Articles about Spirituality

About Apache Spirituality
By:Rena Sherwood

There are over 30 tribes that are collectively referred to as Apache. Each have their own tribal name and languages. Most of the Apache tribes are similar in terms of their culture and spirituality. Like most Native Americans, Apaches don't separate their spiritual lives from any other aspect of their lives.

An incorrect belief about Apache spirituality is that the tribe worships the devil. This is one reason why Native Americans were subjected to genocide on a massive scale by European colonists. The colonists equated rituals to appease spirits with talking to demonic forces.

Another common mistake is that Apaches worshiped spirits in the same way a Christian would worship God. Spirits were seen as having human intelligence, rather than having omnipotent powers that required complete submission. The Apaches negotiate with spirits rather than blindly obeying them.

Apaches generally believe that something larger than themselves created the universe. Creation stories differ from tribe to tribe, but often it seems that the creator formed the universe out of boredom.

The spirit realm was a mirror reflection of life on earth. Some Apaches believed in reincarnation but most believed spirits included ancestors, animals, the four directions and natural forces.

Virtues in Apache tribes included hard work, keeping your word and generosity. The reward for good acts was not a reward in the afterlife but a reward of good things in present-day life.

Daily life included taboos which are acts you couldn't commit under certain circumstances. To break a taboo would be to bring bad luck to not only you, but your family.

Although polygamy was allowed, adultery was not. Not only was the adulterer punished, but their families, too. This showed the tribe that they had to be careful and responsible for their actions, because what they did as an individual affected many. There are many stories about hero-tricksters such as Coyote, who was prone to outrageous and ingenious behavior. Trickster stories are like fairy tales, teaching how not to behave through Coyote's mistakes. Yet, there are stories that teach even the most unlikely person can win if they use their head.

Time Frame
Apache spirituality changed after coming into contact with Christianity. Creation stories told now have changed to make the Creator seem like a Christian God and female Creators like Mary. Because of attempts to destroy Apache culture, for many generations Apaches were not allowed any religious freedom.

It is hard for the elders of Apache tribes to separate what stories are pre- or post- Colombian.

When calling on spirits to help heal someone, many shamans will include Jesus in their appeals. Apache homes can have portraits of Jesus right next to a idol fashioned from the body of their animal totem. Some Apaches are Christian, but will participate in tribal ceremonies to honor their heritage.

The spiritual life of an Apache helped him find his place in the world. Childhood was a time of learning practical skills and the rules of the tribe. But by the time of puberty, Apaches were expected to mature and discover their spiritual paths in life.

This often included fasting and vision quests for the boys. They would get a vision whereby a helpful spirit would reveal itself to be the boy's ally if the boy follows its advice.

Girls didn't have to do this, because they were thought to be spiritually powerful. The elderly of the tribe were to be treated with utmost respect because if they lived that long, then they must have pleased their spirit allies.

A person in Apache society was seen as a part of a great whole and not just an individual all alone against the universe. Apache children were taught that they were a part of the family, of the tribe, of the spirits and of nature. The spiritual teachings and traditions helped keep the Apaches going when they were persecuted.