Black Elk Speaks
Visions of the Other World
So I dressed myself in a sacred manner, and before the dance began
next morning I went among the people who were standing around the
withered tree. Good Thunder, who was a relative of my father and
later married my mother, put his arms around me and took me to the
sacred tree that had not bloomed, and there he offered up a prayer
for me. He said: "Father, Great Spirit, behold this boy! Your
ways he shall see!" Then he began to cry.
I thought of my father and my brother and sister who had left us,
and I could not keep the tears from running out of my eyes. I raised
my face up to keep them back, but they came out just the same. I
cried with my whole heart, and while I cried I thought of my people
in despair. I thought of my vision, and how it was promised me that
my people should have a place in this earth where they could be
happy every day. I thought of them on the wrong road now, but maybe
they could be brought back into the hoop again and to the good road.
Under the tree that never bloomed I stood and cried because it
had withered away. With tears on my face I asked the Great Spirit
to give it life and leaves and singing birds, as in my vision.
Then there came a strong shivering all over my body, and I knew
that the power was in me.
Good Thunder now took one of my arms, Kicking Bear the other, and
we began to dance. The song we sang was like this:
"Who do you think he is that comes?
It is one who seeks his mother!"
It was what the dead would sing when entering the other world and
looking for their relatives who had gone there before them.
As I danced, with Good Thunder and Kicking Bear holding my arms
between them, I had the queer feeling that I knew and I seemed to
be lifted clear off the ground. I did not have a vision all that
first day. That night I thought about the other world and that the
Wanekia himself was with my people there and maybe the holy tree
of my vision was really blooming yonder right then, and that it
was there my vision had already come true. From the center of the
earth I had been shown all good and beautiful things in a great
circle of peace, and maybe this land of my vision was where all
my people were going, and there they would live and prosper where
no Wasichus were or could ever be.
Before we started dancing next day, Kicking Bear offered a prayer,
saying: "Father, Great Spirit, behold these people! They shall
go forth to-day to see their relatives, and yonder they shall be
happy, day after day, and their happiness will not end."
Then we began dancing, and most of the people wailed and cried
as they danced, holding hands in a circle; but some of them laughed
with happiness. Now and then some one would fall down like dead,
and others would go staggering around and panting before they would
fall. While they were lying there like dead they were having visions,
and we kept on dancing and singing, and many were crying for the
old way of living and that the old religion might be with them again.
After awhile I began to feel very queer. First, my legs seemed
to be full of ants. I was dancing with my eyes closed, as the others
did. Suddenly it seemed that I was swinging off the ground and not
touching it any longer. The queer feeling came up from my legs and
was in my heart now. It seemed I would glide forward like a swing,
and then glide back again in longer and longer swoops. There was
no fear with this, just a growing happiness.
I must have fallen down, but I felt as though I had fallen off
a swing when it was going forward, and I was floating head first
through the air. My arms were stretched out, and all I saw at first
was a single eagle feather right in front of me. Then the feather
was a spotted eagle dancing on ahead of me with his wings fluttering,
and he was making the shrill whistle that is his. My body did not
move at all, but I looked ahead and floated fast toward where I
There was a ridge right in front of me, and I thought I was going
to run into it, but I went right over it. On the other side of the
ridge I could see a beautiful land where many, many people were
camping in a great circle. I could see that they were happy and
had plenty. Everywhere there were drying racks full of meat. The
air was clear and beautiful with a living light that was everywhere.
All around the circle, feeding on the green, green grass, were fat
and happy horses; and animals of all kinds were scattered all over
the green hills, and singing hunters were returning with their meat.
I floated over the tepees and began to come down feet first at
the center of the hoop where I could see a beautiful tree all green
and full of flowers. When I touched the ground, two men were coming
toward me, and they wore holy shirts made and painted in a certain
way. They came to me and said: "It is not yet time to see your
father, who is happy. You have work to do. We will give you something
that you shall carry back to your people, and with it they shall
come to see their loved ones."
I knew it was the way their holy shirts were made that they wanted
me to take back. They told me to return at once, and then I was
out in the air again, floating fast as before. When I came right
over the dancing place, the people were still dancing, but it seemed
they were not making any sound. I had hoped to see the withered
tree in bloom, but it was dead.
Then I fell back into my body, and as I did this I heard voices
all around and above me, and I was sitting on the ground. Many were
crowding around, asking me what vision I had seen. I told them just
what I had seen, and what I brought back was the memory of the holy
shirts the two men wore.
