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Blackfoot Religion

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Blackfoot Religion

Central to Blackfoot religion is animism, a belief in sacred spirits that permeate all things, represented symbolically by the sun whose light sustains all things. The Blackfoot believe the universe has a supernatural power that can be met within the natural environment. The Blackfoot seek these powers, believing the life of the land and their own lives are connected.

A symbol of sacred power is the medicine bundle. The origin of the sacred bundle came from the vision quest of a young man. The young man was visited by a supernatural spirit of an animal or a power of nature instructing him to collect certain things and retain them because of their sacred power. The dreamer gathered the items and placed them into a rawhide pouch. The animal, often appearing in human form, provided the dreamer with a list of objects, songs, and rituals necessary to use this power. The power of the bundle and the associated songs and rituals were used in religious ceremonies. The most powerful medicine bundle among the Blackfoot was the beaver medicine bundle. This bundle was used to charm the buffalo, and to assist in the planting of the sacred tobacco used in the medicine pipe ritual performed after the first thunder was heard.

Tribal religious life was characterized by the performance of ceremonies which were often preceded by purification rituals. Individuals would sit in a sweat lodge singing songs to sacred beings. Primary to the Blackfoot religious life was the communal Sun Dance, held in the middle of the summer, with the purpose of enabling the renewal of the world. The Sun Dance was a sacred celebration of the sun that consisted of a series of sacred acts, sacrifice, and vision that was initiated by a "virtuous" woman in one of the Blackfoot tribes. A woman who pledged, or "vowed" to take on the responsibilities of sponsoring the Sun Dance was called the "medicine woman." The medicine woman took on the position as a display of gratitude to the sun for the survival of someone in the vow woman's family. The medicine woman was required to fast prior to the Sun Dance, to prepare food for the Sun Dance, to buy a sacred headdress, and to learn complex prayers.

As word spread about the medicine woman and the location of the Sun Dance, bands of Blackfoot drifted toward the location. The Blackfoot Sun Dance included moving the camp on four successive days. During this time, the dancers had taken their own sacred vows and fasted from both food and water. On the fifth day, the Sun Lodge was built at the center of a circular camp. The medicine lodge was erected around a sacred pole, whose purpose was to connect the sacred powers of the sky with the earth. Medicine bundles were transferred to the medicine woman, and offerings of gifts were brought by children and adults that were ill or unhealthy. On the sixth day, the dancers called to the sun through

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