Hunting and Haunting

In my quest to find out more on beliefs regarding the afterlife, I thought of the “happy hunting ground” concept that features in modern conceptions of Native American religion. According to this Straight Dope article, the term itself was first used by James Fenimore Cooper in The Last of the Mohicans. I’ve never read that book, although I did read The Deerslayer, which I believe was part of the same series. Anyway, it seems unlikely that the phrase is actually a literal translation, but it does reflect an actual belief in the afterlife. What’s more difficult is determining exactly which tribes held this belief. This brief Wikipedia article associates it with the Great Plains, yet one of the tribes it mentions is the Iroquois, who lived in what is now the northeastern United States. Even among a single tribe, there were often several different beliefs in the afterlife, some of which had the spirits of the dead interacting with the living world, while others had a soul journey to a world of the dead in the sky. Algonquin descriptions of the world of the dead sometimes held that animal spirits went there as well, and the human souls would hunt them. I don’t think the animal spirits could ever really be killed, though, so it wasn’t as destructive as it might sound. Still, I would have to suspect the animal souls would get fed up with constantly being chased and shot. The Wikipedia page has an unreferenced mention of the Sioux holding a variety of the happy hunting ground belief, but this page presents Sioux religion as less specific than that, and closer to one of the more liberal and amorphous religions of today. People who die become part of the sacred force known as Wakan Tanka, and hence pervade the universe as a whole. There’s no reason that the Sioux couldn’t have gone through both beliefs at different times, however. If some forms of Christianity hold that Heaven is a place where people sing and play harps all day while others simply describe it as closeness to God, such variations could exist in the Sioux culture as well. To be honest, I haven’t read all that much about Native American mythology, so any more information on this subject would be welcome.

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1 Response to Hunting and Haunting

  1. vilajunkie says:

    I don’t have much to say about this because, honestly, my knowledge of Native American mythology is shaky too. You’d think there would be a lot more prominent and detailed books about it, seeing as the two of us and some of your other readers are from the US, but even here Greco-Roman and Norse mythology are more popular. This is one of the best books I’ve ever seen on native American mythology: (Voices of the Winds by Margot Edmonds and Ella E. Clark). Rather than give encyclopedic knowledge of different mythologies, it uses anecdotes from Native American storytellers across different cultures and regions to build up your own conclusions about how the mythologies worked. It’s really more for someone interested in the myths and legends themselves than a deconstruction of Native American mythology, but it’s a good resource for someone who wants to draw their own conclusions.

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