by IRA KENNEDY
American Indian Prophecies is not about the end of the world but, rather, a change of worlds--the beginning of a new Earth cycle. The prophecies of Black Elk, Wovoka, Rolling Thunder, Lame Deer, Sun Bear, and the Hopi are used to examine the differences between Western and Native American world views and their relationship to the future.
There is a remarkable difference between Western prophecies and those of native peoples. When Western prophets see into the future they envision Armageddon. The end of the world. When native prophets look down that same path they see the completion of a great cycle. A change of worlds.
The reason for these vastly different views is found in the way time is experienced. In the West time is history. There is a past, a present, and a future; a beginning, a middle, and an end. Like a stick. Native peoples experience time as a cycle. There are four stages, such as the seasons: spring, summer, autumn, and winter. Like a hoop. Each stage is a preparation for the next. At the center of the hoop is a still timelessness; the eternal present around which the cycles revolve. The visions of native prophets occur at that center point from where the cycles of change can be seen. There is no end.
For the Indians of North America, the last quarter of the 1800s was the winter of their culture. All that they had known had fallen away, like leaves on a tree. In 1863, among the sacred hills of South Dakota, was born a wachasha wakon, a holy man of the Oglala Sioux. His name was Black Elk. As a young man his father told him a story that had been passed down from the grandfathers.
In the time of the ancestors lived a Lakota holy man, Drinks Water, who dreamed of what was to be. In a dream Drinks Water saw all the four-leggeds go back into the earth and in their place a race of two-legged strangers wove a web around the Lakota. Then, in his dream, Drinks Water saw his people living in square gray homes, on a barren land; and beside those homes, the people starved. Soon after his vision, it is said, Drinks Water returned to Mother Earth. He died from sorrow.
Drinks Water's vision occurred long before the coming of the whites with their fences and houses and their slaughter of the great buffalo herds. At the time his dream must have been incomprehensible to his people. What Drinks Water saw was a change of worlds and it was more than he could endure.
When interpreting dreams or prophecies it should be remembered that a literal approach is often misleading. This is particularly the case with the prophecies presented here. Rather than the end of the world, what is implied is a transformation of consciousness from one view of the world to another, and the emergence of the new world.
For over a century, the American Indian shamans have prophesied the end of an earth cycle, the disappearance of the white man, and the return of all living things which had vanished under the pressures of the present world. The time, we are told, is near. As we observe governments, industries, and ourselves, we can see a system of waste and pollution so widespread as to cast a shadow across the generations to come. It doesn't take a clairvoyant to predict disaster. Forturnately, we are aware of the need for change. The question is, whether the necessary changes in our institutions and ourselves will occur faster than the production of pollution generated by our old patterns of behavior.
Like a dormant tree enduring winter, the Indian's respect for the earth, their desire to live in harmony with nature, lives still, waiting to bloom again in the next world cycle. Only by honoring Mother Earth, Indian shamans tell us, can we avert disaster. We have their example and their prophets to guide the human family into the new world. We are one with all creation.
When Black Elk was nine years old, he had yet to see his first Wasichu, or white man. There were still vast herds of buffalo, and the Indian way of life, Black Elk believed, would last forever. That year, 1872, he had a vision in which he traveled four ascents with his people, which he understood to be the four generations he would know.
At the first ascent, the people camped in a circle. At the center of the circle stood the holy tree. But when they camped at the second ascent Black Elk saw the leaves falling from the sacred tree.
At the camp of the third ascent he saw the Black Road of conflict before them. He saw, too, that the nation's hoop was broken, the sacred tree was dying and all its birds were gone. There he saw that "all of the animals and fowls that were the people ran here and there, for each one seemed to have his own little vision that he followed and his own rules; and all over the universe I could hear the winds at war like wild beasts fighting... It was dark and terrible about me, for all the winds of the world were fighting. It was like rapid gunfire and like whirling smoke, and like women and children wailing and like horses screaming all over the world." The third ascent was the time of the generation living in the 1850's.
At the fourth ascent a Voice said "Behold this day, for it is yours to make. Now you shall stand upon the center of the earth to see..." Then Black Elk stood on the highest mountain of them all, "and round about beneath me was the whole hoop of the world. And while I stood there I saw more than I can tell and I understood more than I saw; for I was seeing in a sacred manner the shapes of all things in the spirit, and the shape of all shapes as they must live together like one being. And I saw that the sacred hoop of my people was one of many hoops that made one circle, wide as daylight and as starlight, and in the center grew one mighty flowering tree to shelter all the children of one mother and one father. And I saw that it was holy."
Black Elk's vision of the fourth ascent was one of hope and brotherhood. Because that world did not come to pass, Black Elk lived to be a disappointed man believing that, in some way, he had failed his vision. "You see me now a pitiful old man who has done nothing, for the nation's hoop is broken and scattered. There is no center any longer, and the sacred tree is dead."
Shortly before his death in 1950, Black Elk offered this comment: "I have been told by the white men, or at least by those who are Christian, that God sent to men His son, who would restore order and peace upon the earth; and we have been told that Jesus the Christ was crucified, but that he shall come again at the Last Judgement, the end of this world cycle. This I understand and know that it is true, but the white men should know that for the red people too, it was the will of Wakan-Tanka, the Great Spirit, that an animal turn itself into a two-legged person in order to bring the most holy pipe to His people, and we too were taught that this White Buffalo Cow Woman who brought our sacred pipe will appear again at the end of this world, a coming which we Indians know is now not very far off."
Perhaps, the words Black Elk heard, saying, "Behold this day, for it is yours to make. Now you shall stand upon the center of the earth to see..." is a message to us all. For this day is ours to make, and the center of the earth, Black Elk tells us, is everywhere. All we need to do is see the world in a sacred manner, and the holy tree will live again.
