Sees God in clouds, or hears him in the wind;
His soul proud science never taught to stray
Far as the solar walk, or milky way;
Yet simple nature to his hope has given,
Behind the cloud-topped hill, an humbler heaven --
Some safer world in depth of woods embraced,
Some happier island in the watery waste,
Where slaves once more their native land behold,
No fiends torment, no Christians thirst for gold.
To be, contents his natural desire;
He asks no angel's wing, no seraph's fire;
But thinks, admitted to that equal sky,
His faithful dog will bear him company." -- POPE.
The natives of CANADA have an idea of the Supreme Being; and they all, in general, agree in looking upon him as the First Spirit, and the Governor and the Creator of the world. It is said that almost all the nations of the Algonquin language give this Sovereign Being the appellation of the Great Hare. Some, again, call him Michabou, and others Atahocan. Most of them hold the opinion that he was born upon the waters, together with his whole court, entirely composed of four-footed animals, like himself; that he formed the earth of a grain of sand, which he took from the bottom of the ocean; and that he created man of the bodies of the dead animals. There are, likewise, some who mention a god of the waters, who opposed the designs of the Great Hare, or, at least, refused to be assisting to him. This god is, according to some, the Great Tiger. They have a third, called Matcomek, whom they invoke in the winter season.
The Agreskoui of the Hurons, and the Agreskouse of the Iroquois, is, in the opinion of these nations, the Sovereign Being, and the god of war. These Indians do not give the same original to mankind with the Algonquins; they do not ascend so high as the first creation. According to them, there were, in the beginning, six men in the world; and, if you ask them who placed them there, they answer you, they do not know.
The gods of the Indians have bodies, and live much in the same manner as themselves, but without any of those inconveniences to which they are subject. The word spirit, among them, signifies only a being of a more excellent nature than others.
According to the Iroquois, in the third generation there came a deluge, in which not a soul was saved; so that, in order to repeople the earth, it was necessary to change beasts into men.
Beside the First Being, or the Great Spirit, they hold an infinite number of genii, or inferior spirits, both good and evil, who have each their peculiar form of worship.
They ascribe to these beings a kind of immensity and omnipresence, and constantly invoke them as the guardians of mankind. But they never address themselves to the evil genii, except to beg of them to do them no hurt.
They believe in the immortality of the soul, and say that the region of their everlasting abode lies so far westward, that the souls are several months in arriving at it, and have vast difficulties to surmount. The happiness which they hope to enjoy is not believed to be the recompense of virtue only; but to have been a good hunter, brave in war, &c., are the merits which entitle them to this paradise, which they, and the other American natives, figure as a delightful country, blessed with perpetual spring, whose forests abound with game, whose rivers swarm with fish, where famine is never felt, and uninterrupted plenty shall be enjoyed without labor or toil.
The natives of NEW ENGLAND believed not only a plurality of gods, who made and governed the several nations of the world, but they made deities of every thing they imagined to be great, powerful, beneficial, or hurtful to mankind. Yet they conceived an Almighty Being, who dwells in the south-west regions of the heavens, to be superior to all the rest. This Almighty Being they called Kichtan, who at first, according to their tradition, made a man and woman out of a stone, but, upon some dislike, destroyed them again; and then made another couple out of a tree, from whom descended all the nations of the earth; but how they came to be scattered and dispersed into countries so remote from one another, they cannot tell. They believed their Supreme God to be a good being, and paid a sort of acknowledgment to him for plenty, victory, and other benefits.
But there is another power, which they called Hobamocko, (the devil,) of whom they stood in greater awe, and worshipped merely from a principle of fear.
The immortality of the soul was universally believed among them. When good men die, they said, their souls go to Kichtan, where they meet their friends, and enjoy all manner of pleasures; when wicked men die, they go to Kichtan also, but are commanded to walk away, and wander about in restless discontent and darkness forever.
After the coming of the white people, the Indians in NEW JERSEY, who once held a plurality of deities, supposed there were only three, because they saw people of three kinds of complexion, viz., English, , and themselves.
