The first thing I did upon becoming a sub chief in the Cante Tenze of the Oglala Lakota was to create a code for this society that distinguishes ‘warrior’ from ‘soldier’ and from ‘thug.’ The paradox we find hard, as warriors, is that the Great Mystery fights against the world in order to fight for the world. A warrior wields a sword that cuts two ways: it wounds, to heal a wound.
This contemplation is offered to Wakinyan Tanka, the Thunder Being. My last day on the reservation Wilmer Mesteth and I sat on a mesa in the Badlands, under a glowering sky, and we took some sprouts of the juniper tree that is related to the Thunder Being and never struck by him, lit it as an offering, and then Wilmer sang this prayer in Lakota to Wakinyan Tanka:
Have pity on us,
Help us in our difficulties.
I send Wakinyan Tanka this prayer now.
PART ONE= THE SPIRITUAL MEANING OF THE WARRIOR WAY
[I] Animal Patrons of the Warrior’s Way
I have a friend who tells me that the Vikings had three warrior animals, basically= wolf, bear, boar. I went away from this and pondered whether such a trinity would work for the Lakota. If it did, it would have to be wolf, bear, and buffalo. But it is too simple. There are scores of animals who help the warrior, and they encompass not only the 4-leggeds of the ground but also the wingeds of the sky, and include even certain insects, such as the butterfly.
Some of these helpers are related to the Thunder Being, who grants the warrior the power to unflinchingly confront the enemy. Other helpers are related to the playful and mischievous Whirlwind, who is the 5th and youngest in the family of the 4 winds corresponding to the 4 directions, who grants the warrior the power to confuse the enemy and avoid his attack. Though the wolf is the primal bringer of war, as the bear is the primal bringer of healing, and the eagle is the primal bringer of vision, none the less a full list of animal helpers in the way of the warrior might well run to double figures.
This list is not exhaustive.
Some of the attributes of some of these warrior animals are the following:
The buffalo bull prays to the Whirlwind before he fights, by kicking up dust. Buffalo bulls will encircle the herd in a protective shield that cannot be outflanked, and they will always protectively stand round any fallen brother or sister, until they can get back to their feet= no one is abandoned, or left behind. The buffalo shows great strength through steadfastness, always advancing step by step, never getting ahead of itself, never flying before it can run, but growing in power by the consistent and unremitting advance that takes on each problem as it arises, faces and deals with it, and only then moves ahead. As Wilmer Mesteth puts it, the buffalo is the cure for our most basic and far reaching human disease of ‘pre-maturity.’
The bear is irritable, and fierce= his tolerance of human nonsense is almost non existent [though as healer, he is open to and patient with human need]. The bear rushes an enemy without fear. This sudden on-rush can just blow all opposition away, but it can be vulnerable to taking many wounds in the process. Thus the bear combines immense power with vulnerability.
The badger is in many ways like a smaller version of the bear; his chief helping attribute is tenacity.
The wolf– as the archetypal mentor of war in both its spiritual and material dimensions– has many helping attributes crucial to the warrior. He moves through the world quietly, with acute attentiveness and alertness to the surrounding terrain, from which arises his scouting and hunting abilities; he also has speed, but the ability to change course in the heat of the moment, in order to adapt to changing circumstances; he goes on and on to get a quarry, never giving in or giving up along the way however hard it gets. The wolf has the courage to take on any fight for the sake of brothers and sisters, but the strength to back off from pointless fights where only ego, false glory, pride, are at stake; he cares nothing for show, and never mouths off about his warrior prowess, because he knows he has nothing to prove. He possesses the secret of strength, which is make your stand, do your action, and let it fall as it will; he is not attached to the outcome of action but lets its truth speak for itself. The wolf’s close relationship to the Thunder Being is shown by the fact he can predict the weather. It is also said he has ‘all knowledge’, because in being a good scout and hunter, he studies all the other animals, and comes to understand their ways. He usually fights alongside comrades, and always for the sake of comradeship; it is the wolf who primordially taught the balance between individual freedom, responsibility, initiative, and collective togetherness, solidarity, sharing. Therefore fidelity to the common interest that holds people in commitment to one another is his main motive. The penetrating wolf gaze looks fear in the face, thus teaches non avoidance of all that terrifies, unsettles, anguishes, the human heart; by looking at it unflinchingly, he out stares it, and gets to the bottom of it. The wolf has the gift of invisibility with which to disorient an enemy, causing them to become lost and confused= his howl will produce an eerie wind and yellow fog, and a mist that crawls close to the ground.
