The elements (the bricks) of this marvelous dream-the tree at the world center, the crossing there of the two roads, the world hoop (+), the world mountain, the guides, the world guardians, and their tokens, magical powers, etc.–are such as are known to mythologies of many orders. The landscape and the animals involved, on the other hand, the colors and virtues of the four directions, the attitude toward nature and the supernatural, the high roles of the buffalo and the horse, the peace pipe, spotted eagle, etc., are of the architecture of the mythic world of the North American plains heritage. The intuition that gave rise to this vision in the mental sphere of a nine-year-old boy was personal, however: personal in the sense that no one else had ever had it, though collective indeed, not only in the sense that its imagery was archetypal, but also in that its prophecy was of the destiny, not merely of this boy, but of his folk. It was the foresight of an impending crisis, subliminally intuited, together with :, statement of the way it was to be met.
When he was seventeen years old, Black Elk translated a portion of this dream into a rite, a ceremonial for his people that was actually enacted. “A man who has a vision,” he explained, “is not able to use the power of it until after he has performed the vision on earth for the people to see.”59 Thus do mythologies and their rites arise. A ritual is the form through which one participates in a myth, partakes of it, gives oneself to it: and the myth is a group dream projected from the personal-collective vision of a seer: a gifted individual.
And this condition prevails even in such emphatically anti-individualistic mythological traditions as those of the Old Testament and Koran, where what are put forward as the source inspirations are not group experiences at all, but the voices heard and visions seen by individuals alone:
Abraham, hearing and heeding the voice of the Lord (Genesis 12); Jacob, dreaming his great dream of the heaven-ladder (Genesis 28); Moses and the burning bush, Moses on Mount Sinai (Exodus 3 and 19 ff.), Mohammed in his meditation cave (Koran, Sura 96). The usual Christian understanding of the “Good News” of Jesus, on the other hand, is that he who brought it–the Lamb of God–was an incarnation of the holy power itself, who had come into the world at the close of an old and opening of a new day: rather in the way of the very beautiful holy woman who came, as it were, from nowhere, in a strange and wonderful manner, with the gift of the Sacred Pipe-just when the Oglala Sioux were exchanging one manner of life (that of the forest) for another (that of the plains).
The vision of Black Elk was a foreview in the year 1873 of the next exchange before his people-from the hunt to agriculture (the buffalo to the sacred herb). The fair promise of his cult, however, was broken at the root, by force majeure, in the Year of Our Lord 1890, at Wounded Knee.
“Nothing I have ever seen with my eyes,” he said to his friend, at the age of sixty-eight, “was so clear and bright as what my vision showed me; and no words that 1 have ever heard with my ears were like the words 1 heard. 1 did not have to remember these things; they have remembered themselves all these years. It was as I grew older that the meanings came clearer and clearer out of the pictures and the words; and even now 1 know that more was shown to me than I can tell.” (FWG 91-92)