Philip JENKINS, Dream catchers: How mainstream America Discovered Native Spirituality. New York: Oxford University Press. ISBN 0-19-518910-8 $16.95
Reviewed by Don SWENSON, Mount Royal College, Calgary, Alberta, T3E 6K6 Canada

Jenkins (2004) devotes a whole work to outline how native spirituality has been revived in the latter part of the twentieth-century not only by Aboriginal peoples but also be European Americans. The locus of revival or, more accurately, borrowing, is the New Age Movement.

The author traces the history of native spirituality from the time of European contact (16th to 17th centuries) to the present–from radical rejection to whole hearted acceptance. Until 1860 in the United States, native religion and spirituality was rejected and considered evil. The most significant change was to consider Indian religion as authentic which, by implication, honoured native spirituality. In the early part of the twentieth century, liberal Christianity took the forerun in accepting Aboriginal mythology, ritual, and spirituality.

The major boost of how mainstream America discovered native spirituality (the sub-title of Jenkin’s text) was the link to new age spirituality. Table 1 provides for some of the salient links:

Table 1: Native Religion and New Age Spirituality

New Age

Native Religion

Image of the Whole

The earth is linked to humans, animals, the heavens, the underworld, plant life, and

Earth Focussed Spirituality

There is a spiritual essence in all nature

Rituals of nature spirituality

Use of sweet lodges, smudging, the sacred pipe and the Vision Quest

Desire for healing

Healing rites are central

Source of Authority: Historical and antiquity

Source of Authority: Historical and antiquity

Belief in personal, spiritual guides

The guides native animals


Use of special spiritual objects like crystals, charms, pipes

Use of the crystal skull, many charms such as the Dream Catcher

Prophecies of the future

Evidence of prophecies in Native Spirituality

Feminine Spirituality

The use of special nomenclature such as “Mother Earth.” “Corn Mother,”


Jenkins does not easily accept the New Age appropriation of native spirituality. Even though “Indians become symbols of the New Age” (2004:174), there are many Indians who do not accept the designation. Many accuse the New Age adherents of “cultural genocide” or “cultural theft.” Jenkins documents that much of the New Age mythology comes from European sources of the occult and the magical and not from the Americas. New Agers take a pre-Christian and European mythology and try to “fit” in, or even use Procrustean means to link the two together. The adherents do not accent that the Mayans used human sacrifice, or that the Anasazi peoples were adrift in war, subjugation and conflict. Mention is not made that some of the Aboriginal peoples were not kind to nature. Further, little is said of the positive influence that Catholic and Protestant missionaries did for native peoples as outlined by the Canadian historian Grant (1984). What really bothers many native peoples is that many of the New Age believers use their sacred spaces to celebrate New Age rituals–like sex rituals that offends native modesty. Further, many adherents have commercialized native spirituality and “sold” it to profiteers.

Few are my critiques of the work. I believe that Jenkins has presented an exhaustive outline of the salience, attenuation, and the witness of how Native spirituality is subsequently being ameliorated. He did a very special piece of scholarship in linking the New Age Movement and Native spirituality. His title is good but the term is not defined and does not appear the index. I highly recommend to students of Aboriginal religion and the New Age to locate a space for the work on their bookshelves.

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