Before the Great Spirit: The Many Faces of Sioux Spirituality

Before the Great Spirit: The Many Faces of Sioux Spirituality

Before the Great Spirit: The Many Faces of Sioux Spirituality

Before the Great Spirit: The Many Faces of Sioux Spirituality

Excerpt

Many readers of a new book on the Sioux are likely to be informed admirers at the outset. No other tribe has received so much attention in print, and yet one book, John Neihardt's Black Elk Speaks (1932) stands out as the alpha of Sioux religion for those who have gone on to learn more, and the omega for many others who have been content to regard it as an inspiring scripture. From Neihardt's version of Black Elk's words, millions of readers know the fundamentals of Lakota spirituality: The Lakota see the pattern of the sacred in circles and their prayers are sent sunwise to the four directions; the Lakota rely on animal spirits for courage and healing, especially the buffalo, the bear, the eagle, and the elk; Lakota holy men were granted visions from the animal spirits and from the greater spirits of Stone, Sun, and Thunder; some of these holy men were also warriors, of whom the most historically notable are Crazy Horse, Sitting Bull, and Black Elk himself.

Neihardt's readers also learn of two significant turning points just before and after the consignment of all Sioux to reservations: the Custer fight of 1876 and the Ghost Dance of 1890 ( Black Elk Speaks 105-30, 230-70). Both events represent the undying will of a people to maintain their cultural integrity, and while the first is celebrated as a patriotic holiday, the second is regarded ambivalently by modern Lakota and by historians.

Because it incorporated elements of apocalyptic Christianity and expressed a sense of desperation born of hopelessness, the Ghost Dance has generally received little respect, but to the extent that it manifested a will to keep tribal identity alive, its heartfelt emotion cannot be disparaged. Though the dance involved many Western tribes, the Sioux in particular . . .

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.