Black Elk and Me
The Old wicaśa wakan and this modern white woman
Walking with the Sioux, Part 2
Many know of him by way of the book Black Elk Speaks, few know him as family. Until last summer, I did not know of him beyond a name & book, one I hadn’t read. Since then, he has become a stalwart guide and one of the most ‘vocal’ participants in my council.
In August 2015, he announced his presence in my world. Like others who are a part of this journey, he was patient until he was not. I did not know who he was when I first saw & felt him. The image given me was somewhat foreign and out of context in the living room of client-friend. Even when I discovered the book cover from whence his image was repeated, I chose silence, to ignore his presence in my world. When I did so, ignoring his touch & attempt at integration, he went to someone else and demanded she paint him into my world. And she did. Since then he is prominent thread in my weaving, a stalwart partner, and guide or inner spiral this weaving we do.
In the painting done by Jamie H., he appeared as a reflection of me with a restricted throat. With an awareness of but not a reading of Black Elk Speaks, the image filled me with regret for not being able to speak to and for him, not being able to speak my own truth, and shame for not being able to bring the two together.
I did not have the experience or awareness of Black Elk in my world before I began receiving visions and information that led me to the Sun Dance outside in the heart of the Pine Ridge reservation nor during. I know now, though, that my presence at this particular Sun Dance was integral to being seen, recognized, welcomed and supported as I move deeper into Indian Country. Holding and being space for the Old Ones wasn’t what I thought was going to happen. I, mistakenly, thought that what was going to happen was about and for me–a specific task or nugget of intelligence that might move from from ignorant foreigner & outsider to wise woman. The Old ladies who brought me language and gifts and knowing didn’t indicate I was to just be. Yet, I was. Just be, just being…yet, not just.
While he may have appeared to me during that week, I did not notice him. I was overwhelmed by the other invisible forces of family, of love, of expectation, conflict, and strangers in a not-so-strange land that individuations of his energy did not register.
I left that Sun Dance at the end of June and by the end of July, Nick Black Elk made himself known and was subsequently identified clearly on August 3. The reasons for his being woven into my world seemed unclear for some time–or at least as long as I chose to deny them. At one point, during an awakening experience at local burger joint in California, a young lady said he appeared to her in the women’s restroom and said, ‘Go to her. She knows.’ I didn’t. Or, said I didn’t. Neither of those, though, were the truth; even in the moment.
I’ll not share much of Black Elk Speaks here. It’s available for anyone who chooses to read it. I eventually read it but not until I settled into Helena this winter and was disappointed. Although some will say I overstate things here, I believe that John Neihardt’s revisionist perspective in his creation of literature was no different than Bishop Landa’s burning & ‘cataloging’ of a great Mayan and Aztec libraries. There is plenty of scholarship on both so, feel free to dig into each as you choose.
My references here are to how he speaks to me, through me to others, and, if I use them, his words will come from the original transcripts of the interviews between he and John Neihardt.
The summer when Black Elk was nine, during a period when he was ill, he was given a ‘great vision’. Just before he became physically debilitated, he heard a voice say, “It is time, now they are calling you” and he knew that it was spirit speaking to him and the calling spoken of was spirit as well. During the twelve days of the vision, there were distinct elements that included being shown the horses of the four directions, introduced to the six grandfathers; taken to the four quarters and the center of the earth, given specific powers & tools for healing and warfare; and instruction to create (or recreate) a nation. Depending on from what text one reads from, the recreation of a nation is either Sioux-specific or a universal.notion.
Many elements and symbolism contained in Black Elk’s first vision have been distinct aspects of my own evolution, though they have not always occurred in the same manner and obviously don’t have the same shared cultural background. Despite that, the meanings are identical even beyond the universalism; experiences with Jesus Christ, our working relationship with the elements–particularly thunder, wind, and plants; being brought to the centre of the earth and sent into the stars, plants, and horses; as well as the paradoxical trust and fear of our powers and visionary capacity. In addition, his adaptations of faith (many don’t know he was also Catholic catechist and had sprinklings of the Episcopal variety), belief, integration and openness are also shared by yours truly and although they existed before, his role in my life both solidifies and broadens them as my operating systems.
