INDIAN RELIGION (Historic Information)
It can hardly be said that the native Siwash had a religion, but such as it was it consisted of witchcraft, traditions, legends, superstitions, shamanism and frenzied fear of evil spirits.
The Siwash does not fear or worship God. He fears the Devil; and his religious efforts are put forth to appease, deceive, frighten, cajole, or in some manner outwit, outrun or outdo him.
He does not call upon God to assist him in this, but uses all his craft and cunning, all his knowledge of escape learned from the wild animals, all his fanaticism, all the baths, herbs, fires, etc., believed to be injurious to devils, all his hideous paints, masks, dances and incantations or songs, and in the end, if the sick do not recover, if the hunt is no more successful, if famine, pestilence or other trouble grows worse, he calls in the whole family, or the witch doctor or the Shaman. And if still unfortunate in obtaining relief from the devil a witch may be pointed out among his people and tortured or killed, or the village may be deserted forever.
No good fortune is attributed to God, but to the licking of the devil or prowess of the Indian. All misfortune, however, is charged to the Devil. It may be the earthquake, smoking volcano, elements of the weather, unfavorable season, smallpox, chasing of the fish or game, loss in war, in any event, it is always the Devil. No wonder he wears rabbit feet, asafetida. teeth, claws, beaks, stones and the like, when he considers many of them as charms against the evil one. No wonder he adorns himself so badly with masques, paints, etc. They give him success, health and life, whatever and wherever his mission may be.
He did not hesitate to take the life of his parent or best friend if convicted of witchcraft, nor to pay to the Shaman or witch doctor the last blanket or chattel he possessed for relief from his fancied misfortune.
Instead of lookin to God for protection, he looks to his charms, one of the best being the totem of his tribe.
His philosophical, stoical, ancestrial, devil-fearing theology is more similar to that of the Chinese than of any other people.
The same may be said with regard to his contented theory of life, his attitude toward women and children, the fearless manner in which he dies, and many other phases of his life.
His wrongs magnify before us. We should not forget that in many localities in our own country now we find people of our own race believing in witchcraft. And while he was burning witches on the Pacific Coast we were executing them on the Atlantic.
A moment ago I said he was like the Chinese in his attitude toward children (practicing female infanticide). Perhaps I should have found the likeness more nearly at home, where such practices are ten times worse than thev ever were with the Siwash. His creed permitted it; we are traitors to ours.
One author terms the religion "Devil worship." It is generally known as "Shamanism," and is about the same as that of the ancient Tartars, and still practiced in Northeastern Asia.
The first white man to penetrate the unknown Alaska found that the interior Indians had a tradition of a flood, or glacial period, and another of the creation.
When a research was made on the coast it was found that the Indians had similar traditions long prior to the coming of the first white. Traditions enough can yet be secured from them, but those coming from such reliable men as Elliott, Dall or Jackson, secured while the Indian was still living in his own way, are most desired.
I quote the folowin from Dall: "Their religion is a feeble Polytheism. Yell is the maker of wood and water. He put the sun, moon and stars in their places. He lives in the east, near the headwaters of the Naas River. There was a time when man groped in the darkness in search of the world. At that time the Thlinket lived who had a wife and sister. He loved the former so much that he did not permit her to work. Eight little red birds, called kun, were always around her. One day she spoketo a stranger. The little birds flew and told the jealous husband, who prepared to make a box to shut his wife up. He killed all his sister's children because they looked at his wife. Weeping, the mother went to the seashore. A whale saw her and asked her the cause of her grief, and when informed, told her to swallow a small stone from the beach and drink some sea water. In eight months she had a son whom she hid from her brother. This son was Yehl (God). At that time the sun, moon and stars were kept by a rich chief in separate boxes, which he allowed no one to touch. Yehl, by strategy, secured and opened these boxes so that the moon and stars shone in the sky. When the sun box was opened, the people, astonished at the unwonted glare, ran off into the woods, mountains and even into the water, becoming animals and fish. He also provided fire and water. 1 laving arranged everything for the Thlinkets (Siwash) he disappeared where neither man nor spirit can penetrate."
There are similar traditions and legends for everything and of every place of sufficient interest to a Siwash for a subject of meditation. The stories of the Creation, of the worm, fish, mountain, sea. etc.. are numerous and as weird and fanciful as those of the earth or themselves.
The brilliant aurora, smoking mountain, important salmon and the like are big subjects for bigger stories full of phantoms, ghosts, goblins and bugaboos too numerous to mention in a publication as brief as this. 1 he above story of the Creation is a fair sample of millions, at least an inexhaustible supply. The most interesting feature of that story is: Where did they gel the material for making it so much like our own story of the Creation and fatherless Savior?