Wednesday, August 06, 2008
The Hebrews and the Native Americans are two deeply spiritual cultures, their spirituality’s have many similar nuances and the two cultures share similar identifications. Individuals have gone, as far in fact to suggest that the Native Americans are the lost tribes of the Israelites, however I will not debate that theory. Interestingly there are quite a few similarities which do not necessarily contain spiritual connection. One example might be both cultures have nomadic backgrounds with tribal structures. Another is both cultures have survived attempted genocide and ethnic cleansing.
The Hebrew religion known as Judaism is monotheistic with the deity known to their culture as Yahweh. Their idea of Yahweh was he was omnipotent and perfect, therefore if he was good all he created had reason for existence. Furthermore all events would have a reason for happening, even if man might not understand the reason. Their Yahweh is also a personal deity in the sense he has a love and interest in them.
This is very relevant in the Israelite outlook on life as their deity is solid in idea and action and can be counted on to be consistent. During tragic events in Hebrew history, they never felt god had abandoned them; rather they looked to see how they had abandoned him.
This anonymous antidote might state it best “If I do not feel close to God, who moved?”
While Yahweh is credited with creating all humans he specifies them in stated terms that they are his chosen people. Yahweh is also credited by the Hebrews as creating all the cosmos and everything they contain. The deity’s favor of man is also shown in his message that all that he created was to be of use to and submissive to man. The Hebrew idea of Yahweh being concerned with the lives of man also gave each individual a personal connection with Yahweh. While Yahweh dictates the way a man should live Yahweh also could be contacted directly by the individual by prayer. This is important in their faith and culture as it could bring great personal comfort and satisfaction.
Yahweh’s interest in them was to such a great extent that he spoke to them through messengers who became known as prophets. These prophets appeared at different times in the history of the Israelites and proved to them the interaction of Yahweh. Thorough the prophet’s, Yahweh would not only direct immediate actions but give rules for them to live by. The Hebrews grouped these rules into Rabbinic Law with ten being the most important as they were not only handed down to the prophet Moses, they were written on stone directly by Yahweh’s hand. These important laws of Yahweh are the Ten Commandments.
These Ten Commandments dictate imperatives of the Hebrew religious and social order. The first commandments also enforce the important concept of monotheism and importance that this concept is adhered to closely. Obvious moral and social rules are contained in the Ten Commandments such as not to kill or steal, they run deeper then the literal interpretations. A example might be the commandment that You shall not make for yourself an idol, whether in the form of anything that is in heaven above, or that is on the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth Deuteronomy 5:6-5:21(The New International Bible 1984).While the obvious implications are clear this commandment could also clarify while Yahweh made matter and it is good, to be to attached to it would give it the semblance of a idol.
We next look at Native American spirituality from the Anishinaabe/Ojibwe perspective. The Ojibwe seem to worship many deities and even nature, this is not the case however. Native spirituality too has an omnipotent deity known simply as the Creator.
There are several different traditional stories as to the Creator’s creation of the cosmos however most start with the Creator dreaming about a world and creating this world
All traditions agree that the elements, plants, and animals came before people.
The Creator gave all things value even rock is included in stories as a living thing.
While People may have come last they have a gift not given to the rest of creation
For just like the creator they can dream, and have from those dreams creativity.
The Creator also gave man an advantage by creating him last for he can learn from his animal and plant relations. The creator did not hand down rules that people must live by instead he placed them inside us. Just as the Bear knows how to hunt, people know how to live “mino-bimaadiziwin” the good life or correct life. Knowledge that people are born with would include honoring all that came before us, the Creator, the earth, the animals our elders and so on. Proving that honor by behaving positively and honestly as we do our best at using the special talents the creator gave us. Even the clans with in the tribes or bands are based upon nature, they suggest a purpose for each clan and as clans can not intermarry they keep the blood lines strong. The original clans consist of the crane, bear, marten, fish loon, deer or hoof, and bird; however other clans exist such as the raven and wolf clan.
