Living the circle, part 3: The Great Spirit


Picture: Wakan Tanka, by Alan Dubner, Flickr

In Indian tribes, all possessions were shared. There were no ‘weaker parts of society’, for a person’s respectability was not based on property, but on his behaviour in a group. Even the chief did not have more than any other member. His deeds and his wisdom were the elements leading him to chiefdom. This egalitarian attitude derives again from the concept of the holy Circle. For any substantial or important conversation, all sat together in a ring when they wanted to talk.  In a circle you can see everyone’s face, so you can understand someone by looking at it. In a circle is no competition, for it has no ending or beginning.  In western society, people still sit in rows in their schools, so they cannot see each other’s faces and emotions. In this way, people miss social contact and are apt to develop a competitive attitude. 

In a speech at the Russell Tribunal in Rotterdam (1980), Chief Lame Deer said: “Many Western people are not independent. They learn to follow rules and do not have a self-supporting attitude.  When truck-drivers begin a strike and block the roads, supermarkets will no longer be filled. Hoe independent will you be, then?”

“Our drums form a circle. When I take my drum, every nation will recognize it as a drum. Every people on this earth once understood the circle, but its meaning got lost. Still, you can speak to Wakan Tanka, the Great Spirit, by means of a round form. This is possible because all round forms are related.”

The Great  Spirit

When the Indians speak about the Great Spirit, it is against their tradition trying to found out what he looks like.  “We don’t know if the Creator is a man or a woman and so we believe that the Creator, or the Unlnown Force, lies in this Circle. When I would say the Creator, or God, or the Great Spirit, is an animan, you would not agree. When I would say it’s a stone or a plant, most  people would not agree because they were taught God had the shape of a human being. But in our beliefs, all we know is that the Unknown Force lies in the Circle.”

You can call the Native American belief mystical because it derives from direct experience instead of texts from a book.  A Native American will say: “Lay a book outdoors and within half a year it will be rotten.  In the end, nothing remains.  But the Great Spirit created for you and me opportunity to study at the University of Nature. The woods, the rivers, the mountains and the animals, a great family we are part of, too.”

“In Nature, the blessings of the Great Mystery are all around you.  Creation is the Book of the Great Spirit. By studying Nature, you can read a great lot of that book. “We talk to Wakan Tanka, ‘Mysterious Power’, and are sure he hears us. Nevertheless, it is difficult to say what we believe exactly. It is our general conviction that when someone dies, his ghost will be somewhere in the air or earth, we don’t know exactly. But we are sure that his spirit still lives. It is the same with Wakan Tanka. We believe he is everywhere, though to us he seems like the spirits of our friends whose voices we can’t hear.”

The unspoken

In earlier days, the word Wakan Tanka wasn’t used in normal conversation, because they considered it as too holy to speak out differently than with suitable respect, and on a suitable time. Many Indians even avoid mentioning a man’s name, especially when he is present.  Letting things unsaid resonates with a way of deep Indian thinking. Expressing oneself completely is not the Indian tradition. The unspoken element can be a case of understanding from both sides.  At most, they give a hint in some way, so that only the ones for whom the words are meant, will understand their meaning. Medicine men use a sacred language in which normal words get an occult of hidden meaning. Some Indians explained the word Wakan in this way:

“A normal human being has from his birth on a  way of doing things. Sometimes, a man has the ability to do very special things, and such a person is called ‘wakan’.  This is a supernatural gift, but he can use it only by deep thinking and strong efforts. A man can be able to do things in a mysterious way, but no one could ever play with sun and moon, or could change the seasons. The most terrific things a man can do differ from nature. When seasons change, we see it as a gift from the sun. The sun is the strongest of all wakan powers.”  All living creatures, all plants live because of the sun. Without the sun, the earth would be dark and nothing would grow. The earth would be without life.But he sun needs the help of the earth, the Indians say. When only the sun would take care of plants and animals, the heat would be too big and they would starve. But there are clouds that bring rain, and the collaboration of sun en earth results in humidity that is necessary for life. The roots of a plant go down and the deeper they go, the more water they find. This accords to Natures laws, and is for us one of the signs of evidence of Wakan Tanka’s wisdom.  Plants are sent by Wakan Tanka and emerge from the ground where he wishes so; the part that is influenced by sun and rain, appears into daylight. The roots go down to look for the water where it is brought for them.  The sun is the strongest manifestation of Wakan Tanka. This is why important Indian rituals like the Sun-Dance have the Sign of the Sun.”

© Frank Flippo, October 2018

(This is an article I wrote almost 30 years ago. It has never before been published)

(Soon to be published… Part 4 Living the Circle: Rituals)




Over Zilvervis

Zilvervis staat voor drs H.F. (Frank) Flippo (1962), schrijver, journalist, historicus. Auteur van 'Esoterie in begrijpelijke taal', ( maart 2013) en reisbundel Van het Pad (oktober 2017) Interesses: letterkunde, mythologie, filosofie, biologie.
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