Wakinyan: Lakota Religion in the Twentieth Century

Wakinyan: Lakota Religion in the Twentieth Century

Wakinyan: Lakota Religion in the Twentieth Century

Wakinyan: Lakota Religion in the Twentieth Century


Wakinyan is an excellent overview of Lakota religious thought and practice, introducing readers to its essential components. Through finely detailed descriptions of rituals and various types of religious figures, Stephen E. Feraca explains the significance of such practices as the Sun Dance, sweat lodge ritual, vision quest, Yuwipi ritual, and peyote use. He also discusses the significance of herbs and religious artifacts and objects and explains the roles and responsibilities of medicine men and other religious practitioners.

First written as a report for the Department of the Interior in 1963, Wakinyan has long been recognized as a classic study of Lakota religion. This edition retains most of the original text, with its first-rate ethnographic descriptions of religious practices. The author's new endnotes bring the reader up to date on changes in Lakota religion during the last three decades.


The major part of this book was originally published in 1963 by the Museum of the Plains Indian in Browning, Montana, as number 2 in the series Studies in Plains Anthropology and History. As a publication of the Department of the Interior, Bureau of Indian Affairs, it was in the public domain for a long time. Out of print shortly after it made its appearance, it has been copied and recopied, quite legally, by many persons in this country and in Europe. I myself wearied of making copies and explaining that it was otherwise unavailable.

This work concerns traditional Lakota religion in the twentieth century, a timespan devoid of tribal buffalo hunting and other major aspects of the former nomadic, equestrian, tipi-dwelling Northern Plains culture, unmarked by warfare with other tribes and the United States Army, and entirely within a setting influenced by an administered reservation system. Traditional religion is herein treated as recognizing, respecting, acquiring, and utilizing supernatural power in terms of such beliefs and practices deriving from the pre- and early-reservation period. the title, Wakinyan, refers to the Thunderbird or Winged Deity of the Lakotas, a powerful manifestation of supernatural presence in human affairs.

Although religious practices are always changing, as many changed for the Lakotas as they moved toward and then established themselves on the Northern Plains, traditional religion nevertheless retains its fundamental qualities, governed by the concept of supernatural power. the belief in such power, from whatever source it may be derived, exists in itself and apart from any particular observance or activity.

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