Native American Religion

The spiritual practices of Native Americans in the United States are known as Native American Religions. Different nations, tribes, and bands have varying histories and worldviews, which are reflected in their diverse ceremonial practices.

Individual Native American tribes and even small bands are described by early European explorers as having their own religious rituals.

There are many different types of theology, including monotheistic, polytheistic, henotheistic, animistic, shamanistic, pantheistic, and combinations of these. Ordinarily, oral histories, myths, and guiding principles serve as the primary means of transmitting traditional beliefs.

Beginning in the 1600s, Catholic and Protestant European Christians began conversion efforts among Native American tribes.

After America gained its independence in the 1700s, its government continued to suppress racial practices and encourage forcible conversion.. Government officials and religious organizations often cooperated in these conversion efforts. In many cases, violence was used as a means of coercion.

This federal harassment and litigation, which passed federal laws prohibiting traditional native practices such as feasting, sun dance ceremonies, and the use of sweat lodges, officially continued until passage of the Religious Freedom Act of 1978.

Another important policy of religious suppression was the removal of Native American children from their families to government-funded and church-run American Indian schools (also known as boarding schools).

Through violence and bullying, native children in these schools were forced to learn European and Christian beliefs, mainstream white culture and English language values, and were forbidden to speak their language and practice their own cultural beliefs.


Monotheism is the belief that there is only one deity, an all-supreme being that is universally referred to as God. A distinction may be made between exclusive monotheism, in which the one God is a singular existence, and both inclusive and pluriform monotheism, in which multiple gods or godly forms are recognized, but each are postulated as extensions of the same God.

Polytheism, Henotheism, and kathenotheism

Polytheism is the belief in multiple deities, which are usually assembled into a pantheon of gods and goddesses, along with their own religious sects and rituals. The different gods and goddesses may be representations of forces of nature or ancestral principles which manifest in nature.

Polytheists do not always worship all the gods equally. They can be henotheists, specializing in the worship of one particular deity, or kathenotheists, worshiping different deities at different times.


Animism is the belief that objects, places, and creatures all possess a distinct spiritual essence. Animism perceives all things—animals, plants, rocks, rivers, weather systems, human handiwork, and in some cases words—as animated and alive.  Animism focuses on the metaphysical universe; specifically, on the concept of the immaterial soul.


Shamanism or samanism is a religious practice that involves a practitioner (shaman or saman) interacting with the spirit world through altered states of consciousness, such as trance. The goal of this is usually to direct spirits or spiritual energies into the physical world for the purpose of healing, divination, or to aid human beings in some other way.


Pantheism is the philosophical religious belief that reality, the universe and the cosmos are identical to divinity and a supreme being or entity. The physical universe is thus understood as an immanent deity, still expanding and creating, which has existed since the beginning of time.

All astronomical objects are thence viewed as parts of a sole deity.




Article Index:

Blackfeet religion and spirituality

The Blackfeet Creator is Na’pi (Old Man). This is the word used to indicate any old man, though its meaning is usually loosely given as white. An analysis of the word Na’pi, however, shows it to be compounded of the word Ni’nah (man), and the particle a’pi, which expresses a color and which is never used by itself, but always in combination with some other word.

Chinigchinich, religious God of the Juaneño Band of Mission Indians

Chinigchinich is an ethnographic account of the culture and notably religious beliefs of the native Californians in the vicinity of the famous mission San Juan Capistrano. This is the mission where the swallows, legendarily, return every year.

Haudenosaunee Spiritual Mythology

These Haudenosaunee spiritual concepts are intended as a general reference guide for students of Eastern Woodland mythology. The format will consist of a Name (and occasionally a translation in the Seneca or Seneca-Mingo dialects) with a description of the divinity.

Juaneño Band of Mission Indians Puberty Rites
Juaneño Band of Mission Indians: Description of the Vanquech or Temple
Lakota Spiritual Mythology
Mayan Spiritual Mythology
Mountain Spirits
Native American Church
Native American Indian gods, godesses and dieties index
Pawnee Beliefs
Seven Drums Religion (Washat)
Superstitions of the Juaneño Band of Mission Indians
The Aztec Gods and Goddesses
The Indian Shaker Church Religion
The Sun Dance
What the buffalo mean to our people
Wovoka’s ghost dance vision
Yurok Religious Beliefs and Burial Customs