Cree, Western Woods - Religion and Expressive Culture
Religious Beliefs. Throughout history, Cree have always been reticent about sharing their beliefs with scoffing outsiders. Beliefs in a Great Spirit ( misi-manito ) or Evil Spirit ( macimanito-w ) may be of postcontact origin. The cannibal giant ( wi-htikow ) was greatly feared. The religion was animistic, and all living beings and some inanimate objects had spirits, or manitowak. Humans, through dreams and visions, were able to secure the help of powerful animal spirits in such activities as hunting, warfare, and love. Since all beings, including humans, had spirits, there was no concept of the supernatural.
Religious Practitioners. All individuals had some power, but some men or women had more. There was no priesthood.
Ceremonies. No ceremonies are recorded for the earliest periods, but in recent history tea dances of thanksgiving were held in spring and autumn. Feasts and dancing were held following successful hunts. Christian rituals are now common.
Arts. There was a rich oral tradition that included both sacred and secular tales. Wisakecahk was the hero of the popular trickster or transformer tales. In the past, the face and body were tattooed and painted with elaborate designs. Women worked with quills and, later, beads.
Medicine. Sickness and injury were considered the result of personal malevolent forces, for which treatment by a shaman was necessary. Treatment included herbal medicines and setting broken limbs, but the spiritual help invoked in the ritual of the shaking tent or the sweatbath was equally Important.
Death and Afterlife. Fatal illness was greeted with equanimity, but the dying person required that his survivors avenge his death, for death was believed to be the result of witchcraft. Burial was in a grave or on a scaffold. A gun was fired in the tent to drive away the spirit.