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Black Elk of the Sioux has been recognized as one of the truly remarkable men of his time in the matter of religious belief and practice. Shortly before his death in August, 1950, when he was the "keeper of the sacred pipe," he said, "It is my prayer that, through our sacred pipe, and through this book in which I shall explain what our pipe really is, peace may come to those peoples who can understand, and understanding which must be of the heart and not of the head alone. Then they will realize that we Indians ...
Black Elk of the Sioux has been recognized as one of the truly remarkable men of his time in the matter of religious belief and practice. Shortly before his death in August, 1950, when he was the "keeper of the sacred pipe," he said, "It is my prayer that, through our sacred pipe, and through this book in which I shall explain what our pipe really is, peace may come to those peoples who can understand, and understanding which must be of the heart and not of the head alone. Then they will realize that we Indians know the One true God, and that we pray to Him continually."
Black Elk was the only qualified priest of the older Oglala Sioux still living when The Sacred Pipe was written. This is his book: he gave it orally to Joseph Epes Brown during the latter's eight month's residence on the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota, where Black Elk lived. Beginning with the story of White Buffalo Cow Woman's first visit to the Sioux to give them the sacred pip~, Black Elk describes and discusses the details and meanings of the seven rites, which were disclosed, one by one, to the Sioux through visions. He takes the reader through the sun dance, the purification rite, the "keeping of the soul," and other rites, showing how the Sioux have come to terms with God and nature and their fellow men through a rare spirit of sacrifice and determination.
The wakan Mysteries of the Siouan peoples have been a subject of interest and study by explorers and scholars from the period of earliest contact between whites and Indians in North America, but Black Elk's account is without doubt the most highly developed on this religion and cosmography. The Sacred Pipe, published as volume thirty-six in the Civilization of the American Indian Series, will be greeted enthusiastically by students of comparative religion, ethnologists, historians, philosophers, and everyone interested in American Indian life.
“Mr. Brown brought to his task genuine respect for the vanishing culture of the Sioux and for the values of their religious system.”—Library Journal
"His admiration for Black Elk and his people is obvious . . . He has done a fine job producing a book that is a valuable contribution to American Indian literature." —San Francisco Chronicle
THE GIFT OF THE SACRED PIPE
Early one morning, very many winters ago, two Lakota were out hunting with their bows and arrows, and as they were standing on a hill looking for game, they saw in the distance something coming towards them in a very strange and wonderful manner. When this mysterious thing came nearer to them, they saw that it was a very beautiful woman, dressed in white buckskin, and bearing a bundle on her back. Now this woman was so good to look at that one of the Lakota had bad intentions and told his friend of his desire, but this good man said that he must not have such thoughts, for surely this is a wakan woman. The mysterious person was now very close to the men, and then putting down her bundle, she asked the one with bad intentions to come over to her. As the young man approached the mysterious woman, they were both covered by a great cloud, and soon when it lifted the sacred woman was standing there, and at her feet was the man with the bad thoughts who was now nothing but bones, and terrible snakes were eating him.
"Behold what you see!" the strange woman said to the good man. "I am coming to your people and wish to talk with your chief Hehlokecha Najin [Standing Hollow Horn], Return to him, and tell him to prepare a large tipi in which he should gather all his people, and make ready for my coming. I wish to tell you something of great importance!"
The young man then returned to the tipi of his chief, and told him all that had happened: that this wakan woman was coming to visit them and that they must all prepare. The chief, Standing Hollow Horn, then had several tipis taken down, and from them a great lodge was made as the sacred woman had instructed. He sent out a crier to tell the people to put on their best buckskin clothes and to gather immediately in the lodge. The people were, of course, all very excited as they waited in the great lodge for the coming of the holy woman, and everybody was wondering where this mysterious woman came from and what it was that she wished to say.