Many Lakota and other Plains Indian stories about the wolf teach the primary ethic of communalism: when you help, you are helped; when you give, you are given to; and wolves often appear to humans who are in trouble, to help them get through to the other side—though if these humans do not learn the lesson of reciprocity, they lose any further wolf assistance. Wolves are helpers, and teachers; though not a healing animal per se, they teach in a manner that has healing properties. Wolves are guides on the spirit road, who help and teach us on this hard road, as well as defenders who protect us as we walk it. Thus their crowning attribute is the wisdom that comes from sweat, tears, and blood, as we travel far and fight without let up, for the people. It is wolves who see the first light, the new dawn of what is coming to everyone and everything, which makes the long journey and tough battle worthwhile. Finally, it is wolves who guide human beings across the strange wasteland between life and death, protecting them in this numinous transition where they can be lost.
Fox is traditionally regarded a less powerful warrior animal, but he has the gift of seeing without being seen. Sometimes called “many tracks”, he is adroit at fooling people, by sleight of hand, fast footwork, and spiritual camouflage. Fox is good at finding the food caches of other animals, so he is a kind of divine thief. But fox is not a good loser.
Every warrior must “call upon the eagle.” Eagle brings that clarity of vision which can only be bestowed from above to below: the divine revelation that comes from beyond the sky but first appears in the sky and then subsequently descends down to the earth. I once had a visionary dream in which there was an eagle dancing on the ground, first left to right making a circle, its wings slanted in one direction from the ground to the sky, then right to left making the reverse circle, its wings slanting in the opposite direction ground to sky; Wilmer Mesteth told me, when I asked him about this dream, that on the eagle’s wings are all the designs the Creator used in creating everything that is. In the same way that eagle brings the Great Mystery’s vision to the earth, so he also sees with spiritual discernment and acuteness all that happens on the earth. Without the eagle, the warrior has not got spiritual eyes, and therefore does not know what he is fighting for: his fighting does not serve the spiritual, but serves himself or some lesser motive that is unworthy. Eagle signifies the challenge of and need for genuine spiritual accomplishment that raises up the human heart, and creates strength of character; which is why eagle feathers were earned by brave or effortful deeds, one feather signifying one such spiritual achievement. [To wear feathers, when you have not earned the right by performing the great deeds they signify, would be the worst cheating imaginable. Empty bragging and posturing is not compatible with real spiritual accomplishment.] The eagle invariably succeeds in reaching spiritual ends, as the Great Mystery succeeds in embodying his vision on earth. Thus it is said that when the eagle swoops, he never misses his prey; his power grants the warrior the ability to overcome all enemies.
The hawk is a messenger, like the eagle, but he knows how to hover, surveying a terrain thoroughly, then swoop with lightning speed. He helps the warrior to wait for the right moment, but when it arrives, to strike with total commitment, or in Japanese samurai terms, to be “unhesitating.” To go straight in, after holding back to see how the land lays, is a gift of the hawk. The hawk strikes quickly and accurately, and cannot be killed by arrows, bullets, hail, or lightning; he has “a charmed life”, it is said.
Called “riders in the cloud”, the flying of swallows always precedes a thunder storm. This bird is closely related to the Thunder Being. He is swift and agile, wheeling and turning in ways hard to get any purchase on. Like the hawk, he cannot be killed and leads a charmed life.
The horse is also associated with the Thunder Being: lightning has wings, and is often portrayed seated upon a horse. Traditionally, all good warrior horses should be as swift and agile as the swallow. A horse needs this ability not only to help the warrior evade enemy attacks, but also to help the warrior mount attacks which are hard to anticipate and hence impossible to stop.
The dragonfly, like the butterfly, is hard to hit. He moves like the whirlwind: he can whirl and dart, and this twisting motion can create confusion in the mind of an enemy. He is linked to hawk and swallow in being virtually impossible to kill in battle.
The spider is called “a friend of the Thunder”, and is a relative of the Whirlwind. The spider’s web protects a warrior’s shield, even from bullets, as well as lances and arrows.
The bird counterpart of the wolf is raven. Ravens and wolves hunt together, and wolves always leave a portion of their kill for these watchful companions. In Celtic mythology, raven was the war goddess, a feminine wisdom crucial to the true exercise of masculine action. Among the Lakota and other Plains Indians, the raven has a secret knowledge of that which is hidden from ordinary perception, and reveals this as prophecy or omen. The crow finds lost things, but signifies in addition the sacred ‘natural law’, as it is written by the Creator in woman–not the law invented by men, which has no root in the Creator. For some tribes, since the crow tends to be the first at a kill, it is said that warriors want their arrows “to fly as swift and straight as a crow.” The raven, and crow, connection to what is secret, what is hidden–the invisible world just behind the appearances of the everyday world–means that they link the warrior way to some subtle sacred providence at work in the background of human affairs. Mystical realities hover near the warrior path, initiating it into darkness and helping it find its feet in darkness. The only light emerges through darkness.
In a similar vein, especially for the Lakota, the owl has the ability to see at night, thus has eyes that work in darkness. Stepping into the numinous darkness of the unknown is inevitable for the warrior; hence to have the owl’s seeing in the dark is crucial. But owl is mainly a medicine person’s animal, and is said to inspire a style of healing that comes in a manner that is soft and gentle.
