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The Symbolic Role of Animals in the Plains Indian Sun Dance

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For many tribes of Plains Indians whose bison-hunting culture flourished during the 18th and 19th centuries, the sun dance was the major communal religious ceremony. Generally held in late spring or early summer, the rite celebrates renewal-the spiritual rebirth of participants and their relatives as well as the regeneration of the living earth with all its components. The sun dance reflects relationships with nature that are characteristic of the Plains ethos, and includes symbolic representations of various animal species, particularly the eagle and the buffalo, that once played vital roles in the lives of the people and are still endowed with sacredness and special powers. The ritual, involving sacrifice and supplication to insure harmony between all living beings, continues to be practiced by many contemporary native Americans.

Affiliations: 1: TUFTS UNIVERSITY

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/content/journals/10.1163/156853093x00127
1993-01-01
2016-12-08

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