Religious Beliefs of the Pueblos
29 SEP 2017
The Pueblo people, an expansive collection of Native American tribes, mostly reside in the areas of northeastern Arizona and northwestern New Mexico. Although spiritual and religious beliefs vary across the dozens of active Pueblo villages, tribes and communities across the American Southwest, most Pueblo religions share some common threads, such as an emphasis on nature, spirits, fertility and renewal.
The Kachina religion forms the core of many traditional Pueblo beliefs. According to this philosophy, hundreds of ancestral spirits known as Kachinas live and communicate with each tribe for half of each year. Pueblo people who practice Kachina religion perform rituals while wearing ornate masks, which represent Kachina spirits, to communicate with spirit beings. Major Kachina spirits include the powerful Earth Father and Earth Mother and a serpent god who is believed to control the rain.
As a society historically reliant on agriculture, the Pueblo revere and respect nature. Many of the Pueblo prayers, often performed by way of dancing rituals, address nature, requesting fertility, renewal, bountiful harvests or successful hunts. Pueblos integrate their spirituality throughout their lives as completely as possible, and their beliefs often emphasize a sense of interconnectedness and harmony with nature. Speaking to PBS, Porter Swentzell of the Santa Clara Pueblo said: “Our whole world around us is our religion -- our way of life is our religion.”
Pueblo ceremonies often take place in sacred underground chambers called kivas. Some Pueblo practice religious rituals to cure diseases and ailments, protect tribal welfare and ensure rain. The latter ceremony involves pouring water on the bodies of Pueblo women and planting rain sticks among crops. Kinship, often traced back for generations, plays a key role in Pueblo religion; a person's ancestry may determine his eligibility to perform important religious ceremonies or hold a place in governing religious bodies.
In 1539, Marcos de Niza, a Franciscan friar, claimed the Pueblo region for Spain. By 1630, the friars began to undertake intense efforts to convert the Pueblo to Catholicism. While many Pueblo adopted Western religion to survive under the rule of the dominating colonists, the Pueblo typically practiced syncretism -- or the incorporation of new customs alongside their traditional beliefs -- rather than completely abandoning their longstanding spiritual systems. For instance, some Pueblo blended Christianity with traditional beliefs by adopting figures such as Jesus, the saints and the Virgin Mary alongside Kachinas and attending Mass. However, some Pueblo were punished or subjected to the destruction of sacred objects when they did not accept Catholicism. This lead to a series of religious revolts throughout the 1670s.