Black Elk - Seven Sacred Rights of the Lakota (E-Book)

Black Elk was a famous medicine man from the Oglala Lakota (Sioux) and second cousin to the famed Native American warrior Crazy Horse who rebelled against the Federal Government for intruding on Native American territories.

Born on December 1st 1863 in Little Powder River Wyoming he was a medicine man of substance and his experiences, during which he becomes aware of the Seven Sacred Rights of the Lakota, reaffirms the outer body experience as propagated by Jung, which occurs as a result of either natural sleep or induced sleep i.e. hypnosis. It confirms what parapsychologists like Jung have asserted for years in that the mind is a vast untapped resource that has never been fully explored.

When Black Elk was nine years old he was struck by a sudden illness that left him unconscious and unresponsive. During this time, he experienced visitations from cosmic entities who he described as thunder beings (Wakinyan) and who he perceived to be the forefathers or the ancestors of the Oglala Sioux. According to his accounts these spirits were kind and loving, and were very giving in their paternal affection.

His experiences further reaffirm the shamanic principle ardently advocated by well-known exponents of shamanism like Mircea Eliade in that, the shamanic gift is bestowed upon a person or an individual after a prolonged and sustained life threatening illness or experience. From all expert accounts, Black Elk’s narrative of his experiences are most likely true. He died on August 19th 1950 in Pine Ridge, South Dakota.

According to Black Elk, it started with repeated visitations from an ancient man, whose head was filled with white hair and who was wise beyond reason. The man was always alert; his eyes were constantly looking in all directions and he was full of fatherly affection. The old man surprisingly enough bears a striking resemblance to the heavenly father. He then imparts the Seven Sacred Rites of the Lakota to Black Elk.

The first of the Seven Sacred Rites is Inikagapi or Inipi (the rite to renew life). A sweat lodge is held in a dome shaped structure made of saplings and covered with hide or tarps and it symbolizes the shape of the universe or the womb of a pregnant woman.

Heated stones are placed in a large crevice located in the center of the lodge and water is poured over the stones by an itancan (leader) to create steam. The purpose of the ceremony is to pray for the spiritual and physical wellbeing of all sentient beings. The lodge utilizes all the powers of the universe: earth and the things which grow on the earth and powers derived from the other elements, water, fire, and air.

Before embarking on any type of spiritual journey the body has to be detoxified, and any remains of toxic residue in the body will be removed by sweating. The result of sitting or meditating in a dome shaped structure with heated stones placed in the middle is excessive sweating.

It is also important to realize that Black Elk specifically mentioned the shape of the structure. Dome shaped structures are symbolic to all religions and theologically the dome acts as a transmitter. Any vibrations resulting from chanting in this type of structure will be carried to the heavenly father.

The second rite is Hanbleceyapi (crying for vision). The vision quest is undertaken by an individual with the help and guidance of a holy man. A person elects to go on a vision quest to pray, communicate with the spirits, and to gain knowledge, strength, and understanding.

The person pledges to stay on an isolated hill for one to four days with a blanket and a pipe, but without food or water. Upon returning, the vision may be discussed with the Wicasa Wakan (holy man). Often the meaning of the vision is not readily apparent and the individual may be told to wait for knowledge and understanding.

The second rite is the seeking of visions or an attempt to bridge the gap between the conscious and subconscious mind, through the medium of sleep or deep meditation or dream-time, whereupon, the subconscious mind will reveal the mysteries of the world to the dreamer in the form of vivid images.

Experts in the field have suggested that implanting the thought of bridging the gap between the conscious and the subconscious mind or seeking visions prior to falling asleep will help the subject achieve dream quest more easily.

The third rite is the keeping of the spirit (Wanagi Wicagluha). Death is a transition from one existence to another. The demise of the body does not mean death of the spirit or the soul and the spirit or the soul continues to exist long after the body has turned to dust or has been reduced to ashes.

The third rite of the Lakota is similar to the death rites of many other ancient cultures in that the spirits or the souls of the dead linger around their families or their prized possessions for a period of time before they crossover. It is a time that is used to coax the spirit into continuing with the journey.

The spirit especially in cases and circumstances of unnatural deaths has to be made to come to terms with death. Normally a special place is erected in honor of the spirit and it is done to commemorate the passing and to remember the deceased.

This special place may or may not correspond with an altar (what an altar is or isn’t is a question of perception) and friends and relatives are sometimes invited to join in during what is called a feeding ceremony or an occasion during which offerings of food are made and shared with the spirit.

The rite continues for a year and after a year the spirit is freed or released. During this rather testing time close family members of the deceased are forbidden or prohibited from taking part in any celebrations or festivities.

It has to be made clear that the mourning period is undertaken with love for the departed in mind. It is a grieving period that allows both the family members and the deceased to say their goodbyes. It is in essence a period of letting go and abstaining from celebrations and other festivities allows everyone to come to terms with the passing in the appropriate manner. It is also a time for silent reflection.

