by IRA KENNEDY
American Indian Prophecies is not about the end of the world but, rather, a change of worlds--the beginning of a new Earth cycle. The prophecies of Black Elk, Wovoka, Rolling Thunder, Lame Deer, Sun Bear, and the Hopi are used to examine the differences between Western and Native American world views and their relationship to the future.
INTRODUCTIONThere is a remarkable difference between Western prophecies and those of native peoples. When Western prophets see into the future they envision Armageddon. The end of the world. When native prophets look down that same path they see the completion of a great cycle. A change of worlds.
The reason for these vastly different views is
found in the way time is experienced. In the West time is history. There is a past, a
present, and a future; a beginning, a middle, and an end. Like a stick. Native peoples
experience time as a cycle. There are four stages, such as the seasons: spring, summer,
autumn, and winter. Like a hoop. Each stage is a preparation for the next. At the center
of the hoop is a still timelessness, like that of meditation; the
For the Indians of North America, the last quarter of the 1800s was the winter of their culture. All that they had known had fallen away, like leaves on a tree. In 1863, among the sacred hills of South Dakota, was born a wachasha wakon, a holy man of the Oglala Sioux. His name was Black Elk. As a young man his father told him a story that had been passed down from the grandfathers.
In the time of the ancestors lived a Lakota holy man, Drinks Water, who dreamed of what was to be. In a dream Drinks Water saw all the four-leggeds go back into the earth and in their place a race of two-legged strangers wove a web around the Lakota. Then, in his dream, Drinks Water saw his people living in square gray homes, on a barren land; and beside those homes, the people starved. Soon after his vision, it is said, Drinks Water returned to Mother Earth. He died from sorrow.
Drinks Water's vision occurred long before the coming of the whites with their fences and houses and their slaughter of the great buffalo herds. At the time his dream must have been incomprehensible to his people. What Drinks Water saw was a change of worlds and it was more than he could endure.
When interpreting dreams or prophecies it should be remembered that a literal approach is often misleading. This is particularly the case with the prophecies presented here. Rather than the end of the world, what is implied is a transformation of consciousness from one view of the world to another, and the emergence of the new world.
For over a century, the American Indian shamans have prophesied the end of an earth cycle, the disappearance of the white man, and the return of all living things which had vanished under the pressures of the present world. The time, we are told, is near. As we observe governments, industries, and ourselves, we can see a system of waste and pollution so widespread as to cast a shadow across the generations to come. It doesn't take a clairvoyant to predict disaster. Forturnately, we are aware of the need for change. The question is, whether the necessary changes in our institutions and ourselves will occur faster than the production of pollution generated by our old patterns of behavior.
Like a dormant tree enduring winter, the Indian's respect for the earth, their desire to live in harmony with nature, lives still, waiting to bloom again in the next world cycle. Only by honoring Mother Earth, Indian shamans tell us, can we avert disaster. We have their example and their prophets to guide the human family into the new world. We are one with all creation.
When Black Elk was nine years old, he had yet to see his first Wasichu, or white man. There were still vast herds of buffalo, and the Indian way of life, Black Elk believed, would last forever. That year, 1872, he had a vision in which he traveled four ascents with his people, which he understood to be the four generations he would know.
At the first ascent, the people camped in a circle. At the center of the circle stood the holy tree. But when they camped at the second ascent Black Elk saw the leaves falling from the sacred tree.
At the camp of the third ascent he saw the Black Road of conflict before them. He saw, too, that the nation's hoop was broken, the sacred tree was dying and all its birds were gone. There he saw that "all of the animals and fowls that were the people ran here and there, for each one seemed to have his own little vision that he followed and his own rules; and all over the universe I could hear the winds at war like wild beasts fighting... It was dark and terrible about me, for all the winds of the world were fighting. It was like rapid gunfire and like whirling smoke, and like women and children wailing and like horses screaming all over the world." The third ascent was the time of the generation living in the 1850's.
At the fourth ascent a Voice said "Behold this day, for it is yours to make. Now you shall stand upon the center of the earth to see..." Then Black Elk stood on the highest mountain of them all, "and round about beneath me was the whole hoop of the world. And while I stood there I saw more than I can tell and I understood more than I saw; for I was seeing in a sacred manner the shapes of all things in the spirit, and the shape of all shapes as they must live together like one being. And I saw that the sacred hoop of my people was one of many hoops that made one circle, wide as daylight and as starlight, and in the center grew one mighty flowering tree to shelter all the children of one mother and one father. And I saw that it was holy."
Black Elk's vision of the fourth ascent was one of hope and brotherhood. Because that world did not come to pass, Black Elk lived to be a disappointed man believing that, in some way, he had failed his vision. "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."
