The Blackfeet are a Native American tribe from the Great Plains. Today, they are centered mostly in Montana, with about 16,000 registered members, with over 80,000 people claiming Blackfoot heritage. Like many Native American tribes, the Blackfoot religion focuses heavily upon the natural world, ascribing holy qualities to animals, rivers, mountains, and even the sun itself.
The Old Man
The most important figure in the Blackfoot Religion is "Na'pi," or "the Old Man." He is the creator of the Blackfoot tribe, and indeed the creator of the entire world, but depending upon the legend, he has many different qualities. Sometimes, he is wise, other times, hapless. Sometimes he is dour and serious, but other times he is impishly mischievous. Sometimes he is caring and sympathetic to people, but other times he plays tricks on them. All of the magic and power of the world comes from the Old Man. He used to live side by side with the Blackfeet, but at one point he left for the mountains in the West, taking the buffalo with him, but he will eventually return.
The Old Man plays a central role in most versions of the Blackfoot Tribe's creation myths. Several different versions exist, but in the most frequent, the universe used to be covered completely with water, with the Old Man and all the animals floating around on am enormous raft. One day, the Old Man asked the beaver to retrieve mud from the bottom of the water. The beaver dove, but could not get to the bottom. Next, the Old Man ordered the loon to dive. The loon tried, and could not make it. Finally, the muskrat dove, and returned with a gob of mud. The Old Man used this to create the earth and human beings.
Another God-like figure in the Blackfoot tribe's religious cosmology is the Sun. The Sun grew to become just as important as the Old Man, perhaps even more important. There is even some evidence to suggest that the Old Man and the Sun are the same entity. However, the Sun has more consistently benevolent tendencies than the Old Man. In any case, the Sun has a very central place in Blackfoot religious practices, being seen as the source of all good fortune in life. One of the major religious observances among the Blackfeet is the Sun Dance, which happens ever midsummer.
Other, less powerful gods exist in the Blackfoot cosmology. They are split into three categories: Above Persons, who live on the earth, Ground Persons, who live underground, and Underwater Persons, also known as "suyitapis," who live in lakes and streams. Thunder is an Above Person who brings the rain. Ground Man lives underground, and personifies the power of the earth. Cold Maker brings the snow, and is a white man with white clothing and hair who also lives under ground. Wind Maker is an Underwater Person who brings wind by causing waves in the surface of the water.
Animals also play an important role in Blackfoot religion, often worshipped or at least respected for the the ways they are believed to help humanity. Wolves are important in assisting with hunting and endurance. Hunters sing songs to the wolves, and the wolves assist them in return. Buffalo stand for food and shelter, and are also believed to be part human. Geese are respected for their knowledge of the weather. Ravens have the power to give people sight.
The Blackfeet view many places as sacred. The Sweet Grass Hills are a sacred site where people are afraid to go. Nearby, it is believed that the spirits live on of the good people who have died. "Medicine rocks" are rocks that are believed to be alive, and whenever they pass one, Blackfeet must give it presents.
Each year, a "medicine lodge" is constructed, and is the site of a wide variety of different rituals intended to bring good fortune over the next year. The lodge's building is initiated by a female member of the tribe, who says a prayer, and then she is assisted by others until it is done. It is in these lodges that Blackfoot men "swing" -- that is, cut slits in their chests, attach ropes to these slits, and swing from the ropes. Overcoming the pain will provide good luck in battle, on the hunt, or in other things.
Medicine bundles are small kits that contain the necessary ingredients for a ritual. They are made of hide or cloth, and are passed from one person to another based on a sort of ritual. They are important talismans for Blackfeet as they make their way through the world.
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