Advent with Black Elk: Baptism as Ritual for Activating the Power of the Wanekia


Chapter 18: The Powers of the Bison and the Elk

“I think I have told you, but if I have not, you must have understood, that a man who has a vision is not able to use the power of it until after he has performed the vision on earth for the people to see […] it was only after the heyoka ceremony, in which I performed my dog vision, that I had the power to practice as a medicine man, curing sick people; and many I cured with the power that came through me.” (127)

For me, this Lakota understanding of vision and ritual sheds new light on baptism. What if we were to understand baptism as a similar performance of a vision, the performance of conversion, for all the people to see? Although one may have a life-changing experience of Christ and receive God’s inward grace through him, perhaps one cannot fully tap into Christ’s healing power until one participate in the earthly ritual for the people to see. The Lakota ritual involved sage, sticks, sweat, the sacrifice of a dog and the heyoka ceremony in order to tap into the healing power of the bison and the elk. The Christian ritual involves water and sometimes a candle and holy oil in order to tap into and activate the healing power of the Christ, the Wanekia of the West.


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