Native American spirituality – three myths laid to rest

native american spiritualityIn my years of “walking the red road” as well as well as living in the non-Indian world, I’ve come across a few misconceptions about Native American spirituality that I’d like to lay to rest.

Here are the most common misconceptions I’ve heard:

  1. Native Americans idolize things such as bison [buffalo] skulls and nature.
  2. Native Americans don’t believe in God.
  3. Native Americans believe in ghosts.

None of the above is true. Here’s what is true as to what Native Americans believe in:

One: Respecting, appreciating and protecting all life

That includes the natural world and animals. And not just four legged animals, but

two-legged [humans],

wingeds [birds],

swimmers [fish],

creepy crawlers [insects],

the tall standing brothers [trees] and

the green nation [everything else on earth].

While a bison skull may be seen in Native American ceremonies, it is not being worshipped any more than the statues of the saints in a church are worshipped.

Skulls and statues are merely reminders.

The bison skull serves to remind the people that the bison of old was a gift from the Creator which gave Native Americans everything they needed in order to live:

meat to eat;

hides which covered their tipis;

bones which made tools;

sinew was used as thread to make the clothes and coverings;

the extra thick hide on the top of the head became a bowl;

Horns were made into spoons;

The heart was used as an instrument for carrying dried meat;

The stomach became a cooking vessel.

Every part of the bison was used.

This was the reason for the U.S. Government’s campaign to eradicate the bison in the 1800s. Mass slaughter of bison essentially took away the plains Indians’ source of life and, in the words of Gen. Philip Sheridan, “settled the vexed Indian question.”

Prior to the arrival of the Europeans on North America it is estimated there were 50 million bison roaming the western ranges.

By the 1890s they were nearly extinct.

Today the estimate of bison in North America is up to 500,000, thanks to dedicated breeding programs by Native Americans and others.

Two: There is only one God

Borrowing the Rose analogy, God by any other name [Creator, Great Spirit, Higher Power, whatever you want to call him/her] is still the same.

Just because Native peoples call the Great Spirit by a different name than Christians do doesn’t mean it’s not the same God that Christians pray to.

Just because people in Spain speak Spanish and not English doesn’t mean they can’t communicate. A different language is simply a means of communication under another name.

Lack of understanding and respect for other ways of functioning in the world is one of the biggest causes of the tragedies going on today. We all need to learn respect for different ways of seeing the world.

American actor Matt Damon, citing the fact that, as of 2008, only 20% of U.S. citizens had passports, suggested Americans should travel more to better understand global problems. He said, “I think many of our problems as a country would be solved if people had thick passports.”

Fortunately, as of January 2014, the percentage of U.S. passport holders is now up to 46%.

But still, the majority of U.S. citizens have never left the United States.

I find that a shame, as international traveling has broadened my perspective perhaps more than anything else I’ve ever done.

Three: Native Americans do not believe in “ghosts.”

What are ghosts anyway?

A Google search brought up this definition: “an apparition of a dead person that is believed to appear or become manifest to the living, typically as a nebulous image.”

By that definition, Native American do not believe in ghosts.

However, there is an invisible world we cannot see. One that is full of energy, spirits, ancestors . . . and answers.

Some call them spirit guides. Others call them angels. Native Americans might refer to them as ancestors.

Regardless of the name, the world we cannot see is full of life.

I’ll write more about this in next week’s post.

So just because someone does something differently than we do doesn’t make them weird, or wrong.

Seeking to understand the “why” before making judgment is the hallmark of an enlightened person.

And we are all capable of that.

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Molly Larkin is the co-author of the international best-seller “The Wind Is My Mother; The Life and Teachings of a Native American Shaman.” She is passionate about helping people live life to their fullest potential through her classes and blog at

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  1. Miranda

    Thank you for writing this. I think it’s important to dispel these sorts of myths that do little to help foster an understanding between different cultures and beliefs.

    All the best,

    • Molly Larkin

      You’re welcome, Miranda. Yes, very important!

