Native Americans believed in ghosts–spirits who were not at peace. This could happen because someone who died had not been at peace, personally. Unrest could also occur because a person was not buried properly or respectfully. Continue reading
Older methods of curing illness often included bloodletting, the practice of purposely lancing a patient’s flesh in order to get blood flowing. Quantities extracted could be quite small or surprisingly voluminous, depending upon the individual doctor’s beliefs about its effectiveness. Many doctors nearly bled their patients to death, and this type of aggressive, “heroic” medicine fell out of favor during the nineteenth century. Continue reading
Native American women gathered herbs and created various healing preparations from them in probably every tribe. Some women had a special ability to heal, and became medicine women. Their knowledge went beyond the ordinary, and they devoted a considerable amount of time to perfecting their skills in recognizing and using herbs for curing illness and treating injuries. Women who were successful healers would be rewarded for their efforts with presents, food, and the like, and could become wealthy and respected within their tribes. Europeans were often astonished at how effective Native American medicines were in healing the ills of the day.
Some women went beyond healing with herbs and developed a deeper alliance with the spirit world. These women were differentiated as shamans; they studied under a practicing shaman and eventually took over her position. Shamans used the information passed on to them from their mentors, but also developed their own rituals, songs, or formulas for healing and for practicing other spiritual skills like interpreting dreams, finding buffalo herds, or calling out the wind. Their powers were mystical and magical, and though they could heal, they had a different role than medicine women.