Black Elk falls seriously ill when he is nine years old, and is confined to bed in his tipi. While lying there, he is approached by two men who come from the clouds, “headfirst, like arrows slanting down… Each [carrying] a long spear, and from the points of these a jagged lightning flashed.” These two Arrow Men hurry Black Elk to a small cloud which carries him into the sky. There he is greeted by a bay horse who tells him, “Behold me, my life history you shall see. Furthermore, behold them, those where the sun goes down, their lives’ history you shall see.” Black Elk later learns that the bay horse symbolizes Mother Earth, his guide for seeing into the future.
They are then joined by twelve black horses from the west, each wearing a necklace of buffalo hoofs, with swallows flying overhead; twelve white horses from the north wearing elk-tooth necklaces with white geese overhead; twelve sorrel horses from the east wearing horns [probably buffalo] with eagles flying overhead; and twelve buckskin horses from the south wearing horns [probably elk, with hawks overhead.] The bay horse then informs Black Elk that his grandfathers are having a council and these horses will take him there. As they start in procession to the council tipi, they are joined by millions of horses of every color which then transform into every animal imaginable. These animals then return to the four quarters of the earth.
Gift from the West Power. When Black Elk enters the cloud tipi, each of the grandfathers from the four directions bestows him with several gifts. The first to greet him is the Grandfather of the West. This grandfather gives him a cup of water and a bow and arrow, admonishing him to “Behold them, what I give you shall depend on, for you shall go against our enemies and you shall be a great warrior.” Grandfather then stands and runs toward the west, turning into a black horse as he goes. This black horse then becomes emaciated.
Gift from the North Power. Now, the Grandfather of the North stands and gives Black Elk an herb. When he holds it toward the sickly black horse, it becomes strong and fat once again. Grandfather of the North then tells Black Elk to “Behold mother earth, for you shall create a nation…you shall represent the wing [winged, or white goose] of the great giant [Wazia] that lives.” With this, Grandfather runs toward the north and becomes a white goose. Black Elk notes that this power of the north will enable him to make everyone cry as geese do when hardship, winter, is over. [Later in the vision, this same Grandfather gives Black Elk a brown cocoon and a red cocoon.]
Gift from the East Power. Next, Grandfather of the East gives Black Elk a peace pipe which has a spotted eagle outstretched on its stem, saying “Behold this, for with this you shall walk across the earth. Behold this, for with this whatever is sick on this earth you shall make well.”
Gift from the South Power. The fourth grandfather holds a stick which then begins to sprout leaves with birds singing in the new branches. “With this you shall brace yourself as a cane and thus your nation shall brace themselves with this as a cane and upon this cane you shall make a nation.” He tells Black Elk that the road from north to south, the red road for good spirits, is his nation. He also tells him that the black road (from east to west) of the Thunder beings will be his power to protect himself. In addition, Grandfather of the South tells Black Elk that these powers will be his for four generations, or approximately two hundred years.
Great Spirit Above. Now, Great Spirit Above (the fifth grandfather) stretches his hands out and becomes a spotted eagle, telling Black Elk “Behold them; they, the fowls of the universe, shall come to you. Things in the skies [stars] shall be like relatives. They shall take you across the earth with my power. Your grandfathers shall attack an enemy and be unable to destroy him, but you will have the power to destroy. You shall go with courage. This is all.”
The Sixth Grandfather. “Boy, take courage, you wanted my power on earth, so you shall know me. You shall have my power in going back to the earth. Your nation on earth shall have great difficulties. There you shall go. Behold me, for I will depart.” Black Elk watched this Grandfather leave the cloud tipi through the rainbow door. As he watched, this old man with white hair grew younger and younger, until he was Black Elk himself at nine years old.
Black Elk was unconscious for the twelve days during which he experienced this vision. In the remainder of the revelation, the Grandfathers repeated their offering of these same gifts a total of four times, but within a different context each time. Each of these presentations is quite complex and rich in Lakota symbolism. Virtually every word has a special meaning, and can be interpreted on many different levels.
Black Elk was shown the future, including the reservation period for his people, World War I and World War II. The Grandfathers warned Black Elk of a third World War, saying that there “will be a dispute all over the universe” and they gave him a powerful herb that “could destroy a nation.” [Black Elk referred to it as soldier weed, but it may also symbolize the Atomic bomb, as the Grandfathers instructed that he would be able to defend his people with it although it was extremely toxic to everything around.]
This Fourth Ascent, or the present generation, is the most exciting aspect of the prophecy. It is at this time that the Grandfathers showed Black Elk a beautiful future for the people of the world. Our current generation will begin an era of peace, for through the sacred Pipe “they shall have peace in everything.” The Grandfathers showed Black Elk that from the many nations, he would create One Nation -- “the continents of the world and the people shall stand as one.” The Grandfathers placed “the sacred stick into the center of the hoop” and told Black Elk that it would nurture and care for all people, and that through it humans would “communicate with our relatives – beast and bird – as one people.” Black Elk clarified that this stick was the cottonwood, the waga chun which is at the heart of the Sundance ceremony. This would seem to mean, then, that the Sun Dance will play a vital role in this transformation of human beings.
This era of peace and oneness is a part of virtually all indigenous prophecies, and this lends an added weight to Black Elk’s vision. His is not the only voice telling us that humans are preparing for a cosmogenesis. Mayan prophecies say that this will manifest by the year 2012. This cosmogenesis is a collective vision that has been given to many peoples, and we are extremely fortunate to be of the generation that will see this transformation of human beings into our higher selves. “Wolakota!”