Near the end of the 1800s, the Indians were being forced onto reservations. The buffalo had been slaughtered almost to extinction by the whites. The entire life way of the Indians was passing away. Their only hope came from their religious beliefs and their medicine men who, throughout the Plains, were trying to dream the whites out of existence.
Many Indians believed that the Messiah had come to the white man first, and he was killed for his trouble. The Messiah said he would return and He had, as a Paiute of the Fish Eaters camp in Nevada. The Messiah, the Wanekia ("One Who Makes Live") the Christ, as many believed, was called Wovoka. The whites called him Jack Wilson.
In 1888, during an eclipse of the sun, Wovoka died, and an eagle carried him to the sky. When he returned to earth he was alive again and said he had a message from God. He said, "You must not hurt anybody or do harm to anyone. You must not fight. Do right always."
Hundreds of miles to the east a Sioux shaman, Kicking Bear, heard a voice which commanded him to travel toward the setting sun. He did so, accompanied by his friend, Short Bull.
In Nevada they were greeted by two Paiutes who told them that Christ had returned as an Indian. Hearing this, they followed the friendly Paiutes to the camp of Wovoka where they met hundreds of other pilgrims of different tribes. All had come to see this new Messiah.
"I have sent for you and am glad to see you," Wovoka said. "I am going to talk to you after a while about your relatives who are dead and gone. My children, I want you to listen to all I have to say to you. I will teach you how to dance a dance, and I want you to dance it. Get ready for your dance, and when the dance is over, I will talk to you." And they danced the Ghost Dance during which many participants would faint or enter into a trance where they would see and speak to their dead relations.
The Oglala Sioux sent three wise men to meet with this Messiah. They were Good Thunder, Brave Bear and Yellow Breast. They returned with prophecies and stories of miracles. Black Elk remembered it this way:
"These three men all said the same thing, and they were good men. They said that they traveled far until they came to a great flat valley near the last great mountains before the big water, and there they saw the Wanekia who was the son of the Great Spirit, and they talked to him. Wasichus called him Jack Wilson, but his name was Wovoka. He told them that there was another world coming, just like a cloud. It would come in a whirlwind out of the west and would crush out everything on this world which was old and dying. In that other world, there was plenty of meat, just like old times; and in that world all the dead Indians were alive, and all the bison that had ever been killed were roaming around again."
Wovoka's message of peace and brotherhood was overshadowed by his prophecy of the disappearance of the whites and the return of Indian traditions. The whites and some Indians ignored his message of peace while taking literally the idea that the Ghost Dance movement would, one way or another, make the whites vanish.
The U.S. government's interest in, and fear of, the Ghost Dance movement peaked in December of 1890 at Wounded Knee, South Dakota. There, nearly 300 Indians enroute to a Ghost Dance gathering were massacred. That event, it was assumed, put an end to Wovoka's vision.
The passing of the white man's world, as prophesied by the Paiute and the Sioux, and the emergence of a new world is a future envisioned by the Hopi as well. This was recorded in Book of the Hopi: "World War III will be started by those peoples who first received the light (the divine wisdom or intelligence) in the other old countries (India, China, Egypt, Palestine, Africa).
"The United States will be destroyed, land and people, by atomic bombs and radioactivity. Only the Hopi and their homeland will be preserved as an oasis to which refugees will flee. Bomb shelters are a fallacy. It is only materialistic people who seek to make shelters. Those who are at peace in their hearts already are in the great shelter of life. There is no shelter for evil. Those who take no part in the making of world division by ideology are ready to resume life in another world, be they of the Black, White, Red, or Yellow race. They are all one, brothers.
"The war will be a spiritual confilct with material matters. Material matters will be destroyed by spiritual beings who will remain to create one world and one nation under one power, that of the Creator.
"That time is not far off."
Another Hopi prophecy predicts a pole shift (a shift
or flip in the axis of the earth) before the end of
this century. In 1948 and again in 1973, the Hopi elders tried to address the United Nations General Assembly on this matter. Both times they were denied. Finally, in 1976 they were allowed to address the U.N.-sponsored Habitat Conference in Vancouver, British Columbia.
"This message today is our third and perhaps final attempt to inform the world of the present status of man's existence on our Earth Mother," their spokesman, Thomas Banyaca, said. "We are not asking the United Nations for help in a material way. We are, according to Hopi prophecy, simply trying to inform the world of what is going to happen if the destruction of the earth and its original peoples continues as is known by our religious Hopi elders. We do not come before the United Nations in order to join it. We come to fulfill Hopi sacred mission and ancient prophecy... and whatever results from your failure to fulfill your sacred responsibilities to stop all of this destruction, genocide, harassment, imprisonment, oppression for Native Brothers will be of your own doing..." The disaster can be averted if we come into balance with our environment. Otherwise, Banyacya warned, "this land might sink again or it may break up..."
The Hopi expect, someday, the return of Pahana, the lost white brother, just as the Maya await the return of Kukulcan, the bearded white god, and as the Aztec predict the return of the white hero-god Quetzalcoatl. Perhaps, what they are all waiting for is not an individual, but the return of the white race, along with the red, yellow, and black peoples, to their rightful place around the sacred hoop. And the return of all peoples to a world view which honors the earth as a living being which must be treated with love and respect.
The prophecies presented here of the destruction of the world by atomic bombs or a pole shift need not be interpreted literally. Atomic bombs can devastate a country without ever being used. The arms race was disastrous financially both to the Russia and the United States; and the failure of the nuclear reactors can provide enough destructive radioactivity to satisfy any prophecy. As for a pole shift, that can be understood as a shift in world power from First World to Third World countries, or from countries in the northern hemisphere to the southern hemisphere.