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Ancient civilizations formed what Latin America is today Their original pagan beliefs were combined with the new ideas that came with the Spanish conquest creating a unique form of Christianity The merging of rites values and customs is what made of Native Americans a unique phenomenon that has been widely studied by anthropologists historians and archeologists Prehistoric and tribal people believed that the universe was composed of the heavens the earths surface and the underworld Because the boundaries between the worlds of nature human society and the supernatural were not clearly defined religious leaders were considered shamans people who were believed to be capable of moving back and forth between the earthly and supernatural realms through hallucinatory trances They also believed that the universe was animated by a variety of spirits some friendly and some not who came from the departed and from animated natural objects Many prehistoric deities were derived from astronomical observations The people of the tribes did not only identify them with particular planets and stars but also with the recurring movements of the heavens as a whole such as natural phenomena The various divine powers were seen as multiple facets of a single supernatural force and they had opposing qualities such as malefemale daynight and lifedeath For pre-Columbian civilizations there was no clear separation of civil and religious life Rulers were believed to be divine or semi-divine beings that traced their descent from one or more gods The cosmic order depended on a joint relationship between humans and gods maintained through elaborate ceremonies Since humans needed favorable treatment from the gods in order to survive ritual solicited for example the help of agricultural deities in order to secure good harvests However gods were clearly differentiated from humans and few if any were all knowing and all-powerful The primary determinant of a persons fate after death was his or her position in life Rulers who were divine or semi-divine enjoyed
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