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Schoolcraft, Henry Rowe.. History of the Indian Tribes of the United States: Their Present Condition and Prospects, and a Sketch of Their Ancient Status. Volume 6. . Philadelphia: Lippincott, Grambo and Co, 1857. [format: book; image], [genre: government document; report]. Permission: Northern Illinois University
Persistent link to this document: http://lincoln.lib.niu.edu/file.php?file=schoolcraft6.html


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Chapter III. — Indian Theory of the Deification of the Sun.

THE idolatrous and heathen nations of the oriental world held the same views as our aborigines on the subject of the deification of animals, to whom offerings were made. Nor were they less united in their ideas with regard to the mysterious nature of fire and the sun. Both these theories infatuated the American Indians. None of the general customs of the American tribes have so greatly changed as those connected with the external ceremonies of the worship of the sun — once so prevalent throughout the continent. The idea of a trinary central seat of heat, light, and life in the sun, was once the general belief of the entire Indian population of America. In Peru it had originally been the worship of the Indians of the old Atacama period, before the era of Manco Capac; but it was reinvigorated by the power and influence of the dynasty of this, apparently, Persian adventurer, or Parsee ecclesiastic, who connected his personal supremacy with the national religion. When Cortez landed in Mexico the theory was there still in vogue, and was recognised by the priesthood, who annually renewed the sacred fire, and thus secured their influence; but its vitality was sapped by a system of horrid human sacrifices to the Mexican Moloch, who was worshipped under the name of Huitzilapochtli.

In the Mississippi valley, the Natchez, or Chigantualgas of the Spaniards, one of the early groups of tribes, practised its prominent rites for at least a decade after the close of the seventeenth century. As late as the year 1721, P. de Charlevoix, the learned envoy sent by the French Court to inspect the American missions, found it in existence among the Natchez, occupying the present area of the State of Mississippi, who had a temple in which the fire was kept burning, and a regularly appointed priesthood, who enforced the system. They received the offerings, dedicated them to the sun, and exacted the fees, or tenths, whether of birds, fish, animals, or other objects.

According to this writer, 839 the Natchez, in their external appearance, did not differ from the other Indians of Louisiana or Canada. Contrary, however, to the custom of these tribes, their government was despotic. The chiefs possessed an absolute sway

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over the liberty and property of the people; their manners assumed a greater degree of haughtiness and rapaciousness, founded on the theory of their descent from the sun. The effects of this had been to drive the mass of the population more from the central location, where they were subject to heavy exactions, and to cause them to found new villages. A few years earlier the military strength of the nation had been estimated at 4000 warriors, but it had dwindled to 2000. The ruling chief bore the title of the Sun, and the succession was vested in the female line; as it was with the Iroquois, among whom the son of the nearest female relation of the ruling chief succeeded. The ruling chief had a guard of men called allouez, whose office was, to dispatch or make way with any who resisted his authority, or made himself obnoxious. He required his subjects to salute him thrice every morning with a kind of salaam, and to bring him a portion of what they obtained by hunting and fishing. The Hurons, Charlevoix remarked, as well as the Natchez, believe that they descended from the sun; but they are too jealous of their personal rights to succumb to the Natchez system of external police and government.

A rustic temple, forty feet by twenty, constructed of wood, without any floor, was erected for the worship of the luminary. In this edifice a fire was kept perpetually burning, by means of three massive pieces of wood, which appointed keepers watched in turn. As in Mexico and Peru, the duties and powers of the chief executive and head ecclesiastic were united in one person. Every morning the Sun-chief stood at the door of the temple, facing the east, and addressed the rising luminary thrice; after which he prostrated himself, and then offered the incense of tobacco, by smoking a pipe appropriated to this occasion, blowing the smoke first towards the sun, and then towards the cardinal points, very much after the manner described by Sir Alexander Mackenzie, as practised among the Kenistenos and Assinaboines 840 of Rainy Lake and Lake of the Woods, of the North.

The heads of families never failed to carry the first fruits of all they gathered to the door of the temple. The keeper, having first dedicated them, took them to the chief, as his prerogative. Offerings of bread were also made at every full moon; and the corn and other grains, before planting, were first brought to the temple for a benediction. Compare this theory with the blood sprinkled on the planted corn in the sacrifice of Haxta, on the Missouri, in 1838. 841

It is evident, from the description of Charlevoix, that the system was then in its wane, though it had prevailed extensively, and was yet recognised by the Appalachian group of tribes. "The greatest part of the nations of Louisiana," observes M. de Charlevoix, "had formerly the temples as well as the Natchez; and in all these temples a perpetual fire is kept up. It should seem that the Mobilians 842 enjoyed a sort of

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primacy in religion over all the other nations in this part of Florida; for, when any of the fires happened to be extinguished, through chance or negligence, it was necessary to kindle them again at theirs. But the temple of the Natchez is the only one existing at present, and is held in great veneration by all the savages inhabiting this vast continent; the decrease of whose numbers is as considerable, and has been still more sudden than that of the people of Canada, without it being possible to assign a true reason for this result. Whole nations have entirely disappeared, within the space of forty years at most, and those who still remain are no more than the shadow of what they were. 843

This numerical decline of the Natchez may be ascribed to the oppressive power of the chiefs, and the consequent decline and extinction of the external rites of the sun-worship in the country. Tradition represents the last Sun of the Natchez to have been an inflated man, who, with a high notion of his descent, office, and position, appears to have neglected the means of preserving his peaceful relations with the French, with whom he waged war. The French under Louis XIV. had other notions of political power, than to yield to a forest king. They extinguished his idolatrous fire, attacked the nation with irresistible impetuosity, killed the greater number of them, and finally drove the remainder to a place of refuge on the Washita river, where monumental evidences of their residence still exist. They were compelled to take shelter in the Creek confederacy, of which they yet constitute an element.

