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On the Track of Manitu

The mysterious World of Spirits of the Indians World of spirits and reality: For the North American Indians they have been connected inseparable. Sunbeams, water murmur, bear roaring – according to the Indian conception all things and phenomenons have a soul.

Sitting Bull

World of spirits and reality: For the North American Indians they have been connected inseparable.
Sunbeams, water murmur, bear roaring – according to the Indian conception all things and phenomenons have a soul. They are expression of higher power. At the head of the gods is the Great Spirit. He consists like all other spirits of energy and force. The Sioux call him Wakan Tanka. He is honoured as Yasatine by the Apaches. Only the Algonkin-Indians call him Manitu. The more than fivehundred tribes that existed in North America in the 19th century followed thousands of different divinities. Besides each Indian was protected by his own spirit guide.

All Indians were convinced of living on after death. The Comanches understood the eternal hunting-grounds as a valley without pain or sorrows but with game inabundance. On the other Hand, the folk of the Cheyennes believed that the souls of the deceased are wandering via the Hanging Celestial Street to the so-called realm “Heammawihio”. The dead have been burried on wooden frames, in rock clefts or under stones. Indians from California were used to cremations. The belongings of the deceased were burned as well, his lodgings destroyed. Thus the return of dead soul should be prevented.

As well medicine bag, pipe and feather finery went up in flames – beside the totem stake the most important cult objects of the Indians: guideposts to the world of spirits. For prairie Indians like the Kiowa or Sioux the feather crests was some kind of an order which was only allowed to be worn by brave warriors. Red feather finery symbolized the spiritual power. For the Apaches it was like a magical shield. The medicine bag contained things which were consecrated to the spirit guide: Grizzly teeth, flints, dried herbs. The one who lost it, lost as well his luck.

The pipe has been also important: everyday thing, means of appeasement, passport and sanctuary together. Ceremonial pipes served as communication with the world of spirits and were accordingly precious: They had the value of one horse. The pipe-bowl has been manufactured of a special material. It originated from the “Pipestone”, a sacral quarry in today’s Minnesota and besides the Church Rock in Utah or the Big Foot Pass in South Dakota one of the most significant cult places of the North American Indians.

There was nothing without a medecine man. He was physician, psychologist, priest, prophet and often chief as well – like Sitting Bull. Above all he contacted the spirits or the deceased. As with the sweating ceremony which is still practised today. Blankets and hides cover a wooden frame. In it herbal infusions above a glowing stone pile provide a 50 to 60 degrees Celsius heat. In the inner of the hut are sitting the medicine man and the elder of the tribe. Till late in the night they conjure her forefathers – who once went buffalo hunting in the prairie - with singing and smoking the holy pipe. Such rituals have a long tradition for the Indians. Already the Paläo Indians practised hunting conjurations 12,000 years ago.

Similar traditional are the dancing rituals of the Indians. There were hundreds of them – from the eagle dance to the war dance. The most wide-spread was the sun dance that lasted more than four days and involved serious tortures and self torments. In 1860, the religious spirit dance became at last the coffin-nail for the endeavours for freedom of the Indians.
Sitting Bull once danced before the Battle of Little Bighorn. For four days he was alone in the hills. Sunken in deep trance, he seeked the advice from Wankan Tanka. Then the Great Spirit talked to him, gave green light for the great battle. But before Sitting Bull sent his warriors to the fight, he had to dance. 24 hours long. Incessantly. On his arms the wounds of fifty thrusts with a knife which were caused by himself. The chief of the Sioux danced as he never danced before. When he collapsed exhaustedly, the spirits sent him the relieving vision. It showed the victory over the White man.

Again Sitting Bull danced at the first front and stood up for the preservation of the sun dance towards the reservation administrators. They intended to prohibit it. Riots followed. A scuffle. There was a shot. The bullet hit Sitting Bull in the head. The Great Spirit left him. For him the fight for freedom came to an end.