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.


User Contributions:

Douglas Dunn
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Nov 7, 2011 @ 9:21 pm
My father tells me stories how his Grandfather came into the US during the time in history when the Osage (and other nations) were herded (in his words)into the Oklahoma territory. His Grandfather came into this country from Ireland through Ellis Island in New York. As he was entering the US he was asked what his occupation was. "Doctor", he stated and they asked for documentation to prove this. He supplied the correct documentation. Part of the treaty for the reservation I guess was to have a white man doctor and no person had applied. So they asked him if he would like the job. And he took the job. My father says this was quite an honor to be asked if a migrant would like a job so of course he said yes. The US Army Corp of Engineers made him a log cabin on the reservation and he lived there. During this time he married an Osage woman and they had three children. My father is the decendant of one of the three sons which they had. I would like to know more information about the Osage religion before the Europeans came. If you know of any please can you let me know? My humble thanks for any... I think learning about my family history explains to me why I am who I am.
Douglas Dunn
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Nov 8, 2012 @ 11:23 pm
Thank you so much for this information. There are still a lot of open areas but I do understand much more now than I did. Thank you again for your time and explanation.
Susan
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Feb 19, 2014 @ 8:08 am
I am co-authoring a historical fiction novel that includes a family of Osage Indians during the mid-1800s. We want the book to be as historically accurate as possible. I have several questions that I cannot find answers to. I hope you can help me, or perhaps lead me in the right direction. My questions at this point are:

1. How did the Osage keep track of the passage of time? When did they begin to use calendars?
2. What type of housing did the Osage build in southern Missouri in the mid-1800s?
3. Are Osage song lyrics and/or chants available in written form?
4. How did the Osage discipline their children?
5. How did they determine whether they were Sky People or Earth People?

Thank you in advance for any assistance you can provide.

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