[II] The Good Red Road and the Bad Black Road
In Lakota culture, there are 2 ways that cross, like holding up your right forearm vertically, then crossing it with your left forearm horizontally:
1—the way of the healer
2—the way of the warrior
1—the way of the healer is Sanctification
2—the way of the warrior is Sacrifice
Sanctification, or “making sacred”, can be identified with the good red road of purification and spiritual understanding that runs south to north.
Sacrifice, or “dying for the people”, can be identified with the bad black road of worldly difficulties and war that runs west to east.
Black Elk said that the Great Mystery has made both of these roads, and furthermore, has made these 2 roads to cross, for the place where they cross is holy. His prayer=
“Grandfather, Great Spirit, once more behold me on earth and lean to hear my feeble voice. You lived first, and you are older than all need, older than all prayer. All things belong to you—the 2 legged, the 4 legged, the wings of the air, and all green things that live.
You have made the powers of the 4 quarters of the earth to cross each other. You have made the good road and the road of difficulties to cross, and the place where they cross is holy.”
The good red road ‘naturally’ runs from south to north, because the natural movement from youth to age, from ripening to the white hairs, if embraced in a sacred manner, produces purification and wisdom. Going from summer to winter, from the expansiveness of bright morning to the contraction of dark night, if not resisted but learned from spiritually, produces sanctification. This natural pulling in of the horns is spoken of as a “purgation by cold winds and healing snows, washing away the old and preparing for the new.” The harshness of the north, extinguishing the luxuriance of the south, makes us strong and persevering; “harshness is bracing to our weakness.” This ‘bracingness’ is necessary to the healing of sickness, which is like a deadness, a worn out and rigid self-enclosed structure that needs suppleness, openness, receptiveness, to the spiritual if it is not to become totally encrusted and static.
But if this natural process of losing and letting go is resisted, then old age is experienced only as the diminishing of youthful power: a spoiling of its potency, as when a fruit on the vine goes off. If this process is accepted, and its lessons learned, then the passing of ripening produces something more fruitful from a spiritual point of view: the flowering of old age, the final sanctified human being whose death will be a rebirth, not a final end. The good red road cannot run from north to south, but its naturalness can either be made sacred, and understood in its spiritual meaning, or that naturalness will lose all sacredness. We are all walking south to north over the course of our life, but whether we are walking in a sacred manner is another matter. Ascetic and sacramental practices are crucial on the good red road, for it is these that allow the people to shed what divides them, and to come together, and stay together, as one corporate body. On this road, the soul’s life, beauty, joy, providence, are realized, and the soul becomes the ‘dwelling’ where the Great Mystery, Nature, and the People, all draw close, and unite in a rich sharing and inter-personal communion. All genuinely good things, which are sacred in origin, flow through this communion, like blood circulates in the body.
The bad black road, however, can be walked in either direction and it is the direction in which it is walked that defines whether it is taken in a good manner or a bad manner. The good way to walk this road is west to east, but the bad way to walk this road is east to west—the direction the white man came in his greed and violence to colonize the western frontier. Walking the bad road in a good manner means good emerges from this road’s badness, whereas walking the bad road in a bad manner means evil emerges from this road’s badness. For a warrior who is rooted in spirituality, the ‘peace movement’ that wants to close down the black road entirely can never succeed, and is both wrong headed and heartless. The Great Mystery has made this bad road every bit as much as the other good road, and more paradoxically, has made the two roads inter-sect. A warrior’s challenge is to walk the black road in a good manner, by overcoming in himself any weakness, any temptation, to walk the black road in a bad manner. He must not go east to west, his direction is west to east; and if he goes in this direction, he will encounter the place where the two roads are made to cross: the place where spiritual understanding must embrace the anguish and torment of the badness that hits it on the black road, taking away its light and its joy, and plunging it into a depth of unknowing and of pain. In this way, a new and greater spiritual understanding can only emerge from difficulties and war. That which is sacred must be stretched, broken and remade, if it is to reach the Great Mystery’s holiness.
The sacred is tested, in two senses, on the road of the world’s drama and tumult: [i] it is tested as to what it is made of, what its heart really is, what it really believes and will give of itself; and [ii] it tests or tries out a radicalism of heart that would not be brought forth except in an existentially precarious situation where something of supreme value is put at basic jeopardy—the heart has to fight to care about it, for if the heart refuses to fight, it abandons that endangered value.
The south—north axis of the sacred circle is natural, and ontological. But the west—east axis is historical, and existential. The west is autumn, the darkening of evening stretching into the deep night. It is said that in the west, where brother sun departs, we are brought into darkness so we may search for the questions of our life. But as Victor Frankl discovered in the Nazi concentration camp, this darkness that comes with entry onto the bad black road of worldly difficulties and war is where we lose all our certainties and safeguards= it is not we who question existence, he said, but existence that questions us. The questions that hit us in the existential darkness of the world put our whole life in doubt= they search out and test the heart to the limit.