Most stories or lessons are told about or from the view point of non humans. Another reason Anishinaabe spirituality seems to have other deities is that everything is seen as having part of the creator in it. The Creator however lacks a definitive gender like the Hebrew god Yahweh. There are certain things in the Anishinaabe way of life that have a definitive male or female definition. However there are many traditional meanings that contain both genders. The drum is often associated with the male Ojibwe however the music of the drum also represents the heartbeat. The first thing any person or animal hears in the womb is the heartbeat of the mother. Ojibwe do not claim to be the creators chosen people just as they do not look at their spirituality as separate from there day to day life it is seamless. Ojibwe awake everyday and give thanks to the creator and ask guidance to live mino-bimaadiziwin.
The Goal of human existence for the Hebrew is to fulfill Yahweh’s purpose for has chosen them as his people. The Hebrew believes that eventually they will again be placed in an exalted position on the earth. Some Hebrew takes this role very seriously and believes that Hebrews should be the priest of the world. This concept known as Messianism calls for the Israelites to continue to be good examples of Yahweh’s children till the day all will peacefully live on the earth with the Hebrews as head of state. This would be brought about with the aid of a catalyst in Hebrew form know as the messiah. However this is an ultimate goal and doesn’t contain precise prediction of when these events will take place. Therefore the Hebrews must follow Yahweh’s laws and continue to bear the weight of having to set an example for the rest of the world. The Hebrew is rich in written tradition and its greatest texts the Hebrew bible or Torah which in the plainest example is the first five book of the bible and the Talmud. While the Torah contains Yahweh’s laws The Talmud is very important as well as it give the Hebrews important interpretation of the Torah. However even the Talmud itself is open to interpretation which range from liberal views to very conservative. Returning to the theme of Yahweh as a loving and personal deity the Israelites see their god as knowing they are prone to disobeying his laws. Even this they believe adds to life as there would be no glory to virtue without the alternative.
The Hebrews are unified by there beliefs and there religion and feel to a certain extent what shames one of them shames them all and visa versa. The idea they are examples and the practice of unity has helped them withstand tragic persecution through out history. Instead of cowering in submission the Hebrew have arose from each period of persecution more determined to flourish. Their acceptance of injury has made them not defeatist but tough survivalist. Their religious views on matter have helped them triumph in history where other religions could not as being a merchant or lender was just as good in Yahweh’s eyes as any other profession. This fact is shown in their enormous contribution to all areas of from finance and art to fashion and science.
The Anishinaabe/Ojibwe Goal of human existence can be described in one word, natural. There is no real division in spiritual and earthly pursuits indigenous Americans and they live with the philosophy of nature. The earth is the mother of all and all will return to the earth eventually to recycle. Their views are proven to them in the cycle of the seasons. The elements of rock, wind, fire and water, which are the basic make up of the grandmother provide a support for all living things and they return to the grandmother and gratefully replenish her. We also see the human cycle in the seasons as each season holds a purpose which gracefully unfolds. A simplified explanation would be the spring brings birth and learning, the summer growth, the fall harvest and fulfillment, the winter death and renewal.
Another part of the creator is deeply instilled in all the cosmos contain and the Ojibwe call that part is called medicine. When we speak of Anishinaabe medicine we actually speak of two different things. One is the oblivious medicine which is a part of everything and becomes distinctly part each individual. This type of medicine and its stories are common; furthermore they are where you will find the differences pointed out in male and female. The other is the not so obvious or mysterious medicine that is the private area of the Midewiwin.
The Ojibwe traditions are oral and passed down from one generation to the next.
This is another reason why elders are respected. As man was the last thing on earth other living things are mans elders, stories revolve around them to instruct people on the natural way to the good life. Elder members of the band are also respected as they have gathered many stories and much can be learned from them. Some Elders become pipe carriers or pipe keepers, these elders have usually been picked by those who carried out the function before them. They instruct the people on all aspects of traditional life from ceremonies to the everyday life.
