Black Elk Speaks
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Black Elk Speaks

4.11 of 5 stars 4.11  ·  rating details  ·  8,086 ratings  ·  363 reviews
Black Elk Speaks is a 1932 book by John G. Neihardt, an American poet and writer, who relates the story and spirituality of Black Elk, an Oglala Lakota medicine man. It was based on conversations by Black Elk with the author and translated from Lakota into English by Black Elk's son, Ben Black Elk, who was present during the talks. Neihardt transformed his notes to convey...more
Paperback, 238 pages
Published 1972 by Pocket Books (first published 1932)
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Joan DeArtemis
This was my third time reading this book, and every time I come away with something new. I highly recommend this to anyone studying religion. I highly recommend this book to every single American citizen. It should be required reading in public schools. The Lakota people have a vibrant, exciting, living religious tradition, and the fact that Black Elk's story was recorded is a gem and a blessing. Not only is it because of the religious tradition is this book important. It is also important becau...more
Amy
Grandfather, Great Spirit, once more behold me on earth and lean to hear my feeble voice. You lived first, and you are older than all need, older than all prayer. All things belong to you --- the two-leggeds, the four-leggeds, the wings of the air and all green things that live. You have set the powers of the four quarters to cross each other. The good road and the road of difficulties you have made to cross; and where they cross the place is holy. Day in and day out, forever, you are the life o...more
Paul
I read an edition of this book which lists where the contents of Black Elk's telling of this portion of his life was greatly enhanced emotionally and symbolically by Neihardt. Were I not aware of these changes until after reading it, I would feel cheated and as though this book were a fake. Despite these added notes, however, the book is still fantastic, most of the perversion of the text being whiny, emotional additions and romantic lamentations Neihardt adds in his cultural guilt and ethical f...more
MaryEllen
I read the Premier Edition, which is wonderfully annotated with historical references and clarifications on the interpretations and additions that are Neihardt's and not in the transcripts of Black Elk's words. I have had this on my "to read" list for years — everything in its time. I read this while in the Black Hills of South Dakota, Black Elk's homeland. It seemed especially powerful to read it in the very hills where he lived and walked, had visions, dreams, and went about the work of a holy...more
C.g. Ayling
“History is written by the victors, not by the vanquished.”

Rarely do we have an opportunity to view history from the perspective of the vanquished. “Black Elks Speaks”, by John Neihardt, gives us another window through which we may look at the past. Neihardt’s window shows us a completely different view of history. A view in which honor and dignity belongs not to the victors, but to the vanquished.

“Black Elk Speaks” grants a Lakota medicine man named Black Elk a voice, and every reader an opport...more
Barnaby Thieme
John Heihardt's classic is a problematic read to be sure. On the one hand, Neihardt was a sympathetic interlocutor who elicited a fascinating account from an extraordinary man who lived through several major episodes in late-19th-century history. On the other hand, his poetic pretensions led him to rearrange and dress up that testimony, adorning it with his own mediocre neo-Romantic insight, and altogether distorting the historical and cultural record.

