❴Reading❵ ➶ Black Elk Speaks Author John G. Neihardt – Motyourdrive.co.uk

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10 thoughts on “Black Elk Speaks

  1. says:

    This is a haunting and moving transcription of interviews with the revered medicine man Black Elk of the Oglala band of the Lakota Sioux in 1930 at the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota The editor, John Neihart, was a poet who was writing an epic poem about Messiah movement in the 1880 s among diverse Plains Indians and was seeking Black Elk s perspective Black Elk, then in his mid 60s, reflects back on a life spent trying to heal his people as a whole, not just individuals with medical problems This mission was instilled in him from a mystical vision he had while seriously ill at age 9 In the narrative he goes into great detail about this vision for the first time because he felt it could still be important to inspire young Indians As an outsider to this culture, much in the vision was baffling, but I could at least appreciate the poetic power of its imagery and get glimmers of the comprehensiveness of the spiritual system embodied in it Thunder Beings swept him into the sky and take him to a mountain at the center of the world where the ideal of a tree of life flourishes and provides shelter for the community They display to him arrays of horses acting out the meanings of the four directions on earth, the sacred hoop of the community of people, the paths that they must follow on the good Red Road and difficult Black Road, the intersection of these roads where the tree must be planted and made to flourish, and the story of the sacred pipe of peace bestowed by the White Bison in the form of a woman He felt he failed in that life quest considering all the broken treaties and sad outcomes to his tribe from violent conflict with the U.S Army during his youth He was 13 when the Black Hills were taken from the tribe for its gold and was present during the Battle of the Little Big Horn of 1876, was close at hand when his hero Crazy Horse was killed while in custody By 17 he was recognized as a medcine man and began sharing his visions In his 20s he was caught up in the millenarian fervor of a return to Indian dominion of the West as infused in the Ghost Dance ceremonies in the 1880 s He was devastated by the killing of Sitting Bull and his experience of the Wounded Knee Massacre in 1890, which was incited in part by paranoia among the military about the potential threat Ghost Dancers and extreme overreaction to some Indians resistance to its being banned These events are best understood by reading books of history and biography, but I felt the impact of their cultural trauma in a powerful way through the authentic voice of Black Elk 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.After Wounded Knee, the tribe had to knuckle under, and Black Elk set out to learn of the ways of their conquerers He joined Buffalo Bill s Wild West Show for several years and traveled to the big cities of the East and Europe As usual, he dwells little on the detailed events as he lived them but focuses on the big picture He was awed by the power of a civilization that could make railroads, steamships, and engines of war He was moved by the kindness of individuals, like families he stayed with and the sincere respect he felt in communicating with Queen Victoria But in no way could he see the way of life of the whites Wasichus as superior to that of Native peoples I could see that the Wasichus 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 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.At the end of the book, Neihart takes Black Elk out to a site of spiritual significance to him, where he enacts a moving prayer of hope that the surviving roots of the sacred tree might yet be nurtured to life.The book as published in 1932 had little readership, but its translation into German inspired Jung and others, and a new English edition in 1961 reached a wider audience that peaked in the 70 s Potential readers of the account can sample it or read it in full as web pages at First People or in a pdf version posted here.


  2. says:

    It was inspired of John Neihardt to get Black Elk to tell him his life story It s hard to believe anyone could have told better the story of the Lakota Nation s demise as an autonomous, proud, wise, communal, deeply spiritual and sometimes brutal culture Black Elk lived through the so called Fetterman Massacre , the battle of the Little Big Horn and the massacre at Wounded Knee He even participated in Buffalo Bill s Wild West Show and visited Paris and London where he met Queen Victoria who told the Lakota they were the most beautiful people she had ever seen Black Elk was both a warrior and a holy man Thus we get both sides of Lakota male culture It s faintly unnerving how matter of factly he mentions taking his first scalp at the battle of the Little Big Horn when he was still in his early teens But it s his depiction of his life as a holy man that is most fascinating, recounted in compelling rhythmic prose which seems to have the beat of medicine drums behind it He was given a vision that promised to save his people but felt he was weak and had failed them He thought seeing the world with Buffalo Bill might help him understand what he needed to do Instead I did not see anything to help my people I could see that the Wasichus white man 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 of everything than they could use, while crowds of people had nothing at all and maybe were starving This could not be better than the old ways of my people He also witnessed the aftermath of the massacre at Wounded Knee which prompts one of his most famous quotes 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 the nation s hoop is broken and scattered.