The place of the west on the sacred circle signifies that existential apprehension, anguish, torment, tumult, drama, trouble, that discerns good from evil and ‘tries out’ truth.
1–The healing way of Sanctification is the Soul’s way
2—The warrior way of Sacrifice is the Heart’s way
[III] The Place of the West, and its Guardian, Wakinyan Tanka
The Thunder Being is the spiritual guardian of the west, and the patron of warriors. The thunder storm that heralds Wakinyan Tanka’s presence comes in the spring and lasts through the autumn. The thunder clap, lightning with its electric power, winds, hail stones, and the rain, all betoken the activity of Wakinyan Tanka.
Black Elk: “The Thunder Being comes fearfully, but brings healing rain.” He threatens the worldly, who are attached to the bad road in the wrong way—a way of fear that urges us to protect ourselves alone, and get all the selfish advantage we can grab, without concern for what is at stake in the badness, nor for our brothers and sisters caught up in its peril—but he reassures the spiritual, who are trying to find a path by which to walk the bad road in a good way—a way of courage, integrity and solidarity.
Black Elk says the Thunder Being has “the power to make live and the power to destroy.” The former is the cup of living waters. The latter is the zigzag lightning, and pounding hail. Lightning flushes out evil from its hiding place.
Black Elk also says the Thunder Being guards “the place where all things pass, which is the source of the greatest power.” Flamenco’s ‘deep song’ is sung from this place “on the rim.” The Greek term ‘Daemonic’ describes the power here: a revelation that the divine inflicts as a wound, which brings about a profounder good in the end.
The Thunder Being of the west is thus the source of the most terrible and wonderful ‘empowerment.’ It is said of this: if you serve truth, empowerment is for good; if you serve yourself, empowerment is for evil.
Wakinyan Tanka of the west reveals and empowers the ‘spiritual warfare’ in which all creation is caught up. Lightning confronts evil in its secretiveness.
Spiritual Warfare: the sword of truth is placed in our keeping. This sword is not a toothpick for stabbing what we find inconvenient, to clear it out of our self-seeking path. “Have a nice day, get out of my way.” The sword is lightning come down to earth.
Thus, this sword [a] cuts away masks that hide from truth; [b] cuts into lies precious and enshrined in our heart and exposes the truth they distort; and [c] cuts to shreds lies in the world that make it hell on earth.
Truth: not the doctrinal truth of religion, not the abstract ideas of philosophy, science, or art. Truth here is heart truth.
Sword: the truth by which the heart lives and dies, in itself, and in and for the world. This is the truth that enables people to Stand, Step Up, and Act from the real, deeper heart.
Thus, the sword on which lightning dances and from which thunder sounds is the truth that burns in the heart like fire, and tests the heart for its mettle, in a molten furnace, so that it becomes as unwavering as steel. A Scots king once cried, “give me Irish fire and Scottish steel.”
Truth wounds us, and wounds the world, before it can heal. People want to be healed, but they don’t want truth. A Lakota prayer:
Truth is coming
It will hurt me
You can heal me
Truth of heart therefore embraces existence, the world, history, and materiality. Its road runs west to east; it is horizontal. This road throws the heart into the deep pain of existence, the pain that is black. Without this pain, there is no truth; without this pain, there is no redemption of the world.
Truth of heart takes on existence’s ultimate challenge= the ultimate obstacle to having a heart in the world, for the world. It faces up to this courageously, yet it is not only brave toward it, but is also generous in self-giving and help to all others caught up in the same predicament, and long-suffering in the bearing and enduring of it, and willing to pay the price for it and carry the burden of it. The Cante Tinze symbol of this: the warrior who is staked to the ground, and sees the battle through, no matter what happens to him.
Something is at stake in existence, and the heart is staked to it, as a sacrifice, because the heart knows this is what matters most.
Truth is fighting against us and for us, so that we can fight for and against the world.
Thus, when the heart struggles for truth, it develops virtues like courage, generosity, fortitude, persevering, honesty, loyalty, faithfulness, boldness and daring, kindness and compassion, humility, modesty, mercifulness. But these virtues are not really just moral. They are existential. They arise out of the way the heart is big enough to meet existence’s Call, and yet face up to and suffer existence’s Block. Hence our existential calling and existence’s most daunting challenge are one and the same. If we answer the call to a task, a duty, a heart deed, we also have to embrace what the ordeal is, and what the cost to us is: what the loss to us is for the sake of a greater gain.
What a warrior does, from the heart, for truth, is not cheap. It is a great struggle, and it ventures on a long journey, and fights a savage battle. It goes out over the deep, it tests the deep of existence.
Truth is the origin and aim of passion. Hence, passion is ardent for truth, fervent for truth, zealous for truth, angry for truth. The warrior is the central figure of passion’s seeking of and loyalty to truth, along with three others: chief/king; sage/prophet; sacred clown/holy fool.
