Travel in the Spiritual Worlds
TRAVEL IN THE
WORLD Of THE ANCESTORS
Black Elk's Description of Visiting the Ancestors
John G. Neihardt, Black Elk Speaks (New York: Washington Square Press, 1972), pps. 205-206
The Oglala Sioux medicine man Black Elk returned from Europe to find his people involved in the Ghost Dance. It was one of the last large collective attempts of the Plains Indian tribes to reinvigorate their traditional religion. In the following vision, he visits the land of the ancestors after falling unconscious during the dance ritual. This kind of trance is a form of conscious entry into the inner world since he appears to have never lost consciousness during the transition.
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 others did. Suddenly it seemed 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 as I fell, I had fallen off the swing when I 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 towards where I looked.
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 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 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 tall tree all green and full of flowers. When I touched the ground, two men were coming towards me, and they wore 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 will 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 in the air again, floating fast as before. When I came right over the dancing place, the people were still dancing, but it seemed that 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 the voices all around and above me, and I was sitting on the ground. Many were crowding around asking 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.
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