If you’re interested in alternative spirituality, such as meditation, light work, or even exploration into past lives, it’s natural that you might find yourself wondering about the religious beliefs and practices of Native American cultures. As you begin to explore these rich, historically grounded spiritual worlds, it’s good to keep in mind several guidelines to maintain respect towards these cultures.
For starters, Native American culture is not monolithic. In other words, there are many different tribes and cultures within the overarching Native culture. Cultures differ according to geography, history and adherence or distance from tribal practices, so when beginning to research spiritual practices in the Native American community, it’s important to be aware of the many variations of spirituality present in this diverse culture.
Additionally, many Native Americans consider their spirituality to be an intrinsic part of themselves, beyond just a typical religious affiliation. Unlike Christianity, which has many evangelical branches, Native Americans consider their faith deeply personal and as much a part of their identity as their gender and geographic origin. When you begin learning about the religious practice of Native Americans, it’s important to approach their practices as someone seeking an open-minded educational exchange, not a conversion experience.
The Struggle and Spirit of the Chickasaw Nation
As one example of Native American spirituality, we can look to the Chickasaw Nation, a people originally located in Mississippi and forcibly relocated to Oklahoma during the 1830s. Like many Native cultures, the Chickasaw is traditionally a matrilineal society, which means that family lines and some property are transferred through the mother’s side of the family.
In addition to a deep respect for women and their natural environment, the Chickasaw traditionally worshipped “four ‘Beloved Things’ above: The clouds, the sun, the clear sky and ‘He that lives in the clear sky.’” This Supreme Being in the sky was referred to as either Aba Binili or Inki Abu; both names translate roughly to someone “above.” Fire also played a large role in the spiritual life of the traditional Chickasaw. It was seen as a powerful force to be respected, and each year the Chickasaw cut down many trees to make offerings to this vital force.
Beyond these supreme beings, the ancient Chickasaw also had a number of practices that could be considered a kind of alternative spirituality. The importance of place was heavily stressed, and the Chickasaw believed that their homeland in Mississippi was extraordinarily sacred. Despite the intense trauma of being forced out of their homes, the Chickasaw continued to focus on the ways that natural connections, including family relationships and environmental phenomena, give context and purpose for one’s place in the universe. Like those who study past lives and seek to understand the progression of a soul through its many incarnations, so too do the Chickasaw work to contextualize both the tragic and sacred within their cultural history.
Unconquered and Unconquerable
The Chickasaw Nation defines itself as “unconquered and unconquerable,” despite the unjust conditions that led them away from their sacred homeland. Like their ancestors before them, today’s Chickasaw continue to preserve the traditions that have made their culture strong and proud.