Matter in the Indigenous Americans life is not what matters most as it is largely based on imaginary and finite values. As one elder told me “things that sparkle are always fun or pretty but man made sparkles fade”. The sparkle of the water snow or ice never fades” The realization that nature is cyclical has helped the indigenous American survive many hardships and persecution.
The Hebrew has a rich and warm host of traditions and rituals which color their religion. While after the fall of Canaan the priesthood of the Hebrews ends they still have a strong spiritual leadership in the rabbis. The rabbis or teachers just as the Ojibwe pipe carrier instruct and interrupt the Torah and Talmud.
The Hebrew also observe the Sabbath a weekly ritual that allows the Israelite to concentrate on their faith by Hebrew law the Sabbath is from Sundown Friday to sundown Saturday, a 24 hour period. The Sabbath also follows the bible chapter genesis where God rested on the 7th day. No work is done on this day and meals and other preparations are performed ahead of time. This by no means meals are Spartan or the day is dreary. It is quite the opposite. Meals are elaborate and leisurely.
Music and culturally significant stories unfold, this day set by religious law while meant to honor the deity also gave man a day to rest. Since family was is important and vital to Hebrew culture it also offered a full day that the family be together and find quality time to nurture their religion and relationships. Prayer and reading the Torah are also important rituals of the Sabbath, during the course of the year the entire Torah is read on Sabbath days. While Hebrew tradition is written in many ways it is also oral as usually the torah is read out loud to the children. The Israelites also have major holidays through out the year that are religious or cultural.
The Ojibwe traditional rituals follow the seasons and since the spirituality is seamless most everyday task are parts of their spirituality. The making of food containers of birch or ash was first observed by giving thanks to the mother for the material, then later prayer while working to finish the implements. In fact most tasks begin with a prayer of thanks and/or offering to the mother. While this sounds very austere it is not, as it is done naturally. Simple everyday task such as the braiding of hair hold special significance.
“One day the mother was looking at the whole of the creator’s world, she lies on the grass and saw how useful it was to all of the creator’s children. It provided food for animals and in hard times it provided nutrients to soups. It was hearty and adapted to anything; it withstood drought and flood and lay still in the winter. The mother found a tall patch and sat braiding the long leaves together then took them to where she slept. She would wake in the morning to see her braid of grass and they reminded her to teach her children to be adaptable useful and to braid together in unity. Later her children learned to braid sweet grass in the same manner to dry and remind them of the lessons. Soon people were braiding their hair in the morning and praying; as the day went on they had a visual reminder of the lesson.”
The indigenous people celebrate the seasons and honor events and people.
One way they do this is the Pow Wow. These events encompass all that is natural and good in the world. The celebration is so full of meaning one can not count all of the significance.
They are a time when all indigenous culture is celebrated by dance song drum and dress.
It is a time when all that is part of life is recognized for its service and goodness.
The humor and pain of life is expressed in dance and ritual, the season’s directions and elements are all seen in connection to the people. In modern times it has become a revival of the spiritual culture. It is a time when healing can take place and the indigenous people can learn of ways that were almost lost. They dance for those that suffered and died. They dance for those lost by the oppression. Indigenous people at Pow Wow Drum for the Warriors, who both in word and deed fought, even those warriors conscripted by a foreign power. They drum for their children who they see battle a world in conflicted values.
The Hebrews and the Anishinaabe share a great many spiritual similarities. They both nurture their children and thank the creator in many ways that seem mundane to the casual observer. They both are monotheistic with a belief that all that their separate deities
created had reason. While their view of matter and nature are different they share a pain created by oppression, greed and prejudice. They were both nomads by design and by circumstance who lost their homelands. They both have contributed a great deal to the world. They both in the end are not evangelical and their spirituality is ingrained in their racial heritage. The Hebrew see themselves as the stewards of mankind and the Native American as the stewards of nature.