Published on November 18, 2011 by Amy
Native Americans celebrated death, knowing that it was an end to life on Earth, but, believing it to be the start of life in the Spirit World. Most tribes also believed, that the journey might be long, so after life rituals were performed to ensure that the spirits would not continued to roam the earth. Various tribes honored the dead in several ways, by giving them food, herbs, and gifts to ensure a safe journey to the after life.
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The Hopi Indians believe that the soul moves along a Sky path westwards and that those who have lived a righteous life will travel with ease. However, those who haven’t will encounter suffering on their journey.
To ensure a safe journey, they wash their dead with natural yucca suds and dress them in traditional clothes.
Prayer feathers are often tied around the forehead of the deceased, and they are buried with favorite possessions and feathered prayer sticks. Traditional foods and special herbs are served and placed at the grave side.
The Navajo perceived that living to an old age was a sign of a life well lived, thus ensuring that the soul would be born again. Alternatively, they felt that if a tribe member died of sudden illness, suicide or violence, a “Chindi, or destructive ghost could cause trouble for the family of the deceased. After life rituals could last for several days with careful thought given to foods and herbs chosen for the celebration, a reflection on how the deceased lived their life. Common herbs used by the Navajo included Broom Snake Weed, Soap Weed, and Utah Juniper.
Many tribes who had been converted to Catholicism, also celebrated All Souls’ Day, each November 1st, which celebrates the dead. Many believe, that on that day, the spirits return to visit family and friends. In preparation various tribes would prepare food and decorate their homes with ears of corn as blessings for the dead.