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Native American Religion

Maya Pillai Nov 01, 2018
Many of the religions practiced by the Mayans, Aztecs, Olmecs, etc. are still practiced by the people of South America.
Native Americans were the settlers who inhabited America long before the Columbus discovered the continent. It is believed Native Americans arrived sometime during the last ice age, i.e. around 20,000-30,000 years ago. Anthropologists opine that the Natives must have crossed the land bridge across the Bering Sea from Siberia into Alaska.
"Sandia", "Clovis" and "Folsom" are the oldest documents that reveal about the culture of the Native Americans. These documents were written in 15000 BC, 12000 BC and 8000 BC respectively. It was Christopher Columbus who named them the "Indians", because he thought Americas was a part of the Indies.
Today, Native Americans living in the Americas are known as the ethnic groups. They are known as American Indians, or Indians.
Religion at that time was influenced by their methods of hunting for animals and growing crops. The tribes believe that every being - living and nonliving - has a spirit in them. They call this creative spirit - the "Great Mystery".
They believe that the "Four Directions" (east, west, north and south) have to be well-balanced for the good things to occur. The four directions symbolized by four brothers, and the center point, a female, their sister; are represented using certain colors or animals.

Religion of Native Americans


The Aztecs worshiped nature. They believed in the "time space" and various cycles of the nature. They worshiped the Sun and the Moon. Their religious calendar "Tonalpohualli" played an important role in their rituals.
They practiced human sacrifice to appease their gods. The Aztec civilization existed between the 14th and 16th century in Mexico. During this period, they built many temples and pyramids. When Mexico was conquered by Spain, these temples were destroyed and were replaced with Spanish churches.


Mayans were natives of Guatemala, EL Salvador, Northern Belize, Southern Mexico, and the western region of Honduras. This civilization was powerful during the 3rd century AD. Like the Aztecs, Mayans also worshiped the nature.
They built many pyramid-temples such as "Chichen Itza", "Tikal", and "Uxmal". These pyramids were a part of their culture, and are today considered as one of the Wonders of the World. During the Spanish invasion, many of their religious books and temples were destroyed.

Californian Indians

The Native Americans of California practiced shamanism. One of the traditional beliefs of shamanism is to communicate with the spirits of the dead. The person who practiced shamanism is called a shaman. The shaman was considered as the priest of high order who treated ailments caused by the bad spirits.

The Inuits

The natives of the Arctic regions like (Greenland, Alaska (US), parts of Canada) are grouped as Inuits. Inuits practice shamanism and have many folktales and myths to defend their religion. The person who practiced shamanism was known as "Angakkuq".
Inuits believe in life after death and practice an art of searching for their family and friend of next birth looking at the "Aurora Borealis" or the northern lights. The Inuits worshipped nature; and Sedna, the goddess of the sea, depicted as an old woman, was their main deity.


The Incan civilization existed in South America between the twelfth and the early sixteenth century. The Incas worshiped the Sun as their main deity and had built many temples for him. They believed in life after death and also believed in the existence of heaven and hell. The ruins of the Incan civilization can be seen in Peru.

Native Americans of the Plains

The religion practiced by the Native Americans living in the plains was "Animist" (who believe in spirits of the dead). The Native Americans living in the plains worshiped a god known as "Wakan Tanka", meaning the Great Spirit, in the Sioux language.
These people also worship the "Mother Earth" and consider her as the mother of all spirits. One of the religious rituals is the Sun Dance.


Iroquois believe in twin forces known as "Loskeha" meaning good and "Tawiscara" meaning bad. The Native Americans believe Ioskeha brought all the goodness in life, while Tawiscara spread sufferings and brought ill-luck.
The Iroquois Indians celebrated festivals such as "Maple festival", "Corn Planting" (Green Corn), "Strawberry" and the "Harvest Festival" of Thanksgiving.


The Hopi religion plays an important part in binding their community. They believe in spirits and worship nature. Hopis believe in many gods and goddesses. Many of their ceremonies are related to the Rain god.
They worshipped over 350 spirits whom they called "Kachinas" or "Katsinas". They believed that these guardian spirits come down to the earth during the "winter solstice" and they remain on earth till "summer solstice".


According to the Cherokee tribes, the world is one and each and every one is related to all living creatures. Water plays an integral role in Cherokee worship. Taking a dip in a pool is a ritual practiced by the Cherokee Indians before an important ceremony, religious festival and also before a war.
They celebrate "Green Corn Festival" annually, to appease the god of agriculture and to promote unity among their clan.


Navajo tribes formed the largest Native American community in North America. They call themselves "Diné". The festivals celebrated by them were "Nightway" and "Mount Chant".
According to their beliefs, the Creator had found them a land between the four sacred mountains peaks - Blanca Peak and Hesperus Peak in Colorado, San Francisco Peaks in Arizona and Mount Taylor in New Mexico. They have been instructed by their God to never leave their homeland which nestles between these sacred mountain peaks.


The people of the Zuni clan are very religious and believe in spirits and worship nature. Their gods are known as "Kachinas". Some Kachinas worshiped are "Achiyalatopa", "Ahayuta", "Awonawilona" and "Kokopelli".
Zuni tribes believe gods reside in the lakes of New Mexico and Arizona. Women play a vital role in their religion. They are considered as the central pillar in the life of the tribal community. The priests are known as the Shamans.
There were many Native American tribes living in the various cities and countries of the Americas. Though many have accepted Christianity as their religion, the Native American religion is still practiced by the tribal community even today.