The Spiritual or Religious Beliefs of the Powhatan

A historical picture of a Powhatan chief within the Powhatan village.
... Images

The Powhatan people are a federally recognized tribe that has been around before the settlement of Jamestown, Virginia, in 1607. The Powhatan have a strong connection to their spiritual and religious beliefs. Belief in the spirits guide daily actions and influence the Powhatan traditions and rituals. As it is common with other American Indian tribes, the spiritual traditions and rituals have been passed down from generation to generation, through history to the present.

1 Spirits of the Powhatan

There are many spirits worshiped by the Powhatan tribe. The main spirit that they pray to is Okee. Okee is the only spirit who is thought to have a human-like image. The Powhatan people strive to emulate Okee through their rituals and traditions. Similar to how the Powhatan people treated the settlers, Ahone is a benevolent and peaceful spirit. Known as the Great Hare, the creator god made the world around the Powhatan people. An anonymous female spirit is present between life and the afterworld, helping to guide those who pass onto the spirit world. The sun is also an important spirit for the Powhatan people. The sun, often equated to fire, is important in maintaining life, health and home.

2 Spiritual Traditions of the Powhatan

Traditions of the Powhatan are based on their spirituality. The Quiocosin is a spiritually significant dwelling and house used by the kwiocosuk, or shaman. These buildings are set in remote locations in the forests. Only those who hold the title of shaman or chief are able to enter. Much work and detail goes into the carvings housed within the quiocosin, which represent spirits or ancestors. The shamans that live within these buildings serve as doctors and spiritual advisors. Shamans manage relations between the Powhatan people and the spirits. In order to maintain this connection, shamans will enter into a trance, or perform rituals and dances.

3 Religious Rituals of the Powhatan

There are many rituals that the Powhatan use in connection with their spirituality. Men cut their hair to imitate the spirit Okee. The Powhatan offer sacrifices, such as deer's blood or food, to Okee to protect the hunters or to maintain the spirit's favor. The ritual of medicine, such as red puccoon root, is used by the shamans to heal patients and end sickness with the help of the spirits. They also perform rituals for significant events, such as a boy becoming a man or the death of a chief, to help move him on to the spirit world.

4 Spirituality and Dancing

Dance is used to connect the Powhatan people with the spirit world, through the help of the shaman. Dancing, also a ritual, was observed by John Smith during the settlement of Jamestown. He observed that each dance lasted three days with each day ending in a feast. Participants were dressed in regalia, such as headdresses, snake skins and animal furs with painted faces. Circles were made around the fire with corn meal to represent the world and spirits around the Powhatan people. Other dances are used to celebrate the harvest or hunting season. Today, traditional regalia is used in dancing at powwows to celebrate the culture and spirituality of American Indian people.

Megan Heutmaker works as Director for American Indian Affairs at Minnesota State University, Mankato where she has received bachelor's degrees in Anthropology and American Indian Studies and a Master's degree in College Student Affairs. She has been writing cultural and education articles since 2009.