Pawnee - Religion and Expressive Culture
Religious Beliefs. The Pawnee had a highly integrated System of religious beliefs that resisted European missionization until well into the nineteenth century. In this system of beliefs all life was understood to have derived from the meeting of male (east) and female (west) forces in the sky. The supernatural power at the zenith of the sky where these forces met was known as Tirawa. Tirawa produced the world through a series of violent storms and created star gods, who in turn created humanity. In 1891, along with other Plains Indian groups, the Pawnee participated in the Ghost Dance, a revitalization movement envisioning the return of the dead from the spirit world and the disappearance of the White man from the land. The two most prominent star powers were the Evening Star, the goddess of darkness and fertility who lived in the western sky, and Morning Star, the god of fire and light who was located in the eastern sky. Next in rank to Tirawa, Evening Star and Morning Star were the gods of the four world quarters in the northeast, southeast, northwest, and southwest who supported the heavens.
Religious Practitioners. Pawnee religious specialists consisted of a group of wise men who derived their power and authority from a star planet and held their position as a matter of heredity. They were understood to stand between normal men and Tirawa and supervised a yearly round of religious ceremonies conducted to bring success in farming, hunting, and warfare.
Ceremonies. The foci of Pawnee religious ceremonies were sacred bundles of religious objects believed to have been passed down a line of ancestors. Each village had its own sacred bundle with which its members identified strongly, and each sacred bundle was a medium through which the people communicated with Tirawa. The annual ceremonial cycle began with the first thunder in the spring and concluded with the harvest of maize in the autumn. The climax of the cycle was the sacrifice of a young woman to the Morning Star at the time of the summer solstice in order to ensure prosperity and long life. The sacrifice to the Morning Star persisted until about 1838. Another important ceremonial event concerned preparations for the buffalo hunt. The ceremony began with fasting, prayer, and sacrifice by the priests, followed by a public ritual in which the priests appealed to Tirawa for aid. The ritual concluded with three days of uninterrupted dancing. Arts. Pawnee music was simple in its melody and rhythm and was an important part of Pawnee ceremonial activities. At the time of the Ghost Dance songs secured in dreams or visions emphasized memories of former days, reunion with the dead, and other aspects of the Ghost Dance revitalization movement.
Medicine. The Pawnee recognized witchcraft and, ultimately, anger and hostility to be major causes of disease. Pawnee religious specialists also included shamans who cured the sick through powers believed to have been acquired from animal spirits. Shamans were organized into societies with specific rituals performed twice each year in order to perpetuate and renew their powers.
Death and Afterlife. As with disease, death was believed to sometimes be the result of hostility and witchcraft. Burial preparations varied according to the rank and position of the deceased. Individuals of importance and those who died in extreme old age were painted with a sacred red ointment, dressed in their best costumes, and wrapped in a bison robe before burial. It was believed that after death the soul of the deceased ascended to heaven to become a star or, in the case of those who were diseased or died in a cowardly manner in battle, traveled to a village of spirits in the south.