Cicero Newell - Indian Stories – The Vision of White Thunder
Type of spiritual experience
A description of the experience
Indian Stories – Cicero Newell
“MY Father, you have asked me to tell you about our religion. The religion of our fathers is very old. Our fathers have worshiped the Great Spirit ever since this world was made. They have talked to the Great spirit and he has guided them in his ways.
Our people have no fear of the change which you call ‘death’ we know what that change is. Our fathers have always known what it is; therefore, we have no fear. I think I can best explain our religion by telling you the story of my life.
When I was a young man I loved to go on the chase after buffaloes. I was fond of all kinds of hunting. When I was older I married my wife.
Now I have two children and I do not care for the sports of my boyhood days. I often think of what our Holy Men tell us of the Happy Hunting Ground because the day will surely come when we shall all go there. I had often wished to know more about it. One day my wishes were gratified. Now I know about the Happy Hunting Ground and about the change that we call death.
It came about in this way. My people were on the march, The Great Father at Washington had sent word to us that we must move to the Missouri River and that he would give us our food at that place.
While we were on our way there our people camped on the banks of the Thunder Creek. That place was about three sleeps distant from the Missouri River.
At night I lay down on some buffalo robes to rest. My wife was busy preparing our supper. While I was resting I must have fallen fast asleep. When I awoke I saw two of my people standing near me. They wore white blankets. The white blanket is the sign of the Holy Lodge. These men said to me, 'Come with us.'
I found that they spoke the language of my people, although they were strangers to me. I quickly sat up on the buffalo robes and they said again, 'Come with us.' I supposed that Spotted Tail had sent for me to come to his tepee.
I told my wife I would go with these men, but would soon return. She did not hear me, so I spoke again. Again she did not hear me, so I arose to go to her. As I did so I had a most curious sensation. My body seemed to be very light. It did not have any weight. I was as light as air. I moved over to my wife and spoke again. But she paid no attention to me. I could not understand it. It was the first time in my life that she had not heard me when I spoke to her.
I looked back at the place where I had been sleeping; There I saw another man lying where I had been resting. I went over to him and uncovered his face.
Then I was still more surprised. I saw myself as I had been when I first lay down to rest.
I looked at my hands and my body. They were the same as the hands and body of the man on the robes. I examined the man more thoroughly and found that he was dead. It was my body. How could this thing be ? I was as much alive as I had ever been and yet there were two bodies just alike, but the flesh-body was dead, I then realized that I had two bodies, a flesh-body and a spirit-body. My wife could not see my spirit-body. Formerly I had been in that flesh-body all the time. Now I was out of the flesh-body and yet I appeared just the same. I had often heard our Holy Men talk of such things, but I had not understood it as I did then.
My wife could not hear me talk now that I was outside my natural body. What should I do? She would soon come and try to awaken me. I could see her. She would think that White Thunder was dead.
How could I tell her? While I was thinking about it one of these men who was dressed in white said, 'Come with us to the tepee of the Great Spirit. He has sent for you.' I went with them They said that they would lead the way to the land of the Great Spirit, the Happy Hunting Ground. They told me that they too once occupied bodies of flesh, just like the one lying there on those skins. They said that each of them at one time had carried about a body of flesh just as I had been doing. But now the body of flesh had gone back to the earth, just as my body would do in time. They told me that they would take me to the land of the Great Spirit and in a little while they would bring me back again to my earth-body. I must go back into it again and live for many winters.
Taking a last look at my wife and children, I departed from the earth with my guides. As I went through the air I looked far off over the earth. As I looked, I saw many buffaloes, elk, deer, and other animals that had once inhabited that country. My guides told me that whatever the Great Spirit once creates never dies. The Great Spirit had created my spirit-body. It would never die. Sometime the body that I had fed on the earth would die and return to dust. They said this was also true of animals. The Great Spirit gave each a spirit-body in the same shape as the natural body. As the spirit-body grew, the natural body also became larger; and when the time came for the naturel body to die, the spirit-body passed out of it, just, as I had passed out of my natural body.
The spirit-body remained on the earth and the natural body went to decay. They told me that man could destroy the natural body of the animals, but he could not destroy the spirit-body, The spirit-body was the life of the natural body.
Soon we came to some very high mountains, much higher than any I had ever seen before. The guides said that all the mountains of the earth were once much higher than they now are. Through the eternal ages they had been sinking lower and lower. After a time they would become plains.
As we went on and on we lost sight of the earth.
Before me I saw what looked like a great and shining river. It seemed to extend far up into the sky. I could not see the end of it. The guides said it led to the land of the Great Spirit. All the people that live on the earth and live good lives at last go away on that river. The river has no end, but flows on and on through the sky. There is no end of space; there is no place where it stops. As we went up that river I saw that the banks were dark and gloomy, I asked the guides why that was. They told me that when we returned to the earth they would take me through those dark places, but not now. First they must take me to the Great Spirit of their people.
After a time it seemed as though the sun was rising. The banks of the great river were becoming lighter. Soon we approached the shore and saw the tepees of my people, saw friends whom I had formerly loved in the earth-life coming to greet me. I was overjoyed.
They welcomed me to the land of the Great Spirit.
After I had rested with them for a time, I went with the guides to the Great Tepee, the home of the Great Spirit. He welcomed me. He told me that he had sent to the earth for me in order that I might learn the truth about the Spirit Land of the Dakotas. He wanted me to see it and to go back to the earth and tell my brothers what I had seen; tell them to treat all men as brothers, to be kind to those who were in sickness or suffering and then, when the time should come for everyone to leave the earth-body, all would be welcome in the land and in the home of the Great Spirit.
He said, 'Now go, my brother, follow your guides and fear no danger.'
When we went forth the guides showed me many strange places and conditions. I saw spirits who were happy. I saw those who were in sorrow. I saw those that had been bad men while they were in earth-life, and I saw those that had been murderers. All were suffering for the evil deeds they had done while they were in the flesh-body. I felt very sorry for them. As we went on and on the regions became darker and darker. The guides said that we were passing through the dark places which we had seen along the shining river. After a time we found ourselves back on the earth. The guides took me to the place where my people were camped on the Missouri River. I saw that, my wife was sitting beside my body crying. My children were with her calling for their father. As I looked at my flesh-body, wrapped as it was in buffalo skins, I dreaded to go back into it again. Now I did not have that load to carry about I could move about without any effort. The guides said that I must go back. I seemed to fall asleep.
When I awoke I found myself again in my body.
I looked through my natural eyes. Before, I had looked through the eyes of my spirit-body. I groaned. I was in great pain. My hands and feet felt as though they had been sleeping. I struggled to get free. My wife cut the cords that bound my body and I sat up.
My wife and children cried for joy because I had come back to them. When I arose, I found that I had my heavy body to carry again.
"My brother, I want to tell you of these things.
What I have told you is the belief that governs the Dakotas. Our Holy Men have known of these things ever since we were a nation.
He said that what he had seen was like a dream to him. When he awoke he found that he had been gone from the earth for three sleeps. His wife had taken his body with her to the Missouri River.
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Concepts and Symbols used in the text or image
Observation contributed by: Rosie Rock-Evans