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December 28 , 2009

The Religion of Numa and Other Essays on the Religion of Ancient Rome


As an ethnographic province the greater part of California plainly forms a unit. There are, however, two portions of the present political state that showed much cultural distinctness in times of native life and that must usually be kept apart in all matters of ethnological and religious consideration. One of these divergent culture areas comprised the extreme northwestern corner of the state, in the drainage of the lower Klamath and about Humboldt Bay. The other consisted of what is now usually known as Southern California, extending from the Tehachapi pass and mountains in the interior, and from Point Conception on the coast, southward to the Mexican boundary. The religion of the Indians of the peninsula of Lower California is very little known from literature, and the people themselves are almost extinct. It is probable that it was more or less different from the forms of religion occurring in Southern California, that is to say, the southern part of the American state of California. Ethnographically Southern California was considerably diversified. The tribes of the plains and mountains near the sea must be distinguished on the one hand from those of the desert interior and of the valley of the Colorado river, and on the other from those of the Santa Barbara archipelago and the adjacent coast of the mainland to the north. The latter island group of tribes has become entirely extinct without leaving more than the merest trace of records of its religion. The two other groups, the sea-ward and the interior, apparently presented a much greater uniformity in religion than in their material and social life, so much so that in the present connection all the tribes of Southern California of whom anything is known may be regarded as constituting a single ethnographic province. The culture of the small Northwestern area was in every way, and that of the larger Southern province at least in some respects, more highly organized and complex than that of the still larger and principal Central region, which comprised at least two-thirds of the state and which, if such a selection is to be made, must be considered as the most typically Californian. The religious practices of the Indians of California fall into three well marked divisions: (1) such observances as are followed and executed by individuals, although their perpetuation is traditionary and tribal; that is to say, customary observances; (2) individual practices resting upon a direct personal communication of an individual with the supernatural world; in other words, shamanism; (3) observances and practices which are not only the common property of the tribe by tradition, but in which the entire tribe or community directly or indirectly participates; in other words, ceremonies. CUSTOMARY OBSERVANCES BY INDIVIDUALS. Customary observances are as strongly developed as farther north along the Pacific slope. This entire western coast region thus forms a unit that differs from the interior and eastern parts of the continent, in which such observances are usually a less conspicuous feature than public and tribal ceremonies. By far the most important of the customary observances in California are those relating to death. Next come those connected with birth and sexual functions. Beliefs and practices centering about the individual's name are of importance particularly in so far as they are connected with the customs relating to death. There are restrictions and superstitions as to food, but these are not more numerous than seems generally to have been the case among the North American Indians, and certainly of much less importance than in the Pacific island world and Australia
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