Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Topics Explored

Chapter one delves into the foundations of the modern world’s view of reality and challenges our accepted ideas about how the world works. The theories and laws of classical physics do not hold up in the microworld or macroworld. New physics posits that matter, the rock-solid part of our everyday world, is in reality a bundle of energy and fundamentally behaves very much like light. “As I saw it, a scientific truth was a hypothesis that might be adequate for the moment but was not to be preserved as an article of faith for all time.” (Carl Jung in Campbell 1976)

Then, in order to get right to the Indian experience, the story of human-to-human reincarnation is presented as told by Thunder Cloud, a Winnebago shaman. He dies in battle but does not know it until he sees a heap of bodies on the ground and his own among them. He is taken to the “spirit land” and is reborn two more times.

The modern-day case of Rhonda Mead of the Gitxsan tribe in British Columbia, Canada, who it is thought to be the reincarnation of her own great-grandmother, is explored next. Her family believes the young girl is the matriarch of the family reborn, because she will not let anyone sit in a chair that the great-grandmother always sat in. That, along with the fact that she knows things only the deceased great-grandmother could know about, convinces everyone she is the relative reborn.

Chapter two presents an overview of the religious beliefs of the North American Indian in order to put reincarnation in context. We learn that Indian religion is comprehensive and multifaceted, and that it held a central position in the life of the average person. The Indian’s life was infused with the supernatural, and there was constant interaction between the spirit world and humans. Also discussed are the guardian spirit and shaman complex within these societies, the Indian emphasis on vision quests for the attainment of personal connection with beings in the spirit world, and animal helpers.

Chapter three compares Indian reincarnation beliefs with world religions. The ethnological record shows that American Indian reincarnation beliefs have a very long history and that Indic and ancient Greek belief systems do not predate them. Their metaphysical concepts are as elaborate and complete as those found in these other ancient cultures.

This chapter also presents soul concepts found throughout the world and shows that the Indian concept of rebirth is quite different from the Christian concept. In many groups there was a belief that the human soul could be reborn to live again in a newborn person. There was also a dual-soul concept, wherein it was believed that a person has within him two souls, a life soul and a breath soul. Some also believed that a soul could reincarnate in more than one person at the same time. Most North American Indians believed that all living creatures possess a soul and that even inanimate objects have a soul.

Chapter four is on shamans and medicine men, who developed the myths of the spirit world and traveled to the land of the dead. Shamans were sometimes called upon to help someone defeat an enemy or cause a death, and this chapter presents an example of magic by analogy, or sympathetic magic, in the Cherokee formula to destroy life. You’ll also read numerous accounts of shaman initiations, reincarnations, and journeys to the land of the dead, including a number of Inuit stories.

Chapter five is about death and near-death experiences and introduces, among other entries, James Mooney’s account of the Ghost Dance, which swept across the plains in the 1860s. It was initially a peaceful revival movement that prophesied that the Indian world would be restored, the whites would be gone, and the dead would live again. But the dancing was perceived as a threat by the white authorities, and an armed attack was ordered on a group of dancers on the Sioux reservation. As a result, we are left with the tragic massacre at Wounded Knee Creek as part of American and Indian history.
In this chapter you will also find numerous accounts of Indian experiences dealing with death and dying and journeys to the underworld, including the Cherokee Orpheus myth, a legend found among numerous Indian groups. Next, you will read about the Winnebago view of death, which considers death just a different kind of consciousness. Although the dead are no longer seen, interaction with them has not ceased, for they return in dreams or visions to communicate with the living. The dead may also come back again as newborn babies.

Chapter six presents more stories on death, the afterworld, and soul journeys from various tribes, including the Pueblo, Tlingit, Kwakiutl (Kwakwaka’wakw), Omaha, Coastal Salish, and Sioux. In chapter seven you will learn about the world’s great religions and their concepts of reincarnation, both historically and how they are perceived today. This chapter also covers the Western concept of the soul and reincarnation.

Chapter eight is on ancient cultures, focusing on Egyptian, Greek, and Roman beliefs, with particular emphasis on Plato and his writings on reincarnation. You’ll learn about the Greek Orpheus myth, which describes how a newly married husband unsuccessfully attempts to bring back his young bride from the underworld. This myth, with slight variations, is widespread among various Indian groups.

The stories that follow are mostly from traditional Indian people of North America of the nineteenth and early twentieth century. Told in their own words, they recount experiences of death and rebirth, near-death experience, journeys of the soul and soul retrieval, travel to the land of the dead, and people becoming animals in this life and the next. May these stories take you on fantastic journeys, stir your imagination, and illuminate a part of the complex psychic life of American Indians so that you can share in their rich spiritual traditions.

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