Black Elk and 'The Throwing of the Ball'
(From: ‘Earth People’ Volume 1 Number 5)
For some people, tradition is a means of staying within their comfort zone that they are familiar with and not embracing change. For others it is a means of understanding the Universal Laws that never change, but cause all the changes within time and space or manifestation.
Traditions are much like Social Laws that do change according to social changes, and like these laws, the people who live by the traditions or laws must not just live according to the letter of the tradition or law, but by the Spirit, or the intent of the tradition or law. This means understanding the message in your particular myths; transcending the symbology and understanding the universal law; and living according to the will of God.
Also tradition is like religion (from the Latin religio meaning to link back to the original and ultimate source), in that each person must have, and stay glued to his or her own tradition or religion; If one has faith in and understanding of their tradition or religion, I guarantee it will work. This person's religion will in some ways be totally unique to them and will connect them to their source, God, but because of the archetypal nature of humans, there will always be some aspects of these traditions or religions that will be the same as other peoples'. And where these traditions or religions intersect, we can communicate and share our common ground and celebrate together in unity.
The best example of the changing evolutionary aspect of traditions and Religions can be seen in the life of the most noted traditional Holy Man and Medicine Man, Black Elk, whose earlier life as a nomadic plains Medicine Man was first portrayed to the wider world by John G. Neihardt in 'Black Elk Speaks'. This account, according to Michael F. Steltenkamp in 'Black Elk - Holy Man of the Oglala', romantically portrays Black Elk's nomadic life prior to living a "more or less happy" reservation life, "of which he saw 50 years." The next account by Joseph Epes Brown, called 'The Sacred Pipe', concentrated on Black Elk's recollection of the details of the seven sacred rites and ceremonies of the Lakota. The third account, by Michael F. Steltenkamp, concentrated on Black Elk's reservation life as recalled by his friends and last surviving child, Lucy Looks Twice. This account emphasizes Black Elk's very active involvement in establishing Catholicism among his people.
The point I wish to make is that although he had a very strong Shamanic Vision and a 'Traditional' understanding of Wakan-Tanka and the sacred rites and ceremonies, Black Elk also saw the same Wakan-Tanka in the Catholic God. His real understanding of God and the effects on his people who lacked faith and understanding can be seen in his account of the seventh and last Lakota rite “The Throwing Of The Ball”, as found in 'The Sacred Pipe'.
This “game” consists of a young girl who throws a ball to the four directions and each time someone catches or scrambles to get the ball and return it to the girl in the centre.
The mythological reading goes like this: The ball, made of buffalo hide and stuffed with buffalo hair and was painted red, to symbolize the earthly world, and blue lines around the quarters or directions, to symbolize Heaven, thus "Heaven and Earth were united into one in this ball", representing the universe and Wakan-Tanka (God). The buffalo itself represented the universe by giving food, clothing, housing etc. Black Elk adds:
"First, it is a little girl, and not an older person, who stands at the centre and throws the ball. This is as it should be, for just as Wakan-Tanka is eternally youthful and pure, so is this little girl who has just come from Wakan-Tanka, pure and without any darkness [Ignorance of His light. Ed.]. Just as the ball is thrown from the centre to the four quarters, so Wakan-Tanka is at every direction and is everywhere in the world; and as the ball descends upon the people, so does His power… The game… represents the course of a man’s life, which should be spent in trying to get the ball, for the ball represents Wakan-Tanka, or the universe…”
In the final paragraph of the book and of this rite, Black Elk says:
“At this sad time today among our people, 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 centre, 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.”
To make my point clearer, regarding the evolution of tradition and the universal law of sacredness that is present in any Religion or tradition, ‘The Sacred Pipe’ refers to the two aspects of Wakan-Tanka and the earth thus:
"Wakan-Tanka as the Grandfather (Tunkashila) is the unlimited source, the Great Spirit independent of manifestation and is identical to the Christian Godhead. Wakan-Tanka as the Father (Ate) is the Great Spirit in relation to His manifestation as Creator, Preserver or Destroyer and is identical to the Christian God. Maka (the earth) as the Grandmother (Unchi) is the ground or substance of all things, the potentiality. Maka as the Mother (Ina) is the producer of Growth in action."
And in contrast, Frank Fools Crow (Wanbli Mato – Eagle Bear) also a Teton Sioux or Oglala Lakota says:
“We have three Chief Gods like the Christians do. Wakan-Tanka is like the Father. Tunkashila is like the Son. The Powers [Four Directions] and Grandmother Earth together are like the Holy Spirit, and I call the five of them Wakan-Tanka’s Helpers. When I speak of all seven of the beings together, I sometimes call them the “Higher Powers”. When I pray with my pipe I point the stem up to Wakan-Tanka, then just a little lower to Tunkashila. But Wakan-Tanka and Tunkashila think, act and watch over us as one. So there is only one God. Whenever I say, Wakan-Tanka, I mean Tunkashila too.”
So Wakan-Tanka is God, and God is also Great Spirit, Tirawa, Biame, Rainbow Serpent, Wanjina, Odin, Unumbotte’, Vishnu, Shiva, Tao, Sila, Hactcin, Zeus, Yehwah, Creator, Universal Energy etc. And as Sri Chinmoy, the meditation master born in Bengal and now living in New York, says in his book ‘The Wings Of Joy’:
“We may also refer to God as the Inner Pilot or the Supreme. But no matter which term we use, we mean the Highest within us, that which is the ultimate goal of our spiritual quest.”
And we reach this goal or feed the Highest within us, by praying, meditating and giving sacred and sincere reverence and respect to all God’s creation (All Our Relations) including our own body, mind and soul.