Life is first the step you take, and then the ground you tread upon.
The Native American culture has differing origin/creation stories. They all generally believed in a great spirit and the animal spirits were considered elders. Humans were seen as young in the world, but to their view animals were spirits, not necessarily confined to looking as they seem to obviously, and the line between human and animal wasn’t drawn. So they might speak of Grandfather Coyote, and they would mean it believing that their people had descended from the time of creation from the spirit coyote.
They perceived themselves as part of the natural order and not separate from it as is the common “western” approach. They had a tradition of prayer, but it wasn’t really the practice of supplication to a higher power like it was in Europe. If a hunter brought down a deer he would pray, thanking his brother or sister for giving their life so the tribe could eat. Because they believed that the deer spirit gave its flesh willingly, being an ancestor, and that if they disrespected the deer it could speak with its kin and have all deer avoid the tribes hunters.
Spirit of animal, plant, or human, all kin. That was a universal belief across the American tribes and is part of why they had funerary rites, like returning fish skin and bones to the water, or enshrining bear remains in a cave. That was their territory, and they believed that they had to respect the remains. Even if they took something like deer antlers, it was believed that the deer was still connected to that, and that the power of what they made from the antler came from the deer’s cooperation.
The tribes Shamans differed in their view of the power of each spirit, so they didn’t see them all as relating the same way. In one tribe Grandmother Spider was the one who put order to the living things in their culture. In another Corn Woman governed the cycle of life in that land and the other spirits needed to respect her. In yet another, Buffalo Woman either spoke for or against the tribe not only to her own kind but to the other native spirits as well. Often one spirit was seen as especially influential, and even the ancestor spirits, the former Shamans who passed on, or the great war chiefs that are still remembered in stories to the tribe, were said to keep a closer connection to the ancestor spirits than they did to their human descendants. So if a tribe’s Shaman went on a spirit journey to ask the grandfathers of the tribe for intercession, they could very likely get: “You offended the great salmon, you screwed up so say you’re sorry or stay hungry”. Human or not the spirit world was a big community and like the Chinese belief that earth needed to coincide with the celestial kingdom, they felt they had to remember the traditions and respect the spirits though they weren’t visible. The idea that the invisible wasn’t real was more or less meaningless in Native American culture.
On spirit quests into the wilderness they used deprivation of some kind? Fasting was used, and it was used to show the sincerity of the Shaman as well as to induce the trance state to show that they weren’t greedy and respected not only the spirits of animals, but of the land itself. They traded their needs for the right to seek an answer from the spirits. They even sought to offer the spirits their life essence; moisture in the form of spit, especially in desert tribes, blood potentially, etc. They felt that what they valued had universal value, thus they didn’t alter the bodies of the dead for the most part and buried them with their personal affects. These were considered to belong to that spirit even if they left the body.
Your thoughts are welcome. Be well friends.