Posted by Kimmy Sophia Brown
“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 at the center of the universe dwells the Great Spirit, and that its center is really everywhere, it is within each of us.”
This quote was taken from Black Elk Speaks, by John G. Neihardt, published in 1932. Mr. Neihardt met Black Elk in 1930 when he was doing research for a narrative poem he was composing entitled, “The Song of the Messiah”.
Speaking through an interpreter named Flying Hawk, Black Elk said in Sioux, “As I sit here, I can feel in this man beside me a strong desire to know the things of the Other World. He has been sent to learn what I know, and I will teach him.”
Black Elk said to Neihardt that he knew that he [Black Elk] had been taught much that was “...true and beautiful. Soon I will be under the grass and it will be lost. You were sent to save it and you must come back.”
Mr. Neihardt returned the following spring to meet with Black Elk. Great preparations were made for their meeting including many small pine trees set up around Black Elk’s cabin, and a sacred tepee painted with spiritual symbols.
Enid, Neihardt’s daughter, was a skilled stenographer who took copious notes of the meetings that lasted for long hours over the course of many days. It is more than a blessing to us that Black Elk’s visions, memories and thoughts have been preserved for our study.
Black Elk was a courageous warrior who put himself in harms way numerous times. He was also a brave hunter, who from a young age went through hardships such as snow storms and frostbite to help provide food for his people. To me, his most unique and appealing trait is his tender heart.
In the chapter entitled, “The Heyoka Ceremony”, he concludes describing his vision with these words:
“The Six Grandfathers* have placed in this world many things, all of which should be happy. Everything little thing is sent for something, and in that thing there should be happiness and the power to make happy. Like the grasses showing tender faces to each other, thus we should do, for this was the wish of the Grandfathers of the World.”
Black Elk had a number of detailed visions throughout his life, and had the gift of prescience. His attitude was far-seeing and broad-minded. He understood the potential of human beings to live in unity with one another and to respect and honor the natural world.
At the end of his life, he cried,
“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 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.”
This is a similar lament to other leaders called to accomplish great visions, but who did not live to see them come to fruition in their lifetime. I believe that the super-visions that have guided some lives, are meant to be carried on by those with like hearts. The words may differ depending on the messenger, but their truth speaks of a world of love, where all beings dwell in compassion and harmony, and that world is within our grasp. May we do our part to ‘show tender faces’ to our fellow grasses.
*The Six Grandfathers were beings who appeared to Black Elk and gave him gifts during a complex vision he received at the age of nine. I would venture that they may have been ancestors, or angelic beings?
Image(s) from Wikimedia Commons
Black Elk (left) and Elk of the Oglala Lakota as grass dancers touring with the Buffalo Bill Wild West Show, London, England, 1887
(source: The Sixth Grandfather: Black Elk's Teachings Given to John G. Neihardt. The men are wearing "sheep and sleigh bells; otter fur waist and neck pieces; pheasant feather bustles at the waist; dentalium shell necklaces; and bone hairpipes with colored glass beads...Photograph collected on Pine Ridge Reservation in 1891 by James Mooney. Courtesy National Anthropological Archives, Smithsonian Institution")
Nicholas Black Elk, daughter Lucy Black Elk and wife Anna Brings White, photographed in their home in Manderson, South Dakota, ca 1910. Black Elk wears a suit, his wife wears a long dress decorated with elk's teeth and a hair pipe necklace.