Advent with Black Elk: Sacred Voice and Sacred Fools

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Chapter 15: The Dog Vision

In this chapter, Black Elk mentions the town of Fort Yates. Upon my first reading of this chapter, I wrote in the margins: “was just there yesterday – 11/4/16.” While at Fort Yates, I visited the burial site of Sitting Bull, whom Black Elk also mentions in this chapter: “Sitting Bull [was] still in Grandmother’s Land” (110).

Black Elk laments the suffering of his nation in a ceremonial way in this chapter: “I was naked except that I had a bison robe to wrap around me while lamenting in the night, for although the days were warm, the nights were cold. All I carried was the sacred pipe” (112). Again, I wrote in the margins upon my first reading, while at the Standing Rock reservation: “Yes indeed!” The nights were below freezing and the days were sweltering hot.

Black Elk sings one of the songs of his vision which goes, “Behold! A sacred voice is calling you! All over the sky a sacred voice is calling!” (111). Last night, I attended another class on the Ba’al Shem Tov, who believed that a spark of the Messiah, indeed a spark of the divine, existed in all of us. The “sacred voice” of that inner spark is calling all of us. The Messiah will return not as an individual but as a community of people who have activated the power of their inner divine spark. Black Elk performs sacred rituals in order to activate these inner powers.

Black Elk says, “After offering and smoking the sacred pipe again, I told [my vision] to them, and they said that I must perform the dog vision on earth to help the people, and because the people were discouraged and sad, I should do this with heyokas, who are sacred fools, doing everything wrong or backwards to make the people laugh. They said they did not know but I would be a great man, because not many men were called to see such visions” (116).

Heyokas, DeMallie explains, enact the role of a ceremonial clown and publicly acknowledge the powers given by the Thunder-beings. Any who failed to make such acknowledgement, it was believed, would be killed by lightning. The fact that the heyoka, which is a “sacred fool,” is connected to a vision called the “dog vision” makes me think me of the Fool in the Tarot, who is also accompanied by a dog. Across cultures, the dog is clearly understood as a helpful companion on the spiritual journey.

The Fool in the Tarot is walking off the edge of a precipice, either to his death or to flight. Similarly, the individual who receives a vision and call from the sacred voice must activate the powers therein and subsequently fly or risk death. Either way, the fool is walking off the cliff. Tapping into the power of the dog (the trickster coyote, the wolf, etc.) is apparently crucial to whether or not the fool will fly or die.

For Black Elk, this involved some waiting: “I must wait twenty days, they said, and then perform my duty. So I waited” (116).

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About deforestlondon

Episcopal priest
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