TRIBAL MYSTERIES



The tribal cults that have emerged in the past 500 years offer a blend of Christianity—the majority religion of the conqueror and the slave owner—and the aboriginal belief structures of the Native American or African tribes that were subjugated or enslaved. While the early Christian missionaries, ministers, and priests were sincere in preaching what they considered to be the authentic word of God to the tribes of North and South America and Africa, they regarded their culture, customs, and religion as innately superior. Thus, a deeper understanding and respect between the missionaries and the tribal peoples was difficult to achieve.

"Lost in the dark the heathen doth languish," bemoans a familiar missionary hymn, soundly implying that there is but a single source of illumination. When the Christian clergy set forth on their spiritual journeys to convert the tribal peoples, they established themselves in the parental role and widened the gap of understanding between religious traditions.

On the North American continent, the Christian missionaries were intrigued to discover that tribe after tribe across the length and width of the continent had legends and myths which closely paralleled so many of the accounts found in Genesis and in other books of the Old Testament. The Delaware, to cite only one example, told the story of the Creation and the Great Deluge in pictographs. Some missionaries dealt with the mystery in the same manner that the early Spanish priests who accompanied the conquistadores had dealt with the Aztec myths that told stories similiar to those found in the Bible—they declared that the native people had been told these stories by Satan.

In a study of the aboriginal peoples of the United States written by a theologian in the late 1800s, Dr. John Tanner fulminated against such accounts related by the tribal priests and declared: "If the Great Spirit had communications to make, he would make them through a white man, not an Indian!"

Other Christian scholars and missionaries were not so certain, and, in an effort to explain the similarity between so many of the tribal legends and rites to the Judeo-Christian traditions, a theory was formulated that argued that the aboriginal peoples of the New World were the descendants of the Lost Tribes of Israel. To add an intriguing credence to this theory was the enigma of the Mandan tribe— blue-eyed, fair-complexioned native people of the central plains. Christian clergymen set out with renewed vigor to reclaim the scattered Israelite tribes, lost to the fold for so long, denied the opportunity to accept Jesus Christ (c. 6 B.C.E.–c. 30 C.E.) as the Messiah, condemned to wander a strange and pagan land with their holy traditions but dim memories.

In recent decades, the term "cult" has become negative, quickly applied to religious expressions that may seem different from the order of service in more conventional church bodies. In the twenty-first century, one should always be mindful that what seems to be a strange cult to one person is likely to be a sincere and serious form of worship to another; just because this "strange religious practice" may be an eclectic blend of several traditions does not make it any less serious to its practitioners.


DELVING DEEPER

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Sharma, Arvind, ed. Women in World Religions. Albany: State University of New York Press, 1987.


DELVING DEEPER

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DELVING DEEPER

Huxley, Francis.The Invisibles. New York: McGraw-Hill, 1966.

"Macumba," Occultopedia. [Online] http://www.occultopedia.com/m/macumba.htm. 23 January 2002

Middleton, John, ed. Magic, Witchcraft, and Curing. Garden City, N.Y.: Natural History Press, 1967.

Sharma, Arvind, ed. Women in World Religions. Albany: State University of New York Press, 1987.

Villodo, Alberto, and Stanley Krippner. Healing States: A Journey into the World of Spiritual Healing and Shamanism. New York: Fireside Books, 1987.

DELVING DEEPER

Middleton, John, ed. Magic, Witchcraft, and Curing. Garden City, N.Y.: Natural History Press, 1967.

"Santeria," Alternative Religions. [Online] http://www.religioustolerance.org/santeri.htm. 23 January 2002.

Sharma, Arvind, ed. Women in World Religions. Albany: State University of New York Press, 1987.

Villodo, Alberto, and Stanley Krippner. Healing States: A Journey into the World of Spiritual Healing and Shamanism. New York: Fireside Books, 1987.



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