Readers of Black Elk Speaks may be surprise...more
Carolyn
This expands my knowledge of the Native American culture. Black Elk's vision of the sacred tree and the hoop tend to go along with some of my thoughts. However his vision was from a very masculine perspective and had only little reference to the feminine aspects. Black Elk lived in the time of the battle of The Little Big Horn and the slaughter at Wounded Knee. He went to Europe with Buffalo Bill and met Queen Victoria. His experiences with the Ghost Dance were intriguing. The fact that he ended...more
Liz
At first glance, this is an interesting book, though personally not particularly my favorite topic. But if you look further into the book, there are just too many discrepancies between Black Elk's life and the story that is written. In writing a life-history it is very important to take into consideration the producer (Neihardt) and the process, in order to understand the product. Neihardt sought Black Elk because Neihardt was writing an epic poem, and he needed to talk to an old spiritual leade...more
Matt
Black Elk’s was an atypical member of the Sioux Nation, due in large part to his youthful visions and eventual emergence as a Sioux Medicine man with prophetic and healing powers. His remarkable experiences provide a deep insight into the Sioux relationship with nature. By the time John Nehring, author of Black Elk Speaks, interviews Black Elk, he is near the end of his life. Black Elk is risking much in revealing the sacred details of his life story to a white man, but feels it necessary in ord...more
John
This is the story of the life of the Oglala Sioux holy man and the ways, culture and late 19th century history of his and surrounding Native American tribes. This was told by Black Elk himself to the author. Black Elk had a vision as a young boy while very sick that influenced him throughout his life. The book’s descriptions of his unfolding interpretation of this vision and his experience of the difficult events marking the history of the USA’s relationship with native Americans provides insigh...more
Brandon
wha? i read this in a class where the blond/blue eyed professor thought he was native american.
Derek Davis
There's a danger when the words of a native are arranged and tidied by a non-native that you can end up with a strange and suspicious amalgam. Though Neihardt did not speak Black Elk's Lakota dialect and Black Elk spoke no English, I don't see that here. If Neihardt embellished or skewed, he left no traces. What we are left with are the reminiscences of an aged, dispirited but honest and upright Native American who lived through the worst of our country's almost indifferent genocidal onslaught y...more
Karen
Although this work was produced under conditions that make a modern historian cringe (Black Elk to translator to transcriber to editor - decades after the events), it remains a core work for both modern natives and historians alike. Black Elk was one of the most influential natives of his generation and this story, recorded when it was, helped to bridge the gap of knowledge and declining native spirituality across the 'lost generations' of the reservation and boarding school Indians through to t...more
Laura Cowan
I'm not really sure I have words to describe what this book means to me. It is just an autobiography of a Sioux holy man, and yet it is a blueprint of the mystic life in any culture that honors the spiritual world at the source of their lives. I'm not that surprised any more, after reading other stories like this, that it lines up with my own experience of the spiritual realm so well, because it is the same spiritual world. But from the description and timing of Black Elk's visions, even down to...more
Laura (booksnob)
John G. Neihardt met Black Elk in 1930. When they met, Black Elk recognized Niehardt as the man he must teach his vision to, so that it might be saved before he died. Niehardt reflects, "His chief purpose was to 'save his Great Vision for men.'"pg. xix At this time Black Elk was old, going blind and he lived on the Pine Ridge Reservation where the Wounded Knee Massacre took place in 1890. Black Elk was a holy man, a visionary and a healer. He was also related to Crazy Horse through his father.

B...more
karlito delacasa
"Vous avez remarqué que toute chose faite par un indien est dans un cercle. Nos tipis étaient ronds comme des nids d'oiseaux et toujours disposés en cercle. Il en est ainsi parce que le pouvoir de l'Univers agit selon des cercles et que toute chose tend à être ronde. Dans l'ancien temps, lorsque nous étions un peuple fort et heureux, tout notre pouvoir venait du cercle sacré de la nation, et tant qu'il ne fut pas brisé.

Tout ce que fait le pouvoir de l'Univers se fait dans un cercle. Le ciel est...more
Gail
What a powerful story. Black Elk agreed to interviews with the author, and revealed for the first time a series of visions he had while ill as a 9-year-old child. He carried the weight of the visions for the remainder of his life, and continued to experience visions for most of his adult life. Black Elk describes, with help from some old friends present during some of the interviews, the coming of white settlers to the land held by native Americans, the selling out of some tribal leaders and the...more
Leisa

I don't exactly know how to 'star' this book, so I won't.

All of the metaphorical + verbal clichés used relative to the time period this was written in are extremely annoying to read repeatedly & makes this feel even more inauthentic & embellished than I already know it is.
A Native American man who could not speak English would not be speaking in these clichés that were completely foreign to him & his culture. Not only is this annoying to me, it is offensive. Even though Black Elk's...more
Kat
Mar 21, 2008 Kat rated it 5 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Americans
Shelves: 5-stars
I'm trained to be suspicious of stories like this: an old Lakota shaman decides to tell all about his previously secret visions to a white poet so he can write them in English and publish them. ??! But a shallow-digging internet search does not turn up anything suggesting against this, so okay.

So, okay. Black Elk fought in the Battle of the Little Bighorn AND the Wounded Knee Massacre, AND travelled to Europe with Buffalo Bill's Wild West Show, AND he was a powerful shaman who was taken on numer...more
David Monroe
The story of an Oglala Souix Shaman, Black Elk, cousin of Crazy Horse. He witnessed the battles of Big Horn and Wounded Knee. He tells his story through a translator, to the poet Neihardt.

