By Dr. CHARLES A. EASTMAN.
THE tendency of the uncivilized and untutored mind is to recognize the Deity through some visible medium. The soul has an inborn consciousness of the highest good or God. The aborigines of our country illustrate this truth. I wish to write of the mythology of the Sioux nation, more particularly that portion of the tribe dwelling east of the Missouri River, with which I am very familiar, although the others are not distinctively different in their religious customs.
The human mind, equipped with all its faculties, is capable even in an uncultured state of a logical process of reasoning. Freed from the burdensome theories of science and theology, it is impressed powerfully by God's omnipresence, omniscience, and omnipotence. Alexander Pope's worn-out lines—
"Lo, the poor Indian! whose untutored mind
Sees God in clouds and hears him in the wind "—
are true, in that the Indian recognized a power behind every natural force. He saw God, not only in the sky, but in every creation. All Nature sang his praises — birds, waterfalls, tree tops — everything whispered the name of the mysterious God.
The Indian did not trouble himself concerning the nature of the Creator. He was satisfied that there was a God, whose laws all must obey, and whom he blindly or instinctively worshiped as the "Great Mystery."
The relation between God and man he conceived from the analogy of Nature. His God is a gracious yet an exacting parent. He punishes both the disobedient and the evil-doer, and forgives and helps the penitent and the good. He hears prayers. He is called Wakantanka, or the Great Mystery. The word wakan means mystery or holy, and tanka means great, mighty, or supreme. Neither of the two words signifies spirit; however, it may imply that. The word wakan may also mean reverenced or sacred.
Before the coming of the missionaries the Sioux never prayed or gave any offering direct to God, except at a great feast once a year. It was believed that he was too great to be approached directly, but that a prayer or a gift through some of his attributes would reach him. The legend is that God occasionally descends to earth in the shape of some animal, or envelops himself in a great wind. If any person beholds his face he dies instantly, although the same person may be born again as a child and become a great "medicine man."