Soon the young men who were watching for the coming of the wakan person announced that they saw something in the distance approaching them in a beautiful manner, and then suddenly she entered the lodge, walked around sun-wise, and stood in front of Standing Hollow Horn. She took from her back the bundle, and holding it with both hands in front of the chief, said: "Behold this and always love it! It is lela wakan [very sacred], and you must treat it as such. No impure man should ever be allowed to see it, for within this bundle there is a sacred pipe. With this you will, during the winters to come, send your voices to Wakan-Tanka, your Father and Grandfather."
After the mysterious woman said this, she took from the bundle a pipe, and also a small round stone which she placed upon the ground. Holding the pipe up with its stem to the heavens, she said: "With this sacred pipe you will walk upon the Earth; for the Earth is your Grandmother and Mother, and She is sacred. Every step that is taken upon Her should be as a prayer. The bowl of this pipe is of red stone; it is the Earth. Carved in the stone and facing the center is this buffalo calf who represents all the four-leggeds who live upon your Mother. The stem of the pipe is of wood, and this represents all that grows upon the Earth. And these twelve feathers which hang here where the stem fits into the bowl are from Wanbli Galeshka, the Spotted Eagle, and they represent the eagle and all the wingeds of the air. All these peoples, and all the things of the universe, are joined to 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 wakan woman then touched the foot of the pipe to the round stone which lay upon the ground, and said: "With this pipe you will be bound to all your relatives: your Grandfather and Father, your Grandmother and Mother. This round rock, which is made of the same red stone as the bowl of the pipe, your Father Wakan-Tanka has also given to you. It is the Earth, your Grandmother and Mother, and it is where you will live and increase. This Earth which He has given to you is red, and the two-leggeds who live upon the Earth are red; and the Great Spirit has also given to you a red day, and a red road. All of this is sacred and so do not forget! Every dawn as it comes is a holy event, and every day is holy, for the light comes from your Father Wakan-Tanka; and also you must always remember that the two-leggeds and all the other peoples who stand upon this earth are sacred and should be treated as such.
"From this time on, the holy pipe will stand upon this red Earth, and the two-leggeds will take the pipe and will send their voices to Wakan-Tanka. These seven circles which you see on the stone have much meaning, for they represent the seven rites in which the pipe will be used. The first large circle represents the first rite which I shall give to you, and the other six circles represent the rites which will in time be revealed to you directly. Standing Hollow Horn, be good to these gifts and to your people, for they are wakan! With this pipe the two-leggeds will increase, and there will come to them all that is good. From above Wakan-Tanka has given to you this sacred pipe, so that through it you may have knowledge. For this great gift you should always be grateful! But now before I leave I wish to give to you instructions for the first rite in which your people will use this pipe.
"It should be for you a sacred day when one of your people dies. You must then keep his soul13as I shall teach you, and through this you will gain much power; for if this soul is kept, it will increase in you your concern and love for your neighbor. So long as the person, in his soul, is kept with your people, through him you will be able to send your voice to Wakan-Tanka.
"It should also be a sacred day when a soul is released and returns to its home, Wakan-Tanka, for on this day four women will be made holy, and they will in time bear children who will walk the path of life in a sacred manner, setting an example to your people. Behold Me, for it is I that they will take in their mouths, and it is through this that they will become wakan.
"He who keeps the soul of a person must be a good and pure man, and he should use the pipe so that all the people, with the soul, will together send their voices to Wakan-Tanka. The fruit of your Mother the Earth and the fruit of all that bears will be blessed in this manner, and your people will then walk the path of life in a sacred way. Do not forget that Wakan-Tanka has given you seven days in which to send your voices to Him. So long as you remember this you will live; the rest you will know from Wakan-Tanka directly."
The sacred woman then started to leave the lodge, but turning again to Standing Hollow Horn, she said: "Behold this pipe! Always remember how sacred it is, and treat it as such, for it will take you to the end. Remember, in me there are four ages. I am leaving now, but I shall look back upon your people in every age, and at the end I shall return."
