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.


Anonymous said...

Yep, that seems to fit rather well. I don't remember reading Black Elk (never having had a leaning towards Native American stuff). But I certainly recognise an awful lot in what he says and my own experiences. Cool stuff.

I think all spiritual paths have things they can teach and learn from one another (without necessarily becoming a synchratic amalgam) So often people dismiss other mystical and prophetic experiences simply because the person who had them has adopted a spiritual label that is technically frowned upon by others.

In the cases you mentioned, the alternate/altered state of consciousness was spontaneous and uninvited. Yet, in many spiritual traditions, Christian too, such a state may also be sought through meditation, trance-work, prayer, fasting. I believe there are likely to be some similarities in the experiences there too. :)



MickyMcB said...

I think that we as christians make a great mistake in trying to fit a God beyond all imagination into the tiny box of our understanding. Just because someone doesnt use the same words and analogies that we use in the western church doesnt automatically mean they are wrong or that we are not saying the same things. We especially have to be careful of the concepts we attach to words in the Bible as in many cases they can have completely different meanings outside of the cultural and linguistic contexts in which they were first recorded.

We also have to be careful not to think we know everything about everything spiritual. When it comes to the message Jesus left behind through the gospel and letter writers of the first century AD, I am reminded of a james colburn line in a western. A young cowboy says to him that he (the young cowboy) is as good as colburn (the old cowboy). His justification is that "you taught me everything I know". Colburn responds, "Yea, but I didnt teach you everything I know."
Did Jesus (and Moses) give us the whole picture or just the picture that was needed/able to be comprehended at the time? Is it our job to decide who is going to heaven based on what words they say or is our job just to "Love them all and let God sort it out"?

Another great post Phil... thanks for addressing the important issues and providing us a forum in which to discuss

Steve Hayes said...

You might be interested in this account of an Orthodox missionary in Alaska:

On 12 April 1828 Fr John Veniaminov visited Akun Island neatr Unalaska, and found people waiting for him, and they told him that their shaman, John Smirennikov, had told them to expect him. Smirennikov did not like to be referred to as a shaman, but that was how the people saw him. John Pankov, the translator, did not like Smirennikov, so he had been cut off from catechetical instruction, but when Fr John questioned him, Smirennikov told him that his two companions taught him. They were white men who lived in the mountains.

Colin A. Lamm said...

I'm not sure that I agree with your final answer. I'm not sure that we need to go 'looking' to find the voice of God speaking in other cultures (religions). This will simply become another rabbit-trail that will result in us becoming more syncretistic than we already are. This does not mean that we merely pass-off other people's experiences as 'of the devil' etc.

God spoke to Cornelius a Roman Centurian in the Biblical book of Acts (Chapter 10) in a vision, and he was not a follower of Jesus at the time. Through this experience he and his family came to know the truth of Jesus, and experience the power of His Spirit, though considered 'outsiders' by most. No one seemed to question the vision he saw - they were more concerned with the fact that Peter had seen fit to baptize them all, including them in the community of faith. The vision was only the means and that is all.

Oh well, those are my ponderings anyway . . . :).

MickyMcB said...

Not to be rude, but I dont understand the present day abhorence of syncretism. When I read especially the early history of our faith, syncretism emerges to me as one of the major activities of our tradition.

Pastor Phil said...


I do agree that there is somehting to be said about learning from other cultures. Especially since the Kingdom of God is not a specific culture which we can find here on earth. Of course, as Americans I am not sure we understand this.

Pastor Phil said...

Perhaps if you considered looking at other cultures from the eyes of an anthropological missiologist, you might see what I am saying. I believe we need to see where God is speaking to other cultures in order to agree with His voice.

I didn't see Peter telling Cornelius that his voice in the night was a demon. Peter accepted the voice as God, and responded accordingly. Not all Christians are willing to do that today.

I am not sure I would go as far as to write the dreams of Pagan kings into the record of scripture, but Daniel was pretty comfortable with that.

If I look for the voice of God in other cultures, and discover it, I will choose to say "Amen," and potentially add wisdom to that voice as Peter did for Cornelius. So methinks.

Pastor Phil said...


Thanks for the interesting story connection. I'll check it out.

Anonymous said...

'This will simply become another rabbit-trail that will result in us becoming more syncretistic than we already are.'

The sychretism would occur if you decided to adopt those different interpretations for yourself. I'm a Pagan. I've sought to understand Christianity, Christian understanding of deity and how that translates into their lives. I'm not a Christo-Pagan and have not adopted Christian interpretations of deity. However, I will say I have learned a thing or two from my Christian friends that, whilst not strictly speaking have been adopted into my spiritual worldview, have strengthened certain attitudes to others.

