Before the Indians in North America had been visited by Europeans their art had been produced for themselves alone. It not only served as decoration on objects in everyday use but was also an integral part of the beliefs which permeated their lives. It is possible to identify some basic religious concepts which were common to most North American Indians.
One such idea was the belief that spirits inhabited the natural world and had the power to influence events. The belief in the sacred nature of all things was expressed in ritual practices, which were part of and in art, which everyday life, was thought to influence the spirits. This was particularly true of hunting and fishing: images on clothing, weapons and tools could invoke the good will of the animal spirits. Another way of manipulating the forces of nature was the dream, or vision, through which men could achieve special contact with guardian spirits, often in animal form. The images of these animals became the distinguishing symbol of a man, a group or clan.
Perhaps it may be, and this is my prayer that, through our sacred pipe
peace may come to those peoples who can understand, an understanding
which must be of the heart and not of the head alone. Then they will
realize that we Indians know the One true God, and that we pray to Him
We should understand well that all things are the works of the Great
Spirit. We should know that He is within all things: the trees, the
grasses. the rivers, the mountains, and all the four-legged animals. and
the winged peoples; and even more important, we should understand all
this deeply in our hearts, then we will fear, and love, and know the
Great Spirit, and then we will be and act and live as He intends.
- Black EIk. Ogiala Sioux
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