One year ago this column addressed similarities between the elements of the Chinese New Year celebration and spiritual beliefs of American Indians or Native Americans. As unlikely as it may have appeared, it is true that few people would make a connection between the Asian festival at the start of the new lunar year and religious beliefs of American Indians. However, the article pointed out that there is an underlying link between the spirituality and religious beliefs of both peoples. The link has much to do with the perception, or understanding of the existence of the world of spirits: the comprehension of life beyond death.
Such a connection between these two cultures of people is actually shared by many more cultures, and such understanding demonstrates a more universal appreciation or acceptance of the fact that the spirit of human beings, once they die, are released from their physical existence on earth to some other dimension. It is not really that mysterious, and can be understood in a more objective way like the transformation of energy occurs within the confines of the physical reality through human observation, and even scientific verification. It was Einstein who stated that matter is neither created nor destroyed; it just changes form.
In reality, since the dawn of human history, limited records from many ancient civilizations have provided fragmented indications of various human endeavors to gain a greater understanding of the spiritual dimensions of life as well as comprehension of “mysteries” in the world. Ancient humans would have been forced to focus upon survival, and would have created the need to formulate answers regarding the reality of living and dying. So, such a forced focus on self-preservation, also forced very real concerns over the transformation of the living human being into what is known as death, or life beyond the physical senses.
In general, ancient peoples were more easily drawn to such spiritual quests as they wrestled with the natural world and the aspects of life and questions regarding the mysteries of their world and deeper understanding of the realm beyond life – the realm of the spirit or soul of humans. Many of the ancients may have also searched for greater understanding and may have developed their spiritual outlook or awareness of their world by developing a primitive spirituality from necessity, which helped them handle the harsh realities of life and death. This may have also led these ancient peoples to genuinely value the importance of family and clan in the quest for survival.
Burial ceremonies, offerings of prayers to ancestors, honoring departed family member, or paying one’s respect to dead ancestors were developed in these periods of struggle for survival. A clear example of such practices today is still evidenced in Chinese New Year’s festivities, which is thousands of years old. lunar New Year began on February 19th this year. The Asian celebrations last for several days, with the traditional celebrations lasting a full 15 days. Each day holds its own specific focus or tradtional significance during the celebration period.
In addition to families getting together in homes of relatives and feasting, and the fireworks, the parades, and the red envelopes, for many religious Chinese or other Asian people, during Chinese New Year festivities, there is a deeper or more spiritual dimension of the celebration. The beginning of the New Year’s celebration involves going to a cemetery or to a gravesite of loved ones or ancestors, and offering prayers or offering one’s respect for those who passed into the spiritual realm. Another ceremony taking into consideration of the spiritual realm is the Lantern Festival, in which light is used to guide spirits to a proper place.
Certainly, the more spiritual aspects of Chinese New Year’s celebrations is not readily apparent to westerners, but would be readily understood within the American Indian community; definitely more appreciated or more comprehensible to the spiritually-oriented American Indians or Native Americans. It is more likely they would likely be more accustomed to dealing with the world of spirit as a reality, and although not in total alignment in understanding, there exists a common link between the two types of civilizations. The two general cultures are worthy of study and comparison because in the past, their respective ancestors may have wrestled with similar concerns, and despite the differences between the two broad cultures, there existed some similarities in the ways of these two races.
One way of comprehending this cross-cultural commonality of spirituality could stem from educated speculation or simply intelligent projections from across a spectrum of different disciplines within the scientific community regarding pre-historic migrations from Asia to the Americas. The scientific concept of ancient Asians crossing the Bering land bridge to North America has been expressed in previous articles via this column. The core theory regarding the arrival of ancient peoples in the western world revolves around the idea that people traveling from Asia long ago used the land bridge between Siberia and North America to migrate into the Western Hemisphere.
Anthropologists, geneticists, micro-biologists, and even linguists who are seriously involved in uncovering secrets about the ancient humans that initially inhabited America, and basically accept such a theory. The land bridge, referred to as “Beringia” is estimated to have existed for a period of time about 35,000 years ago and then appeared again around 22,000 years ago in the area between eastern Siberia and present-day Alaska. Today, the Bering Strait separates Asia and North America as coastlines acquired their present shapes around 6,000 years ago. Though several scientific theories exist postulating how and when ancient Asians arrived on the American continent, they are based upon evidence compiled by serious and extensive research, much of this contemporary “understanding” demands belief in educated speculation.
Additionally, while the migration concept may explain common perceptions or acceptance of spiritual reality, it actually ignores American Indian or Native American creation stories relating to their origin in America. Sadly, it is unlikely that the complete reality of the original inhabitants of the Americas will ever be known. What is not known is where these pilgrims specifically originated, what kind of people they were, or why they came to the Americas, and what they brought with them. Unfortunately, such little trace remains of these people it is surprising we even know of them at all. For example, one of the earliest prehistoric, Paleo-Indian cultures scientists are aware of is the “Clovis” culture. It has been identified through much archaeological evidence.
Many distinctively made “Clovis” spear points have been found in mammoth kill sites as these people hunted woolly mammoth living in North America in their day. Through radIocarbon dating, archaeologists’ estimates are that this culture existed in western North America around 13, 000 to 13,500 years ago. While it may be true that the “Clovis” culture sprouted from the ancient Asians’ migrations, and while most scholars agree that such wanderers were the earliest ancestors of more identifiable Native American peoples, most of the American Indians believe something opposite through their native creation stories as part of their religious beliefs.
What is true is that scholars are still uncertain about much regarding these prehistoric humans, but speculation attributes to them characteristics similar to their hunter-gatherer descendants. Ironically, they seldom listen to the Indians to even gain some native perspective of their own existence in the Americas. It may be that the Chinese peoples and the American Indians understand the spiritual reality because it is a universal reality that science does not perceive because scientists are limited to their instruments that can only amplify the physical senses of human beings. Such a link between the Chinese spiritual religions and American Indian spirituality may need to be relegated to the arena where scientific theory contests religious belief.