Moving around the lodge in a sun-wise manner, the mysterious woman left, but after walking a short distance she looked back towards the people and sat down. When she rose the people were amazed to see that she had become a young red and brown buffalo calf. Then this calf walked farther, lay down, and rolled, looking back at the people, and when she got up she was a white buffalo. Again the white buffalo walked farther and rolled on the ground, becoming now a black buffalo. This buffalo then walked farther away from the people, stopped, and after bowing to each of the four quarters of the universe, disappeared over the hill.CHAPTER 2
THE KEEPING OF THE SOUL
It is through this rite that we purify the souls of our dead, and that our love for one another is increased. The four pure women who eat the sacred part of the buffalo, as I shall describe, must always remember that their children will be wakan and thus should be raised in a sacred manner. The mother should sacrifice everything for her children, and must develop in herself and in her children a great love for Wakan-Tanka, for in time these children will become holy people and leaders of the nation and will have the power to make others wakan. At first we kept only the souls of a few of our great leaders, but later we kept the souls of almost all good people.
By keeping a soul according to the proper rites, as given to us by the White Buffalo Cow Woman [known also as White Buffalo Maiden], one so purifies it that it and the Spirit become one, and it is thus able to return to the "place" where it was born—Wakan-Tanka —and need not wander about the earth as is the case with the souls of bad people; further, the keeping of a soul helps us to remember death and also Wakan-Tanka, who is above all dying.
Whenever a soul is kept, many of the nation go to its tipi to pray, and on the day that the soul is released all the people gather and send their voices to Wakan-Tanka through the soul which is to travel upon His sacred path. But now I shall explain to you how this rite was first done by our people.
One of the great-great-grandchildren of Standing Hollow Horn had a child whom the parents loved very much; but it happened that one day this child died, which made the father very sad, and so he went and spoke to the keeper of the sacred pipe, who was at that time High Hollow Horn.
"We have been instructed by the sacred woman in the use of the pipe and in the keeping of the soul of a person who has died. Now I am very sad because I have lost my loved son, but I wish to keep his soul as we have been taught, and, since you are the keeper of the sacred pipe, I wish you to instruct me!"
"How! Hechetu alo! It is good!" High Hollow Horn said, and they then went to the place where the child lay, and where the women were crying very bitterly. As they approached, the crying stopped; and going to where the child lay, High Hollow Horn spoke.
"This boy seems to be dead, yet he is not really, for we shall keep his soul among our people, and through this our children and the children of their children will become wakan. We shall now do as we were taught by the sacred woman and by the pipe. It is the wish of Wakan-Tanka that this be done."
A lock of the child's hair was then taken, and as High Hollow Horn did this he prayed.
"O Wakan-Tanka behold us! It is the first time that we do Thy will in this way, as You have taught us through the sacred woman. We will keep the soul of this child so that our Mother the Earth will bear fruit, and so that our children will walk the path of life in a sacred manner."
High Hollow Horn then prepared to purify the child's lock of hair; a glowing coal was brought in, and a pinch of sweet grass was placed upon it.
"O Wakan-Tanka," High Hollow Horn prayed, "this smoke from the sweet grass will rise up to You, and will spread throughout the universe; its fragrance will be known by the wingeds, the four-leggeds, and the two-leggeds, for we understand that we are all relatives; may all our brothers be tame and not fear us!"
High Hollow Horn took up the lock of hair, and holding it over the smoke, made a motion with it to Heaven, to Earth, and to the four quarters of the universe; then he spoke to the soul within the hair.
"Behold O soul! Where you dwell upon this earth will be a sacred place; this center will cause the people to be as wakan as you are. Our grandchildren will now walk the path of life with pure hearts, and with firm steps!"