But, although the deification of the sun had, at an early day, been a cardinal principle in the religion of all the Vesperic tribes from the Gulf of Mexico to the Kennebec, the Penobscot, and the St. Lawrence, it had sunk into secondary importance, and its worship was only acknowledged by genuflections, long before the extinguishment of its last altar-fires at Natchez. Evidences that the system had been diffused among the northern tribes, still exist in their inartistic monuments, as also in their traditions and pictographs. The essential rites performed by the Great Sun-chief, at Natchez, namely, the offering of the nicotiana in a State pipe, kindled with sacred fire, were precisely the same as those practised at all public and solemn assemblies of the tribes, from the era of the primary European emigration to Virginia, throughout all periods of our history. No public functionary resident in the Indian country has failed to notice the extraordinary importance attached to these ceremonies by the Indians. We have, personally, witnessed them in the presence of approving thousands, who believed in the sacredness of the rites, at public conferences held in Washington City, Detroit, Michilimackinac, Chicago, St. Louis, at Prairie du Chien, St. Peters, St. Marys, and on the vast steppes at the
sources of the Mississippi. Neither the Ghebir, nor the Parsee could, apparently, evince more devotion in the practice of the rite, than is manifested by these children of the forest. No person at all conversant with Indian

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manners and customs is ignorant of the great value they attach to the fumes of tobacco, which they regard as an acceptable offering to the Great Spirit. The plant itself is indigenous in tropical latitudes, but it has been cultivated as far north as the climate will permit. Beyond those latitudes, it is carried, as the most valued article of trade, even to the Arctic circle. 844

We have the testimony of Charlevoix, who visited all the tribes in New France, between Quebec and New Orleans, and conversed with the resident missionaries, that the sun worship had prevailed among, and was then believed in by the Hurons, and all the other tribes. 845 It is stated by the respected author of the "Notes to Ontwa," published at Boston, in 1824, that an eternal fire had formerly been kept burning on the island of Chegoimegon, in Lake Superior; and in preceding pages we have given the tradition of another person, an educated half-blood, that the Odjibwas there held stated assemblages for religious and political purposes, under the rule of a MUDJIKEWIS, or first-born son of an established dynasty. 846 The worship of the sun is also described in prior pages, as still existing among the ceremonious practices of the Dakotahs — a people who trace their origin to the south. 847

In investigating the superstitious rites of the Indians, the symbol of the sun is frequently seen in their pictographic scrolls, and signs of mnemonic
songs, which have been previously recorded and explained. 848 It is also traceable at an earlier period, in their muzzinabiks, or rock inscriptions. Chingwalk, the Algonquin pictographist, recognises the symbol of it in the inscription on the
Dighton Rock, on the Assonet, or Taunton river, in Massachusetts. 849

No system of religion which imposed heavy stated tributes, or trenched greatly on personal liberty, would have been suited to secure the permanent favor of the American tribes, while they were free to migrate ad libitum. In Mexico and South America such systems had been connected with despotic forms of government; and, in truth, had been the veritable means by which such despotisms had been established, both in Peru and Mexico. The very magnificence of the forests, rivers, and lakes of the regions inhabited by the Vesperic tribes, had the effect, as before premised, 850 not only of multiplying tribes and dialects, and of tending to lead them into barbaric and totemic associations, but, conjoined with the vast area of the country which was at their command, it may be considered as having been unfavorable to the growth and development of the Parsaic forms of religion. The Indians, living in vast forests abounding in enormous trees, adopted the belief in wood-dryads, the daemons of the Greeks, whom they propitiate under the name of Monetos, or local spirits, regarding them as subordinate powers of the Great Spirit. As these dryads were generally

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thought to be of a malignant nature, the simple offering to them, at consecrated spots, of tobacco, vermilion, red cloth, or any highly valued article, was adopted as the means of appeasing them. Giants, sorcerers, wizards, and other creations of a timid fancy, were supposed to be inspired by these wood-daemons.

Another striking feature of their system of deification was the belief that the Indian Moneto concealed himself, not only under the forms of men who mingled in society, and were familiarly conversed with, but that he frequently assumed the shape of a wolf, deer, bear, elk, bird, tortoise, amphibious animal, or even an insect. Here appears the evidence of a fruitful imagination, corresponding with the ancient forms of deification existing among the nations resident in the valleys of the Euphrates and the Nile. The scale of progression in error would seem to be precisely the same here, as there, descending regularly from the human to the brute species. Bel Amon and Osiris were succeeded by the winged bull, the winged lion, and the sphinx; and these, in turn, by the crocodile, the ibex, the cat, and the calf. The Typhon of the Nile may be said to correspond to the Vatipa of the Amazon; 851 and, agreeably to Mr. Layard, to the Nerig and Siluth, 852 and other night-monsters of the ancient necromancers of Nineveh. Of the clan of evil deities are the Kluneolux of the Iroquois; the Chepian, the Wabéno, and the Manitoosh of the Algonquins; and the Skookum of the Oregonians. Some conception may, perhaps, be formed of these creations of Indian sorcery, by a glance at the annexed plate of the Dance of the Giants. 853

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Schoolcraft, Henry Rowe.. History of the Indian Tribes of the United States: Their Present Condition and Prospects, and a Sketch of Their Ancient Status. Volume 6. . Philadelphia: Lippincott, Grambo and Co, 1857. [format: book; image], [genre: government document; report]. Permission: Northern Illinois University
Persistent link to this document: http://lincoln.lib.niu.edu/file.php?file=schoolcraft6.html
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