Teton - Religion and Expressive Culture

Religious Beliefs. The Teton have a subterranean origin story in which humans were led to the surface of the earth by Inktomi, the trickster-culture hero, who then abandoned them. The earth and sky were formed after the supernaturals were sent there by Takuskanskan, the prime mover, partly as punishments and rewards for social transgressions. All animate and inanimate objects are capable of having a soul, and supernatural beings and objects are propitiated to maintain or restore harmony between good and evil. The earth is called the lodge of the wind, in which reside the Four Directions, the spirits of the zenith and nadir, and the center of the universe, each of which maintains animal and bird guardian spirits whose help may be invoked through smoking the sacred pipe. Although nearly every Christian denomination is represented on the reservations, most Tetons are only nominal Christians and still respect the beliefs of their ancestors.

Religious Practitioners. Teton differentiate between wapiye, or people who mediate between the common people and supernaturals through prayer and self-abnegation, and pejuta wicasa/winyan, medicine men and women who cure by means of prayer and herbs. Many of the men and women became active in the Ghost Dance movement of 1889-1890, and still later as lay catechists at mainly Jesuit missions. To a much lesser extent, some Teton also conduct meetings of the Native American church.

Ceremonies. There are seven major ceremonies believed to have been brought to the Teton by the White Buffalo Calf Woman in aboriginal times: Sweat Lodge, Vision Quest, Sun Dance, Ghost-Keeping Ceremony, Making of Relatives, Girl's Puberty Ceremony, and Sacred Ball Game. Other Contemporary ceremonies include the pipe ceremony and Yuwipi, a modern curing ceremony.

Arts. Music and dance play an important part in Teton performance arts. Songs continue to be composed in the Native idiom, and the Teton produce some of the best singers on the northern plains. Individual reenactments of visions, such as the Horse Dance, are still occasionally performed.

Medicine. Although the Indian Health Service maintains hospitals and clinics on Teton reservations, Native wapiye and medicine men and women continue to provide treatment to patients through the implementation of at least eighty kinds of herbal medicines. The sweat lodge is still used for spiritual and salutary purposes.

Death and Afterlife. The Teton believe that each Individual has four aspects of soul. The last may be inhered in another individual at birth, and thus this constitutes a reincarnation system. Some deceased are forever required to be ghosts. Twins are considered special and are believed to preexist and select the families into which they wish to be born. The Milky Way is considered the path of the campfires of the deceased en route to the Spirit Village. In aboriginal times, the dead were buried mainly on scaffolds, but since the Reservation, Christian cemeteries have been used. Funeral rites tend to be a mixture of traditional and Christian belief and ritual, and traditionalists continue to ritually keep the spirit of the deceased for one year, after which it is released at a memorial feast.

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