Native American Spirituality: The Maidu

The Maidu are a group of Native American people who originally resided in northern California of the U.S., in the area between the Sacramento River and the Sierra Nevada Mountains. The Maidu culture is known for skilled basket weaving and beautiful rock art. The Maidu also had a rich spiritual tradition, particularly when it came to the idea of a soul, ghosts and the afterlife.

The Maidu traditionally believed that all humans and animals possessed a soul, which was generally thought and spoken of as the "heart." If a person passed away, then it would be said that their "heart" had gone away. The heart was also considered to be something like a ghost, thought to be gray in color and to resemble the person or animal that it used to occupy. These ghosts, or disembodied hearts, were often seen by shamans or appeared to people in their dreams.
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These beliefs can be generalized to most Maidu people, but there are variations in what different groups thought about these ghosts and how they behaved towards them. To get a full picture of these beliefs, it is helpful to take a closer look at a few geographically different Maidu groups.

Northeastern Maidu

The Northeastern Maidu did not consider ghosts to be evil in and of themselves, but they did believe that meeting one, or even just catching sight of one meant that death was near. There was a taboo against whistling at night, as this was believed to attract ghosts. If one did come into contact with a ghost, they would need to seek the aid of a powerful shaman. However, even shaman the Northeastern Maidu were reported to be cautious about dealing with ghosts.

Ghosts were free to depart for the other world after death, but some were said to "blow about" if they were not ready to leave their friends and family. The ghost would linger around, sometimes sighing or making vocalizations. Ghosts were thought to be careful not to make contact or be seen by anyone, lest they bring death closer to their loved ones. When the ghost was finally ready to depart for the afterlife, it was said that the ghost would meet the spirits of his ancestors who would serve as his guide to take him to the east, to the abode of the creator.

Another interesting Northeastern Maidu belief about the soul was that the soul or spirit could also leave the body while a person slept. If a person’s time to die had not yet come, and their spirit ventured too close to the entrance to the next world, then that person’s soul would be turned back by the spirit who guarded the entrance to the next world. Only those who had died were allowed to see and proceed into the spirit world of the after life.

Sacramento Valley Maidu

The Maidu of the Sacramento Valley believed that once the soul of a person had departed, it would continue to linger near the body for a time. Once the soul or spirit was ready to leave would it depart on a journey to visit every place that the person had visited in life. It was believed that the soul not only visited those places, but acted out everything it had done in life as well.

The Sacramento Valley Maidu also believed that departed souls could be seen as ghosts, but seemed to have no fear that seeing a ghost would bring death closer to those who see ghosts. If a ghost was seen by another person or a shaman it was believed the ghost had not yet finished the journey visiting and reviewing it’s previous life. The departed spirit or soul was still re-enacting the actions of their previous life.

Once the soul had finished their pilgrimage, it would then depart for a group of volcanic peaks known as the Marysville Buttes, which lay in the center of the Sacramento Valley. Once there, it was said the soul entered a cave where it found and ate a type of spirit food. When this ritual was completed, the soul then rose up into a land known by various names such as "flower land," "spirit land," and "above land," from which it never again returned.

Foothill Maidu

The Foothill Maidu believed that, at death, the soul would leave "like a wind" from the mouth of the person who had died. The Foothill Maidu shared the belief of the Sacramento Valley Maidu that the soul would take a pilgrimage once it left the body to visit all of the places it had visited in life. Once all of its footsteps were retraced, the soul could then leave for the other world.

To begin its journey, the soul would head out towards the east. It would eventually reach a body of water which would have to be crossed before entering the next world. The souls of good people enjoyed a well-lit and marked trail, while the souls of the wicked had to travel in darkness while crawling on their hands and knees.

Every soul, both good and bad, would eventually reach the same place. This place, the abode of the creator, was known as "the valley above" or "heaven valley." Here, the soul could enjoy an abundance of food and a peaceful existence. The souls of the wicked, however, while also residing in this valley, had to remain in a less desirable area.

Correlations To Reported Paranormal Phenomena Of Other Cultures

Those who are familiar with studies in the paranormal will see numerous correlations to reported paranormal events recorded in a number of other cultures, and continues to be reported and studied today. Within the Maidu spiritual beliefs seem to be references to out-of-body travel; crossing a river or boundary at death; the spirit departing the body in the final breath at death; reviewing one’s life when near or right after death; the concept of a heaven or hell in the afterlife; and more.

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It is highly unlikely that the spiritual beliefs about the soul, the spirit and the after life are the result of encountering and studying Western culture given that these beliefs precede encountering ‘white men’. Far more likely these beliefs are the result of personal experiences and the observation and study of the Maidu shaman who pasted down experiences in an oral tradition.

The spiritual beliefs of the Maidu are one of many examples of how all people, through-out history, and in every culture, seem to experience and record similar experiences involving the soul and the after life.

Curious to chat with someone with experience speaking with spirits? Give Psychic Izobelle a call at 1-866-327-9032. Izobelle is a clairaudient medium who is also a talented tarot reader. If you like chatting online, check out Spirit Guides Chat and chat online with professional spirit mediums.