That evening some of us got together at Big Road's tepee and decided
to use the ghost shirts I had seen. So the next day I made ghost
shirts all day long and painted them in the sacred manner of my
vision. As I made these shirts, I thought how in my vision everything
was like old times and the tree was flowering, but when I came back
the tree was dead. And I thought that if this world would do as
the vision teaches, the tree could bloom here too.
I made the first shirt for Afraid-of-Hawk and the second for the
son of Big Road.
In the evening I made a sacred stick like that I had seen in my
first vision and painted it red with the sacred paint of the Wanekia.
On the top of it I tied one eagle feather, and this I carried in
the dance after that, wearing the holy shirt as I had seen it.
Because of my vision and the power they knew I had, I was asked
to lead the dance next morning. We all stood in a straight line,
facing the west, and I prayed: "Father, Great Spirit, behold
me! The nation that I have is in despair. The new earth you promised
you have shown me. Let my nation also behold it."
After the prayer we stood with our right hands raised to the west,
and we all began to weep, and right there, as they wept, some of
them fainted before the dance began.
As we were dancing I had the same queer feeling I had before, as
though my feet were off the earth and swinging. Kicking Bear and
Good Thunder were holding my arms. Afterwhile it seemed they let
go of me, and once more I floated head first, face down, with arms
extended, and the spotted eagle was dancing there ahead of me again,
and I could hear his shrill whistle and his scream.
I saw the ridge again, and as I neared it there was a deep, rumbling
sound, and out of it there leaped a flame. But I glided right over
it. There were six villages ahead of me in the beautiful land that
was all clear and green in living light. Over these in turn I glided,
coming down on the south side of the sixth village. And as I touched
the ground, twelve men were coming towards me, and they said: "Our
Father, the two-legged chief, you shall see!"
Then they led me to the center of the circle where once more I
saw the holy tree all full of leaves and blooming.
But that was not all I saw. Against the tree there was a man standing
with arms held wide in front of him. I looked hard at him, and I
could not tell what people he came from. He was not a Wasichu and
he was not an Indian. His hair was long and hanging loose, and on
the left side of his head he wore an eagle feather. His body was
strong and good to see, and it was painted red. I tried to recognize
him, but I could not make him out. He was a very fine-looking man.
While I was staring hard at him, his body began to change and became
very beautiful with all colors of light, and around him there was
light. He spoke like singing: "My life is such that all earthly
beings and growing things belong to me. Your father, the Great Spirit,
has said this. You too must say this."
Then he went out like a light in a wind.
The twelve men who were there spoke: "Behold them! Your nation's
life shall be such!"
I saw again how beautiful the day was - the sky all blue and full
of yellow light above the greening earth. And I saw that all the
people were beautiful and young. There were no old ones there, nor
children either - just people of about one age, and beautiful.
Then there were twelve women who stood in front of me and spoke:
"Behold them! Their way of life you shall take back to earth."
When they had spoken, I heard singing in the west, and I learned
the song I heard.
Then one of the twelve men took two sticks, one painted white and
one red, and, thrusting them in the ground, he said: "Take
these! You shall depend upon them. Make haste!"
I started to walk, and it seemed as though a strong wind went under
me and picked me up. I was in the air, with outstretched arms, and
floating fast. There was a fearful dark river that I had to go over,
and I was afraid. It rushed and roared and was full of angry foam.
Then I looked down and saw many men and women who were trying to
cross the dark and fearful river, but they could not. Weeping, they
looked up to me and cried: "Help us!" But I could not
stop gliding, for it was as though a great wind were under me.
Then I saw my earthly people again at the dancing place, and fell
back into my body lying there. And I was sitting up, and people
were crowding around me to ask what vision I had seen.
I told my vision through songs, and the older men explained them
to the others. I sang a song, the words of which were those the
Wanekia spoke under the flowering tree, and the air of it was that
which I heard in the West after the twelve women had spoken. I sang
it four times, and the fourth time all the people began to weep
together because the Wasichus had taken the beautiful world away
I thought and thought about this vision. The six villages seemed
to represent the Six Grandfathers that I had seen long ago in the
Flaming Rainbow Tepee, and I had gone to the sixth village, which
was for the Sixth Grandfather, the Spirit of the Earth, because
I was to stand for him in the world. I wondered if the Wanekia might
be the red man of my great vision, who turned into a bison, and
then into the four-rayed herb, the daybreak-star herb of understanding.
I thought the twelve men and twelve women were for the moons of
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