I have been asked to explain my faith. This is an attempt to explain it as best I can. Our beliefs, our ways and how we lived our faith. There is one creator, he is and always has been and all creation is from and of him. We call him the Great Spirit Father most often. But we call him other things. Like He who is, The Great Spirit, Creator (often Great is found before Creator but not always. There are many titles but most often Spirit Father or Great Spirit Father is used to pray.
We pray directly to this Father. He is not a stranger to his creation. He is in everything and everything is in him. This is the faith of the Lakota. We believe the Creator is only one, not many.
You will see people say we prayed to animal spirits, this is out right false. We honor the animals we kill and I explain this later. We also assign what is called an animal spirit guide. In reality it is no spirit and no animal. My “animal spirit guide” is a wolf. That is because of my personality and personal strengths and not because some wolf spirit comes to me. Though Lakota speak in visual terms.
I might describe a dream by starting my wolf spirit was seen before me and I felt fear. It is a means to express my dreams or thoughts of something bad to come or a bad feeling. But it is never an actual animal spirit. And we certainly don’t pray to them.
So here it is. A brief overview 50,000 foot look at Lakota and faith.
Lakota Spirituality is based on the world view that everything is One and that all Creation is related. One god the Great Spirit Father created all for himself and Creation was born from his energy and thought.
This is what the Lakota People mean by the phrase – Mi takuye Oyasin (all my relations)
Because the Lakota People always felt themselves to be a part of the Greater Whole, they never put themselves above any other part of Creaton. We are not the masters of Creation we are part of it.
In the Beginning all the different races were given their own way to pray to the Creator. However, a lot of people are suffering today because they have lost their Way. Even Lakota Spirituality is threatened because of fewer and fewer Lakota people speak their own language or participate in the old ceremonies.
The belief that we are all one runs deep in the Lakota. All energy comes from the creator. And all energy is returned to him. All things exist in harmony and a circle.
Lakota Thought and Philosophy
The Lakota world view is complex and not completely under-stood by none speakers because it embraces closeness to nature, the spiritual realm and kinship to all life forms; and because the people truly believe in this, they walk a fine line between what is above and what is below. The Lakota children, from the time they deliver the first kick in the womb, are reared and taught morals and behavior through symbols, spoken words and rituals that best convey the philosophy of the nation/people. These symbols, words and rituals show how the people are close to nature, the spiritual realm and kinship to all life. This prepares the children and the people to begin living in harmony with what is above and what is below.
The Circle is important symbol to Lakota
- The circle has no beginning or ending
- It represents immortality and infinity
- It represents security because everyone or anything in a circle is protected
- The system of counting is in cycles or in circles
- The system of pictograph writing involves the use of spirals and circles
- Lakota logic is circular as opposed to linear
- The circle represents the flow of all things
Concept of the Circle
- The Universe is round
- Everything comes in cycles or stages of a circle
- All heavenly bodies are basically circular sun, moon, other planets and stars
- The earth is round
- All life forms have round bodies and limbs
- Camps are circular
- Energy is circular
- Life is circular
The creator created the universe, he wrapped it in his arms with his fingers touching forming a circle to protect his creation and hold it to him. His energy and thought created the universe circle, galaxies within as circles, solar systems within those as circles, planets within those as circles and life giving stars as circles. These circles represent every aspect of everything to Lakota.
Because of the belief in a circle all faith and morals of the Lakota are circle. You are energy known to the creator, you are conceived and born, you live, you die and you return to the creator. This energy is in all things he created, big and small and all things return to him, There is no death that is permanent inside the circle.
We see how life is a circle and it is true of animals. People say we worship them because we pray for them. When Lakota kill an animal we do two things. One we thank the animal and promise to use its flesh wisely. Two we pray the animal’s energy is returned to the creator with our thanks.
Why would we thank the animal? It has given up its energy for us so that we may live. It is part of the circle, part of everything in creation. We share kinship with animals in they are his creation too. We understand the animals are food but they are more than food, they are our brothers and sisters in creation. Because the creator made them they are to be respected.
Why pray for the animal it has no soul as we do? It still has a life and energy from the creator. To not thank the creator for his gift and humbly return the energy with thanks is to disgrace creation and the creator. We pray for wisdom to use his gift of this flesh wisely as to kill as little as possible. We use the skins for clothing and shelter. The bones are used as armor. The flesh is consumed. Every once of the animal which can be used is used. Anything less is not respectful.
The plants are energy and also circle. They are seed, planted and watered, they grow, they produce food, and they die after producing more seeds. They are reborn the next year new because of the perfect circle. They also are part of creation and in respect we hold two celebrations. One pre-harvest to ask for a good crop and the other after harvest to thank the creator for our bounty.
