In Chaim Potok’s My Name is Asher Lev and John G. Neihardt’s Black Elk Speaks, the main characters, Asher Lev and Black Elk each go through a spiritual journey. Various aspects of their religious journeys have similarities and differences, but all of them can be connected to religious symbols or practices in the traditions that are exemplified within each text. Both of these characters have a dream or a vision that guides them throughout their respective stories, they each stray from their spiritual path at one point, and Asher finds a way to connect his spirituality with other aspects of his life while Black Elk fails to. In both novels, the spiritual journeys are started by a dream or a vision. For Asher Lev, his mythic ancestor, who is his great-great-grandfather, is a constant reminder of his religious path, appearing to him during the times of spiritual struggle that he experiences. After Asher paints the crucifix, he encounters inner turmoil because of the contradictions with his religion. His mythic ancestor comes to him in a dream, “He opened his mouth to speak . . . He smiled sadly and beckoned to me and disappeared into the trees” ( Potok 343) in response to Asher’s painting. There is clear disappointment in his dream about his mythic ancestor. The crucifix is of particular importance to Asher’s family history, as his grandfather was killed by a drunken peasant the night before Easter (Potok 117), and the crucifix represents Easter within the Christian traditions. As a result of Asher painting the crucifix and his mythic ancestor appearing to him shortly after, it shows the connection between Asher’s dreams of his ancestor and his personal life and that they’re reflective of one another. In Black Elk’s case, his first spiritual vision came to him as a child. He is given a specific journey by the Six Grandfathers, the Thunderbeings, who want him to rejuvenate his nation and give them a new life, “‘Give them now the flowering stick that they may flourish, and the sacred pipe that they may know the power that is peace, and the wing of the white giant that they may have endurance and face all winds with courage’”(Neihardt 34). He has been assigned the task of taking care of his people. This is connected to many religious symbols within the Lakota traditions. The Grandfathers gave him gifts, and each gift has a different significance: he is given the pipe with the bison on it, and that symbolizes the purification of the mouth; once it has been smoked from, only the truth can be spoken, he is given a bow and arrow as well as water from another Grandfather, symbolizing the power to destroy and the power to bring life, and from yet another Grandfather, he is given the healing herb of power. Additionally, later on we learn that a performance must be done in order to get the vision moving along, as Black Elk says of someone who has a vision “is not able to use the power of it until he has performed the vision on earth for the people to see” (Neihardt 204), suggesting that spreading the knowledge around to all the people, and notifying them that one of them has had a vision is crucial to getting the vision fulfilled. Ceremonies are done for all sorts of reasons, and all have religious significance, as there are ceremonies done before battle, and for every vision that is received, “Indians were . . . [dancing] everywhere” (Neihardt 249). The combination of the religious symbols given to Black Elk by those who guide his spiritual journey, as well as the religious traditions they act upon all play a part in his spiritual quest. Both Asher Lev and Black Elk have a dream or a vision in which helps keep them guided to their spiritual journey, and in Black Elk’s case, his spiritual duty assigned to him. Judaism, Christianity and Lakota traditions have important significances in the spiritual journeys of their respectful novels....
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