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Soul (Amerindian)

Subject Religion

Key-Topics Native American, soul

DOI: 10.1111/b.9780631181392.1995.x


[ v ] In North America, most Amerindian tribes, with the exception of the southwestern groups, affirm the existence in each person of two souls, a ‘free’ soul and a ‘life’ or ‘breath’ soul [8: xi , 131–4]. The former, usually identified with the personality, is able to leave the body during dream or vision states ( see V ision quest ), often travelling to distant places and, on rare occasions, even visiting the land of the dead. Disease, disability, loss of memory, etc., are regarded as indicators of the free soul's absence. In the S haman , such ecstatic experiences are brought under control, enabling him voluntarily to frequent spirit realms either to seek out and bring back the wandering or stolen souls of sick persons, or to serve as guide for souls of the deceased to the land of the dead. Soul wandering, especially in the case of youth, was interpreted by the S ioux as an indication that one should undertake a vision quest, possibly even that one was marked for a career as a holy man [17: vi ]. With the permanent departure of the free soul came death and the consequent ‘evaporation’ of the life or breath soul. Although belief in the soul's preexistence was generally affirmed, conceptions were usually vague. After death, the free soul might travel considerable distances, perhaps along the Milky Way, and experience tests or ordeals before passing into the land of the dead. ... log in or subscribe to read full text

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