D. M. Dooling on the Lakota Sun Dance

Wicapaĥlokapi (pierced) Sun Dancers

Wicapaĥlokapi (pierced) Sun Dancers
Image credit: The Lodge of Šung'manitu-Išna

Last year [1977] we had the good fortune to be invited by a Lakota friend to a celebration of The Sun Dance about which Joseph Epes Brown has written in this issue. It was a serious event, not for tourists; there were police to turn away unauthorized persons. It was an unexpected mixture of old and new. People came in cars instead of (as it seemed they should) on horseback; a loudspeaker blared between chants of ritual songs. Here was no relic of the past preserved under glass; it was the old way, not quite the same but very much alive in modern dress. Over the loudspeaker, in English and Lakota: Would the woman who was menstruating please leave at once? Her presence was having a harmful effect on the dancers… There could be no doubt that everything in that charged atmosphere was shared by everyone. We, the onlookers in the brush shelter that circled the dancing space around the sacred tree, were also participants. Where there was a weakening in the shrilling whistles and the hard beat of the dancers’ feet under the pressure of the fierce sun, we danced behind them in the circle of branches to lend them strength. The medicine men cared for them constantly, dancing with them, gazing with them at the sun, brushing them with their eagle-wing fans to draw away weakness and touch them with the eagle’s soaring power. When the young men offered their flesh to the knife and thong, the trilling of the women sent joy and sorrow and triumph to meet each conquest of pain; the drums and chanting vibrated their exchange of energy. Nothing was explained; but we would never again need a definition of sacrifice.
D. M. Dooling in the “Focus” introduction to Parabola Volume III, Number 2, on the theme of “Sacrifice and Transformation”, (May 1978), p. 3.

D. M. Dooling Posted on behalf of D. M. Dooling on Wednesday, February 3rd, 2010 under Quotations.

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