Black Elk

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Grown men may learn from very little children, for the hearts of little children are pure, and, therefore, the Great Spirit may show to them many things which older people miss.

Nicholas Black Elk [Hehaka Sapa] (c. December 186317 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.

Quotes[edit]

The Sacred Pipe (1953)[edit]

The Sacred Pipe : Black Elk's Account of the Seven Rites of the Oglala Sioux (1953), as told to Joseph Epes Brown
All the things of the universe are joined with you who smoke the pipe — All send their voices to Wakan-Tanka, the Great Spirit.
The first peace, which is the most important, is that which comes within the souls of people when they realize their relationship, their oneness, with the universe and all its powers, and when they realize that at the center of the universe dwells Wakan-Tanka , and that this center is really everywhere, it is within each of us.
  • Grown men may learn from very little children, for the hearts of little children are pure, and, therefore, the Great Spirit may show to them many things which older people miss.
  • All the things of the universe are joined with you who smoke the pipe — All send their voices to Wakan-Tanka, the Great Spirit. When you pray with this pipe, you pray for and with everything.
  • The first peace, which is the most important, is that which comes within the souls of people when they realize their relationship, their oneness, with the universe and all its powers, and when they realize that at the center of the universe dwells Wakan-Tanka , and that this center is really everywhere, it is within each of us. This is the real peace, and the others are but reflections of this. The second peace is that which is made between two individuals, and the third is that which is made between two nations. But above all you should understand that there can never be peace between nations until there is known that true peace, which, as I have often said, is within the souls of men.
  • The Great Spirit is everywhere; He hears whatever is in our minds and our hearts, and it is not necessary to speak to Him in a loud voice.
  • The power of a thing or an act is in the meaning and the understanding.
  • Perhaps you have noticed that even in the slightest breeze you can hear the voice of the cottonwood tree; this we understand is its prayer to the Great Spirit, for not only men, but all things and all beings pray to Him continually in different ways.
  • [The Sun Dancers] also put rabbit skins on their arms and legs, for the rabbit represents humility, because he is quiet and soft and not self-asserting — a quality which we must all possess when we go to the center of the world.
  • This center which is here, but which we know is really everywhere, is Wakan-Tanka.
  • It is good to have a reminder of death before us, for it helps us to understand the impermanence of life on this earth, and this understanding may aid us in preparing for our own death. He who is well prepared is he who knows that he is nothing compared with Wakan-Tanka who is everything; then he knows that world which is real.
  • Of all the created things or beings in the universe, it is the two-legged men alone, who if they purify and humiliate themselves, may become one with — or may know — Wakan-Tanka.

Black Elk Speaks (1961)[edit]

