XI. Religion

IN a crisis an African Negro calls a diviner, who casts his sacred dice and by occult lore interprets the throw: such and such a one of his client's ancestors is angry and so many head of cattle must be slaughtered to appease his wrath. The Crow had no system of divination, never worshiped their ancestors, and made no bloody sacrifices. When hard put to it, the Indian tried to meet divinity face to face. A direct revelation without priestly go-between was the obvious panacea for human ills, the one secure basis of earthly goods. It might come as an unsought blessing, but only by a lucky fluke; hence a Crow strove for it by courting the pity of the supernaturals in the traditional way. To any major catastrophe, to any overwhelming urge, there was an automatic response: you sought a revelation. Every Crow, battered by fortune, writhing under humiliation, or consumed with ambition set forth on the quest of a vision. To take a few random samples: A legendary hero who has been spurned by a supercilious beauty at once goes to a solitary rock, is blessed by a spirit, and becomes a great man. Another lover meets an elk, who teaches him to charm all women, so that the haughty maiden is now seized with an uncontrollable passion for her erstwhile victim. When a cruel chief steps on an orphan's neck, the poor boy at once gives notice to his kin: "My elder brothers, give me moccasins, give me arrows, I am going for a vision. Don't worry about me, some time I'll return." A bear takes pity on him, and enables him to turn the tables on his enemy. Again, when a Crow is killed in a clan feud, his brother forthwith departs; successively blessed by a bear, a jackrabbit, and a hawk, he returns to slay the murderer. A mythological gambler who has lost at play not only his property but his wife, seeks supernatural power, and by the grace of a white-headed eagle retrieves his losses. Finally, an orphan taunted for his poverty by a wealthy bully seeks redress in the mountains, gains the favor of several spirits, returns triumphant from the warpath, and confounds his enemy.

-237-

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The Crow Indians
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Contents vii
  • List of Illustrations ix
  • Preface xi
  • Introduction xiii
  • I - Tribal Organization 3
  • II - Kinship and Affnity 18
  • III - From Cradle to Grave 33
  • IV - The Workaday World 72
  • V - Literature 104
  • VI - Selected Tales 119
  • VII - Old Woman's Grandchild 134
  • VIII - Twined-Tail 158
  • IX - Club Life 172
  • X - War 215
  • XI - Religion 237
  • XII - Rites and Festivals 256
  • XIII - The Bear Song Dance 264
  • XIV - The Sacred Pipe Dance 269
  • XV - The Tobacco Society 274
  • XVI - The Sun Dance 297
  • XVII - World-View 327
  • Appendix I - Sources 335
  • Appendix II - Clan Names 340
  • Glossary 343
  • Index 345
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