As part of respecting the circle of the plant we save seeds for next year. We pray before we eat the food of the plants. We thank the Great Father for his gift of seed and the food it has given us. This honors the energy in creation and reminds us the earth has given us substance.
The earth is certainly part of creation. It has an energy of its own. This is why my people believed in leave no trace. When we set up a temporary camp we made sure our fire was safe and would cause no harm. We made sure to disturb as little of the earth as possible. We take only what wood is needed for our fire. We choose sick trees to leave the healthy.
Even the earth has energy which is part of the circle of creation. We are to respect it always.
When we break camp we clean the ground, leaving no trash, litter or damage behind. We take apart the fire pit and stack the rocks so they may be reused the next time. We spread the ash to return the wood to the forest. We cover the fire hole leaving no trace of scorched earth.
Do you see all things are a circle? The like the creator are infinite and without beginning and without an end. All creation is one circle and within are circles and more within those. Because creation is as the creator, a perfect design.
The Lakota the circle is spiritual, assemblies of the great council are circles. The assemblies of the tribe are a circle. The Tipi is a circle, family life is a circle.
The circle is the most profound symbol in the Lakota culture. Being keen observers, the oyate (people) realized the circle appears on many things no matter where you look in the world and beyond our world. The Sun is round. The Moon is round. The Earth is round. The seasons follow each other in a perpetual circle. And life itself is a circle, from existence before, to birth, to childhood, to adulthood, to old age, to death, and beyond death upon returning to our creator. Even death is defeated because another is born to take the place of the one that is gone. It is for this seemingly endless circle of life that the Lakota sometimes call their existence “the hoop.”
If you have ever seen a Lakota dream catcher they are circles. The dream catcher is a symbol of the dream of creation and reminds us to be aware we are part of the greater circle. We dance in a circle, our games, and hunting strategies are circular. We pray in groups around a fire in a circle. All things are based in the round to represent the circle of all things in creation.
The symbol of the circle also suggests the concept of family. The traditional Lakota family is called tiyospaye and includes extended family – aunts, uncles, grandfathers, grandmothers, cousins and friends that were “made family.” So one is a member of an immediate family, a broader circle of family and finally, the entire nation. Beyond that is the circle of the universe, which includes plants, animals, rocks, stars and all things, which also are considered “family.”
This circle can be seen as one cohesive, harmonious organism that can be summed up as “life.” The phrase “all my relatives” is common and heard often, and explains simply but profoundly the concept of interrelated being.
The words of Lame Deer (a cripple born who became chief) on the subject of the circle…
“With us the circle stands for the togetherness of people who sit with one another around a fire, relatives and friends united in peace, while the pipe passes from hand to hand. All the families in the village were in turn circles within a larger circle, part of the larger hoop of the nation. The nation was only a part of the universe, in itself circular…circles within circles within circles, with no beginning and no end. To us this is beautiful and fitting, symbol and reality at the same time, expressing the harmony of nature and life. Our circle is timeless, flowing; it is new life emerging from death – life winning out over death. Even death is not the end but only a piece of the circle of one life. Reborn to eternity the circle of life completed with the Great Father in his perfect circle.”
The Lakota cared for the lame among them, from cripple born to gravely injured. Because all are part of the circle and we are not to question creation by stepping outside his intended circle. We are to live at peace within his intended circle and honor his creation because everything is part of him and the energy of his creation. Every person, animal, tree, plant, grain of sand and every drop of water. He is found in everything and everything is in his mighty and perfect circle.
I am open to more specific questions should you care to know more. I hope I explained the circle completely and that we believe in one single creator who always has been and is the “Miye Hca“ I am or Great Spirit Father.
I will leave you with a quote to illustrate the reverence for life. As you can see Crazy Horse (A great leader and war chief) did not like killing. He knew each death, even those trying desperately to commit genocide against his people injured the Great Spirit Father. He does not desire war for us. He wishes peace for all things and in all things. But Crazy Horse did what he must to preserve the circle of his people. But it weighed on his heart.
“There are many forces and different directions that can help or interfere with the harmony of nature and also with the Great Spirit Father and all of his wonderful teachings. Be mindful or your place and intention within the circles you travel. I do not take life even in war with a light heart. For every death injures the Great Spirit Father and breaks his intended circle. I do what I must to defend my people at great cost to harmony. I wish there was another way.” ~Crazy Horse on war and killing the pale faced ones.
How can you sum up a persons complicated and entire faith in 2,000 words. I hope I did it justice.