While learning about the Mississippians, one of my favorite topics of discussion was their religion. To me, studying the religious interactions of a society and its people are some of my favorite aspects of learning about a culture, as it gives a much deeper context of who they really were and what attitudes they had about the world around them. I decided to build upon the information we learned in class and do some additional research on my own, discovering a few new things I thought I’d share.
Among the many symbols and motifs that the Mississippians believed held significance, one of the more intriguing pieces of the belief system is the idea of the sacred fire. While it was not mentioned in class as a focal point of the religion, I found that the concept behind it was very important. The basic premise behind the idea of the sacred fire is that there would be a fire lit (fire was important because it was representative of the sun) and it would have to stay lit with the exception of one time each year. There was symbolic meaning behind this- the fire being extinguished and then re-lit would represent a new beginning, or the beginning of the first corn harvest, which was a time for much celebration (also known as Thanksgiving). If the fire were to go out at any point during the time when it was designated to be lit, there were many concerns and fears in the community at the reasoning behind it and if it was human error or a sign from the gods. The extinguishing of a fire at an improper time was considered to be a threat, as the protection given to the people and the surrounding land from the fire had been lost.
Another fascinating aspect of the Mississippian belief system is the burial objects representing religious ideas and icons. Just like many other cultures, the Mississippians had very distinct beliefs about afterlife and the importance of religious objects being buried with the dead. When people died, they were buried with copper plates, various pottery items, bowls, pots, cups, clay figurines, etc., all featuring religious pictures or inscriptions. Common themes that were painted or engraved onto the items were usually representative of the above or below world (snakes, insects, birds) or the middle world (humans, animals). Most of the drawings included in the burial were those of a combination of both factors of the above and below world, as that combination was seen to join the powers of both worlds to best benefit the humans in the middle world. I found this combination symbol a very powerful idea, as I was under the impression that the main goal and desire was to avoid the below world and focus on the above world. Combining the powers of both worlds is an interesting concept to think about and makes me want to delve deeper into more of the reasoning behind this and the beliefs about these combinations.