Tuesday, August 20, 2019

"The Secret Pipe" in History of Religions

"The Secret Pipe: Protecting the Ptehíŋčala Čhaŋŋúŋpa of the Lakota Sioux" - my new article in History of Religions - explores the role of the Sacred Pipe in Lakota history, culture, and religion as well as current efforts to continue "protecting" the Pipe in the face of the ongoing exploitation of Native religion in contemporary Western culture.

In 1883, the United States government outlawed all traditional American Indian religious ceremonies. Yet despite decades of persecution, oppression, and threats of imprisonment, the holy men on the reservations kept their traditions alive, and continued using the Sacred Pipe by practicing their sacred ceremonies in secret. In 1931, Nicholas Black Elk shared - that is, disclosed - some of his traditional knowledge about the Pipe and his own sacred "vision" to the poet John Neihardt who published a literary representation of their collaboration in Black Elk Speaks. In 1947, Black Elk again shared his knowledge with a very young Joseph Epes Brown who turned their collaboration into The Sacred Pipe, Black Elk's account of the Seven Rites of the Lakota Sioux.

Black Elk's secret knowledge and teachings about the Pipe and the Seven Sacred Rites of the Sioux became foundational to what Vine Deloria Jr. called "The Black Elk Theological Tradition" and shaped the American religious landscape of the 1960s and 70s. Black Elk not only helped to preserve and revitalize Lakota religion, but his conversion to Catholicism and universalizing comparison of Lakota religion and Christianity also informed Catholic/Lakota dialogues and the American Indian Movement's pan-Indian politico-religious revitalization. At the same time, non-Indian fascination with the Black Elk tradition - as well as other spiritual leaders like Frank Fools Crow, Leonard Crow Dog, and Lame Deer - also led to the development and the excesses of New Age Neo-Indianism in the 1980s and 1990s, ultimately leading to the 1993 publication of a "Declaration of War Against Exploiters of Lakota Spirituality" and Arvol Looking Horse's 2003 "decision" to exclude non-Indians from participating in the sacred altars of Lakota ceremonies.

"The Secret Pipe" explores these developments through the theoretical lens of secrecy and disclosure: (1) the secrecy inherent in the Lakota religious concept of the wakȟáŋ; (2) the partial disclosure of some of these traditions, whether accidentally or intended as a way to ensure their survival; and (3) an ongoing discourse of secrecy that continues to protect these traditions in the face of continuing oppression and exploitation.

Image: "The Gift of the Sacred Pipe" by Rogue Guirey Simpson