I read this in High School and again when I worked as the historian for the Pres. Benjamin Harrison Home. Harrison was the Pres. during the Wounded Knee battle and I needed to refresh the story and started an educational program using some quotes from this, Harrison letters, tlelgrams, news paper reports, ets....more
Rob
this is one of those books that would be sort of boring if it were fiction. but knowing that it is the true, personal account of Black Elk, a real native american holy man, makes it somehow become somewhat amazing. an interesting feature is that most of the story is from the childhood of black elk, so the descriptions of battles and massacres are told as he remembers experiencing them through the eyes of a child. i especially loved his profoundly human descriptions of some of the famous warriors...more
Phillip
"Black Elk Speaks" Is an enthralling look at the last American Indian Wars through they eyes of a participant. Through his narrative we see the end of the tribal way of life as bit by bit it became hampered by American expansionism. Black Elk’s is more than the story of a warrior. He was more importantly a medicine man and he includes in his narrative several of his spiritual visions; visions as poetic, vivid, and mystifying as some to be founnd in the Bible. This is the sort of book that, for r...more
Scott
I really enjoyed this book. And I believed it. I mean I believed that Black Elk really had these visions and performed these wonders. There does seem to be a spiritual power and insight revealed in this book, one which resonated with me, but which I had not experienced articulated before.

Of course, it is also a sad book, relating the history of the Lakota in the final decades of the 19th century. But, especially as we see the implosion of our own culture, one wonders if the Lakota vision isn't...more
Jazmin
‘Black Elk Speaks’ was extremely insightful and also a very powerful read. Although I’ve never been one for religion, this book really struck a chord. Not only did this book revise my opinion of religion but it also gave contributed to my knowledge of Native American culture. Because this is non-fiction it brings us to a new factor of awe as you start reading this book.

The setting is in 1920 at the Pine Ridge Reservations, with prior acceptance from the Bureau of Indian Affairs. This was a par...more
Asta Garmon
I just couldn't get into this story. The trance/dream at the beginning was incredibly long and confusing. The stories about what day-to-day life was like as a plains India was fascinating but there wasn't a strong enough plot line or character development to really pull me in.
Frannie Cheska
i read this book for an ethnic studies class i am taking. its very interesting to disect everything written and trying to really comprehend what it means. very much enjoyed it and want to discuss more on it. not something i would understand without discussions.
Dan Shonka
This is an outstanding book of historical significance. Black Elk lived through Custer's Last Stand at Little Big Horn. He lived through the massacre at Wounded Knee. He was related to Crazy Horse. All of these stories and their details are great, but I really enjoyed the theology of it. The descriptions of the visions, and the dances were enthralling. John Neihardt added some embellishments, and that's a shame. But the words of Black Elk weave stories that really resonate with me. Honestly, I f...more
Denise
(from inside flap): Black Elk Speaks is the story of the Lakota visionary and healer Nicholas Black Elk (1863–1950) and his people during the momentous twilight years of the nineteenth century. Black Elk met the distinguished poet, writer, and critic John G. Neihardt (1881–1973) in 1930 on the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota and chose Neihardt to tell his story. Neihardt understood and conveyed Black Elk’s experiences in this powerful and inspirational message for all humankind.

When Black...more
Dane O'Leary
This book is quite enlightening on the more romantic concept of Sioux and Native American culture. The problem I have is that Neihardt exaggerates the separation between Black Elk and capitalist society; he prefers to describe in vivid detail the spiritual visions Black Elk has throughout his life rather than spend too much time explaining that Black Elk works a wage labor job or than he fought with guns (evidence of participation in the 'white man's' society). It's unfortunate that Neihardt omi...more
Chuck Engelhardt
This is another one of those books that I had a hard time rating. Ultimately I couldn't overlook the poor writing. John G. Neihardt records Black Elk's story which as part of the process is translated from Ogalala Souix to English. The problem is that Black Elk had an amazing story to tell, but the translation was choppy and, well, plain vanilla. I picked up the book because my daughter spent a brief time out at Pine Ridge with the Lakota and I was hoping to learn more about them, I did. As I re...more
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connection of black elk to mother nature 12 19 Jun 29, 2013 07:20AM  
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“Crazy Horse dreamed and went into the world where there is nothing but the spirits of all things. That is the real world that is behind this one, and everything we see here is something like a shadow from that one.” 63 likes
“You have noticed that the truth comes into this world with two faces. One is sad with suffering, and the other laughs; but it is the same face, laughing or weeping. When people are already in despair, maybe the laughing face is better for them; and when they feel too good and are too sure of being safe, maybe the weeping face is better for them to see.” 28 likes
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