One of his few regrets in life was his capacity to see the nature and purpose of his vision but not feel the capacity to complete it. Before I met Black Elk, I chose, as part of my identity, the label of weaver as it had become clear how I bridge past and present & infinite and individual together; through people, place, space and time. The purpose of that weaving seemed–for the most part–fairly specific and about reconnecting ‘lost’ healer to gift and tribe (see an example of this in A Spirit-Guided Mother and Child Reunion).
Since Black Elk’s appearance, that specificity has expanded in respect to meaning while the purpose remains focused. The shift has been that as we weave the Sioux hoop back together, other ‘hoop’ tapestries are woven as well. Why this has be given to me I may never truly know or understand in a way that would be explicable to the reader. Most of my experiences aren’t. I do know that this is one of the things I was born for and the time for it is now. I told he and the others last autumn that I would not deny them. After I did so, when they came through me during a sweat lodge, what they said as a collective to me and the kinfolk medicine man I was with was this: “Speak. For when you speak your heart, you speak ours. There is no confusion at the heart of the matter.”
Many Old Ones that have come to me since my first encounter with my favorite Old Ojib-Cree have been cohorts of Black Elk–leaders and medicine men of their time and (mostly) of the his generation. Although not all are directly connected to reuniting the Sioux Nation, they are part of a larger reunification of Nations. Those that are actively part of include Red Wing (Mdewakanton), Red Cloud (Oglala), Sitting Bull (Hunkpapa), and Red Feather (Sans Arc). Each, including Black Elk, have connected me to at least one member of their living kin who are gifted beyond measure and carry the medicine for their people now (as well as the burden of the past) and in the future. Others–Siouxan and otherwise–who I have yet to identify visually are known solely by their presence and, as I follow the directions given in visions, I will be connected with their kin as well.
While these Old Ones tend to announce themselves individually, they appear as a larger council and often work in pairs to bring visions, direction, and support. They operate synchronistically, across different cosmologies and cultures because they know this reunification process is interconnected and the relationships are interdependent. It was a Shoshone-Paiute and Mescalero Apache that got me to Ft. Belknap to meet one of the Sioux connections. And two Sioux, Sitting Bull and Black Elk, who put me into the wind to bring me to the Yavapai the day after my birthday. In doing so, they expand the threads across continents knowing that there is a purposeful order in the unfolding.
So I drive into and walk through communities as I’m led to those with whom I am to connect. There is never an accidental encounter and those with whom I do meet, see beyond the skin and recognize not a generalized ‘all our relations’ but family. Unbelievably, yet undeniably family. Be they Maya, Quechua, Koori, Sami, Navajo, Oglala, Gael, Choctaw or Chippewa.
For more information about how I can work with your community or you, go to www.ingridoliphant.com.
THE PRAYER: (From the Traditional Lakota Sioux)
Aho Mitakuye Oyasin …All my relations. I honor you in this circle of life with me today. I am grateful for this opportunity to acknowledge you in this prayer….
To the Creator, for the ultimate gift of life, I thank you.
To the mineral nation that has built and maintained my bones and all foundations of life experience, I thank you.
To the plant nation that sustains my organs and body and gives me healing herbs for sickness, I thank you.
To the animal nation that feeds me from your own flesh and offers your loyal companionship in this walk of life, I thank you.
To the human nation that shares my path as a soul upon the sacred wheel of Earthly life, I thank you.
To the Spirit nation that guides me invisibly through the ups and downs of life and for carrying the torch of light through the Ages, I thank you.
To the Four Winds of Change and Growth, I thank you.
You are all my relations, my relatives, without whom I would not live. We are in the circle of life together, co-existing, co-dependent, co-creating our destiny. One, not more important than the other. One nation evolving from the other and yet each dependent upon the one above and the one below. All of us a part of the Great Mystery.
Thank you for this Life.