It was a notion generally prevailing among them, that the same God who made them did not make us, but that they were created after the white people; and it is probable they supposed their God gained some special skill by seeing the white people made, and so made them better; for it is certain they considered themselves and their methods of living, which they said their God expressly prescribed for them, vastly preferable to the white people and their methods.
With regard to a future state of existence, many of them imagined that the Chichung, i. e., the shadow, or what survives the body, will, at death, go southward, to some unknown, but curious place, -- will enjoy some kind of happiness, such as hunting, feasting, dancing, or the like; and what they suppose will contribute much to their happiness in the next state, is, that they shall never be weary of these entertainments.
Those who have any notion about rewards and sufferings in a future state, seem to imagine that most will be happy, and that in the delightful fields, chasing the game, or reposing themselves with their families; but the poor, frozen sinners cannot stir one step towards that sunny region. Nevertheless, their misery has an end; it is longer or shorter, according to the degree of their guilt; and, after its expiation, they are permitted to become inhabitants of the Indian paradise.
The Indians of VIRGINIA gave the names of Okee, Quioccos, or Kiwasa, to the idol which they worshipped. These names might possibly be so many epithets, which they varied according to the several functions they ascribed to this deity, or the different notions they might form to themselves of it in their religious exercises and common discourses. Moreover, they were of opinion that this idol is not one sole being, but that there were many more of the same nature, besides the tutelary gods. They gave the general name of Quioccos to all these genii, or beings, so that the name of Kiwasa might be particularly applied to the idol in question.
These savages consecrated chapels and oratories to this deity, in which the idol was often represented under a variety of shapes. They even kept some of these in the most retired parts of their houses, to whom they communicated their affairs, and consulted them upon occasion. In this case, they made use of them in the quality of tutelary gods, from whom they supposed they received blessings on their families.
The sacerdotal vestment of their priests was like a woman's petticoat plaited, which they put about their necks, and tied over the right shoulder; but they always kept one arm out, to use it as occasion required. This cloak was made round at bottom, and descended no lower than the middle of the thigh; it was made of soft, well-dressed skins, with the hair outwards.
These priests shaved their heads close, the crown excepted, where they left only a little tuft, that reached from the top of the forehead to the nape of the neck, and even on the top of the forehead. They here left a border of hair, which, whether it was owing to nature, or the stiffness contracted by the fat and colors with which they daubed themselves, bristled up, and came forward like the corner of a square cap.
The natives of Virginia had a great veneration for their priests; and the latter endeavored to procure it, by daubing themselves all over in a very frightful manner, dressing themselves in a very odd habit, and tricking up their hair after a very whimsical manner. Every thing they said was considered as an oracle, and made a strong impression on the minds of the people; they often withdrew from society, and lived in woods or in huts, far removed from any habitation. They were difficult of access, and did not give themselves any trouble about provisions, because care was always taken to set food for them near their habitations. They were always addressed in cases of great necessity. They also acted in the quality of physicians, because of the great knowledge they were supposed to have of nature. In fine, peace or war was determined by their voice; nor was any thing of importance undertaken without first consulting them.
They had not any stated times nor fixed days, on which they celebrated their festivals, but they regulated them only by the different seasons of the year; as, for instance, they celebrated one day at the arrival of their wild birds, another upon the return of the hunting season, and for the maturity of their fruits; but the greatest festival of all was at harvest time. They then spent several days in diverting themselves, and enjoyed most of their amusements, such as martial dances and heroic songs.
After their return from war, or escaping some danger, they lighted fires, and made merry about them, each having his gourd-bottle, or his little bell, in his hand. Men, women, and children, often danced in a confused manner about these fires. Their devotions, in general, consisted only of acclamations of joy, mixed with dances and songs, except in seasons of sorrow and affliction, when they were changed into howlings. The priests presided at this solemnity, dressed in their sacerdotal ornaments, part of which were the gourd-bottle, the petticoat above mentioned, and the serpents' or weasels' skins, the tails of which were dexterously tied upon their heads like a tiara, or triple crown. These priests began the song, and always opened the religious exercise, to which they often added incantations, part of the mysteries of which were comprehended in the songs. The noise, the gestures, the wry faces, in a word, every thing, contributed to render these incantations terrible.