One desiring to dance the Sun Dance according to the customs of the Oglala as they were practised before contact with white people should choose an instructor to prepare him for the ceremony, who should teach him, in substance, as follows:–
The Sun Dance of the Oglala is a sacred ceremony which may be undertaken by any one of mankind, provided he or she:–
2. Complies with the essentials for the ceremony.
3. Conforms to the customs of the Oglala.
4. Accepts the mythology of the Lakota.
2. To secure supernatural aid for another.
3. To secure supernatural aid for self.
4. To secure supernatural :powers for self.
2. The conditions.
3. The stages.
4. The time.
2. The Mentors.
3. The assistants.
4. The people.
2. Preparation of the dancers.
3. Consecration of the equipment.
4. Establishment of a ceremonial camp
2. Instruction of the Candidate.
3. Occupation of the ceremonial camp.
4. Dancing the Sun Dance.
2. When new sprouts of sage are a span long.
3. When chokecherries are ripening.
4. When the Moon is rising as the Sun is going down.
All the requirements and rites pertaining to this ceremony are based upon the Mythology of the Lakota and they must be supervised by a Shaman. A Shaman must control the ceremonial camp and conduct all the ceremonies pertaining to the Sun Dance that take place there, except the dance, which should be conducted by the leader of the dance. This dance may take either of the four forms, which are:–
2. Gaze-at-Sun Buffalo.
3. Gaze-at-Sun Staked.
4. Gaze-at-Sun Suspended.
The second, third, and fourth forms each differ from the others, only in the manner of the wounds to cause the flow of blood and the torture inflicted during the dance; but the wounds and tortures for each form should be made alike for each dancer of that form. One may undertake either of these three forms for either of the first three purposes; but one who undertakes to dance for the fourth purpose must dance the fourth form. The torture inflicted in the fourth form, may be, either figuratively or actually, suspending the dancer while he dances. If the dancer is dancing for the purpose of securing the supernatural powers that Shamans should have, he must dance the fourth form actually suspended. A dance thus performed is the Sun Dance in its fullest form which includes most of the: Mythology and much of the customs of the Oglala. One who dances the Sun Dance in its fullest form establishes before the Sun, and in the presence of the people, his possession of the four great virtues, which are:–
One who contemplates dancing the Sun Dance should know these things: and carefully consider the compliance with the essentials for the performance of the ceremony, for it is done for the benefit of both the dancer and the people. He should endeavor to know whether the people deem his virtues sufficient to enable him to dance the Sun Dance to its completion or not;. for, if they think he lacks in one or all of the great virtues, they probably will not become constituents, and he cannot have the ceremony performed.
The Sun Dance is a feastal ceremony and provision must The made for feasts that are rites and are to be given by the Candidate, his kindred, and his band, for all these are honored by the performance of the ceremony. Therefore, while it is expected that a Candidate will give all his; possessions in making provision for the feasts, his kindred and his friends should also give liberally; indeed, the entire band should contribute for both feasts and presents. A Candidate must give presents to his Mentor and attendant and should give to all the assistants and those who take an active part in the rites of the ceremony. He must provide the equipment necessary for the occasion, and make acceptable offerings to the Sun. If he cannot comply with these conditions in an abundant manner, he should undertake only the first form of the dance, and then little will be expected of him or his people. If he thinks he can make suitable provision, he may proceed.
Trees are considered sacred in many cultures. Tree worship, in one form or another, has been practiced almost universally by ancient peoples in every corner of the globe.
Trees Speak to the Soul of Human Beings
It is no wonder that trees have captured the human imagination since the beginning of time. Their strength, deeply rooted in the Earth, is an inspiration. Their trunk and branches are a wonder of nature because they stand sturdy and impenetrable most of the time, yet they can flex and sway with the wind when needed.
The whisper of a breeze in their leaves or the sight of ants marching in a straight line up or down their trunks remind us of the magic of nature that trees embody. They live for hundreds or even thousands of years, and so we revere them as keepers of past secrets and sentinels of the future.
Watching their cycles of growth, shedding of leaves, and re-flowering in the spring, people have long perceived trees as powerful symbols of life, death, and renewal. Since the beginning of time, humans have had a sense that trees are sentient beings just like us, that they can feel pain, that they bleed when they are hurt. Trees even look like us. People have a trunk; trees have arms. And so we innately feel a deep connection to them.
Many people say they can feel a tree’s vibrational energy when placing their hand upon its bark. With their deep roots, trees carry significant grounding energy. We naturally feel peace and serenity when walking in the shade of trees on a forest trail.
Trees Help Us Every Day
A recent study shows that trees remove so much pollution from the air that they “prevented 850 human deaths and 670,000 cases of acute respiratory symptoms in 2010 alone.” When an insect called the emerald ash borer killed off a significant number of trees in the American Midwest in the 1990’s and 2000’s, rates of human death from cardiovascular and respiratory illness increased.