Shortly before his death in 1950, Black Elk offered this comment: "I have been told by the white men, or at least by those who are Christian, that God sent to men His son, who would restore order and peace upon the earth; and we have been told that Jesus the Christ was crucified, but that he shall come again at the Last Judgement, the end of this world cycle. This I understand and know that it is true, but the white men should know that for the red people too, it was the will of Wakan-Tanka, the Great Spirit, that an animal turn itself into a two-legged person in order to bring the most holy pipe to His people, and we too were taught that this White Buffalo Cow Woman who brought our sacred pipe will appear again at the end of this world, a coming which we Indians know is now not very far off."
Perhaps, the words Black Elk heard, saying, "Behold this day, for it is yours to make. Now you shall stand upon the center of the earth to see..." is a message to us all. For this day is ours to make, and the center of the earth, Black Elk tells us, is everywhere. All we need to do is see the world in a sacred manner, and the holy tree will live again.
Near the end of the 1800s, the Indians were being forced onto reservations. The buffalo had been slaughtered almost to extinction by the whites. The entire life way of the Indians was passing away. Their only hope came from their religious beliefs and their medicine men who, throughout the Plains, were trying to dream the whites out of existence.
Many Indians believed that the Messiah had come to the white man first, and he was killed for his trouble. The Messiah said he would return and He had, as a Paiute of the Fish Eaters camp in Nevada. The Messiah, the Wanekia ("One Who Makes Live") the Christ, as many believed, was called Wovoka. The whites called him Jack Wilson.
In 1888, during an eclipse of the sun, Wovoka died, and an eagle carried him to the sky. When he returned to earth he was alive again and said he had a message from God. He said, "You must not hurt anybody or do harm to anyone. You must not fight. Do right always."
Hundreds of miles to the east a Sioux shaman, Kicking Bear, heard a voice which commanded him to travel toward the setting sun. He did so, accompanied by his friend, Short Bull.
In Nevada they were greeted by two Paiutes who told them that Christ had returned as an Indian. Hearing this, they followed the friendly Paiutes to the camp of Wovoka where they met hundreds of other pilgrims of different tribes. All had come to see this new Messiah.
"I have sent for you and am glad to see you," Wovoka said. "I am going to talk to you after a while about your relatives who are dead and gone. My children, I want you to listen to all I have to say to you. I will teach you how to dance a dance, and I want you to dance it. Get ready for your dance, and when the dance is over, I will talk to you." And they danced the Ghost Dance during which many participants would faint or enter into a trance where they would see and speak to their dead relations.
The Oglala Sioux sent three wise men to meet with this Messiah. They were Good Thunder, Brave Bear and Yellow Breast. They returned with prophecies and stories of miracles. Black Elk remembered it this way:
"These three men all said the same thing, and they were good men. They said that they traveled far until they came to a great flat valley near the last great mountains before the big water, and there they saw the Wanekia who was the son of the Great Spirit, and they talked to him. Wasichus called him Jack Wilson, but his name was Wovoka. He told them that there was another world coming, just like a cloud. It would come in a whirlwind out of the west and would crush out everything on this world which was old and dying. In that other world, there was plenty of meat, just like old times; and in that world all the dead Indians were alive, and all the bison that had ever been killed were roaming around again."
Wovoka's message of peace and brotherhood was overshadowed by his prophecy of the disappearance of the whites and the return of Indian traditions. The whites and some Indians ignored his message of peace while taking literally the idea that the Ghost Dance movement would, one way or another, make the whites vanish.
The U.S. government's interest in, and fear of, the Ghost Dance movement peaked in December of 1890 at Wounded Knee, South Dakota. There, nearly 300 Indians enroute to a Ghost Dance gathering were massacred. That event, it was assumed, put an end to Wovoka's vision.
The passing of the white man's world, as prophesied by the Paiute and the Sioux, and the emergence of a new world is a future envisioned by the Hopi as well. This was recorded in Book of the Hopi: "World War III will be started by those peoples who first received the light (the divine wisdom or intelligence) in the other old countries (India, China, Egypt, Palestine, Africa).
"The United States will be destroyed, land and people, by atomic bombs and radioactivity. Only the Hopi and their homeland will be preserved as an oasis to which refugees will flee. Bomb shelters are a fallacy. It is only materialistic people who seek to make shelters. Those who are at peace in their hearts already are in the great shelter of life. There is no shelter for evil. Those who take no part in the making of world division by ideology are ready to resume life in another world, be they of the Black, White, Red, or Yellow race. They are all one, brothers.
"The war will be a spiritual confilct with material matters. Material matters will be destroyed by spiritual beings who will remain to create one world and one nation under one power, that of the Creator.
"That time is not far off."
