Caleb's Crossing

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The Wampanoag and Calvinist: a Parable of Misdirection
"Caleb's Crossing" by Geraldine Brooks outlines the clash between faith and culture of the Wampanoag and Calvinist people; that is a symbolic parable of the misdirection of humanity and its fall from the natural world to its ideal worship of materialism. Throughout the novel, we see the Wampanoag's polytheistic faith of gratitude, appreciation, and interconnectedness with the natural world, clash with the Calvinist's dogmatic and zealous ideologies of sin, hubris, disconnectedness with nature, punishment and sin. Each side's faith is a correlation of the peoples behavior with the natural world, and parallels their interaction with it. The hubris of Calvinism is a conveyance of the fundamental disconnection of humanity with nature, and the creation of a faith far more dogmatic and extremist than any other in the world - Materialism.

The word "pagan" according to the "Pocket Oxford American Dictionary" is "a person holding religious beliefs other than those of the main world religions." It is a derogatory term that has origins to the Latin word 'paganus' which means 'civilian heathen' (Oxford Dictionary, 600). Pagans have always be made out to be evil heretical people, who are the devil's advocate; practicing sorcery, necromancy and other evil deeds. This term comes up in the novel many times, when the Calvinist refer to the Wampanoag, and it is specific to the fact that they come from a faith that is based outside the church. However, this tribe is far from the demon-worshipping, savage heretics that the Colonist would have us believe. They are an extremely peaceful and harmonious people, they practice what might be considered "magick" during rituals, however it is far from evil and serves only as a cultural tradition handed down from generation to generation for the preservation and sanctity of their lifestyle and spirit.

To convey Wampanoag spirituality is a complex task, one must first look at Native American spirituality as a whole and start to dichotomously focus on the specific religion of the Wampanoag people.

At the time of European settlement in North America there were three commonalities shared by most tribes: First, all major indigenous people had established belief systems that were around for generations. These religious systems were grounded in creation myths and were orally exchanged between each consecutive generation of the tribe; offering a mythology for the creation of their people. Second, in each belief system there existed a omnipotent creator or overlord that assumed a variety of forms and genders. The overlord or "Creator" was host of many lesser deities, such as the god of the sun, or the god of death. Lastly, most Native Americans believed in an after-life and the immortality of the human spirit (Heyrman, National Humanities Center).

The Wampanoag, like many of the New England tribes, believe that everything has spirit, which is the basis for the deep respect they have toward all living things. They believe that everything comes from the "Creator" or "Great Spirit" and that he ties all of life together; because he is at the core of all existence. They believe that the world was given to humanity as a precious gift to be respected and admired. The way religious life was conducted lie in the hands of the shaman or "pawaaw", who would initiate specific ceremonies consisting of dances, smoking tobacco, chants and songs. Tribal members would ask the shaman to influence the weather, health, "success in courtship, hunting or war" ("Religion", Greenwood Encyclopedia). Seasonal ceremonies would help to influence the weather and its effect on the harvest. Sweat lodges were used to purify the body before communion with spirits, or to cure aliments caused by them ("Religion", Greenwood Encyclopedia).

The beliefs of the Wampanoag are the very foundation for their harmonious existence with nature; they believe all life is something to be...
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