  3. says:

    This was my third time reading this book, and every time I come away with something new I highly recommend this to anyone studying religion I highly recommend this book to every single American citizen It should be required reading in public schools The Lakota people have a vibrant, exciting, living religious tradition, and the fact that Black Elk s story was recorded is a gem and a blessing Not only is it because of the religious tradition is this book important It is also important because Black Elk was a surviving eye witness to the Wounded Knee Massacre, as well as Little Big Horn and other important battles of his time Most importantly, history is usually written by the victors Yet, we have Black Elk s story Read it with awe and with reverence.


  4. says:

    I read this years ago when I first started teaching an undergraduate global ethics class, and knew it was the likely the best source of Lakota American Plains Indian tribe philosophy and worldview Black Elk believed that humans would not be Good if they weren t connected to each other and to the universe Unless we knew and practiced a oneness of humanity to borrow a phrase from the Baha i faith a group that once gave me an award for anti racism work in schools the world would quickly be split apart and atrophy instead of gaining some strength from togetherness, including a understanding of what we should do to honor and save the earth, including each other Black Elk was horrified at the White Man s sic love for things, and using people, instead of using things and loving people to paraphrase an old saying, but it s what he essentially said, too I highly recommend visiting my state of Wyoming to see the Little Big Horn battlesight and museum near the Montana border to consider what Black Elk witnessed as a young man, later moving to Wounded Knee and seeing the slaughter of Native peoples by the US calvary there He converted to Christianity, as did Chief Joseph, Sitting Bull, and other great American Indian chiefs, that I always assumed was a kind of Stockholm Syndrome.I should mention that while the Lakota and some other tribes were known for its nature worship, not all native tribes in the US had such reverence for nature and care of Mother Earth as others, although that is a stereotype about Native beliefs of course, full of differences that are hallmark across any group of complicated human culture I did like the Lakota claim, even though certainly new Age y , that we are psychologically and emotionally most healthy if we at least a few minutes a day connected with the earth walking on paths or on the beach, etc..


  5. says:

    John Heihardt s classic is a problematic read to be sure On the one hand, Neihardt was a sympathetic interlocutor who elicited a fascinating account from an extraordinary man who lived through several major episodes in late 19th century history On the other hand, his poetic pretensions led him to rearrange and dress up that testimony, adorning it with his own mediocre neo Romantic insight, and altogether distorting the historical and cultural record Readers of Black Elk Speaks may be surprised to look up key episodes in the volume in the raw transcripts of their conversations, only to find that they were entirely invented by Neihardt Now, on the one hand, I have a certain amount of sympathy for Neihardt, who worked very hard in order to preserve and present a document of great power and importance He was writing at a time when it was still widely believed that the Lakota were a primitive people, savage, and uncivilized, and he labored to find an audience for their experience, with considerable success in the long run That may explain his transformation of the plain spoken style of the transcript into a somewhat maudlin kind of free verse, seeming to my eyes to be modeled after Goethe s Sorrows of Young Werther or the American transcendentalists But it does not excuse some of Neihardt s wholesale inventions especially his deep distortions of Black Elk s Great Vision, which altogether inverted the sense and meaning of the experience, coercing it into a frame that Neihardt apparently found congenial to his sentiments I wrote at length about this particular problem on my blog, here testimony itself is wondrous and invaluable, and I refer the interested reader to DeMallie s The Sixth Grandfather instead of Black Elk Speaks The Sixth Grandfather consists of the annotated publication of the transcripts of Black Elk s conversations with Neihardt, and presents his perspective in a much accurate way.