Another Hopi prophecy predicts a pole shift (a shift or flip in the axis of the earth) before the end of this century. In 1948 and again in 1973, the Hopi elders tried to address the United Nations General Assembly on this matter. Both times they were denied. Finally, in 1976 they were allowed to address the U.N.-sponsored Habitat Conference in Vancouver, British Columbia.
"This message today is our third and perhaps final attempt to inform the world of the present status of man's existence on our Earth Mother," their spokesman, Thomas Banyaca, said. "We are not asking the United Nations for help in a material way. We are, according to Hopi prophecy, simply trying to inform the world of what is going to happen if the destruction of the earth and its original peoples continues as is known by our religious Hopi elders. We do not come before the United Nations in order to join it. We come to fulfill Hopi sacred mission and ancient prophecy... and whatever results from your failure to fulfill your sacred responsibilities to stop all of this destruction, genocide, harassment, imprisonment, oppression for Native Brothers will be of your own doing..." The disaster can be averted if we come into balance with our environment. Otherwise, Banyacya warned, "this land might sink again or it may break up..."
The Hopi expect, someday, the return of Pahana, the lost white brother, just as the Maya await the return of Kukulcan, the bearded white god, and as the Aztec predict the return of the white hero-god Quetzalcoatl. Perhaps, what they are all waiting for is not an individual, but the return of the white race, along with the red, yellow, and black peoples, to their rightful place around the sacred hoop. And the return of all peoples to a world view which honors the earth as a living being which must be treated with love and respect.
The prophecies presented here of the destruction of the world by atomic bombs or a pole shift need not be interpreted literally. Atomic bombs can devastate a country without ever being used. The arms race was disastrous financially both to the Russia and the United States; and the failure of the nuclear reactors can provide enough destructive radioactivity to satisfy any prophecy. As for a pole shift, that can be understood as a shift in world power from First World to Third World countries, or from countries in the northern hemisphere to the southern hemisphere.
While working for the Menninger Foundation in 1971, Doug Boyd met Rolling Thunder, a spiritual leader of the Cherokee and Shoshone tribes. About the shaman, Boyd wrote, "Each day it was becoming clearer to me that Rolling Thunder was a teacher who could offer me insights that I could never achieve in the laboratory or discover in the library."
One day during lunch, Rolling Thunder explained the Indian's view of chaos through ecological imbalance.
"When you have pollution in one place, it spreads all over. It spreads just as arthritis or cancer spreads in the body. The earth is sick now because the earth is being mistreated, and some of the problems that may occur, some of the natural disasters that might happen in the near future are only the natural readjustments that have to take place to throw off sickness. A lot of things are on this land that don't belong here. They're foreign objects like viruses or germs. Now, we may not recognize the fact when it happens, but a lot of the things that are going to happen in the future will really be the earth's attempt to throw off some of these sicknesses. This is really going to be like fever or like vomiting, what you might call a physiological adjustment.
"It's very important for people to realize this. The earth is a living organism, the body of a higher individual who has a will and wants to be well, who is at times less healthy or more healthy, physically and mentally. People should treat their own bodies with respect. It's the same thing with the earth. Too many people don't know that when they harm the earth they harm themselves, nor do the realize that when they harm themselves they harm the earth...
"It's not very easy for you people to understand these things because understanding is not knowing the kind of facts that your books and teachers talk about. I can tell you that understanding begins with love and respect. It begins with respect for the Great Spirit, and the Great Spirit is the life that is in all things -- all the creatures and the plants and even the rocks and the minerals. All things -- and I mean all things -- have their own will and their own way, their own purpose; this is what is to be respected.
"Such respect is not a feeling or an attitude only. It's a way of life. Such respect means that we never stop realizing and never neglect to carry out our obligation to ourselves and our environment."
Rolling Thunder offers a philospohical or religious basis for contemporary ecological thought. His view is fundamental to understanding Native American belief systems. Certainly, there are sound scientific reasons supporting the various ecology movements, and for scientific minds that may be enough. However, integrating both views may ultimately prove more reliable and productive than choosing one or the other.
The Ghost Dance prophecy was not buried at Wounded Knee. The hippies, with their long hair and beads, the ecology, back-to-the-earth, and the New Age movements among the whites, are all, according to believers, evidence of the fulfillment of the prophecy.
Lame Deer, a 20th century shaman among the Sioux, had this vision of America's future. "Listen," he said, "I saw this in my mind not long ago: in my vision the electric light will stop sometime. It is used too much for TV and going to the moon. The day is coming when nature will stop the electricity. Police without flashlights, beer getting hot in the refrigerators, planes dropping from the sky, even the President can't call up somebody on the phone. A young man will come, or men, who'll know how to shut off all electricity. It will be painful, like giving birth. Rapings in the dark, winos breaking into the liquor stores, a lot of destruction. People are being too smart, too clever; the machine stops and they are helpless, because they have forgoten how to make do without the machine. There is a Light Man coming, bringing a new light. It will happen before this century is over. The man who has this power will do good things too -- stop all atomic power, stop wars, just by shutting the white electro-power off. I hope to see this, but then I'm also afraid. What will be will be.
