“You have noticed that everything an Indian does is in a circle, and that is because the Power of the World always works in circles, and everything tries to be round. In the old days when we were a strong and happy people, all our power came to us from the sacred hoop of the nation, and so long as the hoop was unbroken, the people flourished. The flowering tree was the living center of the hoop, and the circle of the four quarters nourished it. The east gave peace and light, the south gave warmth, the west gave rain, and the north with its cold and mighty wind gave strength and endurance.
This knowledge came to us from the outer world with our religion. Everything the Power of the World does is done in a circle. The sky is round, and I have heard that the earth is round like a ball, and so are all the stars. The wind, in its greatest power, whirls. Birds make their nests in circles, for theirs is the same religion as ours. The sun comes forth and goes down again in a circle. The moon does the same, and both are round. Even the seasons form a great circle in their changing, and always come back again to where they were. The life of a man is a circle from childhood to childhood, and so it is in everything where power moves. Our teepees were round like the nests of birds, and these were always set in a circle, the nation’s hoop, a nest of many nests, where the Great Spirit meant for us to hatch our children.” (1)
by Black Elk of the Oglala Sioux from “Black Elk Speaks” as told to John Neihardt in 1961.
(This is an amazing book I highly recommend it. ❤ )
Who was Black Elk?
“(Nicholas Black Elk [Hehaka Sapa] (c. December 1863 – 17 August or 19 August 1950 [sources differ]) was a famous Wichasha Wakan (Medicine Man or Holy Man) and Heyoka of the Oglala Lakota (Sioux). He participated at about the age of twelve in the Battle of Little Big Horn of 1876, and was wounded in the massacre that occurred at Wounded Knee in 1890)”(Check out this source for more that inspires you in your life and personal journey) (2)
Though it does not in any way take away from it, it is good to also note that while telling the amazing story of his people and his autobiography prior to the influence of both “White man” and Christianity, the fact was that Black Elk had already been a Christian for years. Did this affect his later interpretations and method of his own people and personal history? What do you think?
“In 1904, an incident happened that, according to Lucy,…” his daughter, “… was the catalyst for Black Elk’s conversion. Black Elk was called to perform a healing ceremony for a sick child. During the ceremony, Father Lindebner, from the Holy Rosary Mission at Pine Ridge, arrived to give the boy last rites. He was angry to find Black Elk practicing shamanism and threw Black Elk and his magic props out of the tent. According to Lucy, Black Elk was not angry, but accepted the idea that the white God was more powerful (Steltenkamp 36). That same year, Black Elk was baptized, received the Christian name Nicholas and was thereafter often called Nick Black Elk by both Indians and whites…..In teaching Catholicism, Black Elk used a pictorial device that was common at the time called a picture catechism. This was a strip of paper about a foot wide and several feet long illustrating the Creation at the bottom and Heaven at the top. This pictorial was commonly called the Two Roads Map and contained many colorful pictures of humans and fanciful creatures that might be encountered on the gold road to Heaven or the black road to Hell. There were striking physical similarities between some of the images on this map and the images that Black Elk described in his vision. Black Elk interpreted his vision as a call to heal and to lead his people to a good and spiritual life. However, there was also a part of his vision that indicated that he had the power for great destruction and that he was to lead his people in war against the whites. Intelligent and practical he could probably see the futility in this and was able to reconcile his vision with the idea of leading his people into Christianity. Black Elk’s vision gave him power in the eyes of his people, but was also a terrible obligation to live up to. He spent his entire life agonizing over whether he was living up to the dictates of vision. Converting may have let him off the hook in regard to some of obligations of his vision. Lucy felt that her father saw parallels and connections between old Lakota religion and Christianity (Steltenkamp 102)….What were Black Elk’s motivations for telling his story? Neihardt said that he believed Black Elk’s purpose was to preserve his great vision and Lakota history for his people after he was gone. To the Native American people, ritual and ceremony are extremely important. The very telling of the stories was a kind of ritual that could restore and transmit the power of the vision and transfer some of the burden of his vision onto Neihardt (Wiget 211). Wiget goes so far as to speculate whether Black Elk used Neihardt to send his message to his people before he died (Wiget 214), and that he purposely tried to draw parallels between Lakota spirituality and Christianity to elicit sympathy and help for his people from the whites (Wiget 83).” (3)
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Art title: “Native American Tale” by artist: da-joint-stock @ http://www.deviantart.com/art/Native-American-Tale-167670912