Empowerment is nothing more and nothing less than the sparking of the passion that wrestles with something in existence dangerous, hard, wounding, costly, for the sake of what is most ultimately valuable, and most under attack from ‘fleshly’, ‘worldly’ and ‘evil’ forces seeking its total destruction. Truth is what sustains heart passion= it is entrusted with the care of truth, required by truth to act with honour, called by truth to the ultimate give away of the self.
The truth served by passion inevitably has enemies. Passion stirs up enmity against its way of truth, because the non passionate, the anti passionate, do not want truth to expose their stand as lacking truth: as not a stand on truth and a stand for truth, but as a falling down in heart and a falling down in the world. This would be shaming. This would induce guilt. The warrior is the world’s conscience, and to the extent the world wants to be deaf to its own inner voice of conscience, so the warrior’s way of voicing conscience in the very manner of his standing will be feared, resented, hated, opposed. To those who have fallen but want to stand up again, the warrior is the encourager, the helping hand, the ‘comfort’ in the Old English sense that strengthens. To those who are oppressed, taken advantage of and impoverished, by the heartlessness and lies of the rich and high handed, the warrior is the champion.
[IV] The Engine of Passion
1, Risk and Danger= Nothing ventured, nothing gained. The ‘wisdom of insecurity’, which brings zest, excitement and colour to all of life, preciousness to each passing moment, and binds people together in the common jeopardy. Your richness becomes the people with whom you stand in reciprocal dependence and mutual trust, not the possessions that supposedly create around you a bulwark against danger. There is nothing in life you can rely upon except people. “A truly poor man has no friends, no loves, no songs.”
2, Hardship= We appreciate nothing that we haven’t made our own by our effort, and sweat. The ‘wisdom of step by step’, which builds stamina and strength, patience and fortitude, persistence and long-suffering. Keep going, don’t give in and don’t give up. Difficulty hones you, strips you of the unnecessary and the bogus, and draws you beyond the safe shore out onto the wave tossed sea. Pressure and tension, as well as pain, must be borne and endured, to reach the far shore.
3, Suffering= We suffer to lose that in us which cannot love, so we can acquire the suffering for what we love. The ‘wisdom of sorrow and grieving.’ Tears purify the heart. Grief connects you to the predicament humanity is in, and grief opens you to all those grieving in the common tragedy. To help people, you must be hurt for them= you must join them where they are hurt.
4, Cost= There is always a ‘trade-off’, a friend says. What we give up, and give away, to follow heart truth is costly; we will sweat white beads, shed tears in rivers, and let our blood go into the ground, to plant a seed and kindle a spark.
5, Reversal= The spiritual is the inverse of normality. It over-turns falsity, in the sense of pompous respectability, baseless authority, stupid convention, rigid expectation. The ‘wisdom of being turned upside down and inside out.’ The tower hit by lightning, and brought low. Holy Fool or Heyoka= God’s laughter at our pretension and false building up to reach too high. Zen is full of this earthy laughter. Old Testament God= “My thoughts are not your thoughts, my ways are not your ways.” Paradox’s Koan, and Cross. You will pass through the eye of a needle, and find truth only if there are edges, gaps, and cracks; beware solid floors that are prison house walls.
In the end, the heart that can stand and fight for truth can test and forge the world for its truth. As the truth slays our heart to remake it, so our heart becomes the truth that can slay the world to remake it.
The trinity here is:
GOD → HEART ← WORLD
For the warrior way, this trinity can never be broken apart. No warrior will abandon the world ‘to go to God.’ Going to God means, for the warrior, going to the world for God, to act as God, and to die as God. Only sacrifice brings about the redemption of everybody and everything.
This is the truth the warrior serves in the heart.
Before everything else, the heart is a warrior.
[V] Some Crucial Aspects of Passion in the Warrior Way
1, Courage in relation to Fear
Wilmer Mesteth once told me, “The lessons of the west have to do with the knowledge of one’s own courage in the face of danger.” He also said to me, at a time on the reservation when I was assaulted by strange spiritual terrors, “whatever you do, don’t run.”
Fear is primal. A warrior lives with fear, and faces fear, and wrestles with fear. He does not overcome fear in the sense of being able to banish it; this would not help. He defeats fear in the sense of ceasing to allow it to condition his existence. Most people live lives where fear sets the limit on what they can do with their heart. They dare not challenge this limit, thus the heart becomes severely limited in any risk, hardship, suffering, cost, it will take on. Fear restricts passion. It is fear that counts cost and measures out gifts meanly; it is fear that silences conscience and makes our heart deaf to what is calling it out. Fear shrivels the heart, and hems it in. To overcome fear is not to cease to experience it, but to cease to let this experience close us down and shut us in; instead, the experience becomes a cutting edge, on which we take our stand.
