Sauk Indian Religion

Sauk Religion. The religion of the Sauk is fundamentally the belief in what are now commonly known as manitos. The sense of the term is best given by the combined use of the two words “power” and “magic.” The world is looked on as inhabited by beings permeated with a certain magic force, not necessarily malicious and not necessarily beneficent, the manifestation of which might produce one or the other effect. Objects in nature held to be endowed with this force become the recipients of varying degrees of adoration. A child is early taught to get into personal relation with some manito by means of fasting and vigil to secure his tutelary or genius. The manitos of Sauk mythology and religious worship are represented in all nature. They are human beings, animals, birds, fishes, reptiles, insects, plants, fire, water, and all the elements personified. The mythology of the Sauk is rich with fables of anthropomorphic beasts and beings. The principal myth is concerned with the god of life, called Nanabozho by cognate tribes, with the flood, and with the restoration of the earth.

The Sauk had numerous ceremonies, social and religious. Some of these they still retain. The chief two religious ceremonies still in existence are the gens festivals and the secret rite of the Midewiwin, or Grand Medicine Society. The gens festival is held twice a year-in the spring, when thanksgiving is offered to the manitos for the new season, and in the summer after the fields ripen. The meeting of the Midewiwin is generally held but once a year, during the spring, when a ceremony is conducted by a group composed of men and women bound together by vows of secrecy. This society is entered by initiation and the payment of a fee, and the ceremony is conducted with an elaborate ritual on the occasion of the admittance of a new member, who takes the place of one who has died during the preceding year. Next in importance to these are the rites connected with death and adoption. To express grief for dead kindred, they blackened their faces with charcoal, fasted, and abstained from the use of vermilion and of ornaments in dress.

The Sauk practiced four different methods of burial:

  1. The corpse was laid away in the branches of a tree or upon a scaffold.
  2. It was placed in a sitting posture, with the back supported, out on the open ground.
  3. It was seated in a shallow grave with all but the face buried and a shelter was placed over the grave.
  4. There was complete burial in the ground.

The ghost world is said to be in the west beyond the setting sun, and thither it is said the people go after death. The brother of the culture-hero is master of the ghost world, while the culture-hero’ himself is said to be at the N., in the region of snow and ice. The Sauk are looking for his return, when they believe the world will come to an end, and they and the culture hero will go to join his brother.


Hodge, Frederick Webb, Compiler. The Handbook of American Indians North of Mexico. Bureau of American Ethnology, Government Printing Office. 1906.

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