A Profusion of Spires: Religion in Nineteenth-Century by John Webster Grant

By John Webster Grant

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This diversity extended to religious beliefs and practices, which ranged from the brutally efficient mania of the Aztecs for human sacrifice to the mysticism of solitary seers. Generalizations about native American religion are apt to be as misleading as generalizations about the religion of Eurasia would be. Archaeology and analogy provide our best clues to the specific religious beliefs and practices of the Indians who inhabited Ontario over ten millennia. Many of those described by the first European explorers had probably been in place for a long time, but it is not always easy to know which ones.

Among North American Indians, as among aboriginal peoples in various parts of the world, so-called nativistic movements were a common response to the dislocation caused by European activities. Most of these combined selected elements of native tradition with borrowings from Christianity or, in some instances, from the framework of structures and attitudes within which Christianity was presented. This latter type of borrowing is often extremely difficult for people of European background to recognize, simply because they take this framework so much for granted that they assume it to be the common property of all religions.

Among Indians of the Hope well culture, which flourished around the time of Christ, a religion that included an elaborate cult of the dead and in some 6 A Profusion of Spires places human sacrifice achieved such prominence that priests were able to command the services of artisans to produce elaborate grave-goods and of labourers to erect burial mounds of startling size. 3 Until about the beginning of the Christian era, and in many parts of the province until the present, Indian economies in Ontario have been based on the search for game, fish, and other products of nature.

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