Black Elk the visionary. But What is a Visionary?
Black Elk was revered as a visionary. But what is a visionary? I think Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger’s definition of a prophet is a good working definition for a visionary.
Our Creator paints visions using images, emotions, and symbols, each of which means different things to different people. The abstract nature of vision makes it impossible to interpret with absolute certainty; however, its emotional impact on the visionary is what compels him to speak with confidence. Black Elk spent his life pondering the meaning of the vision he received as a boy. He was left with the profound impression that he had an important message to share with the world. The following text represents an abridged version of the vision as recorded by John Neihardt.
The Six Grandfathers
Two men descend from the sky bearing flaming swords to escort Black Elk before the Six Grandfathers. The Six Grandfathers represent the sacred Six Directions and the totality of the Lakota cosmology. “Hurry! Come! Your Grandfathers are calling you!” They said. Black Elk was carried by a cloud to a great tipi in the sky. Black Elk was brought before the Six Grandfathers to learn of his role as a healer to a troubled nation and to receive the blessings he would need to heal the world.
The First Grandfather
“Your Grandfathers all over the world are having a council, and they have called you here to teach you.” Spoke the first Grandfather. He invested Black Elk with a cup of water.
“Take this,” he said. “It is the power to make live, and it is yours.” He also invested Black Elk with a bow. “Take this,” he said. “It is the power to destroy, and it is yours.”
The Second Grandfather
The second Grandfather invested Black Elk with a healing herb. “Take courage, younger brother,” he said; “on earth a nation you shall make live, for yours shall be the power of the white giant’s wind, the cleansing wind.”
The third Grandfather
The third Grandfather presents Black Elk with a peace pipe which had a spotted eagle outstretched upon the stem. This eagle seemed alive, for it was poised there, fluttering “With this pipe,” the Grandfather said, “you shall walk upon the earth, and whatever sickens there you shall make well.”
The Fourth Grandfather
“Younger brother,” the Fourth Grandfather said, “with the powers of the four quarters you shall walk, a relative. Behold, the living center of a nation I shall give you, and with it many you shall save.” He invests Black Elk with a red stick, representative of the Lakota as a people.
“It shall stand in the center of the nation’s circle,” said the Fourth Grandfather, “a cane to walk with and a people’s heart; and by your powers you shall make it blossom.”
The Fifth Grandfather
Now the fifth Grandfather spoke, the oldest of them all, the Spirit of the Sky. “My boy,” he said, “I have sent for you, and you have come. My power you shall see!“
He stretched his arms and turned into a spotted eagle hovering. “Behold,” he said, “all the wings of the air shall come to you, and they and the winds and the stars shall be like relatives. You shall go across the earth with my power.”
The Sixth Grandfather
As Black Elk looks at the Sixth Grandfather, he recognizes something familiar about him. “I stared at him, for it seemed I knew him somehow; and as I stared, he slowly changed, for he was growing backward into youth, and when he had become a boy, I knew that he was myself with all the years that would be mine at last.”
The Sixth Grandfather spoke. “My boy, have courage, for my power shall be yours, and you shall need it, for your nation on the earth will have great troubles.”
Black Elk Receives a Vision of a Dismal Future
“I looked below me where the earth was silent in a sick green light and saw the hills look up afraid, and the grasses on the hills and all the animals; and everywhere about me were the cries of frightened birds and sounds of fleeing wings.”
In this vision, Black Elk sees the source of the world’s problems. He sees the BLUE MAN. Black Elk recounts the environmental devastation and human misery due to the Blue Man. “The dust was floating all about him in the air, the grass was short and withered, the trees were wilting, two-legged and four-legged beings lay there thin and panting, and wings too weak to fly.”
Black Elk is to Rescue his people
“So I rode around the circle of the village, looking in upon the sick and dead, and I felt like crying as I rode. But when I looked behind me, all the women and the children and the men were getting up and coming forth with happy faces.” And a Voice said: “Behold, they have given you the center of the nation’s hoop to make it live.”
“So I rode to the center of the village, with the horse troops in their quarters round about me, and there the people gathered.” And the Voice said: “Give them now the flowering stick that they may flourish, and the sacred pipe that they may know the power that is peace, and the wind of the white giant that they may have endurance and face all winds with courage.”
“So I took the bright red stick and at the center of the nation’s hoop I thrust it in the earth. As it touched the earth it leaped mightily in my hand and was a waga chun, the rustling tree, very tall and full of leafy branches and of all birds singing. And beneath it all the animals were mingling with the people like relatives and making happy cries. The women raised their tremolo of joy, and the men shouted all together: ‘Here we shall raise our children and be as little chickens under the mother sheo’s wing.'”
Universal Truth of Black Elk’s Vision
Black Elk saw the community of Lakota as a sacred hoop, but in this vision, he realized that the Lakota represented just one of many hoops that all joined to make one great circle, the great hoop of all peoples. In the center of the great hoop stood a powerful, sheltering, flowering tree, and under it gathered children of all nations. The universal truth of his vision is that we would all join to love and respect each other.
Most would agree that Black Elk’s vision of all nations gathering in mutual respect and cooperation is a timeless message. I believe, however, that his vision listed specific imagery to a showdown that will usher in the period of peace. In my next post, I will discuss the image of the Blue Man. I encourage everyone to review Chapter 3 of Black Elk Speaks.