Young Blood's & Morning Star's Home of Information

The Blackfoot Civilization
A Book Report by Morning Star

Page 2

Animal Spirits

Indians have a special way of looking at things regarding animals.  Their belief is that all things are related.  Plants and animals have a spirit the Creator gave to all life which in turn makes us all relatives.  This makes all life perfect as it has been created.  Because of this belief, they look at all forms of life as having qualities we human beings should try to adopt.  In this way we improve our own lives as well.

There are people who think that Indian worship animals and call them pagans for their beliefs.  But this simply isn't true.  They see qualities in animas and birds that were given to them by the Creator.  Which is similar to the whites and their saints.  Some whites call upon the spirit of a mother, father, brother, sister or some other relative, but that's ok.  The Indians call up the spirits of animals to help them in times of need or crises.  In other words, they pray to the Creator will bless them with the same powers given to the particular bird or animal.  I personally, find nothing wrong with this.  Much of the time, I find myself doing the same way since learning my husbands Indian Culture better.

A good example is the eagle.  The eagle is an especially sacred bird to the Blackfoot Indians.  This reason is the eagle flies the highest and comes the closest the Creator.  As with the white man, the Creator is above all and knows what each needs.  If it helps, think of the Christian term guardian angel.  This is how the Indian believes and from what I understand, they pretty much live by this belief.  In reality, it's not really that much different.  The only thing I find really different is that they call up animal spirits instead of saints.  The beliefs are in tune with my own beliefs of nature and human are to live in harmony with each other.

Ni-Kso-Ko-Wa My Relatives

Indian people believe that all things are related and that at one time all of creation could speak and understand one another.  Whether it was an animal, bird or insect, it endowed with certain powers and abilities and knowledge.  They talked and shared information and helped one another.  Each creature, including human beings, cooperated in long ago times.  But, because man and some of the animal leaders became greedy and selfish, they were punished.  The punishment for their greed, no communication between man and animals.  The Creator said, "Because you sued this greed and this desire to be powerful against each other for a selfish benefit, then you can no longer communicate."

In order to regain this ability to speak to each other again, people must be humble and respect each other and nature, plus become more understanding.  The belief remains that animals and birds and certain spiritual people continue to have the power to speak to each other.  Therefore, when an Indian prays, they call upon the spirits of animals because they hope to gain certain knowledge for mankind.  An animals spirit is invoked and this is why people marvel at the abilities of animals to respect one another, to love one another, because all these creatures are trying to talk to one another again.

Once this is understood and appreciated, people will be able to save or Mother Earth and all that lives here.  This is the reason animals are the subject of so many stories and why they are important to the way Indians see life living in harmony.  The same is true for all of nature.  Even rocks and trees have spirits and the Indians believe they have souls and are able to give mankind a certain benefit.  All of nature is a part of one another...all needs to live in harmony with the other.

Rocks, such as those made of lava, are used in what is called the Sweat Lodge Ceremony.  Heated rocks give off steam when water is poured on them, thereby, the have medicinal use to people.  The becomes a sacred thing because people are able to pray and use each other's power to speak wisdom and pass on the teachings of the Creator.  Therefore, the rocks have the power to give life by making it possible for humans to purify themselves both physically and spiritually in the Sweat Lodge Ceremony.  For the Creator works in many wondrous and mysterious ways.

Prayers and Offerings

There are various ways of asking the Creator's help.  One way is through offering cloth of different colors along with making prayers.  Indian people, long ago, painter rawhide different colors and offered that to the Creator along with their prayers.

When participating in a Sun Dance or Thirst Dance, cloth of different colors is offered along with prayer.  These different colored pieces of cloth, green, blue, red and yellow, are taken to the ceremony and on the last day the cloth is blessed.  The person participating in the dance takes the person doing the blessing, telling them why they are participating in the ceremony and asks them to pray for them and help them fulfill their vows.  They then presented the cloth they want them to bless.

The person doing the praying then prays with them, repeating what had been said for the dancer and saying the person's name of the person and things one prayed for.  Then the dancer takes and cuts up the cloth into ribbons which are used to make offerings in various places, and to give to people because the ribbons do represent the spiritual and sacred.

The ribbons can be hung anywhere--out in the forest...on a meditation spot or even offered in an area meant to be a sacred place by the tribe.  You can even hang them by a near by stream, inside homes, whatever use people want to make of them.  The reasons to choose a spot for hanging prayer ribbons are as varied as there are people and prayers.  The reason for hanging these ribbons is because they are a reminder that prayers have been made in this particular spot or place.  A person hangs them with help of someone else, or maybe individually, but for whatever reason this is an offering.

Colors have a high symbolic meaning to the Indians.  They mainly use the basic colors, the colors of the rainbow, and those which appear on the earth: red, green, yellow, blue, white, black and purple.  Individuals also give meaning to colors based on their significance and importance to that person.

