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)