About the symbol: The Sacred Medicine Wheel described in Number 2.
Native American Religion
Describing Native American religion is a challenging task to tackle, if only because the Indian systems of belief and ritual were as legion as the tribes inhabiting North America. So let's begin by trimming down that bewildering variety to manageable proportions with three glittering generalizations (which might, with luck, prove more useful than misleading).
First, at the time of European contact, all but the simplest indigenous cultures in North America had developed coherent religious systems that included cosmologies--creation myths, transmitted orally from one generation to the next, which purported to explain how those societies had come into being.
Second, most native peoples worshiped an all-powerful, all-knowing "Great Mystery" or Creator (a being that assumed a variety of forms and both genders). They also venerated or placated a host of lesser supernatural entities, including an evil god who dealt out disaster, suffering, and death.
Third and finally, the members of most tribes believed in the immortality of the human soul and an afterlife, the main feature of which was the abundance of every good thing that made earthly life secure and pleasant. Also great many tribes held views which were closely akin to reincarnation.
Like all other cultures, the Indian societies of North America hoped to enlist the aid of the supernatural in controlling the natural and social world, and each tribe had its own set of religious observances devoted to that aim. Individuals tried to woo or appease powerful spiritual entities with private prayers or sacrifices of valuable items (e.g., furs, tobacco, food), but when entire communities sought divine assistance to ensure a successful hunt, a good harvest, or victory in warfare, they called upon shamans, priests, and, in fewer tribes, priestesses, whom they believed to have acquired supernatural powers through visions. These uncommon abilities included predicting the future and influencing the weather-- matters of vital interest to whole tribes-but shamans might also assist individuals by interpreting dreams and curing or causing outbreaks of witchcraft.
Indians did not distinguish between the natural and the supernatural. On the contrary, Native Americans perceived "material" and "spiritual" as a unified realm of being--a kind of extended Kinship network. In their view, plants, animals and humans partook of divinity through their close connection with "guardian spirits," a myriad of "supernatural" entities who imbued their "natural" kin with life and power.
Widely common practices:
The VISION QUEST -- It begins with purification. Purify the outer body by extensive bathing, Purify the inner body fasting and vomiting. Purify the mind and soul in the Sweat Lodge with long prayers to the 6 directions (north, south, east, west, up, and down). The participants leave the total darkness of the lodge for a period of cooling and rest. Then they return to repeat the process. Then the "accolytes" are taken to a very remote spot. The person stays in this area where the fasting continues. Finally, the person has a vision. The spirit of the eagle is most sought after. But there may be lesser visions of a mouse or other animal according to the interpretation of the spiritual growth the person would benefit.
This Vision Quest maybe pursued many times in life, each time the individual feels that he needs new inspiration and growth of a quality of character and personality. The animal strong in the needed qualities is the one that appears in the vision.
The MEDICINE HOOP -- The eternal circle with spokes pointing to each of the cardinal directions using different colors for each. The colors vary according to the tribe. Each direction has meanings representing qualities of character It is the world and all that is in it. It is change, life, death, birth, learning , the lodge of our bodies, our minds, and our hearts.
The SACRED PIPE -- the smoke is an offering to the spirits making communication and communion with the spiritual world. All sacred ceremonies begin with the lighting of the sacred pipe, a sacrificial vessel which has a sacred nature with spiritual powers of its own. Also, it creates social communion as it is passed among the participants in the scared hoop. The bowl of the pipe is female and the stem is male. At the moment of joining the two in ceremony, the world is recreated anew. When the pipe is not in use, the stem is always separated from the bowl and carried in a specially prepared bag for something so sacred.
There are many other sacred items such as the personal medicine bundle, always worn about the neck. Personal items were saved that represented high moments in the individual's life even the umbilical cord. It was a holy moment to the person when on rare occasions he might open his bundle.