Black Elk Speaks : being the life story of a holy man of the Ogalala Sioux (1961), as told to John Neihardt
Our tepees were round like the nests of birds, and these were always set in a circle, the nation's hoop.
If the vision was true and mighty, as I know, it is true and mighty yet; for such things are of the spirit, and it is in the darkness of their eyes that men get lost.
The sacred hoop of my people was one of many hoops that made one circle, wide as daylight and as starlight, and in the center grew one mighty flowering tree to shelter all the children of one mother and one father. And I saw that it was holy.
I did not know then how much was ended.
A people's dream died there. It was a beautiful dream.
Hear me in my sorrow, for I may never call again. O make my people live!
Crazy Horse dreamed and went into the world where there is nothing but the spirits of all things. That is the real world that is behind this one, and everything we see here is something like a shadow from that one.
  • 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.
    • Ch. 17 : The First Cure
  • 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 nest 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 tepees were round like the nests of birds, and these were always set in a circle, the nation's hoop.
    • Ch. 17 : The First Cure
  • When a vision comes from the thunder beings of the West, it comes with terror like a thunder storm; but when the storm of vision has passed, the world is greener and happier; for wherever the truth of vision comes upon the world, it is like a rain. The world, you see, is happier after the terror of the storm. … you have noticed that truth comes into this world with two faces. One is sad with suffering, and the other laughs; but it is the same face, laughing or weeping. … as lightning illuminates the dark, for it is the power of lightning that heyokas have.
  • If the vision was true and mighty, as I know, it is true and mighty yet; for such things are of the spirit, and it is in the darkness of their eyes that men get lost.
  • With visible breath I am walking.
    A voice I am sending as I walk.
    In a sacred manner I am walking.
    With visible tracks I am walking.
    In a sacred manner I walk.
    • Song of the White Bison Woman who brought the sacred pipe to men.
  • A long time ago my father told me what his father told him, that there was once a Lakota holy man, called Drinks Water, who dreamed what was to be; and this was long before the coming of the Wasichus. He dreamed that the four-leggeds were going back into the earth and that a strange race had woven a spider's web all around the Lakotas. And he said: "When this happens, you shall live in square gray houses, in a barren land, and beside those square gray houses you shall starve." They say he went back to Mother Earth soon after he saw this vision, and it was sorrow that killed him. You can look about you now and see that he meant these dirt-roofed houses we are living in, and that all the rest was true. Sometimes dreams are wiser than waking.
    • Wasichus was a term for the white men.
  • Then a Voice said: "Behold this day, for it is yours to make. Now you shall stand upon the center of the earth to see, for there they are taking you."
    • Describing a childhood vision he had while very ill and near death.
  • Then I was standing on the highest mountain of them all , and round about beneath me was the whole hoop of the world. And while I stood there I saw more than I can tell and I understood more than I saw; for I was seeing in a sacred manner the shapes of all things in the spirit, and the shape of all shapes as they must live together like one being. And I saw that the sacred hoop of my people was one of many hoops that made one circle, wide as daylight and as starlight, and in the center grew one mighty flowering tree to shelter all the children of one mother and one father. And I saw that it was holy.
  • I saw ahead the rainbow flaming above the tepee of the Six Grandfathers, built and roofed with cloud and sewed with thongs of lightning; and underneath it were all the wings of the air and under them the animals and men. All these were rejoicing, and thunder was like happy laughter.
    As I rode in through the rainbow door, there were cheering voices from all over the universe, and I saw the Six Grandfathers sitting in a row, with their arms held toward me and their hands, palms out; and behind them in the cloud were faces thronging, without number, of the people yet to be.
  • A good nation I will make live.
    This the nation above has said.

