The White Buffalo Cult and
the Fundamentalist resurgence
by Wilfred C. Lyon
To open a discussion on this article, please use the contact page to provide your comments.
In the 1890s in our great plains, a Native American cult commonly known as the White Buffalo cult, swept through the great plains Native American tribes across cultural and linguistic barriers that had previously kept them separate. All of these tribes’ lives depended on the buffalo and hence their cultures, also. There was wide veneration of the buffalo for its strength, courage, and survivability. The tribes often modeled their beliefs around these same characteristics. A white buffalo, or albino, is rare, as rare as any albino is in species that are easily preyed on. The Native Americans thought that the white buffalo that survived to become an adult possessed a rare spirit, or was a White Buffalo. After all, the buffalo had been decimated by the “whiteman” purposely to get rid of them and their culture. The White Buffalo cult was a belief that a great White Buffalo of great spiritual power would come and somehow lead them to a new place, awareness, or spiritual state and thus save them and their culture.
The cult was very reactionary by its nature. It was a metaphysical belief or means of saving their culture that was not equipped to compete with the new culture. It was a means for them to cling to their past way of life and deal with the onslaught of a new culture.
Now consider what has happened in the just past century. Secularism grew out of the civil war where both sides had claimed that God was on their side and had equal verses and quotations to prove that both were right. In the end, it was not who was religiously right, but who had the economic power. It was a new culture of industrialization that produced goods as wealth opposing the culture of agriculturism where wealth was realty and property (slaves). This secularism gave rise to the boom in the economy, sciences, health care, humanities, and social causes.
The new Religious Right is just as reactionary as the Great White Buffalo cult. They are attempting to reclaim their culture through the great spiritual wars. They may not want to go all of the way back. Many would not want to go back to slavery, but many would like to see women take their rightful rôle in society, the family and sexual beings for procreation and pleasure of man. Some see the economic and societal gains reversed or at least altered: social security, secularism of the schools, put science back to that based on the Bible, etc. The need for abortion eliminated, homosexuality eliminated. The list could go on and on, I leave that to James Dobson, Jerry Falwell, Pat Robertson, and Carl Rove. Just as in the White Buffalo cults, none of these are exactly the same from group to group, nor are exactly espoused exactly the same by each group.
The White Buffalo cults are gone, likewise many of its espousers. Many simply starved to death. It is a vanished cult. But what about “Fundamentalism?” In history these cults come and go. So will this one. The Catholic Church tried to banish science at the end of the Middle Ages and after centuries of battles and millions of dead, has even exonerated Galileo Galilei after he was ex-communicated for four hundred years. The Catholic Church is still around, they changed and adapted, that is, specifically they evolved. The Fundamentalist movement, of course, will not survive as it is presently, it, too, will evolve. Even if they could somehow get creationism taught in schools, homosexuality outlawed, abortion outlawed, any non-Biblical science or beliefs outlawed, the reality of the natural world is still the reality of the natural world. Reality trumps belief every single time. Evolution is just a theory, true, but one that fits the facts as we know them and is not stuck with flat earths, the earth as the center of the universe, the Jews as God’s chosen people with Israel as the center of the cosmos, and the Christian god as triumphant of all the gods on earth or the god of the universe. Homosexuals are born and are born at a fairly constant rate throughout humanity and human history, outlawing homosexuality will not prevent it, only put them back in the closet as a cultural less than human being status. Likewise, outlawing has never prevented abortions. There is a good argument that better birth control will largely prevent the need for abortions, but it will not end it, nor rape, nor incest, nor pedophilia.
In the mean time, we will have the cultural wars. These can be seen as the wars being fought in the Middle East right now. A former Fundamentalist colleague was delighted that George II had made those wars because they would lead to the Armageddon. Humanity might loose many of them, but as the first Republican president said, “you can fool some of the people all of the time, all of the people some of the time, but you can’t fool all of the people all of the time.” Another way of saying, “Reality trumps belief every time.” Sometimes it just may take 400 years, and evolution.