Fear is deep. Fear perceives reality correctly but incompletely. Fear is a journey; only at the end of this journey is fear overcome. Those who run from fear make no beginning, and never reach any end. Thus fear always chases them, like the ghost at the feast.
We fear all sorts of things. The ultimate fear is death, and beyond that, Nonbeing.
There are two things we can learn by staying with, not running from, fear. The first is what resolved my crisis on the reservation.
[i] If you live for the people, you do not die alone. The people are with you, as you make your give away of life. If you live for yourself, you die alone, as life is taken from you.
A different death.
[ii] Fear is, at depth, fear of God. At depth we fear what God is doing with us and with the world. And we fear the world: the nothing it rests in. For if we act decisively in the world, we invite retaliation, and thus we step out over the abyss beneath the world, knowing we could plunge in.
If God will enter this nothing, we fear. If God won’t enter it, we fear. Fear rouses our deepest ambivalence about using the heart: what if God is in the abyss and requires the heart to leap in?; what if God is not in the abyss and we leap in and merely fall forever?
Only when we have found God in the abyss of our heart do we really trust God’s presence in the abyss beneath the world. This is when love ‘casts out fear’;1 wisdom begins in fear but ends in love, where fear is overcome. This really means, where our ambivalence about using our heart is overcome. Fear reveals we are in a precarious situation and fear reveals what is required of us if we are to have a heart in that situation, and enter its arena to fight for what is at stake there. Only trust in the Great Mystery allows us to trust our heart and trust the deed in the world to which it is called.
Fear is resolved in a paradox. On the one hand, we can do nothing: in the hands of fate, God, world. On the other hand, we can do the one thing that matters supremely.
This is true heroism.
To do what you must, to serve the one thing needful; yet not believe you are in control, and are able to do it of yourself. This paradox is freeing: it enables you to not evade doing the thing that matters most, but go out on a limb for it, go to the edge, go to the gap, go to the Cross.
On the rim, where the real warrior fights, the options are few and narrow down only to one, but this last one is very powerful.
True heroism is surrender: “Thy will be done.”
In this way, we also find strength, which is ceasing to hide from the world= make your move openly, and let it fall as it will. Be free of the outcome.
The courage forged through fear is dauntless, and unrelenting.
The Maori ‘haka’, nowadays said before every New Zealand rugby match, but an old warrior chant, declares this final place the heart reaches: “It is for life, It is for death.”
2, Anger For Truth
Anger is the fire in the belly that must go into the heart. The Jap ‘hara’, or the Greek ‘thymos’ [thymos in ancient Greek meant ‘spirited, angry, passionate’]. False peace is always sought at the expense of the anger that rouses us to warfare on behalf of truth; this is why such a phoney peace, whether between nations or between persons, never works, merely suppressing what anger needs to say and what anger needs to do. Anger is the Witness to truth, who won’t let the truth be falsified so as to give us an easier ride.
[a] Anger is the courage to do what is right, no matter the consequences to oneself.
[b] Tibetan Buddhism: anger brings “clarity.” But anger is more than that. Anger brings truth. When the heart is stirred by passion for the truth, it takes no care for itself–for its status, for its safety—but gives itself wholly over, in fervour and zeal which is intense, to the fire of truth.
[c] Truth has two faces: generosity, kindness, compassion. But truth also comes “terribly.” Anger is the face of truth when it needs to come terribly because it cannot come gently. If it came gently, it would be disregarded. So it comes in a way that commands attention, and respect, like it or not. This does not mean anger departs from politeness. But it does mean anger cuts through all the indifference, all the flimflam, all the evasion. It electrifies any situation where it suddenly strides in, because everyone involved knows truth is coming, like it or not.
[d] Anger can be distorted into hate, revenge or vengeance, malice and nastiness, maliciousness, and hostility. Twisted anger– not straight as an arrow which is what anger spiritually is.
[e] Psychologically, fear and hurt elicit anger as a defense. Pride that is wounded also releases self-protective anger, as in narcissistic injury that explodes out as narcissistic rage. We have all observed these defensive angers in ourselves and in those close to us. They accomplish nothing for truth, on any level. Emotional venting can make people feel relieved. But defensive anger never clarifies truth, personal, social, spiritual. It muddies an already muddy water still more. Yet most anger, even when not distorted and evil, is merely defending the indefensible, and helps nothing.
[f] Anger can also serve selfishness, and become its defender, as when nations and persons think they have a ‘right’ to use violence to keep their private property from any sharing with the brother and sister. Violent anger often defends avaricious greed and lust; anger is the defender of theft. This connection with the avarice within greed and lust is why anger manifests also in jealousy and envy.
[g] The pure spiritual impulse in anger is protective. To protect the innocent, and to fight for justice for all. Justice reflects not European Enlightenment secular humanist notions of ‘human rights’, but the spiritual fact every person is equal in God’s love, and thus this love prefers none over others, benefits none over others, and never abandons some whilst saving others. All are saved, together, as a corporate reality, or none are saved. God has no favourites. God appoints leaders, but from these more is expected, in giving and in sacrifice. God is “no respecter of persons”, and has no concern for the hierarchies to which we kow tow. The leader is the servant of all; and whenever we abase ourselves to any other person, it is for the sake of humility and modesty, not to break the equality that holds all in God’s love.
