The Ghost Dance

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The Ghost Dance

In January 1889, Wavoka, a Paiute Indian, had a revelation during a total eclipse of the sun. It was the genesis of a religious movement that would become known as the Ghost Dance. It was this dance that the Indians believed would reunite them with friends and relatives in the ghost world. The legend states that after prayer and ceremony, the earth would shatter and let forth a great flood that would drown all the whites and enemy Indians, leaving the earth untouched and as it was before the settlers came to America. The religion prophesied the peaceful end of the westward expansion of whites and a return of the land to the Native Americans.

The first dance was held by Wovoka in 1889. The ritual lasted five successive days, being danced each night and on the last night continuing until morning. Hypnotic trances and shaking accompanied this ceremony, which was supposed to be repeated every six weeks. The ceremony also had rhythmic drumming and introduced many new musical instruments into Indian religious ceremonies. In addition, both men and women participated in the dance, unlike other Indian religions in which men were the primary dancers, singers, and musicians.

Word spread quickly and the Utes, Bannocks, and Shoshone tribes accepted the Ghost Dance. Eventually, the plains tribes also accepted the Ghost Dance movement. The peaceful message of hope was uplifting to many Indians. It gave them a sense of hope that the progress of the white man would be stopped by the will of Nature. While adopting the movement, many tribes added specific customs and rituals that reflected the tribe's individuality. The Sioux, for instance, added two specific elements including the use of hypnosis to bring about trances as well as aid in communication with the dead, and Ghost...
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