We destroyed our own religion first… KEYWORDS: native american religion and spirituality editorial sun dance sweat lodge ancient medicine culture indigenous cultures native american religion pagan religion shamanistic Nerkabah mysticism
In the brilliant 1988 film Powwow Highway, at one moment Red Bow looks down and makes a cynical remark about a powwow: “Look at these people dancing around a basketball court. You’d think a few feathers and some beads was a culture or something.”
Red Bow’s question strikes at the eternal debate about what is “authentic” Native American culture in the modern world.
Since the Native American Religious Freedom Act of the late 1970s, there has been a steady recovery of the Sundance, the Sweat Lodge and other aspects of the ancient medicine culture.
Unfortunately, however, we European-Americans rarely stop to ask the parallel question: what is “authentic” Christian culture? How often do we stop to ask ourselves how it was that we, under the influence of Christianity, launched what was essentially a worldwide campaign to destroy indigenous cultures?
Although I risk being labeled “anti-Christian” for posing the question, I still ask it. How is it that not only did Christian missionaries seek to destroy Native American religion, but we also sought to destroy the African tribal religions, Kahuna religion of Hawaii, the Maori customs of New Zealand, the Aboriginal “Dreamworld” culture of Australia, and just about any other indigenous culture you want to name?
I would argue that the process of destruction actually started within Christianity, and only then did it turn towards destruction without.
Today, some of us white guys like to wear medicine bags, beads, and maybe some other forms of Native American jewelry. There is a good reason why we white folk, or at least some of us, bare a certain unspoken curiosity with Native American culture. This is because long before we destroyed Native American culture, we destroyed our own European indigenous culture.
We admire the Natives for their love of Nature, but we forget the Greeks were notorious lovers of Nature. Even as the Eskimos have about 15 words for snow because they were able to find subtle distinctions in snow textures, the Teutonic tribes had at least 15 different words for the Spirit and the Soul, because they were able to make subtle distinctions in how the Spirit worked in the psyche.
The Romans built their cities and temples out of marble and stone, intending them to last for thousands of years. The construction techniques of the Christian era were a cheap imitation of what came before.
And yet, all our lives we have been trained to think of the “Pagans” as savages, uncivilized, uncouth people who would kill their own children and throw their slaves into an arena and make them fight to the death. The reality is, in many ways the “pagan” culture and religion was superior to that which came afterwards, as strange and offensive as that may sound to many.
The Hebrews were not hermetically sealed off from the world and immune to pagan teachings. The truth is that the Essene Brotherhood of Jews carried on practices that, broadly considered, could be called “shamanistic.”
Specifically, the Hebrew shamans used a technique known as “Merkabah” mysticism to achieve multi-dimensional travel and to attain visions of the throne of God. The word “Merkabah” means chariot and is a metaphor for a vehicle that takes one to the Spirit World. The end result was a type of Out-of-Body Experience not unlike that experienced by natives such as Circling Raven.
Yet, in time fundamentalists within the religion suppressed these shamanic teachings. They also sought to prevent their members from realizing that the Christian religion bore many similarities to those of their competitors, the “Pagan” Mystery Schools. Therefore, Christians in time would seek to destroy the Eleusinian Mysteries, the Mithraic Mysteries, the Hermetic Mysteries, and so forth, despite the fact that most of the Christian mysteries came directly from pagan sources.
Therefore, the painful truth is that the reason why Christianity launched a worldwide campaign of destruction against indigenous cultures, is that the religion was first destroyed from within.
We did it to ourselves first.