[h] Anger is a Witness to the heart truth of what really happened, or what was really done. Anger won’t let this truth be buried or lied about, or masked over. It must come out. It must be exposed, or everything sickens and goes wrong.
[i] The heart cannot live and act without truth: it falls into depression, and decline; becomes listless, bored and restless; loses its path or direction. When anger for truth is thrown away, ‘accidie’ results: a desert. Nothing matters. Nothing is of value. Nothing has purpose. Bitterness becomes the gall in our mouth, night and die, in this condition. In Greek, this word refers to something like ‘the unburied’, but it means we are so burnt out we do not even have the energy to bury those we love, much less stand with them in the fight for truth in the world. The ultimate lie, and defeat of the heart, is to fall into this ‘apathy.’ It exists widely on the res, as it did in the Nazi concentration camps.
[j] In anger, we must journey beyond recovering our psychological hurts, to an anger that arises out of joining other people in their hurt. Most anger remains too personal: it only cares about the self. Anger must become the fight for justice. Without justice, there can be no peace.
[k] The other impulse in anger: anger is hopeful. It believes people can do better. Anger seeks to restore what has gone wrong, so that it can go well. This is evident in the prophetic anger of the ancient Jewish prophets, but it is also at the root of God’s anger with humanity. As God says, this anger will not last, it is only for a time, and it exists to blast away our attachment to delusion and folly and iniquity, and to bring us back to our more basic attachment to truth. God’s anger expresses God’s unwavering belief in the human heart whose burden and wound we all share.
[l] The Desert Tradition of Eastern Orthodox Christianity says that anger, when holy, is the most ‘self-transcending’ of all passion. It pleases not itself, but offers itself up in ‘ex-stasis’ for a greater drama in which it is the servant, and for which it will die. Anger, when on fire with God, will go to any lengths, and will entirely forget itself in the doing of what must be done. This makes anger the most dangerous passion to all those resisting truth, whether because of fleshly heaviness, worldly inducement, or devilish lying. Nothing can stop this ‘anger for truth.’ If it takes hits, it keeps coming. It cannot be tired out, seduced, bought off, deflected. It keeps coming and will not give up or give in.
[m] Beyond protectiveness and hope in being able to make reparation, anger is God’s own weapon defending human beings from the evil spirits. God is not angry with us, nor has any desire to punish us; God’s wrath is set against the forces of evil that desire and will the destruction of the project God and humanity are engaged in together: building a human heart capable of containing and acting for the divine heart. Therefore, anger is our weapon against demonic forces that want to intimidate and break us from within, incapacitating us for what we are called to do without.
“Be angry, yet do not sin” [Septuagint= Psalm 4, 5]. St Athanasios: “Obtain righteousness, do righteousness, and offer it in sacrifice to God.”
3, Gentleness, Chivalry, Kindness
The Lakota say, “A man of great heart has self control, bravery, and generosity.” Generosity tempers anger’s strictness, and guarantees that we are never petty, small, or pinched, in heart. This is why gentleness and terribleness are two sides of the same coin: the truth that anger is ‘vehement’ for is the truth of the heart—the truth that there is heart in everyone and a primal goodness of heart in everyone, which no spiritual fallenness can remove. Thus, anger’s other side is to see that ‘good heart’ in everyone, and to help it grow. When anger is mastered and developed spiritually, it creates a compassionate strength that never struts, brags, looks down upon or threatens other people more weak, but always puts forth a giving, and kind, hand to them. In extremis, then, a warrior can fight the world, or can offer his death to the world as a sacrifice. Either way–the Sword or the Cross—his passion for truth has faith in redemption. It is the redemption of all that defeats any ultimate reward and punishment, any ultimate division between just and unjust. Sacrifice, to bring out the good which is lost or imprisoned in delusion, proves to be God’s judgement on judgementalism.
4, Eros and the Womanly
The west of the sacred circle polarizes masculinity and femininity, and brings them into relation. A friend who is a pastoral psycho-therapist to the American military tells me that the training to be a soldier, and the experience of war, engenders men who find it impossible to span the masculine and feminine Worlds; they return from the Daemonic arena incapable of finding any Eros with which to husband their wives and father their children. A rigid masculinity rules out any link to femininity. This is a hallmark of the soldier, but the warrior is different.
Warriors among the Lakota were good husbands and good fathers. They knew how to return from the daemonic arena and re-enter the feminine tipi, to appreciate and care for its many gifts, its many good things. Many Lakota warriors also had artistic talent, and could find that reality of the Daemonic which Socrates experienced as ‘the creative spirit’ that tutored him.