In 1890 there was a religious movement that consolidated numerous Native American believes. It was called the Ghost Dance and among other things it advocated that proper practice of the dance would reunite the living with the spirits of the dead and would bring spirits to fight on their behalf. It is reflective of the importance that is attached to spirits in Native American culture and tradition.

Spirit keeping is also a common facet among many other shamanic cultures and features prominently in Tungus cultures and its variants. The Tungus people are of Siberian origin and the near-death phenomenon similar to the experience Black Elk went through when he was nine is a prerequisite to becoming a Tungus Shaman.

Now, if Black Elk had been born in Siberia he would not only have been a medicine man but he would also have been recognized as a capable shaman and would have been accorded a position befitting a shaman in the community.

In these ancient cultures that adhere to time honored traditions, the shaman is also a healer (it is possible that there were early Siberian migrants to the Americas. The distance between Siberia and Alaska is only 55 miles. The territories are separated by a body of water known as the Bering Strait).

According to the near-death principle, once a shaman prospect has gone through the near-death experience he or she would not only be able to see spirits but he or she would also be able to communicate with them.

Similar dynamics also apply to the Tamang shamans (hill shamans) of Nepal and they too acquire the ability to see and speak to spirits. Hence, the ability to see or commune with spirits is an ability that is accepted in certain communities and societies.

These spirits also require sustenance and it is the duty of the shaman to provide the spirit with the type of sustenance that is deemed suitable and that would differ from community to community or from society to society. Likewise, it is the duty of the deceased’s next of kin or the keeper of the spirit to provide the spirit with suitable food.

Therefore, the notion of relatives and friends sharing a meal with a spirit is not at all far-fetched and to the contrary it is, depending on the culture, something of a norm.

It is also an accepted principle that the spirit after death needs to be coaxed into undertaking the journey that follows and the mourning period or the “keeping of the spirit” is a time during which relatives of the departed help the spirit to cross over.

Let me cite the practices of another ancient culture as an example. Let us briefly go to Leh and Ladakh in Western Tibet. Here the mourning period is forty-four days i.e. it takes forty-four days for the spirit of the departed to cross-over and during that time a priest is close at hand and he or she reads verses from the Tibetan Book of the Dead or the Bardo Thodol to help the spirit to cross-over.

According to the death rites of many of these ancient cultures, the period following death and prior to the crossing over is a perilous time for the spirit and it is confronted with a series of images conjured by the mind that are a result of its fears and inhibitions and therefore it needs the assistance of its family members to help it along the way.

It is slightly different from the Ghost Dance which according to my understanding is more akin to the summoning of the spirit and this normally applies to spirits of some fortitude or spirits that have been around for some time and it is more or less like the induced trance state. It is practiced to this very day.

The mourning period differs from one culture to another and from people to people but the one year period is similar to that of the East Indian culture where relatives of the dead are required to mourn the dead for a period of one-year and during the mourning period they are prohibited from taking part in any festivities. Therefore, we won’t be wrong in stating that the mourning period among the Lakota is strikingly similar to that of the East Indians.

Another amazing similarity is the feeding of the spirit. In the East Indian culture offerings of food are made at periodical intervals at an altar over the duration of a year. It includes offerings of vegetarian dishes and the favorite sweets of the deceased and relatives and friends are invited to be a part of the somber occasion.

The fourth sacred rite of the Lakota is the sun dance and once again it is reminiscent of the Tungus Shaman. The dance is conducted around a tree or a pole that symbolizes the tree. In Lakota cosmology, the tree represents the center of the universe.

It is possible to draw parallels between the tree in the Lakota sun dance and the shaman tree of the Tungus shamans. It is difficult to speculate if Black Elk ascended a shaman tree during his life-threatening illness or otherwise but it is an accepted principle among Tungus shamans that a shaman acquires his or her abilities to see and communicate with spirits after he or she ascends the shaman tree. The top of the tree or its highest tier according to Siberian folklore is occupied by Gods of the highest level.

Among Yakutian (Siberian) shamans, each shaman is allotted his or her own tree and the well-being of the shaman is dependent on the tree. Chopping down the tree spells death for the shaman. In some instances, dead shamans are entombed in the hollow of a tree and this it is where the shaman’s spirit resides i.e. it becomes the shaman’s spirit tree.

In Altai shamanic circles the tree is symbolic of the world’s center and the tree is the dwelling place of many magical animals and each of these animals have a specific function. Like spirit guides, they have the ability to foretell the future, determine destinies and act as celestial guardians.

Sitting perched on the upper boughs of this tree are two birds that call out the days of the living and that have the ability to see where the spirits of the dead will go following their demise. In the middle branches sit two silver clawed eagles that act as guardians of the living. These eagles also call out to lost heroes directing them as to the proper course of action.

