Cheyenne - Religion and Expressive Culture



Religious Beliefs. The Cheyenne world was a dynamic, operative system with interrelated components. Within the Cheyenne universe ( Hestanov), the world was divided into seven major levels. Spirit-beings ( maiyun ) reside in this universe and their sacredness is relative to their relationship to Ma'heo'o, the creator of all physical and spiritual life in Hestanov. These levels are intersected by the Maiheyuno, a Personal spirit residing at each of the cardinal directions. Ri-ous animals, birds, and plants are manifestations of these spirit-beings. In Cheyenne religious expression, aspects of these spirit-beings or the spirit-beings themselves are entwined symbolically with plant and animal forms portrayed in Cheyenne ceremonies. Many Cheyenne today view the world's ecological crisis as an end to Hestanov. Christian missionary activity has been continuous among the Cheyenne for a century, especially the Mennonites and Catholics. Today there is a variety of religious beliefs and expressions including Christianity and the American Indian church, although Sacred Arrows ( Mahuts ) and the Medicine Hat ( Isiwun ) remain the most venerated sacred objects.

Religious Practitioners. Aside from the Keepers of Mahuts and Isiwun and the arrow priests, there were numerous Cheyenne shamans and doctors, each possessing a particular religious or healing power.

Ceremonies. There were four major religious ceremonies: the renewal of Mahuts, the Hoxehe-vohomo' ehestotse (New Life Lodge or Sun Dance), the Massaum (Animal Dance), and Isiwun. Mahuts was given to the Cheyenne by their cultural hero, Mutsoyef (Sweet Medicine). The four Sacred Arrows included two "Man Arrows" for warfare and two "Bison Arrows" for hunting. The Arrows were renewed every few years, unless a murder took place or a pledger needed their blessing. Presently, the renewal of the Mahuts, the New Life Lodge, and ceremonies surrounding Isiwun are still performed.

Arts. Aboriginal arts featured a particular musical style, songs, and an artistic tradition, all important parts of Cheyenne social and ceremonial life. The Cheyenne artistic tradition reflected not only the sacred but the socioeconomic pursuits of men and women. Presently, there are a number of prominent Cheyenne artists, and Cheyenne songs are still performed at various functions.

Medicine. Disease arose from both natural and supernatural causes. Curing techniques involved the use of herbal and root remedies, ritual purification, the sweat lodge, smoking, prayer, and sometimes surgery. Both men and women were healers. Treatment of sickness was designed to restore the patient not only biologically but spiritually as well. Presently, most Cheyenne use Western clinical medicine to cure afflictions, but native healers are still used by many people.

Death and Afterlife. Cheyenne believed that death, like disease, could have a natural or spiritual causation. As a cultural phenomenon, death was a spiritual process. At birth, Ma'heo'o provided the child with the "gift of breath/power" ( omotome ) and "spiritual potential" ( mahta'sooma). These two gifts are developed through life. As a person ages, the process is reversed. Mahta'sooma leaves the body, resulting in behavior and cognitive changes. Next omotome departs, bringing on death. The spirit of the deceased then travels up the long fork of the Milky Way to Seana, the camp of the dead. If the dead individual was an outcast, died in a violent accident or by suicide, or was an unredeemed sinner, he or she would travel the "suicide road," the short fork of the Milky Way. Others would return to earth as malevolent spirits. The concern for following the "good life," and so to have a "good death," is still prevalent among the Cheyenne.


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