American Indian religions, South
Religious beliefs and practices of the indigenous peoples of South America. The ancient Andean civilizations of the Chimu and the Inca had highly developed religions. The Inca religion combined complex ceremonies, animistic beliefs, belief in objects having magical powers, nature worship, and sun worship. The Incas built monumental temples, occupied by priests and Chosen Women. Priests conducted divination, and sacrifices were offered on every important occasion. Human sacrifice was offered when the need was extreme. In present-day South America, as many as 1,500 distinct native cultures have been described, and religious beliefs vary greatly. Creation mythologies are of major importance, often describing the origin of the first world and its fate as well as the creation and destruction of subsequent worlds. Ceremonial initiation into adulthood is widely practiced, both for males and females, with the initiation ceremony often acting out events from the dawn of creation. Initiations are also used to mark the ascent of individuals into positions of religious authority, with priests, diviners, and spirit mediums playing special roles. The shaman specializes in inducing states of ecstasy, controlling the passage of the soul out of and back into the body. Ritual fires, musical instruments (especially the rattle), esoteric languages, and sacred songs may be used in a theatrical performance designed to demonstrate the shaman's command of invisible powers. Christianity has come to be a strong component of folk belief among many native peoples, but it continues to be interpreted in the light of local tradition, and elements of traditional religion continue to survive. See also Mesoamerican religions.
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