Black Elk Speaks
The Offering of the Pipe
Black Elk Speaks:
My friend, I am going to tell you the story of my life, as you
wish; and if it were only the story of my life I think I would not
tell it; for what is one man that he should make much of his winters,
even when they bend him like a heavy snow? So many other men have
lived and shall live that story, to be grass upon the hills.
It is the story of all life that is holy and is good to tell, and
of us two-leggeds sharing in it with the four-leggeds and the wings
of the air and all green things; for these are children of one mother
and their father is one Spirit.
This, then, is not the tale of a great hunter or of a great warrior,
or of a great traveler, although I have made much meat in my time
and fought for my people both as boy and man, and have gone far
and seen strange lands and men. So also have many others done, and
better than I. These things I shall remember by the way, and often
they may seem to be the very tale itself, as when I was living them
in happiness and sorrow. But now that I can see it all as from a
lonely hilltop, I know it was the story of a mighty vision given
to a man too weak to use it; of a holy tree that should have flourished
in a people's heart with flowers and singing birds, and now is withered;
and of a people's dream that died in bloody snow.
But if the vision was true and mighty, as I know, it is true and
mighty yet; for such things are of the spirit, and it is in the
darkness of their eyes that men get lost.
So I know that it is a good thing I am going to do; and because
no good thing can be done by any man alone, I will first make an
offering and send a voice to the Spirit of the World, that it may
help me to be true. See, I fill this sacred pipe with the bark
of the red willow; but before we smoke it, you must see how
it is made and what it means. These four ribbons hanging here on
the stem are the four quarters of the universe. The black one is
for the west where the thunder beings live to send us rain; the
white one for the north, whence comes the great white cleansing
wind; the red one for the east, whence springs the light and where
the morning star lives to give men wisdom; the yellow for the south,
whence come the summer and the power to grow.
But these four spirits are only one Spirit after all, and this
eagle feather here is for that One, which is like a father, and
also it is for the thoughts of men that should rise high as eagles
do. Is not the sky a father and the earth a mother, and are not
all living things with feet or wings or roots their children? And
this hide upon the mouthpiece here, which should be bison hide,
is for the earth, from whence we came and at whose breast we suck
as babies all our lives, along with all the animals and birds and
trees and grasses. And because it means all this, and more than
any man can understand, the pipe is holy.
is a story about the way the pipe first came to us. A very
long time ago, they say, two scouts were out looking for bison;
and when they came to the top of a high hill and looked north, they
saw something coming a long way off, and when it came closer they
cried out, "It is a woman!," and it was. Then one of the
scouts, being foolish, had bad thoughts and spoke them; but the
other said: "This is a sacred woman; throw all bad thoughts
away." When she came still closer, they saw that she wore a
fine white buckskin dress, that her hair was very long and that
she was young and very beautiful. And she knew their thoughts and
said in a voice that was like singing: "You do not know me,
but if you want to do as you think, you may come." And the
foolish one went; but just as he stood before her, there was a white
cloud that came and covered them. And the beautiful young woman
came out of the cloud, and when it blew away the foolish man was
a skeleton covered with worms.
Then the woman spoke to the one who was not foolish: "You
shall go home and tell your people that I am coming and that a big
tepee shall be built for me in the center of the nation." And
the man, who was very much afraid, went quickly and told the people,
who did at once as they were told; and there around the big tepee
they waited for the sacred woman. And after a while she came, very
beautiful and singing, and as she went into the tepee this is what
- "With visible breath I am walking.
- A voice I am sending as I walk.
- In a sacred manner I am walking.
- With visible tracks I am walking.
- In a sacred manner I walk."
And as she sang, there came from her mouth a white cloud that was
good to smell. Then she gave something to the chief, and it was
a pipe with a bison calf carved on one side to mean the earth that
bears and feeds us, and with twelve eagle feathers hanging from
the stem to mean the sky and the twelve moons, and these were tied
with a grass that never breaks. "Behold!" she said. "With
this you shall multiply and be a good nation. Nothing but good shall
come from it. Only the hands of the good shall take care of it and
the bad shall not even see it." Then she sang again and went
out of the tepee; and as the people watched her going, suddenly
it was a white bison galloping away and snorting, and soon it was
This they tell, and whether it happened so or not I do not know;
but if you think about it, you can see that it is true.
Now I light the pipe, and after I have offered it to the powers
that are one Power, and sent forth a voice to them, we shall smoke
together. Offering the mouthpiece first of all to the One above--so--I
send a voice:
Hey hey! hey hey! hey hey! hey
Grandfather, Great Spirit, you have been always, and before you
no one has been. There is no other one to pray to but you. You yourself,
everything that you see, everything has been made by you. The star
nations all over the universe you have finished. The four quarters
of the earth you have finished. The day, and in that day, everything
you have finished. Grandfather, Great Spirit, lean close to the
earth that you may hear the voice I send. You towards where the
sun goes down, behold me; Thunder Beings, behold me! You where the
White Giant lives in power, behold me! You where the sun shines
continually, whence come the day-break star and the day, behold
me! You where the summer lives, behold me! You in the depths of
the heavens, an eagle of power, behold! And you, Mother Earth, the
only Mother, you who have shown mercy to your children!
Hear me, four quarters of the world--a relative I am! Give me the
strength to walk the soft earth, a relative to all that is! Give
me the eyes to see and the strength to understand, that I may be
like you. With your power only can I face the winds.
Great Spirit, Great Spirit, my Grandfather, all over the earth
the faces of living things are all alike. With tenderness have these
come up out of the ground. Look upon these faces of children without
number and with children in their arms, that they may face the winds
and walk the good road to the day of quiet.
This is my prayer; hear me! The voice I have sent is weak, yet
with earnestness I have sent it. Hear me!
It is finished. Hetchetu aloh!
Now, my friend, let us smoke together so that there may be only
good between us.
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