Osage Indian Religious Beliefs

The religious beliefs of the Osages are similar to those of the Kansas and other Siouan tribes. The term Wakanda had almost the same meaning. There were seven great Wakandas—Darkness, the Upper World, the Ground, the Thunder-being, the Sun, the Moon, the Morning Star. The Upper World was perhaps the greatest of the Wakandas. In some of the tribes it was the supreme Wakanda. There was no set form of worship of Wakanda. Every one thought Wakanda dwelt in some secret place. It was believed that the Wakanda, or some Wakanda was ever present to hear any petition or prayer for help. There were many forms of propitiation, or these may have been sometimes in the nature of invocations, such as the elevation and lowering of the arms, the presentation of the mouth-piece of the pipe, the emission of the smoke, the burning of cedar needles in the sweat house, the application of the major terms of kinship, ceremonial waiting, sacrifice and offerings, and the cutting of the body with knives.

The Osages call the Sun the “mysterious one of day,” and pray to him as “grandfather.” Prayer was always made toward the sun without regard to its position in the heavens. Here is a prayer.

“Ho, Mysterious Power, you who are the Sun! Here is tobacco! I wish to follow your course. Grant that it may be so! Cause me to meet whatever is good (i. e., for my advantage) and to give a wide berth to anything that may be to my injury or disadvantage. Throughout this island (the world) you regulate everything that moves, including human beings. When you decide for one that his last day on earth had come, it is so. It can not be delayed. Therefore, O Mysterious Power, I ask a favor of you.”

The Pleiades, the constellation of the Three Deer (Belt of Orion), the Morning Star, the Small Star, the Bowl of the Dipper, are all Wakandas, and they are addressed as “Grandfather.” “In the Osage traditions, cedar symbolizes the tree of life. When a woman is initiated into the secret society of the Osages, the officiating man of her gens gives her four sips of water, symbolizing, so they say, the river flowing by the tree of life, and then he rubs her from head to foot with cedar needles, three times in front, three times on her back, and three times on each side, twelve times in all, pronouncing the sacred name of Wakanda as he makes each pass.” ((These instances are given to aid in the formation of a proper conception of the Wakanda as regarded by the Osages. In the Siouan tongue “Wakandagi, as a noun, means a subterranean or water monster, a large horned reptile mentioned in the myths, and still supposed to dwell beneath the bluffs along the Missouri river.”))

All that is said in this article, as well as much in the article on the Kansa, when not otherwise indicated, is taken from the writings of J. Owen Dorsey, in the Reports of the Bureau of Ethnology. He is the best authority, and often the only authority.

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