Synchretism only happens if you adopt the beliefs of others into your own (something the church of the middle ages did a bit of in order to make for easier conversion.... perhaps that is what you refer to when you mention that the church is alredy sychrenistic)

Paul, speaking in Athens- Temple to the unknown God... Was he just using the imagery presented to him as a lever, or did he see a genuine recgonition of a deity the Athenians didn't know, but felt was due honour and that perhaps they would like to know?

The concern about synchretism I DO understand. Ultimately you end up 'worshipping' the unknown God... a deity for whom knowledge and understanding is so wishy washy it becomes meaningless. But I don't think recognising deity speaking in the visions, altered states of consciousness or religious experiences is liable to lead to that. That concern suggests that ones own grasp n ones faith is something one is concerned about, more than anything else. :)



Anonymous said...

..and weren't the wise men who came to Jesus as a new born from a religious background other than judaism? I think they had dreams or something like that... man! I can't remember.

Anonymous said...

'..and weren't the wise men who came to Jesus as a new born from a religious background other than judaism? I think they had dreams or something like that... man! I can't remember.'

Not to mention angelic visitation with regard to the shepherds. That has to have been an altered state of consciousness thing. :D



Pastor Phil said...


Yes, they came from the east, and they used astrological signs as a guide. That's about all we really know, but it is enough to make us realize that we have been using a story of God speaking to non-Christians, non-Jews as a source of blessing for ourselves for centuries now.

Pastor Phil said...


Not unlikely to be some rather coarse, construction worker kinda guys, and yet the angels showed up for a rousing Alleluia chorus for them.

Sally said...

You say:

"!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."

Amen- yes , yes and yes...who are we to limit where and to whom God speaks?

Pastor Phil said...

Hi Sally,

We are spirit filled, Bible believing fundies, and we can tell God when and where He can and can't speak. Right?

hmmmmm...maybe not.

Adam Gonnerman said...

Perhaps God lets non-Christian nations dream dreams of God's new creation. If so, don't let it end there. Why not share the Good News that Jesus is one through whom this new world project has been initiated?

Pastor Phil said...


Now we're talking! This is what God has been trying to get us to see. He talks to people in ways we can not imagine, and hopes we'll back up His words to them, with more of His words to them.

Paul said...

I don't think we can ever really acknowledge other people as fully human until we acknowledge them as spiritual equals.

Pastor Phil said...

Sensei, I mean uhm - Paul,

You speak as deep waters, O wise one. Thanks for a good word.

Sally said...

deep waters indeed well said Paul!

Anonymous said...

"We are spirit filled, Bible believing fundies"

How do you know? Where is your discernment? Spirit filled, Bible believing fundies seem to accept every spirit that comes along as "from God".
The Orthodox Church teaches us "not to believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see if they are of God... By this you know the Spirit of God: every spirit which confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is of God, and every spirit which does not confess Jesus is not of God." (I John 4:1-3)
All of the Saints that have had visions have made mistakes, the demons have tricked them at one time or another, spiritual delusion or prelest is something that can happen without discernment. So do not trust your own perception, if God wants you to know He will make sure you know. However, what makes any of us that special? Where is humility? Obedience, Discernment? Bah!
Spirit filled fundies better get a grip because the demons make playthings of you, not all is of God as much as we want it to be...
Yes, the Church was brilliant, it sought that which was good in each place it evangelized and used it to fulfill the Gospel of Christ. Glory be to God for all things! Jesus is the fulfillment of all things afterall. In Alaska, the Natives had a tradition of the flood and that their Native Masks were also used as a forerunner of Icons, so yes, the Holy Orthodox Church, has always been able to take was good and unfulfilled and fulfill it in the Gospel of Christ. Orthodoxy keeps the language of the people it is evangelizing too. Our Lord doesn't just speak one language, but all.
Forgive me but this type of thing frustrates me partly because I think it is done in ignorance and I really shouldn't then get upset.
From the Mask to the Icon by S. Mousalimas is highly recommended.
Christ is in our midst!
the handmaid,

Pastor Phil said...

Hi Leah,

Ummmm..."spirit filled...fundies" was a joke, and saying that we could tell God what He can say was a joke too.

Fundamentalists are not of the Spirit Filled ilk, and saying that we can tell God what He can and can't say is certainly an absurdity.

I'm sorry non-essential humorous side comments, and questions simply posed to create thought get you so heated.

Anonymous said...

i have read black elk speaks but a friend of mine gave me a book written from his granddaughter because this anthropologist forgot to mention that Black elk was a christian from the catholic tradition. its been a while since i can remember the title and story of testimony but i remember his dream was related to christ, but the anthropolgist left that part out...maybe a google search or amazon.com might be a way to find the book.

Pastor Phil said...

Yes, Black Elk became a Christian fairly early in his life, yet worked as a healer as well. Interesting story. There is a follow up book to "Black Elk Speaks," and I have not found it yet either.