The Great Spirit - Native American Culture & Belief Systems
Native American cultures were characterized by an intimate relationship with nature. The Great Spirit was perceived as the divine power that created the world. The religious beliefs and practices of the Native Indian tribes included Shamanism, Animism, Totemism, Fetishism and their rituals and ceremonies led by a Shaman, centered around hunting and animals. The creed or doctrine of these belief systems held that intelligent spirits inhabited all natural objects and every object is controlled by its own independent spirit. Spirits inhabit the sky, stars, sun, moon, rivers, lakes, mountains, forests, the animals, insects, fish, stones, flowers and birds. Some spirits are good and help men who please them whereas other spirits are bad and liable to wreck havoc on people and on tribes. Animals, refer to Power Animals, are singled out as powerful manifestations of the supernatural, including those seen in dreams or Vision Quests. Lesser spirits inhabited stones and plants and viewed as 'spirit helpers'. The Great Spirit symbol shows a depiction known in Western culture as the Eye of Providence represents the eye of God watching over humankind.
The Concept of the Great Spirit
The Native Indian concepts of the Great Spirit varies from tribe to tribe who refer to the Supreme Being by a variety of different names. Some of their beliefs about the Great Spirit are derived from both patriarchal and matriarchal traditions. The Lakota Sioux believe that the Great Spirit is an amalgamation of a dominant Father sky god and Mother Earth. The Great Spirit is seen as both a male and female beings, separate, but part of one divine entity. Other tribes refer to the Great Spirit as "Father", "Old Man" or "Grandfather" and in these cultures the Great Spirit is perceived to be a man, or an animal, with human thought and speech.
The Great Spirit - Tribal Names for the Supreme Being
The differences in the beliefs connected to the Great Spirit are demonstrated by the variety of different names given by tribes in reference to the Supreme Being:
- The most generic name attributed to the Great Spirit is the Great Mystery or the Supreme Being
- The Sioux name for the Great Spirit is 'Wakan Tanka' which translates as the Great Mystery and referred to as the "Great Incomprehensibility" They Sioux believed that every object was spirit, or "wakan."
- The Shoshone name for the Great Spirit is "Tam Apo" meaning "Our Father"
- The Chickasaw name for the Great Spirit is "Ababinili"
- Many Algonquian speaking tribes of the Great Plains, such as the Ojibwe, refer to the Great Spirit as "Gitchi Manitou"
- The Blackfoot name for the Supreme Being is "Apistotoke"
- The Arapaho name for the Supreme Being is "Chebbeniathan"
- The Abenaki name for the Supreme Being is "Gici Niwaskw"
- The Huron name for the Supreme Being is "Ha-Wen-Neyu"
- The Cheyenne name for the Supreme Being is "Maheo"