"All religions tend to be conservative, because their sacred authority lies in the sanctity of the past... At the same time most religions remain open to the personal experiences of the spiritual world. The balance between faithfulness to tradition and openness to new experience is what constitutes the religious life."
I am so happy I've read this book. This is exactly the kind of book I was looking for: one that is informative, well-paced and objective. Oftentimes when reading about religions, it is easy to feel preached at. Many religion books portray said religion to be either absolutely horrible or without flaw. Most books in this realm have an agenda and that agenda involves putting down other beliefs.
This book, however, did no such thing. Hultkrantz's only agenda was to inform the reader of Native American religions. And inform me, he did.
This is a fascinating trace through general Native American religions with a focus on two in particular: the Shoshoni - a hunting religion - and the Zuni - a horticultural religion. The author did a magnificent job of showing how both descended from a circumpolar hunting mindset, but branched off to become their own entities. The reader gets an in-depth view into the fluid religion of the Shoshoni and the complex religion of the Zuni and it is really a remarkable journey. I especially loved reading about how certain ceremonies have changed since the introduction of Catholicism and how they're still changing today, including new religions like Peyotism.
Hultkrantz is aware of his reader and never once tries to overwhelm you with too much information. Although this is a book centered around the religion of Native Americans, he also throws out some information on their culture and linguistics. I found this quote to be particularly fascinating:
"Some Indian languages lack terms for the past and the future; everything is resting in the present."
Hultkrantz presents the readers with the mythology of the religions focused on in this overview and then their ceremonies that either conflict with the mythology (like the Shoshoni) or use the mythology as justification for their ceremonies (like the Zuni). I really loved that he decided to single out two very different religions to focus on in this book to show the reader that through all of their differences, there is a lot of similarities as well.
Highly recommended to anyone interested in religion or anthropology.