My rating: 2 of 5 stars
I've been a Black Elk fan since last year when I read Black Elk Speaks. Then, last month I was on mission trip to the Pine Ridge Reservation and really enjoyed a presentation on the Lakota spirituality and the seven sacred rituals. I then discovered that there was this book of Black Elk describing the rituals, so I bought it (at the Red Cloud School gift shop) and began reading it while on the rez.
There are very interesting insights in spirituality, some of which I will use, particularly in my always developing "theology of the plains." But overall the book was not that engaging as the lengthy descriptions of the rituals bored me. It is important that the Lakota were able to preserve detailed, lengthy descriptions of their rituals, as they were banned for generations. So, this is an important book for their culture and my boredom at parts of it should not reflect on its value and significance.
Black Elk conveyed great wisdom from which humanity could benefit. I was touched by this closing paragraph in the description of "The Throwing of the Ball" ritual:
At this sad time today among our people [the book was published in 1953] we are scrambling for the ball, and some are not even trying to catch it, which makes me cry when I think of it. But soon I know it will be caught, for the end is rapidly approaching, and then it will be returned to the center, and our people will be with it. It is my prayer that this be so, and it is in order to aid in this "recovery of the ball," that I have wished to make this book.
I did find the chapter on the Sun Dance difficult to read. If you are unfamiliar with the sun dance, it is very sacred rite that involves the cutting of flesh and the tying of one's body, via ropes, to the central tree and dance till the flesh is ripped. Fully aware of its sacred importance to the Lakota, I have difficulty understanding this ritual. I understand why it has been revived, as any of us would work to recover our cultural rituals had they been banned, but I wonder if the culture had been left to develop if there would have been more contemporary (and less bloody) versions of the ritual that would have developed? Think of how yoga, for instance, derived from early blood sacrifices and martial rites of the Hindus, as the ritual became more internalized. Also reading the one chapter on the Sun Dance reaffirmed my appreciation for being a Protestant and the radical view proposed by Luther that ritual actions are not required for us to receive grace.
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