Tuesday, March 13, 2007
Black Elk, John, and Phil Speak: Shamanic and Apocalyptic Vision
Having just finished the book "Black Elk Speaks," and coming to this 4th SynchroBlog covering the subject of "Alternate Consciousness from a Christian Perspective," are fine coincidences in this anarchic dance we call life, or perhaps they are no coincidence at all, and it is not an anarchic dance.
Franko, who says he is not a Christian gave me the book, and I knew this subject was coming up, so I considered it an interesting coalescence of events.
In my own life, I have experienced a number of events which I can relate to as alternate consciousness experiences. I will describe just two, and place these next to both Christian apocalyptic literature, and Native American visions.
In my first experience which came to me the year before I believed in Jesus as Redeemer of my Soul, and attributed the forgiveness of my sins to His efforts upon the cross I had a spiritual experience which came to me twice. Fully aware and awake - the first time driving and the second time sitting in a concert I experienced a large invisible hand coming toward me. I had no visual experience, it was simply sensation of an inner knowing followed by a physical sensation of touch. Twice this invisible hand came towards my face, and upon reaching me my head snapped to the side as I felt as though I had been slapped.
The first slap came with the single word "God." The second came more dramatically with the phrase "Jesus died for you," repeating many times, and running through my ears like ticker tape.
These experiences were instrumental in my coming to view Jesus as the goal of my search for absolute truth, and caused me to call out for forgiveness of my sins.
The second experience involved waking up from sleep. From a deep sleep I suddenly awoke, if awake it was, in a trance-like state. The phrase "One must go about speaking in the churches before the ministry begins," played in my head, and began to toss and turn and pondered out loud what these words meant. After perhaps 5 minutes of repeating this phrase, and scratching my head in confusion, asking myself what this meant, a paraphrase from a verse of scripture came to my mind - "Judgment must first begin in the house of God." I said out loud, "That's what it means," and promptly fell back asleep. In the morning I woke, leapt out of bed, and shouted with great exhuberance, "Judgment must first begin in the house of God!" If any interpreters of divine experiences can explain that for me, I'd be greatly appreciative.
One of these events led me to follow Christ, the other carries a touch of confusion, but perhaps a promise, or hope (maybe a warning?) for the future.
Black Elk was a Medicine Man for the Oglala Sioux in South Dakota. He lived through the battle of Little Big Horn, and the massacre at Wounded Knee. He told the story of a famous Lakota Indian holy man named Drinks Water, who had visions of the four legged creatures going down to the earth, of a strange race of humans who wove a web around the Indian peoples, he said "When this happens you shall live in square grey houses, in a barren land, and next to these small grey houses you shall starve." This was many years before the white man came to nearly exterminate the bison, and destroy the way of life of the Native Americans.
As he began to speak to John Neihardt about his story he lit the peace pipe as an offering and presented this thought, and prayer,
"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 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!"
Black Elk goes on to share a "great vision which he received at a young age. In it he was carried away, and shown many things. Over the course of 12 days, he laid sick in his parents' tepee, and when he returned to consciousness, he was significantly changed, and this vision would drive his life for the next 60+ years. Those who saw him following his recovery saw changes in him.
"That evening of the day when I came back, Whirlwind Chaser, who had got a great name and a good horse for curing me, came over to our tepee. He sat down and looked at me a long time in a strange way, and then he said to my father: "Your boy there is sitting in a sacred manner. I do not know what it is, but there is something special for him to do, for just as I came in I could see a power like a light all through his body.""
His friend who was older by four years remarked about his demeanor after his recovery, "I said to him: "How, younger brother! You got well after all!" And he said: "How! Yes, I am not sick at all now!" But as we rode along together and talked, he was not like a boy. He was more like an old man."
The Great Vision of Black Elk reads like a Native American version of the book of Revelation at times. His prayers, and sayings reference multiple spirits, but always return to One Great Spirit who alone is to be prayed to. His Great Vision would become a guide through his life, and appeared to have prophetic elements which would come to pass. At some points his vision takes on Messianic proportions, with a holy tree for the nation, and a healing herb which is given for the health of the people.
Black Elk went on to be involved in the Ghost Dancing movement (also called the Messiah Movement) which hoped for and dreamed of a day in which the way of life they had lost might return. For many of the Ghost Dancers they viewed this return as something which would occur in the afterlife.
John, Ezekiel, Daniel, Joseph, Peter, Paul, and Zechariah all speak of dreams, visions, or trance-like states in which they experienced revelatory knowledge from God. Nebuchadnezzar, and the Pharoah during Joseph's life had visions which came from God.
Dreams, visions, and trances leading to a fuller vision of God, or giving warning of the future appear to be common themes in apocalyptic literature of scripture, and can be found in the visions of the Native American culture. My comparatively mild experiences both before my relationship with Christ, and after seem to further evidence that God can, and does speak not only to Christians, but people of all cultures for redemptive purposes, and for guidance to help and save people through oncoming struggles.
Should we as Christians look for the voice of God speaking in other cultures, even if those cultures are not followers of Jesus? The Biblical record, the story of Black Elk, and my own experiences say yes.