Monday, May 19, 2008

The Ghost Dance



Recently, I've re-read "Black Elk Speaks," a book in the words of a Lakota holy man, Black Elk, transcribed by John G. Neihardt.

I originally read it in college during my American Indian lit course, but since that time, my own spiritual practice has deepened and expanded exponentially, providing me with a much different look at Black Elk's experience and visions.

Something, the shaman talks about is the famous Ghost Dance, a spiritual dance movement among Amerian Indians that began in the late 1800s in the plains and then spread all over the then-U.S. My general understanding of the dance is that it was a way to change the state of the American Indians (who were in grim circumstances by this point under the crushing heel of the U.S. government and white people); it was a major spiritual working that would restore the indigenous people to paths of beauty and harmony and power.

The government and many whites were so terrified of this dance and its empowering implications that it was outlawed and very often the dancers were attacked by whites and soldiers (some American Indians would walk, run, or ride toward the soldiers while in an ecstatic state, only to be gunned down).

Last Thursday, I and two of my dearest loves, Donald and Mark Engstrom-Reese, went to the National Museum of the American Indian to see the Identity By Design exhibit (through Aug. 3), which is a collection of native women's dresses. The clothing is beautiful, and one of the more spiritually moving moments was seeing three Ghost Dance dresses on loan to the museum. No pictures were allowed, and the garments were in a seculded area of the exhibit. (I saw some Ghost Dance images on the web, but I had real hesitation about including them here on my blog. There really is something too holy about them to include them without the context of movement, chant and spiritual intention.)

Both Donald and I had the impression that the Ghost Dance was a major initial step in turning the culture of North America towards paths of balance, harmony, love and connection. For me, Grandmother Spider arrived at the exhibit case and reminded me of how important spiritual dance can be - in this case, so much so that it terrified a seemingly unstoppable, criminal, murderous and tyrannical government.

What changes can we effect now when we put our bodies in motion with the deep heart of compassion and the intention for beauty, peace, pleasure and transformtion?

These are just some initial thoughts on my seeing the garments from the Ghost Dance and reading about them in "Black Elk Speaks." I hope to think deeper on these things and how I can add my energy to these necessary changes.

(The photo is by W. Ben Hunt, taken about 1939 in the Black Hills of South Dakota)

2 comments:

Donald Engstrom-Reese said...

I experience ghost dance clothing as not only beautiful objects, but as direct visions of mystery. If I listen carefully, I can hear their rhythms of transformation reverberating throughout the multiverse.

What extra powers fill our dance when we create our own garments of mystery? I suspect that the powers of a owner-made trance dress, tunic, shirt, transform each movement the maker makes into prayers whose every step, shimmy and shake feed the emerging cultures of beauty, balance and delight?

I am taking my sewing machine in for a good cleaning and a tune up.

Grace said...

Hello, Greg!

Thank you SO much for your kind remark on my blog and it would be an honor to be linked with you! :) I've just briefly read through your last few posts and I feel like I've just reconnected with another Family member. How COOL. How MAGICAL!

Looking very forward to sharing a bit of life with you and yours.

Namaste and Brightest Blessings!