Osage - Religion and Expressive Culture
Religious Beliefs. The Osage religion was pantheistic. All life forms and changes in the universe were the product of a single mysterious life-giving force called Wa-kon-tah. Humans were merely one manifestation of Wa-kon-tah. Clans were totemic, in that the members of a particular clan were more closely associated or linked to some manifestation of Wa-kon-tah than others. The Osage never claimed to fully understand this force and how it worked. There were spirits, and through visions humans communicated with them and gained their support. Some humans could turn themselves into animals. Power derived from supernatural knowledge was neither "good" nor "evil." The Peyote religion was brought to them in the 1890s. The Osage Peyote church was based on Christianity and totally rejected traditional religious beliefs and practices. By the 1910s, traditional religious ceremonies were gone. Only a few Osage Peyote churches exist today, and these are now affiliated with the Native American church. Most Osages belong to main-line Christian churches—Catholic, Baptist, and Quaker.
Religious Practitioners. The "little-old-men" were Formally trained and initiated priests. Every major ritual consisted of prayers, and certain acts and items. The rituals had twenty-four parts, one for each clan, and only a "little-oldman" from that clan had the authority to perform his clan's portion of the ritual. The last of the "little-old-men" died in the early 1970s. The Peyote churches were established on the basis of extended families, and the head of a family was Usually formally installed as "road man" for the church. Only Certain men had the authority to create new churches and install "road men"; the last man who undisputably had such authority died in the early 1960s. Today the Peyote churches follow the Native American church structure.
Ceremonies. The Osage had both crisis and calendrical rituals. Most of what is known concerns crisis rituals—child naming, mourning, war, peace, and initiation rituals for "little-old-men." Little is known about calendrical rituals. A spring ritual cleansed the village and prepared for planting. There was a planting ritual and in the late summer a green corn ceremony. The Osage had sacred fires and at one time a ritual renewal of fires. There is even some mention of human sacrifice during the early historic period.
Medicine. Little is known about traditional medicine. There were rituals designed to promote long life and health. A wide variety of herbs were used in treatment of illness.
Death and Afterlife. Death was natural in that all things die. What they feared was premature death of a child or young adult. Traditional Osage religion focused on living, not death. The Osage sought continuity through their children and family. Death was associated with night, and they had no well-developed concept of what happened after death. One appeal of the Peyote religion was that it gave them an explanation for what happened after death.