The Sixth Grandfather: Black Elk's Teachings Given to John G. Neihardt

The Sixth Grandfather: Black Elk's Teachings Given to John G. Neihardt

The Sixth Grandfather: Black Elk's Teachings Given to John G. Neihardt

The Sixth Grandfather: Black Elk's Teachings Given to John G. Neihardt

Excerpt

In the great vision he received when still a small boy, Black Elk saw himself as the "sixth grandfather," the spiritual representative of the earth and of mankind. In Lakota religion the six grandfathers symbolized Wakan Tanka, the Great Mysteriousness, the powers of the six directions of the universe: west, north, cast, south, above, and below. Understood as grandfathers, these spirits were represented as kind and loving, full of years and wisdom, like revered human grandfathers. They symbolized the six directions; but for Lakotas symbols were not merely empty signs. They expressed identity: the symbol and the symbolized were one. Thus the six grandfathers were the six directions. Black Elk became the sixth grandfather, the spirit of the "below" direction, the earth, the place where mankind lives, the source of human life. By becoming the sixth grandfather through the vision experience, Black Elk was identified as the spirit of all mankind. And the vision foreshadowed his life as a holy man -- as thinker, healer, teacher.

In two important books, Black Elk Speaks (1932) and When the Tree Flowered (1951), John G. Neihardt immortalized Black Elk's teachings, preserving them as a legacy, for future generations. Neihardt's books are literary interpretations of what he learned from Black Elk. They preserve the details of Lakota culture and yet transcend them, securing a place for . . .

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