pipe, buffalo-medicine, sweat-lodge, puberty-rites, medicine-tipis, war-charms, &c.” Interesting also are the “medicine bundles,” or “arks” as they were once mistakenly called.
The “Ghost dance,” the ceremonial religious dance of most notoriety to-day, “originated among the Paviotso (its prophet was a young Paiute medicine man, Wovoka or ‘Jack Wilson’) in Nevada about 1888, and spread rapidly among other tribes until it numbered among its adherents nearly all the Indians of the interior basin, from Missouri river to or beyond the Rockies” (Mooney). Wovoka's doctrine was that a new dispensation was at hand, and that “the Indians would be restored to their inheritance and united with their departed friends, and they must prepare for the event by practising the songs and dance ceremonies which the prophet gave them.” East of the Rocky Mountains this dance soon came to be known as the “Ghost dance” and a common feature was hypnotic trances. The Sioux outbreak of 1890-1891 was in part due to the excitement of the “Ghost dance.” According to Mooney, “in the Crow dance of the Cheyenne and Arapaho, a later development from the Ghost dance proper, the drum is used, and many of the ordinary tribal dances have incorporated Ghost dance features, including even the hypnotic trances.” The doctrine generally “has now faded out and the dance exists only as a social function.” A full account of this “dance,” its chief propagators, the modi operandi of its ceremonies and their transference, and the results of its prevalence among so many Indian tribes, is given in Mooney's detailed monograph on “The Ghost Dance Religion and the Sioux Outbreak of 1890” (Fourteenth Ann. Rep. Bur. Ethnol., 1892-1893).
In reference to “Messiah doctrines” among the aborigines of
North America, Mooney calls attention to the fact that “within the
United States every great tribal movement (e.g. the conspiracy of
Pontiac, the combination of Tecumseh, &c.) originated in the
teaching of some messianic prophet.” In primitive America the
dance has figured largely in social, religious and artistic activities
of all kinds, and one of its most interesting developments has occurred
among the Plains Indians, where “the Mandan and o
The Californian area, remarkable in respect to language and culture in general presents also some curious religious and mythological phenomena. According to Kroeber, “the mythology of the Californians was characterized by unusually well-developed and consistent creation-myths, and by the complete lack not only of migration but of ancestor traditions.” The ceremonies of the Californian Indians “were numerous and elaborate as compared with the prevailing simplicity of life, but they lacked almost totally the rigid ritualism and extensive symbolism that pervade the ceremonies of most America.” The most authoritative discussions of the religion and mythology of the Californian Indians are those of Dr Dixon and Dr Kroeber, the latter especially in the University of California Publications in American Archaeology and Ethnology for 1904-1907.
The shamans, “medicine-men,” &c., of the American Indians are of all degrees from the self-constituted angekok of the Eskimo to those among tribes of higher culture who are chosen from a special family or after undergoing elaborate preliminaries of selection and initiation. The “medicine-men” of several tribes have been described with considerable detail. This has been done for the “Midewiwin, or Grand Medicine Society of the Ojibwa ” by Hoffman (Seventh Ann. Rep. Bur. Ethnol. pp. 143-300); for the “Medicine-men of the Apache” by Bourke (Ninth Ann. Rep. pp. 443-603) and for those of the Cherokee by Mooney (Seventh Ann. Rep. pp. 301-397), while a number of the chief facts concerning American Indian shamans in general have been gathered in a recent article by Dr R. B. Dixon (Journ. Amer. Folk-Lore, 1908, pp. 1-12). In various parts of the continent and among diverse tribes the shaman exercises functions as “healer, sorcerer, seer, priest and educator.” These functions among the tribes of lower culture are generally exercised by one and the same individual, but, with rise in civilization, the healer-sorcerer and shaman-sorcerer disappear or wane in power and influence as the true priest develops. The priestly character of the shaman appears among the Plains tribes in connexion with the custody of the “sacred bundles” and the keeping of the ceremonial myths, &c., but is more marked among the Pueblos, Navaho, &c., of the south-west, while “a considerable development of the priestly function may also be seen among the Muskogi, particularly in the case of the Natchez, with their remarkable cult and so-called temple.” The reverent character of the best “priests” or shamans among the Pawnee and Omaha has been emphasized by Miss A. C. Fletcher and Francis la Flesche. The class-organization of the shamans reaches its acme in the midé societies of the Chippewa and the priest-societies of the Pueblos Indians (Moqui,Zuñi, &c.).
The games of the American aborigines north of Mexico have been made the subject of a detailed monograph by Culin, Games. “Games of the North American Indians” (Twenty-fourth Ann. Rep. Bur. Ethnol., 1902-1903, pp. 1-846), in which are treated the games of chance, games of dexterity and minor amusements of more than 200 tribes belonging to 34 different linguistic stocks. According to Culin, “games of pure skill and calculation, such as chess, are entirely absent.” There are more variations in the materials employed than in the object or methods of play and in general the variations do not follow differences in language. The type known as “dice game” is reported here from among 130 tribes belonging to 30 stocks; the “hand-game” from 81 tribes belonging to 28 stocks. The centre of distribution of North American Indian games, which, with the exception of a few post-Columbian additions, are all autochthonous, Culin finds in the south-west—“there appears to be a progressive change from what appears to be the oldest forms of existing games from a centre in the south-western United States, along lines north, north-east and east.” Similar changes radiating southward from the same centre are likewise suggested. He is of opinion that, outside of children's games as such and the kinds of minor amusements common in all civilizations, the games of the North American Indians, as they now exist, “are either instruments of rites or have descended from ceremonial observances of a religious character,” and that “while their common and secular object appears to be purely a manifestation of the desire for amusement or gain, they are performed also as religious ceremonies, as rites pleasing to the gods to secure their favour, or as processes of sympathetic magic, to drive away sickness, avert other evil, or produce rain and the fertilization and reproduction of plants and animals or other beneficial results.” He also believes that these games, “in what appears to be their oldest and most primitive manifestations are almost exclusively divinatory.” This theory of the origin of games in divination, which receives considerable support from certain facts in primitive America, needs, however, further proof. So, too, with Mr Culin's further conclusion that “behind both ceremonies and games there existed some widespread myth from which both derived their impulse,” that myth being the one which discloses the primal gamblers as those curious children, the divine Twins, the miraculous offspring of the sun, who are the principal personages in many Indian mythologies." These eternal contenders “are the original patrons of play, and their games are the games now played by men.”