"I am trying to bring the ghost dance back," Lame Deer said, "but interpret it in a new way. I think it has been misunderstood, but after eighty years I believe that more and more people are sensing what we meant when we prayed for a new earth and that now, not only the Indians, but everybody has become an endangered species. So let the Indians help you bring on a new earth without pollution or war. Let's roll up the world. It needs it."
As recently as 1979 we were offered another vision,this time from Sun Bear of the Bear Tribe Medicine Society. In the Native American earth awareness magazine, Many Smokes, Sun Bear wrote: "I saw people living together in groups sharing and helping each other, Indian and non-Indian alike. I saw the Earth Mother being healed as people began to show real love for the land. But first I saw whole cities become desolate because there was no way left for people to support themselves. I wondered at this when this nation seemed to be all-powerful. Then I saw the vision of the great drought years, a time when the Earth Mother would withhold all increase...
"I saw camps of people around natural water, such as rivers, creeks, and springs, working hard to produce their food, but thankful to be alive, for only here and there were small bands of people alive, and they were thankful to the Great Spirit that they were. When people came together they embraced with love, even those who were strangers before that moment, because they knew.
"There were only a few people surviving these changes. I've seen major destruction, and people fleeing great cities, and other people dying from pollution, and cities abandoned, and I wondered how, until these last few years when I see California and other places which no longer have the water, electricity, or natural gases to care for their cities.
"Then I understood what I saw before. We were told that our people would lay as if dead in the dust, and then we would rise up on the land again. We were told that the sons and daughters of the possessors of our land would come to us and accept our ways, and that we would live together as one people sharing the land and sowing love and understanding for each other."
CONCLUSIONWritten in the 1970s, the visions of Lame Deer and Sun Bear seem to be a logical extension of current events. After all, even prophecies conform to the laws of cause and effect. The difference between the prophet and the scientist is that the scientist relies on the process of deduction, while the prophet simply dreams. The scientist functions out of the conscious mind, the prophet from the unconscious.
There are two concepts common to all the prophecies presented here. One speaks of a change of worlds, another of the importance of American Indian traditions, particularly their reverence for Mother Earth. The old ways of the Native Americans cannot answer all of the dilemmas we face now and tomorrow. But, our present way of life is dysfunctional and outmoded. Choosing one or the other does not bring us into the new earth cycle envisioned by the prophets. Accepting certain Indian traditions doesn't mean rejecting all things from the white world. Each way can stand side-by-side like monumental pillars forming a gateway between which the path of the new way leads into the future.
Native traditions are rooted in magic, myth and metaphor; Western traditions, in science, history and fact. For the first time in human history both are accessible. In a very real sense these differing world views are like the two hemispheres of the brain: the intuitive right and the reasoning left. The synergistic potential of incorporating native and Western thought is an exciting and difficult prospect. But in a world that is long on problems and short on alternatives, this notion should be considered.
For example, take the concept of time. As mentioned earlier, the native view is circular, the Western is linear. In fact, Western linear time actually stands on end, the past is at the bottom, the new and improved present in at the top. That's called progress. Now, when you combine the two concepts the result is a spiral. It is a different image retaining the qualities of both, but its implications are deeper and richer.
For many, changing lifestyles and modifying world views have a quality about them akin to dying. For, indeed, such changes mean the end of the familiar world; but death isn't necessary. Imagine a caterpillar. It lives its life voraciously eating leaves until one day through some mysterious impulse it wraps itself in a cocoon and emerges some time later as a butterfly. It no longer creeps along on branches eating leaves, but takes wing and flies from flower to flower sipping nectar. The caterpillar didn't die, it transformed itself.
Human history is a story of transformation. We change our physical world through technology and our metaphysical world through religion. Many of our present difficulties arise out of the fact that our physical world is shifting faster than our ability to assimilate the changes. Concurrently, our spiritual life has atrophied from inattention. Our bodies and our spirits are off balance and out of sync. This results in feelings of confusion, impotence and stress. Anything we do under these conditions will be less than optimum. For our own wellbeing we must transform ourselves, and remake our world.
Every place on earth, like every person, has a distinct character. Perhaps it is time to listen to the spiritual elders of this continent when they implore us to honor Mother Earth. Perhaps, with Western ingenuity and native wisdom we can cross the threshold into a new earth.
For more on the outlook for the future see ECLIPSE: The Twilight of the Gods.
For more on the Native American outlook see: THE HARMONIC CONVERGENCE
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