At the base of this tree there are two black dogs, with flashing eyes that gaze constantly at the underworld. Altai folklore also suggests that all trees have spirits for example when a hero in an epic poem leaves his son in the care of the spirits of the birch trees.

Trees are also worshiped in Mongolian shamanic circles. These trees are like normal trees i.e. they are not the dwelling places of spirits but by virtue of worshiping these trees one is blessed with good fortune and therefore it is possible to say that it is the spirit of the tree as opposed to the spirits of the heavenly deities that reside on or in the tree that bring about a turn of good fortune.

It is also possible to equate the tree with the Hungarian Tree of life and draw inferences from the legend of the sky high tree. Interestingly enough the legend also mentions a horned buffalo. According to the legend the tree is divided into many tiers and the highest tier is occupied by the legendary bird-hawk, Turul, and other celestial and heavenly beings.

As a matter of interest it is important to realize that shamans are divided into white shamans and black shamans i.e. those that commune with white spirits and those that commune with dark spirits and as a result most shamans draw their energies from one source or the other.

It is also further possible to surmise that the strength of the spirit that guides the shaman depends on the tier it occupies i.e. the higher the spirit is on the tree, the stronger its abilities and these are the spirits that guide warriors through the valley of dreams during vision quest or the seeking of visions.

The sun dance reaffirms the connection between spirits and nature. The dance is held every summer on the day of the full moon and is blessed by the radiance of Celeste. 

The festivities are accompanied by music and dance and various plains bands gather to perform during the dance. It is from all accounts a lively and entertaining occasion.

Dancers, pledge to make offerings of their flesh to strengthen the nation and to fulfill personal vows. The choice to participate is always at the discretion of the dancer and it is usually the result of receiving a sacred dream. It is also sometimes undertaken to seek the assistance of spiritual entities in healing a sick loved one.

The fifth sacred rite of the Lakota is Hunkapi or the right to foster or forge new relationships and it solidifies existing bonds and paves the way for new alliances. It is reflective of the personal relationship that one shares with the center of the universe or the tree that symbolizes the center of the universe.

It can also be interpreted as the rite of procreation or a rite that facilitates the expansion of familial bonds which of course is essential to perpetuate the continuity of the people and to preserve the longevity of the nation.

The nation is strong for only as long as its people continue to foster and forge new relationships and persist with repairing any damage that may have resulted with the passage of time or from past indiscretions. It is also a means to address grievances and to set aside any past disputes and in certain cases to start anew.

The rite may also be a means of enhancing the bond one has with the totem pole (the totem pole may at times represent the sacred tree that is synonymous to the center of the universe).

A totem pole in short, is a sacred object that is relative or unique to a clan, a tribe or even a family and it is perceived to be a spirit-being that is sacred to a specific person or a group of people and it is in the interest of those that are connected to the totem pole to keep the spiritual relationship alive. In more contemporary terms the spirit-being that the totem pole represents is akin to a guardian angel.

The fifth rite may also equate to fostering better relations with one’s spirit guide. According to Native American legends and traditions there are many spirits that may act as guides for example animal spirits, elemental spirits and tree spirits. These spirits not only act as guides in the valley of dreams during vision quest but also as guardians and in certain cases healers.

Spirits in Native American culture and tradition are synonymous to deities in some other cultures and these spirits are the harbingers of good tidings and the bearers of good fortune.

These spirits are similar to deities in eastern cultures (many of these deities are peculiar to specific localities) and just as there are numerous deities, there are also numerous spirits, too many in fact to list down or compile.

It is a rite that is reflective and parabolic of cultures that are keen on fostering better relationships with all beings, regardless of whether these beings are spiritual or corporeal, and to some extent it is an admittance that we share this world with many other beings, some that may not be visible to the naked eye.

It would be a good idea to keep an open mind and to acknowledge the fact that spirits may not always equate to the lingering spirits of the dead and may equate or may be synonymous to the spiritual matter that forms the core of all things, both animate and inanimate.

The sixth rite of the Lakota is Isnati Awicalowanpi or the puberty ceremony. The ceremony takes place after a girl’s first menses, and it is held to ensure that the girl will grow up to have all the virtues of a Lakota woman and that she understand the meaning of her new role. It is also conducted to formally announce her eligibility as a potential wife and a mother.

There is an exact same ceremony that is held in the East Indian culture as soon as a young girl reaches puberty. It is viewed as an important event in the life of all young girls and celebrated accordingly.

The seventh rite is Tapa Wankayeyapi or throwing the ball. It is a game which represents the course of a man’s life. A young girl stands at the center and throws a ball upwards and to the four corners as others vie to catch it. The first person to catch the ball is considered to be more fortunate than the rest - the ball is symbolically equated to knowledge.

This rite acknowledges that all persons have a right to knowledge but they must be willing to work hard and compete to obtain it. Among other things, it instills a sense of fair competitiveness especially among young children.

Copyright © 2019 by Sueanne Wellson


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