After purifying the lock of hair in the smoke, High Hollow Horn turned to the mother and father of the child, saying: "We shall gain great knowledge from this soul which has here been purified. Be good to it and love it, for it is wakan. We are now fulfilling the will of Wakan-Tanka, as it was made known to us through the sacred woman; for do you not remember as she was leaving how she turned back the second time? This represents the keeping of the soul, which we are now going to do. May this help us to remember that all the fruits of the wingeds, the two-leggeds, and the four-leggeds, are really the gifts of Wakan-Tanka. They are all wakan and should be treated as such!"
The lock of hair was wrapped in sacred buckskin, and this bundle was placed at a special place in the tipi. Then High Hollow Horn took up the pipe, and after holding it over the smoke, filled it carefully in a ritual manner; pointing the stem towards heaven, he prayed.
"Our Grandfather, Wakan-Tanka, You are everything, and yet above everything! You are first. You have always been. This soul that we are keeping will be at the center of the sacred hoop of this nation; through this center our children will have strong hearts, and they will walk the straight red path in a wakan manner.
"O Wakan-Tanka, You are the truth. The two-legged peoples who put their mouths to this pipe will become the truth itself; there will be in them nothing impure. Help us to walk the sacred path of life without difficulty, with our minds and hearts continually fixed on You!"
The pipe was then lighted and smoked, and was passed sunwise around the circle. The whole world within the pipe was offered up to Wakan-Tanka. When the pipe came back to High Hollow Horn, he rubbed sweet grass over it on the west, north, east, and south sides, in order to purify it lest any unworthy person might have touched it; turning to the people, he then said: "My relatives, this pipe is wakan. We all know that it cannot lie. No man who has within him any untruth may touch it to his mouth. Further, my relatives, our Father, Wakan-Tanka, has made His will known to us here on earth, and we must always do that which He wishes if we would walk the sacred path. This is the first time that we carry out this sacred rite of keeping the soul, and it will be of great benefit to our children and to their children's children! My relatives, Grandmother and Mother Earth, we are of earth, and belong to You. O Mother Earth from whom we receive our food, You care for our growth as do our own mothers. Every step that we take upon You should be done in a sacred manner; each step should be as a prayer. Remember this my relatives: that the power of this pure soul will be with you as you walk, for it, too, is the fruit of Mother Earth; it is as a seed, planted in your center, which will in time grow in your hearts, and cause our generations to walk in a wakan manner."
High Hollow Horn then lifted his hand and sent his voice to Wakan-Tanka.
"O Father and Grandfather Wakan-Tanka, You are the source and end of everything. My FatherWakan-Tanka, You are the One who watches over and sustains all life. O my Grandmother, You are the earthly source of all existence! And Mother Earth, the fruits which You bear are the source of life for the earth peoples. You are always watching over Your fruits as does a mother. May the steps which we take in life upon you be sacred and not weak!
"Help us O Wakan-Tanka to walk the red path with firm steps. May we who are Your people stand in a wakan manner, pleasing to You! Give to us strength which comes from an understanding of Your powers! Because You have made Your will known to us, we will walk the path of life in holiness, bearing the love and knowledge of You in our hearts! For this and for everything we give thanks!"
A bundle was then made containing the body of the child, and the men took this to a high place away from the camp and placed it upon a scaffold set up in a tree. When they returned, High Hollow Horn went into the tipi with the father of the child, in order to teach him how he must prepare himself for the great duty which he would fulfill and from which he would become a holy man.
"You are now keeping the soul of your own son," High Hollow Horn said, "who is not dead, but is with you. From now on you must live in a sacred manner, for your son will be in this tipi until his soul is released. You should remember that the habits which you establish during this period will remain with you always. You must take great care that no bad person enters the lodge where you keep the soul, and that there be no arguments or dissensions; there should always be harmony in your lodge, for all these things have an influence on the soul which is being purified here.
Excerpted from The Sacred Pipe by Joseph Epes Brown. Copyright © 1989 University of Oklahoma Press. Excerpted by permission of UNIVERSITY OF OKLAHOMA PRESS.
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Posted February 13, 2010
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