Native American Tales

The Great Medicine Dance

The Great Medicine DanceThe Great Medicine Dance

Cheyenne

Tsis-tsistas have danced the great medicine dance for a long time. It represents the creation of the Universe by Maheo and his helper, Great Roaring Thunder. The dance is performed in times of starvation, distress, and death. The dance was brought to the people by Horns Standing Up.

A long time ago before the people had horses, there was a great starvation in the land. All there was to eat was old dried corn and dog. The men were hungry. They were each told to go to a woman and ask for food. One young man went to the wife of the chief and told her that they were to go on a great journey, right away, as the spirits had commanded. She went with him.

Along the journey, Horns Standing Up did not touch the wife of the chief. She asked him why and he told her that they would first go meet Maheo and afterwards would perform the action that would continue life on Earth. They eventually came to a hole in the side of the mountain with a rock in front of it. It was rolled aside. Inside was Maheo. Maheo spoke for four days to Horns Standing Up. Maheo said that by performing the great medicine dance many good things would happen. Horns Standing Up was given a hat called the issiwun which was to be worn while performing the dance, also known as the sun dance.

Horns Standing Up and the woman finally left to return to their people, but as they did buffalo streamed out of the hole in the side of the mountain. When they camped that evening they performed what would continue the existence of mankind. They finally made it home; they camped outside of the village the night they arrived. The next morning, they went into the village and Horns Standing Up wore his hat. He told them what they must do in order to do the dance properly. After the ceremony Horns Standing Up was officially called Horns Standing up because of the sacred hat.

Observations

This story is about the Sundance, it’s not just a city in Utah. It’s an actual ritual performed by multiple tribes in the Western United States, but mainly by the Sioux, or rather, it’s the most well-known Sundance that I know of. The Sioux version of the Sundance is bloody. It’s part of the ritual to pierce skin and even to bleed. Some of the dancers will actually be pierced multiple times on their chest or backs and will hang from those piercings. Sometimes part of the ritual is even to rip away from the piercings. It’s not something I like to think about.

It’s how they worship to an extent. Just because it’s different from what we’re used to, doesn’t mean it’s wrong. It’s just different.

The idea of fidelity in some Native American tribes is not as concrete as what Christians see as the idea of fidelity. I don’t know enough about it to make judgements, but just because you were the woman of so-and-so, doesn’t mean you were always the woman of so-and-so.

Themes

In times of hardship, the people turned towards religion. They made sacrifices and rituals to their gods when they were at the brink of destruction and they were saved. This story has been told over and over again in a multitude of ways in a multitude of religions. Things were tough for the people, but they prayed to god(s) and were instructed to perform X ritual in order to receive blessings, such as food. The people of Moses followed the Mosaic laws and made sacrifices in their temples. The Natives in this story performed the Sundance, which does involve a blood sacrifice in some tribes.

It’s a story of the down and out. When you’re at the bottom, you’ll do any amount of hoo-doo to creep up a little and if it happens to work and your god commanded it, then by all means, do it.

Look, if your lucky socks help you win the basketball game, or whatever, just wear them; it doesn’t matter if I believe in your socks or not. If the Sundance helps various native tribes, I don’t see why not to do it.

Overall

I wonder if the chief took his woman back?

Weigh In

Do you have things you do, that may not make sense, but you feel that they help you in some way?

Do you think an origin story would make you feel better about your personal ritual that doesn’t make sense to others?

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