  • Blue - is used to represent the heavens.  By painting something blue you are effectively combining the outer universe with the earth, the spiritual with he earth.

  • Yellow - is a color often used to represent the Creator and the power of the Creator.  The sun, symbolized by the color yellow, represents the power from the sun to help make things grow.

  • Red - is used to symbolize the spirit of the Creator and man's spiritual nature.  Red is symbolic of the blood of the ancestors and our own blood and many of the ceremonies use red to tie the people together.  ---When people wear red face paint they are symbolically saying they are children of the Creator.  It is the person's reminder that they have a sacred origin.  In their daily life the person gives honor and respect to the Creator and the universe.

  • Green - is used to designate growing things, and Spring.  When making the prayer ribbons, people might put up a particular color and say why they are using that color.

  • White - is symbolic of old age; winter; and the light of day and the clarity of things and therefore enlightenment.

  • Black - is the color of bravery. It also represents the west direction, from which come the storms that give us the sacredness of water and its life giving qualities.

  • Purple - is a very significant color because it combines the male and female aspect of things. When men are having a ceremony or where a pipe that is meant for a men's ceremony and women are going to be present then something purple in color, usually cloth, will be used to wrap the pipe. The pipe will also be laid on purple during the ceremony.

Prayer ribbons might contain little bits of tobacco rolled into them before the strip is tried onto the branches of trees.  Tobacco is a sacred plant, and is used in making the prayer offering.  The pipe is used to burn the tobacco.  The smoke is a symbolic way of sending prayers throughout the universe from man's place on earth.  Indians symbolically say they are offering the tobacco to the spirits who in turn can use that to carry the prayer to the Creator.  For example, if they chop a tree down or kill an animal, they leave tobacco as a way of acknowledging that the tree's or animal's spirit.

In saying a prayer to them, they give thanks for their giving up their lives to help the Indians live.  This is a way for then to show respect and humbleness by offering the spirit of animals and plants the tobacco.  The smoke carries their prayers throughout the universe and to the Creator.

Indians pray for many different reasons.  For example, to call spirits to the battlefield.  The Nez Perce and other tribes offer ribbons and bells on trees near the Big Hole Battlefield near Billon, Montana. Then the human attracts attention, to pray with them, to ask them to look out for the souls of the people where killed there.  Indian people say prayers in behalf of the Indians, solders and others killed there.  They pray for the souls of their enemy because they were brave also and fighting for their cause.  They ask for forgiveness and to respect the souls of the deceased people too, no matter who they might be.

The Circle

This circle is something that you see all about the Indians.  The earth revolves in a circle, birds nests are circles.  Even the dog makes a circle before he/she lays down.  Circles are significant to the Indian people because they are never ending.

There are some prophecies that tell about the coming of the end of the earth.  However, the Blackfoot and other Indians believe, that if you look at this, you will find in the prayers of the people as part of their ceremonies, that so long as even one Indian person continues to use the pipe in their ceremonies there will be no end to their way of life.  They are praying to the Creator who in turn will protect them in their way of life.  So the circle is symbolic of that fact.

Symbolically, you see the circle in a cross inside of it.  This represents the center, the Creator.  The center of that is where the lines cross, in short, the center is where all roads, all thoughts throughout life go to and come from the Creator.  Life itself is dependent upon the Creator.  Therefore, the circle is symbolically looked upon as the way of the Creator and how things on this Mother Earth exist.  The Indian way of life is never ending so long as they honor and respect the joy of life.  The circle is indeed a sacred symbol.

People often see the cross on an Indian's costume or tipi and they say "Aha, this man must be Christian."  No, that is not the reason.  There is a cross, yes, but the arms are of equal length.  This represents the four directions and that is a spiritual thing.  However, each of the major directions of the earth have spirits, and in those points the Indian see that the world, the entire universe, is a spiritual thing.  In reality, the Indians see the wonder of the Creator in everything.  In nature all things are in circles.  See the circle of the bird's nest, the circle of the wind as it blows leaves into groups, the sand pile's conical shape, and the edge of the lake.  They are all part of the circle.

The Indian's tipi or Lodge is also circular, and it faces east so the round sun can waken them in the early morning hours.  Everything is alive and they are intertwined.  Therefore, they are related to all things.  Indians are not squares, divided into sections, who do not interact with one another.  They are people like any white person and believe there is a purpose for their lives.

Their life is a circle, starting as a small infant, a baby, through childhood, adulthood, as parents and then into old age.  If they have lived a strong spiritual life then they are assured that they will enjoy the life as perceived by that of the child.  They will find again the wonderment, the faith, the acceptance and resilience of the happy, innocent child.

An example of the circle of life is below:

Circle of Life

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