  6. says:

    Grandfather, Great Spirit, once 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.You have said to me, when I was still young and could hope, that in difficulty I should send a voice four times, once for each quarter of the earth, and you would hear me.Today I send a voice for a people in despair.You have given me a sacred pipe, and through this I should make my offering You see it now.From the west you have given me the cup of living water and the sacred bow, the power to make life and to destroy You have given me a sacred wind and and an herb from where the white giant lives the cleansing power and the healing The daybreak star and the pipe, you have given from the east and from the south, the nation s sacred hoop and the tree that was to bloom To the centre 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 centre 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 tears running 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 centre 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, but not for myself, but for my people I am old Hear me that they may once go back to 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 mkae my people live Black Elk, at Harney Peak, SD


  7. says:

    I read an edition of this book which lists where the contents of Black Elk s telling of this portion of his life was greatly enhanced emotionally and symbolically by Neihardt Were I not aware of these changes until after reading it, I would feel cheated and as though this book were a fake Despite these added notes, however, the book is still fantastic, most of the perversion of the text being whiny, emotional additions and romantic lamentations Neihardt adds in his cultural guilt and ethical fervor The inside view offered by this book is intense and beautiful There is a wealth of scholarly work around it, grappling with the problem of whether its portrayal does justice to Black Elk because he converted to Catholicism after being confined to the reservation Some argue he converted out of necessity for the future of himself and his children, while some argue he had a true, significant conversion experience One writer, Stalkenkamp, gave one of those creepy, overly detailed catholic style conversion stories, where the clothes everyone wore, etc., are listed in impossible detail for affect and ultimate accuracy Some are focused on Neihardt and his inculcation of western notions of success, time, etc into the book Either way and the scholarship is useful, ultimately I really enjoyed the book and think it is extremely useful and valuable as a source to look into Native American Indian Culture.


  8. says:

    An abridged cd with a magnificent reading by Fred Contreras The other day as I went to a car repair appointment, I arrived all misty eyed and runny nosed Very sad story Black Elk speaks of the creatures with roots, legs, and wings I add the creatures that crawl and swim And any other creatures that are left out I hope to read the full unabridged version in book form some day so I can copy down a few quotes Riding home from my appointment, I noticed the melting snow The seven day forecast was all temperatures over 32 degrees Fahrenheit Monday, February 1, was predicted to have a high of 49 degrees Winter didn t even start until January Winters are getting shorter every year And I live in Central New Hampshire This is what we have done to this planet and continue to do Yet ignorance and supernaturalism reign Haters inspire people around the world Or they turn to some sort of spiritual world The difficult work of protecting the planet is often forgotten Rest in peace, Black Elk You would not want to witness this.


  9. says:

    I read the Premier Edition, which is wonderfully annotated with historical references and clarifications on the interpretations and additions that are Neihardt s and not in the transcripts of Black Elk s words I have had this on my to read list for years everything in its time I read this while in the Black Hills of South Dakota, Black Elk s homeland It seemed especially powerful to read it in the very hills where he lived and walked, had visions, dreams, and went about the work of a holy man and medicine man for his people When the thunder storms rolled in almost daily, I heard, saw and felt the storms differently than before with Black Elk s wisdom, I understood them as thunder beings living energy, so real to the Lakota holy man because of his vision, that during the winter when there were no thunder storms, he missed and longed for his friends, the thunder beings In the Black Hills, with the buffalo reestablished and roaming freely, and saw and felt their power and energy in a way brought alive by Black Elk s reverence for these mighty creatures too The hills were brought alive by Black Elk s words, and it was the right time and place to read and absorb this spiritual classic A terrible beauty was wrought here and captured in Black Elk s words.


  10. says:

    I do not rate, because who rates the truth How would you even rate it If you re American, read this Know whose land you walk Know whose children s and women s bodies cover that land The very least you can do is pay respect to their memory.


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