Polytheistic Ethics: Adopting Native American Practices

I have a serious problem with the notion that the religious beliefs and practices of Native Americans are open for incorporation into non-Indian religions. Since many Native Americans have expressed dismay at this idea, I interpret their religions as closed to outsiders. Like other Polytheist religions, the beliefs of Native Americans are rooted in their community and are based on their particular culture.

Furthermore, what people think what Native Americans believe comes from the writings of outsiders. The few Native Americans who had books written such as Nicholas Black Elk of the Lakota were both Roman Catholic and Traditionalists. Black Elk, himself, said that he wanted to preserve the traditional rituals of his people by placing them into a Roman Catholic context. He presented the concept of the “Great Spirit” as singular and masculine, which is Christian. More traditional beliefs have the pairings of male and female Gods.

In general, Polytheism suffers from being interpreted by people steeped in the modern intellectual tradition of the West. Polytheistic religions like the Native Americans are not proto-Monotheistic or simply animistic. Like Native American religions, Roman Polytheism is a social religion with the individual as a member of the community. There is a religious aspect in every communal ritual and a communal aspect in every religious ritual.

As a Roman Polytheist, I look to my own religious traditions and beliefs. Roman Polytheism covers from the time of the Kings to the fall of the Empire (about 700 years). The usual practice is to select a period for deeper worship. Since I prefer Republican Rome, I do not regard Julius Caesar or the Emperors to be Gods. My Polytheism is a rich and fulfilling religion.

What I can learn from Native Americans and their religious practices is their piety. In Roman Polytheist, the Pax Deorum (Peace of the Gods) is maintain through pietas (piety).This is the devotion of the individual to their Gods, family, and community. Black Elk demonstrated this by doing what he could to preserve his people’s rituals. The Potlach Feast of the Chinook reaffirms their sacred relationship with their Gods, Nature Spirits, and community. Meanwhile, the Mi’kmaq leave offerings when they take something from nature. All this reaffirms the sacred web of reciprocity. Since my own community is far-flung, I can find ways to do my rituals to be a part of this web.

Works Used:
Adkins, Lesley and Roy Adkins, “Dictionary of Roman Religion.” New York: Oxford University Press. 1996.

Krasskova, Galina, “Devotional Polytheism.” Sanngetall Press. 2014.
“Honoring the Ancestors.” Sanngetall Press. 2014.

Native American Spirituality, Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance. Web. http://www.religioustolerance.org/nataspir.htm.

Native Languages of the Americas: Native Cultures. Web. 2015. http://www.native-languages.org/home.htm

North American Religions, Overview of World’s Religions. Web. http://www.philtar.ac.uk/encyclopedia/nam/index.htmlhttp://www.philtar.ac.uk/encyclopedia/nam/index.html.

Paper, Jordan, “The Deities Are Many.” Albany NY: State University of New York Press. 2005.

Scheid, John, “An Introduction to Roman Religion,” Janet Lloyd, trans. Bloomington ID: Indiana University Press. 2003.

Thomas, Kirk, “Sacred Gifts.” Tucson AZ: ADF Publishing. 2015.

Triarius, L. Vitellius, “Religio Romana Handbook.” Self-published: Charleston (SC). 2014.

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4 thoughts on “Polytheistic Ethics: Adopting Native American Practices

  1. Good post! Three things to say:
    a) I like your choice of the Republican period as a historical model of Roman polytheism, rather than the imperial. I can’t see how some people regard Caesar and the Roman emperors as Gods? I can hardly help calling some of them downright criminals with a damning hubris!
    b) It’s interesting to discover something new about Native American theology. I had the wrong idea about the Great Spirit being sole and male, which you have now corrected. Thank you.
    c) Hopefully the day will come when all polytheisms are equal & well established enough in communities that the traditions become more or less closed or at least no longer appropriated by outsiders. As you implied, it’s not only a problem with Native American polytheism.

    Liked by 2 people

    • I do have a cultus to Julius Caesar but not to the rest. It is hard to see humans as deities. Caesar to me is a hero, not a God.

      Much of what people know about Polytheisms is through the monotheistic lens. Think of Canaanite Polytheism is thought of being decadent and full of child sacrifices. What people don’t realize is that Polytheisms have male and female partners as Gods. But since monotheists are interpreting polytheism whether it is an ancient one like Babylon or a modern one like China, they fit it into a narrow sphere of these people are moving to monotheism or were/are monotheists in disguise.

      I do have a problem with eclectic Pagans who use the cafeteria approach to things. The New Age influence encourages that – of pick and choose who or what you want. Ganesha gets reduced down to “remover of obstacles” because the person wants the God to do that. Sort of cosmic bell hop.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Good post. I’ve come across more than a few members of the “Wannabe” tribe in the Pagan community, and it always makes me uncomfortable. I prefer to work with my own culture and spirit of the land in which I live, hence being a Druid.

    Liked by 1 person

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