Knowing that he was soon to die, he asked Joseph Epes Brown to stay so that Brown might record an account of their religion as he, Black Elk, did not wish any of this sacred lore, much of which he alone knew, should pass away with him.” *1
“The power and ways,” Fools Crow said, “are given to us to be passed on to others. To think or do anything else is pure selfishness. We only keep them and get more by giving them away, and if we do not give them away we lose them” *2
Two Indigenous holy men knew the value of the wisdom Wakan-Tanka gave to them for the benefit of all people. They were among the last old ones who carried ancient sacred knowledge and imparted it to non-Indigenous men to be recorded in books so it would not be lost. Coming from oral traditions, the medicine men knew it went against tradition. But the wisdom and knowledge would be lost if it wasn’t passed on through books. There was not enough time to teach and mentor young ones, as the colonizers were attempting genocide against their people – having already severely depleted the population. Preserving gifts from The Creator was the important thing, not adhering blindly to tradition. These two medicine men are good examples to me. Respect what The Creator has given you, preserve it and pass it on. In the end, they passed on their gifts through written words.
Lifestyles have changed dramatically since the old ones passed into the Spirit World. We still don’t have the time it took them to learn and acquire their gifts. But we still should try. Today some of us use video and photographs to help us. Personally, when I do ceremony I often allow modern ways of “passing it on.” This is not to circumvent experience, but to promote understanding and to encourage participation. Nothing surpasses experience. A true seeker will give through participation. The photographer takes. Unless they have participated first. It has been known to happen that watching a video or looking at a photograph has brought light to an open heart.
The best way to pass it on is to participate, look, listen, smell, experience. Photographs and videos can’t give you that.
*1. The Sacred Pipe, pp X and XII. *2. Fools Crow by Thomas E Mails, 11.
Sharon Pasula is an Indigenous spiritual and cultural resource person who lives in Boyle Street.