Black Elk Speaks, an Autobiography and a Tribal History of Black Elk and the Lakota People

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Black Elk Speaks
Black Elk Speaks is an autobiography and a tribal history of Black Elk and the Lakota people. Throughout the book there are many elements of symbology such as important numbers, colors and animals. Most of the symbols are shown through Black Elk’s vision because this is the time where Black Elk is being told that he is destined to be a great power and leader to his people. Because of this many of the important symbols are used in the vision to explain the importance of the vision to Black Elk.

The numbers four, six, and twelve are shown throughout the book as important numbers through Black Elks vision and the importance of the peace pipe. In this paper I will show the importance of these numbers and colors to the Lakota people.

The number four seems to be a unifying source for the Lakota people. This is first shown in the first chapter with the offering of the pipe. The four ribbons attached to the pipe stand for the four directions. The black ribbon represents the West and is the source for rain. The white ribbon represents the North and is the source of the cleansing wind. The red ribbon represents the East and is the place of the morning star and the yellow ribbon represents the South and is the place of summer and growth.

“ But these four spirits are only one Spirit after all, and this eagle feather here is for that One...” (Ch.1 pg. 2)
This passage shows that the number four represents one unit. The four directions represents one world. One Great Spirit. This is also shown in the Great Vision Black Elk had.
“Then all the horses went into formation, four abreast - the blacks, the whites, the sorrels, and the buckskins....” (Ch.3 pg.20)
In the vision, Black Elk sees twelve of each group of horse who represent the four directions of the world. The horses line up with four in each line to lead Black Elk to the Grandfathers. This also represents the four coming together to create one. The four horses joined together to lead Black Elk to the Great Spirit.

There are twelve horses in each group. I believe that the twelve horses are there to represent the twelve moons of the year. The twelve horses unite together I believe to represent the year.
The number four and twelve are used in ways to unite. In that way the number four does not represent corners, such as a square, but rather a circle. The four groups of horses represent the four seasons. Spring turns into summer, summer into fall, fall in winter and winter back into spring. The seasons move in a circle. Also the number four represents the four directions which are also displayed in a circle in a compass.

The number four is also shown in the vision thorough the four virgins. When the four virgins and the four horses dance the village is restored to its regular nature and the people are happy again. This shows the spiritual nature of the number four to the Lakota people.

Also the number twelve denotes a circle as well through the year. January begins the year with December as the end of the year and once December ends January begins again. Whenever the number four or the number twelve are shown talked about in the book it is meant to represent a unification or a continuing loop.

Through the terminology Black Elk uses shows the Lakota believed that everything, living and spiritual was connected.
“It is the story of all life that is holy and is good to tell, and of us two-leggeds sharing in it with the four-leggeds and the wings of the air and all green things; for these are children of one mother and their father is one Spirit.” (Ch.1 pg.1)

Black Elk does not call the animals “animals” but rather “four-leggeds” and he does not call human beings people but rather “two-leggeds”. This shows that to Black Elk the only distinction or difference between people and animals is number of legs. As the quote shows, Black Elk sees all living creatures as part of the same entity and that they are all united in the Great Spirit. Also Black...
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