Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 46.djvu/99

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THE SIOUX MYTHOLOGY.

Before the advent of the white man these people believed that the earth was flat, with a circular form, and was suspended in a dark space, and sheltered by the heaven or sky in the shape of a hollow hemisphere. The sun was regarded as the father and the earth the mother of all things that live and grow; but as they had been married a long time and had become the parents of many generations, they were called the great-grandparents. As far as I can judge, the moon seemed to be their servant; at least, she was required to watch, together with her brothers, the stars, over the sleeping universe, while the sun came down to rest with his family.

In the thunder-bird they believed God had a warrior who presided over the most powerful elements—the storm and the fearful cyclone. This symbolic creature is depicted as an impatient and wrathy god of war, at whose appearance even the ever-smiling grandfather, the sun, hides his face. In the realms of water the whale is the symbolized chief of the finny tribes. In every great lake the Sioux imagines a huge fish as ruler of its waters.

Yet none of these possess the power of speech. The Great Mystery had shown them some truths denied to man, but he did not trust them fully, therefore he made them dumb. They can only show to man some supernatural things by signs or in dreams; as, for instance, to foretell future events or explain the use of certain powerful remedies. The savage holds that the key of heaven is vested in the visible phenomena of the universe. All creatures, save man, are assigned to a peculiar paradise, in which there is a forbidden fruit—namely, the apple of speech and reasoning. Hence the animals and inanimate things are exempted from sin. Thus it is that rocks, trees, and rivers are surrounded with an atmosphere of grandeur, beauty, and mystery. Nature is the interpreter of the Great Mystery, and through her man is convinced of truth.

The root-eating animals were believed to be intrusted with the mysteries of medicine. They were the medicine-givers. The sun and the thunder-bird also possessed efficacious treatments, but without the use of roots and herbs. On account of these beliefs the practices of no two medicine men among the Sioux are exactly the same. Each claims that his knowledge of medicine was obtained from some particular animal, of whom the bear, beaver, etc., are first in the profession. Those who found their treatment upon the power of the sun or the thunder-bird do not use any medicine. There was but one general organization among the Sioux, and this was based upon medicine and religion combined. It was called the "Holy Medicine Lodges." There were many of these lodges, each one different in its medicines and medicine songs, but alike in all other respects. They had a com-