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Black Elk III
The fourth sacred rite of the Lakota is the sun dance and once again it is reminiscent of the Tungus Shaman. The dance is conducted around a tree or a pole that symbolizes the tree. In Lakota cosmology, the tree represents the center of the universe.
It is possible to draw parallels between the tree in the Lakota sun dance and the shaman tree of the Tungus shamans. It is difficult to speculate if Black Elk ascended a shaman tree during his life-threatening illness or otherwise but it is an accepted principle among Tungus shamans that a shaman acquires his or her abilities to see and communicate with spirits after he or she ascends the shaman tree. The top of the tree or its highest tier according to Siberian folklore is occupied by Gods of the highest level.
Among Yakutian (Siberian) shamans, each shaman is allotted his or her own tree and the well-being of the shaman is dependent on the tree. Chopping down the tree spells death for the shaman. In some instances, dead shamans are entombed in the hollow of a tree and this it is where the shaman’s spirit resides i.e. it becomes the shaman’s spirit tree.
In Altai shamanic circles the tree is symbolic of the world’s center and the tree is the dwelling place of many magical animals and each of these animals have a specific function. Like spirit guides, they have the ability to foretell the future, determine destinies and act as celestial guardians.
Sitting perched on the upper boughs of this tree are two birds who call out the days of the living and who have the ability to see where the spirits of the dead will go following their demise. In the middle branches sit two silver clawed eagles that act as guardians of the living. These eagles also call out to lost heroes directing them as to the proper cause of action.
At the base of this tree there are two black dogs, with flashing eyes that gaze constantly at the underworld. Altai folklore also suggests that all trees have spirits for example when a hero in an epic poem leaves his son in the care of the spirits of the birch trees.
Trees are also worshiped in Mongolian shamanic circles. These trees are like normal trees i.e. they are not the dwelling places of spirits but by virtue of worshipping these trees one is blessed with good fortune and therefore it is possible to say that it is the spirit of the tree as opposed to the spirits of the heavenly deities that reside on the tree that bring about a turn of good fortune.
It is also possible to equate the tree with the Hungarian Tree of life and draw inferences from the legend of the sky high tree. Interestingly enough the legend also mentions a horned buffalo. According to the legend the tree is divided into many tiers and the highest tier is occupied by the legendary bird-hawk, Turul, and other celestial and heavenly beings.
As a matter of interest it is import to realize that shamans are divide into white shamans and black shamans i.e. those that commune with white spirits and those that commune with dark spirits and as a result most shamans draw their energies from one source or another.
It is also further possible to surmise that the strength of the spirit that guides the shaman depends on the tier it occupies i.e. the higher the spirit is on the tree, the stronger its abilities and these are the spirits that guide warriors through the valley of dreams during vision quest or the seeking of visions.
The sun dance reaffirms the connection between spirits and nature. The dance is held every summer on the day of the full moon and is blessed by the radiance of Celeste. The festivities are accompanied by music and dance and various plain bands gather to perform during the dance. It is from all accounts a lively and entertaining occasion.
Dancers, pledge to make offerings of their flesh to strengthen the nation and to fulfill personal vows. The choice to participate is always at the discretion of the dancer and it is usually the result of receiving a sacred dream. It is also sometimes undertaken to seek the assistance of spiritual entities in healing a sick loved one.
© 2017 Kathiresan Ramachanderam and Dyarne Jessica Ward