The Spiritual Hunt and Spiritual Warfare
In the context of the hunt, Native American youths were taught to view themselves as subordinate to their game: as suppliants requesting a favor from a powerful being. The hunter’s strength was necessary to inspire the animal to sacrifice its life on his behalf. He had to prove himself worthy to appeal to the animal like a medieval knight performing brave deeds before begging a boon from his king.
The relationship between the warrior and his human enemies was viewed very differently. The warrior’s intention was always to dominate his opponent completely, on both the material and the spiritual plane. Most of the Plains tribes believed that the spirit of an animal that willingly gave up its life to a hunter would either travel to a peaceful spirit world or else be reborn in this world. Either way, that animal’s spirit would bear no grudge against the man who killed it. By contrast, they thought that if you destroyed a man’s physical self without fully conquering his spirit as well, his spirit would continue to represent a serious threat to your own physical and spiritual well-being. The angry spirit of a fallen enemy could bring a warrior bad luck, disease, or even death.
The warriors of the plains felt that the only way for a man truly to defeat an enemy without risking postmortem supernatural harassment was to demonstrate clearly the superiority of his spirit over that of his opponent. Even after death, an inferior spirit would always fear to attack a stronger one. Therefore a great deal of their warrior training was directed toward encouraging their young men to have confidence in their own superiority of spirit.