    They have given me the power to make over.
    • Song of power he sang towards the end of a childhood vision
  • They told me I had been sick twelve days, lying like dead all the while, and that Whirlwind Chaser , who was Standing Bear's uncle and a medicine man , had brought me back to life. I knew it was the Grandfathers in the Flaming Rainbow Tepee who had cured me; but I felt afraid to say so. My father gave Whirlwind Chaser the best horse he had for making me well, and many people came to look at me, and there was much talk about the great power of Whirlwind Chaser who had made me well all at once when I was almost the same as dead.
    Everybody was glad that I was living; but as I lay there thinking about the wonderful place where I had been and all that I had seen, I was very sad; for it seemed to me that everybody ought to know about it, but I was afraid to tell, because I knew that nobody would believe me, little as I was, for I was only nine years old. Also, as I lay there thinking of my vision, I could see it all again and feel the meaning with a part of me like a strange power glowing in my body; but when the part of me that talks would try to make words for the meaning, it would be like fog and get away from me.
    I am sure now that I was then too young to understand it all, and that I only felt it. It was the pictures I remembered and the words that went with them; for nothing I have ever seen with my eyes was so clear and bright as what my vision showed me; and no words that I have ever heard with my ears were like the words I heard. I did not have to remember these things; they have remembered themselves all these years. It was as I grew older that the meanings came clearer and clearer out of the pictures and the words; and even now I know that more was shown to me than I can tell.
  • I did not know then how much was ended. When I look back now from this high hill of my old age, I can still see the butchered women and children lying heaped and scattered all along the crooked gulch as plain as when I saw them with eyes still young. And I can see that something else died there in the bloody mud, and was buried in the blizzard. A people's dream died there. It was a beautiful dream.
    And I, to whom so great a vision was given in my youth, — you see me now a pitiful old man who has done nothing, for the nation's hoop is broken and scattered. There is no center any longer, and the sacred tree is dead.
  • Grandfather, Great Spirit, once more behold me on earth and lean to hear my feeble voice. You lived first, and you are older than all need, older than all prayer. All things belong to you — the two-leggeds, the four-leggeds, the wings of the air and all green things that live. You have set the powers of the four quarters to cross each other. The good road and the road of difficulties you have made to cross; and where they cross, the place is holy. Day in and day out, forever, you are the life of things.
    Therefore, I am sending a voice, Great Spirit, my Grandfather, forgetting nothing you have made, the stars of the universe and the grasses of the earth.
  • To the center of the world you have taken me and showed the goodness and the beauty and the strangeness of the greening earth, the only mother — and there the spirit shapes of things, as they should be, you have shown to me and I have seen. At the center of this sacred hoop, you have said that I should make the tree to bloom.
    With tears running, O Great Spirit , Great Spirit, my Grandfather — with running tears I must say now that the tree has never bloomed. A pitiful old man, you see me here, and I have fallen away and have done nothing. Here at the center of the world, where you took me when I was young and taught me; here, old, I stand, and the tree is withered, Grandfather, my Grandfather!
    Again, and maybe the last time on this earth, I recall the great vision you sent me. It may be that some little root of the sacred tree still lives. Nourish it then, that it may leaf and bloom and fill with singing birds. Hear me, not for myself, but for my people; I am old. Hear me that they may once more go back into the sacred hoop and find the good red road, the shielding tree!
  • In sorrow I am sending a feeble voice, O Six Powers of the World. Hear me in my sorrow, for I may never call again. O make my people live!
  • He was the chief of all the horses; and when he snorted, it was a flash of lightning and his eyes were like the sunset star.
  • And as I looked ahead, the people changed into elks and bison and all four-footed beings and even into fowls, all walking in a sacred manner on the good red road together.
  • … behind me there were ghosts of people like a trailing fog as far as I could see - grandfathers of grandfathers and grandmothers of grandmothers without number.
  • Flames were rising from the waters and in the flames a blue man lived.
  • Then the bay horse spoke to me again and said: "See how your horses all come dancing!" I looked, and there were horses, horses everywhere — a whole skyfull of horses dancing around me.
  • My bay had lightning stripes all over him and his mane was cloud. And when I breathed, my breath was lightning.
  • Crazy Horse dreamed and went into the world where there is nothing but the spirits of all things. That is the real world that is behind this one, and everything we see here is something like a shadow from that one. He was on his horse in that world, and the horse and himself on it and the trees and the grass and the stones and everything were made of spirit, and nothing was hard, and everything seemed to float. His horse was standing still there, and yet it danced around like a horse made only of shadow, and that is how he got his name, which does not mean that his horse was crazy or wild, but that in his vision it danced around in that queer way.
    It was this vision that gave him his great power, for when he went into a fight, he had only to think of that world to be in it again, so that he could go through anything and not be hurt. Until he was killed at the Soldiers' Town on White River, he was wounded only twice, once by accident and both times by some one of his own people when he was not expecting trouble and was not thinking; never by an enemy. He was fifteen years old when he was wounded by accident; and the other time was when he was a young man and another man was jealous of him because the man's wife liked Crazy Horse.
    They used to say that he carried a sacred stone with him, like one he had seen in some vision, and that when he was in danger, the stone always got heavy and protected him somehow. That, they used to say, was the reason that no horse he ever rode lasted very long. I do not know about this; maybe people only thought it; but it is a fact that he never kept one horse long. They wore out. I think it was only the power of his great vision that made him great.
  • "Behold" he said, "all the wings of the air shall come to you, and they and the winds and the stars shall be like relatives."
  • All around the circle, feeding on the green, green grass were fat and happy horses...
  • I did not see anything to help my people. I could see that the Wasichus [Whites] did not care for each other the way our people did before the nation's hoop was broken. They would take everything from each other if they could, and so there were some who had more of everything than they could use, while crowds of people had nothing at all and maybe were starving. They had forgotten that the earth was their mother. This could not be better than the old ways of my people.
    • After joining the Wild West Show in 1886 and traveling to Chicago and New York to learn from the Whites, citing Neihardt in Peter Farb, Man's Rise to Civilization (1968)

Quotes about Black Elk[edit]

  • Black Elk and Lame Deer were Heyoka which means that you literally say and do things backwards in a humorous manner but whose spirit helpers are the powerful thunderbeings.
    Lame Deer was the last true Heyoka. If you look at this world most things flow in a clockwise cycle but you also have that small element in life that goes the opposite direction. There are things that Black Elk and Lame Deer did and said things in a way to divert the tensions at that time when the pipe way was under attack.
    • Zintkala Oyate, as quoted in Heyoka magazine (6 December 2006)

External links[edit]

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