Lakota spirituality is dependent on the individual visions that define a person’s identity, beliefs, and future. These dreams are repeatedly discussed among the people, often inspiring new songs & dances, many of which become a part of new and existing spiritual societies once the dreamer begins living these visions.
Among the spiritual leaders of the Lakota, the most famously distributed is Black Elk (most commonly known by this name). His visions and perspectives are enshrined in several books that have guided modern spirituality after the onset of Christianity. It is important to make the distinction that Christianity heavily influenced Black Elk and many other modern-day spiritual leaders, including the evolution of the language, most especially in the spiritual context.
The most egregious examples of Christianized Lakota are Thunkášila and Wakȟáŋtȟaŋka. Both of these terms have been used interchangeably to represent a single God or Creator when they actually refer to the original ones––Thunkášila being most closely related to what we would define today as atoms––and the universe––Wakȟáŋtȟaŋka being all of creation that is and ever was; the Lakota creator spirit was Iŋyáŋwakȟaŋ.
Furthermore, many spiritual leaders use these Christianized understandings when conducting ceremony and skew the original meanings behind the spirituality. Many others use the spirituality as a means to gain profit, often taking advantage of desperate, non-native individuals searching for a meaning in this world.
There are spiritual leaders who abide by the old traditions with a profound respect for individual identity and visions, but they are extremely humble and hard to find. One must go to them to find teachings––they profess that this must be so in order to protect the spirituality from bastardization and thievery by non-native people––I respectfully disagree.
Sharing individual perspectives is the only way to bring traditional spirituality back to the people, as was done long before the onset of European colonization.
Spirituality evolves over time when individual visions are fulfilled through ceremony and demonstrations that the people take witness of. These displays of spiritual power, song, and dance are cornerstones to: the evolutionary development of knowledge, bonding individuals to one another, the recognition of family members’ rights and respect for such rights, and building alliances within and outside of the individual clans. Lakota spirituality evolves from a plethora of individual visions into a conjoined understanding of life on this planet.
I am a firm believer in science, which is often inspired by spirituality and fiction. Science and spirituality are not separate from one another––I found science to be a wonderful way to understand the magical powers that are seen in ceremony (i.e. medicine) ––that being said, it is for the individual to discover these intrigues through either spoken word or research investigation. It is not my intent here to elaborate on science and mystery, however it is my goal to educate and inform.
All of my understandings on spirituality are from my experiences, dreams, and teachings on and off the reservations in South Dakota. I will now explain my understandings of the Two-Spirit (Wíčákte Oyáte) societies.
In traditional times, the people understood sexuality in terms of spirituality. There were two types of sexual orientations that were observed––heterosexual and homosexual. Heterosexuality was, and still is, the most common form of sexuality on the planet; it was also understood to be the most common form of sexuality, of which most medicines are derived. Homosexuality, whether it be male-male or female-female, was understood to be contrary medicine.
Gender was understood in three forms: man, woman, and transsexual. The third form was understood to be extremely rare and directly linked to the creator spirit Iŋyáŋwakȟaŋ who had no gender. A modern, western attribution for the trans community and beyond is known today as two-spirited––having more than one spirit within a single human body.
I claim no experience with two-spirit medicine as it is traditionally understood, since I am a Gay/Bisexual man, and my spiritual society is that of the Heyókȟa––on the contrary, the modern LGBT+ community throughout the American continent have embraced the term Two-Spirit as an umbrella identifier for the community at-large; I now carry a sacred pipe (čhaŋnúŋpa yuhá) that is two-spirited as per a vision I had. Gay and Lesbian individuals are understood to be two-spirited in modern Lakota spirituality, but it is their choice whether or not to embrace that.
The history behind this evolution is much more convoluted and less victorious than it would seem. Wičákte medicine was, and still is, severely persecuted by bigotry, hatred, misunderstanding, and fear, to name a few, mostly spearheaded by the Catholic missionaries that were given domain over the tribal communities nationwide. Most Two-Spirits were killed or driven out of the community entirely as a direct result of Christian adulteration on Lakota spirituality and language. The term Wíŋkte became a nasty derogation used against LGBT+ individuals starting in the 1800’s and is still used this way today; an entire spiritual society was wiped out and forced into hiding.
To my knowledge there are few to none Wičákte spiritual leaders that exist today, at least none that are educated in the differences/evolution from traditional understandings and teachings to modern interpretations. I am sure that there will be many more people coming into a place of spiritual leadership with their own interpretations on Wičákte medicine as they understand it, however, I urge caution to anyone searching these individuals out. More often than not, there will be a Christian influence that permeates through their teachings.
It is fair to acknowledge what I stated previously in this paper––spirituality is shaped by individual visions and demonstrations of those visions for the people. It is also fair to say that knowledge without wisdom is a dangerous endeavor, urging awareness on behalf of the participants who witness these displays of power. For example, if one were to choose to participate in a purification, sweat-lodge ceremony (Inípi), then I would advise them to know the rules before entering and know their individual limits.
An important facet of any spirituality is acceptance with skepticism. I expect nothing less than for the readers of this paper to be skeptical and maintain a healthy fear of spirituality. Keeping an open heart is imperative to debate, and the individual must decide for themself where to align their journey on the pathways of spirituality.
Again, I don’t portend to know what others have dreamed, only what I have been taught and have seen in my own visions, and as an academic (wíyukčaŋtháŋka), I feel compelled to share my knowledge on the subjects to which I am informed––the knowledge that belongs to all people, especially that pertaining to the community I belong. Wičákte Oyáte…all under one umbrella, and so closely tied; sibling societies within the same community, under different names, but with one unified goal––acceptance and understanding to live our lives happily and freely according to our own dreams and visions.