Barstow Community College
Many indigenous religions and cultures viewed the earth with great respect and reverence. This can be seen through their kinship with the land, their belief in animism, their hunter/hunted relationship, and their origin stories.
Indigenous Religions and their Sacred Reverence Toward Nature
Most indigenous cultures had a profound respect for their environment. They believed that their relationship with nature was very sacred, they believed the earth needed to be treated with dignity and reverence, they believed in harmony with their surroundings. Speaking of indigenous religions, Lewis (1995) wrote,
They defined themselves by the land, by the sacred places that bounded and shaped their world. They recognized a unity in their physical and spiritual universes, the union of natural and supernatural. Their origin cycles, oral traditions, and cosmologies connected them with all animate and inanimate beings, past and present. (p. 423) Molly wrote, "Environmentalist David Suzuki argues that we must look to native peoples and religions for insightful lessons in the relationship between human beings and nature." (2005, p. 39) Native religions had a much different view of the world than we had today, and that view can be seen in the way they lived, their religious ceremonies, and even in the things they take from nature.
We should begin our discussion of indigenous religions by defining what one is. The term indigenous refers to a culture that originated in a certain area. Indigenous can be used interchangeably with words such as native, oral, primal, tribal, traditional, and aboriginal. These cultures can be found anywhere in the world, in every climate and every type of environment. Different from global religions like Christianity and Islam, each of these religions were formed in isolation from everything else, causing huge variations in language, beliefs, customs, traditions, myths, and origin stories. (Molly, 2005)
In his book Experiencing the World's Religions, Michael Molloy wrote, "Most indigenous religions have sprung from tribal cultures of small numbers, whose survival has required a cautious and respectful relationship with nature. In the worldview of these religions, human beings are very much a part of nature." (2005, p. 41) Many of these cultures view nature as a living breathing entity, and something that deserves respect and love. Many feel a kinship with nature, believing that we came from the environment and will someday return to the environment. Some even believe the animals to be their brothers and sisters - that each living thing was created of the same substance and came from the same earth. The Mayan text Popol Vuh, Taylor (2005) wrote, tells of an origin story of an previous group:
An origin myth in which an earlier race of humans were destroyed for the disregard they showed animals and inanimate objects cautions people to respect the natural world, while humans' relationship of dependence on a Creator who is embodied in the unity of sky and Earth reinforces the sacredness of the world. (p. 834) This quote shows just how seriously the native cultures treated nature. Their respect was so great, that cautionary tales of what can happen if you don't have that respect even became a part of their origin stories.
A notable belief that is common among many tribal cultures is the belief of "animism." Molloy defined animism as coming from the Latin word anima meaning "life force" or "spirit." He continued that animism is a worldview common among indigenous religions that believes all of nature has a spirit, or is filled with spirits (2005, p. 41). Forbes wrote that animism can also be known as "life-ism," and "it is true that most or perhaps all Native Americans see the entire universe as being alive - that is, as having movement and an ability to act."...