By John Webster Grant
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Extra resources for A Profusion of Spires: Religion in Nineteenth-Century Ontario
Since the spirit world stood in a somewhat ambivalent relation to human desires, religious practice inevitably contained a similar element of ambivalence. Spiritual power was meant to be used for good ends, but there was nothing to prevent one's drawing on it to cause harm. The temptation to misuse it was strong, and always it was there to be used rather than served. Shamans were regularly suspected of sorcery, and the greater the access to spiritual power the stronger the suspicion. I2 This moral ambiguity was intrinsic to the religion of hunters, who needed to be aggressive in order to survive.
During the early years of the nineteenth century the western part of the province, then opening up, attracted many from the middle states. In his Statistical Report of Upper Canada, published in 1820, Robert Gourlay identified New York, New Jersey, and Pennsylvania as the sources of much of the population of the Niagara and London regions. Lieutenant-Colonel John Graves Simcoe, the first lieutenant-governor of Upper Canada after its separation in 1791, sought to establish a credible British presence in the interior of North America by attracting 'loyal' residents of the United States into the province.
This diversity extended to religious beliefs and practices, which ranged from the brutally efficient mania of the Aztecs for human sacrifice to the mysticism of solitary seers. Generalizations about native American religion are apt to be as misleading as generalizations about the religion of Eurasia would be. Archaeology and analogy provide our best clues to the specific religious beliefs and practices of the Indians who inhabited Ontario over ten millennia. Many of those described by the first European explorers had probably been in place for a long time, but it is not always easy to know which ones.