More difficult to quantify is the psychological effect that trees have on people. People who spend time outdoors, or even those who have access to windows looking out at trees, have been shown to have better health than those who do not.
The Universal Tree of Life: Both Ancient and Modern
The concept of a Tree of Life, often symbolizing the connections between all life forms, is found in many religions and philosophies, dating back as early as ancient Egypt. The Egyptian tree of life symbolized creation and represented the chain of events that brought everything into existence.
Fast forward to modern science. The tree has become the quintessential symbol of biological evolution, as its ever-branching image poignantly depicts the unmistakable interconnections between all living species on the Earth.
The Tree Leaf and Eternal Life
Consider this beautiful commentary from Thich Nhat Hanh reflecting on a tree leaf:
“I asked the leaf whether it was frightened because it was autumn and the other leaves were falling. The leaf told me, “No. During the whole spring and summer I was completely alive. I worked hard to help nourish the tree, and now much of me is in the tree. I am not limited by this form. I am also the whole tree, and when I go back to the soil, I will continue to nourish the tree. So I don’t worry at all. As I leave this branch and float to the ground, I will wave to the tree and tell her, ‘I will see you again very soon.’
… That day there was a wind blowing and, after a while, I saw the leaf leave the branch and float down to the soil, dancing joyfully, because as it floated it saw itself already there in the tree. It was so happy. I bowed my head, knowing that I have a lot to learn from the leaf because it is not afraid-it knew nothing can be born and nothing can die.”
Cultural Beliefs About Trees
Trees are considered sacred in virtually every place where humans have settled.
There are many profound beliefs surrounding trees that people have held for millennia. Here are some interesting and touching examples:
- For the Sng’oi people of Malaysia, a person and a tree can belong with each other, and this relationship is maintained for life. Certain trees and certain people belong together. When a person belongs with a tree, they also belong with its offspring: any trees that grow from the seeds of the first tree, no matter how far the seeds may scatter. The Sng’oi people call upon their intuition to know which child trees have sprung from which parent trees.
- The World Tree is said to dwell in three worlds: Its roots reach down to the underworld, its trunk sits on the Earth, and its branches extend up to the heavens. Many cultures share a belief that this tree is the Axis Mundi or World Axis which supports or holds up the cosmos. For the Mayan peoples, the Axis Mundi was a massive Ceiba (in other cultures, it is called Kapok) tree that stands at the center of the world. The Mayan beliefs reflect that human souls first came into being as the sacred white flowers on the branches of the Ceiba tree. Souls of the dead Mayan ancestors rose from the roots of the Axis Mundi up through its branches and into the celestial realms.
- In Germanic regions, it was believed that mankind was created from tree trunks, echoing the perception that people and trees have much in common.
- In Sweden, some trees were considered “wardens” and could guard a home from bad luck. The warden was usually a very old tree growing on the lot near the home. The family living there had such great respect for the tree that they would often adopt a surname related to the name of the tree.
- A well-known sacred tree in Norse mythology was Yggdrasil, a giant ash tree that was said to link and shelter the nine worlds that were believed to exist.
- In Irish and English folklore, fairies would be found wherever Ash, Oak, and Hawthorne trees grew together. Hawthorn trees were regarded as a powerful symbol of protection, and were often planted near houses to ward off lightning as well as evil spirits. On the dawn of Beltane, it was believed that women who bathed in the dew from a Hawthorne blossom would become beautiful, and men who washed their hands in the dew would become skilled craftsmen.
- Buddhists have a deep reverence for the Bodhi tree, a type of fig tree with heart-shaped leaves, beneath which the Buddha is said to have meditated for 49 days, trying to reconcile his mind to the fact that there was suffering in the world. On the 49th day, he stood and thanked the tree for providing shade for him, and in that instant he attained enlightenment. Today, in the same location where the Buddha is believed to have sat, there grows a descendant of that same Bodhi tree. Buddhist myths say that the tree will live there until the world is destroyed, and the place where it grows will be the last place to be destroyed; and when the world is reborn, that site will be the first place to appear.
- The villagers of Piplantri, in Rajasthan, India, celebrate the birth of each little girl by planting 111 trees in her honor. The entire village works together to plant and care for the trees. This tradition not only ensures that the environment will be able to support the increasing population of the village, but it has also brought harmony and a drop in crime to the village.
- In Malaysia, people maintain a very intimate relationship with trees. “There is a practice of tree planting around houses to the extent that the walls and wooden structures are allowed to give way to the roots of creeping plants, purposely sown at the bases of these structures.” The graveyards in Malaysia are covered so thickly with trees that the entire grounds are cool and sheltered from the tropical sun. The trees are allowed to take root into the graves and it is said that the trees whisper prayers to the creator asking for forgiveness of past transgressions of those buried in that place.