Delaware - Religion and Expressive Culture

Religious Beliefs. The aboriginal Lenape were animistic, but individuals held strong beliefs about the unity of all living as well as inanimate things. By 1800 the Lenape had adopted many Munsee and Christian beliefs. Today, most practice various Protestant religions, but many still retain a fundamentally animisi worldview largely indistinct from that which their distant ancestors would have found appropriate. Many Europeans interpreted the Manitou of the Lenape to be a supreme deity. Various other beings, particularly those associated with the creation myth, suggest that "Manitou" may have been a generic term applied to spirits of all kinds.

Religious Practitioners. No individuals held strong ritual power, but some people were blessed with the ability to heal.

Ceremonies. The complex rituals held before going on their winter hunting rounds were associated with annual renewal gatherings. These became still more complex as the Lenape adopted increasing numbers of introduced behaviors, particularly as they became more sedentary.

Medicine. Illness could be dispersed by driving out spirits that caused disease. Specially designated curers assisted in this process, aided by herbal remedies and the powers of collective chants and prayers.

Death and Afterlife. Death was caused by evil spirits, and the polluted dead were buried in graves lined with rushes, bark, and mats several hundred meters from their summer encampments. Complex funeral ceremonies involved transportation of the corpse to a prepared burial site, ritual lamentation, and participation in a ritual feast for the dead. Mourning periods varied depending on degrees of kinship, with the surviving spouse continuing for a full year. Some of these aspects of Lenape society continue to this day, ensuring that the souls of the departed will find their way to the west where hunting is good and they will have an easy afterlife.

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Oct 4, 2013 @ 3:15 pm
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