  2. Maia

    Thank you for this, Molly. As a non-Native, I, too, have been honoured to have a lot of Native American teachings come my way from a variety of sources both physical and non-physical. The sooner our culture wakes up to their traditional deeply respectful and spiritual environmental stance, the more hope there will be for all of us. Have you ever come across a piece of writing entitled “The Three Seeds”? It begins “Once upon a time the tribe of humanity embarked upon a journey of separation…” Like your words, it has the ring of truth.

    • Molly Larkin

      You are welcome, Maia. And I agree. I will look for “The Three Seeds.” Thank you.

  3. Corey

    Thanks for the post Molly….I’ve been struggling with understanding some people myself….What do you do though when you come into a situation where you accept the others view but they try and change yours, or don’t take you seriously because of the way you are? I’m starting to have trouble because I really don’t know what to do at that point and then I become judgmental….But I don’t like being like that at all. If you have any advice for me I would greatly appreciate it. Thanks again.

    -Corey Schumann-

    • Molly Larkin

      Good to hear from you, Corey. Well, this may sound harsh, but when I run into people such as you describe, I try not to interact with them at all and keep them out of my life. Life is too short to spend time with people who make us feel bad. Of course, if it’s family members its harder. Just smile and pray and stay silent. Hope that helps. Blessings, Molly

  4. Corey

    Yeah that helps and it makes a lot of sense….thank you so much Molly.

  5. Pete

    Thank You, Molly. for your direct explanation of Indian Beliefs. I am so grateful to know you and appreciate your understanding of the Indian and Non-Indian worlds. You are a God-Send!

    Love and Compassion,

    • Molly Larkin

      I appreciate your kind words! So glad this article spoke to you.

  6. Jack

    I agree 100%. I see a lot of similar things myself coming from a Gnostic Christian approach like The unknowable Father or Great Spirit And Mother Sophia Wisdom and the good Christ Spirit within us all. I think much of the problem is lack of Gnosis from or about the Natives. You help bring that to light a great deal. I believe there is one God and Father of all and he is the Great Spirit. Thanks

    • Molly Larkin

      Thank you for your comment!

  7. Aki Nashobi

    The term “Native American” is very misleading. It is like calling a Spanish tradition it “European”.

    At the time Columbus came to these lands, there were roughly 500 Nations in what is now known as the America’s or the Western Hemisphere. These were Nations with unique and distinct cultures, languages, ceremonies and spiritual beliefs.

    There is no “Native American” spirituality – only the spirituality of one Nation or another.

    The spirituality of Native Americans is not a religion. It is a way of life.

    It is not “cool”, can not be practiced part time or just when it is convenient.

    • Molly Larkin

      Thank you for your insights, Aki. You make a very good point.

  8. Joan Newton

    Beautifully said, Molly. Your message today is so timely in that there is now legislation before congress, and an imminent vote, to sell off the Rio Tinto lands here in AZ. This is holy land to the Native Americans who live here as well as part of the National Parks that belong to all citizens of the United States.
    If the bill before congress (conspicuously buried in the recesses of the must pass military spending budget) passes, this sacred land will be desecrated and become a copper mine.
    I often wonder whether it is so difficult for many Americans to respect the most treasured beliefs of others because, except for the pursuit of “more things”, they have nothing so sacred of their own.

    • Molly Larkin

      Interesting insight, Joan, about Americans not have anything sacred of their own. Along those lines, most ancient cultures have “creation stories” about where they come from and why they are here. And they have ceremonies to celebrate their creation history. On the other hand, in the U.S. on our Fourth of July, we just get drunk and blow things up. Not much sacredness there! 🙂

  9. jack

    i too was searching for what i believe is a truth that many will or will not embrace.
    i too am a believer in GOD.
    Too many times we believe that the one and only true GOD is the one that we keep conviently in our own little box.
    Who can prove that GOD ( the very same as Christians worship) didn’t at some point in history before the European flood of people came here, didn’t reveal himself to the residents who were here already and taught them what we claim to be our exclusive wisdom and knowledge of GOD.
    We have much to learn.

    • Molly Larkin

      Thank you for commenting

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