In the Orient, a Buddhist woman who was a nun in a monastery founded kung fu: the masculine element is tiger, the feminine element is crane. The latter signifies speed and fluidity, which veers toward dance, and becomes the basis of defense. The former signifies ferocity and directness, like an arrow shot from a bow, and becomes the basis of offence.
In the old times, the Cante Tenze had an advisor who was regarded a sacred woman. Among the Iroquois, in those past days, it was the women who decided war or no war.
A warrior is fundamentally connected to woman; he protects her, and he listens to her and can be guided by her. He is no cruel brute, no blind robot, no rigid erectness whose flesh has become a hard and cold armour that nothing can touch.
The Thunder Being of the west removes weariness and restores energy, and he also cleans away lust. Lust—as the fallen or distorted version of Eros—threatens a warrior. Lust must be overcome, as well as bullying. Lust destroys a fighting heart: it becomes a phantasy get out from putting yourself on the line, a way of easy victories [over the opposite sex, as opposed to your true enemy], and creates a yearning toward ease and comfort, which makes it impossible to bear and endure, in order to hang tough through thick and thin.
Among the Lakota, any man who tended toward bullying was liable to be kicked out of the tipi by his woman, which was a public shaming. He had to take it, and not protest. If he complained, that merely reinforced his lack of manly stature. Moreover, if any wife was abused by her husband, he could be expelled from the tribe, or in extremis, killed by her brothers without anyone objecting. Normally, the killing of one’s own was the severest taboo. But it was lifted in the case of men harming women.
Traditionally it was said, if men are not brave [in the Daemonic], the rains do not fall; if women are not virtuous [in the Erotic], the buffalo do not return.
PART TWO= THE CANTE TENZE, PAST AND PRESENT
[I] The Cante Tenze Warrior Society: Past
‘Cante’ means heart, and ‘Tenze’ means Strong, Brave, Resolute, or even Undaunted. Strong Hearts, Brave Hearts, Resolute Hearts, Undaunted Hearts, are all roughly equivalent. As far as I can tell, the Cante Tenze was one of 5 main warrior societies among the Oglala Lakota, the others being the Kit Foxes [Tokala], Packs White [Wicinska], Crow Owners [Kangi Yuha], Go Right On Through [Iy Uptala]. But I have never checked this with Wilmer Mesteth, so I put it provisionally. The Cante Tenze are virtually the same warrior society as the Dog Soldiers among the Cheyenne.
Traditionally there were two chiefs, or “bonnet wearers.” There was also a sacred woman present at Cante Tenze councils.
In addition, there were 4 lance-bearers, 2 whip-bearers, 1 food-passer, 4 drummers and 8 singers, plus 30-40 lay members.
Candidates to become Cante Tenze had to attend society dances, with red paint on their faces. The Cante Tenze tipi was often in the centre of the camp circle. Anyone could go to their meetings and eat their food. There was always food on offer there, for everyone: they were known for their generosity, as well as their bravery. Also, they wanted to foster a non-elite attitude among warriors, and a sense of service to the ordinary people. Looking down on anyone, or using the strength acquired in the warrior way of life to stand apart and trumpet superiority to an inferior populace, was and still is radically unacceptable to the Lakota. Arrogance toward ordinary folk is not part of the Lakota ethos.
The Cante Tenze induction consisted in the young man living a year with one of the poorest families in the tribe and taking care of their every need, from hunting for food to menial chores like carrying heavy fire wood up a hill for an elderly person. Whatever the family’s needs, it was the job of the young initiate to look after them, and see they did not go without.
The Cante Tenze did welfare, not just fighting. Indeed, traditionally people came to the Cante Tenze to sort out all kinds of physical, social, political, problems. They always knew the Cante Tenze would get it done, whatever it was. Hence the Cante Tenze were especially known as a catalyst for action; they were relied upon to be ‘can do’ and ‘will do’ for the people. The Strong Hearts earned their name because they were the ones who would always step up when others backed away. This remains so to the present day.
Eagle feathers are rays of the sun; each one worn by a warrior signifies a brave deed that is valued not for its bravado, but for being an accomplishment that is spiritual in nature. Such a deed must be witnessed and publicly testified to by another person. A man without any feathers is without any spiritual accomplishments, and no position of responsibility will come to him in the society. Many feathers signifies many of these accomplishments: such a man will be listened to in councils, and regarded as great among his people.
5, Sash Wearers
Those called “sash wearers” were the warriors who carried the heavy burden of staking themselves to the ground in a hard fight that could go either way.
A statement is made by the staking.
To the people you defend it says: You are not abandoned. I won’t withdraw from this place.
To the enemy it says: This is my stand, I will go all the way, to beat me you are going to have to go all the way.
The staking declares: I stake myself to what is most at stake, at the place where it is most at stake.
This is a warrior’s Give Away. This is a warrior’s Sacrifice. This is warrior passion.
This deed of the warrior reveals the passion that takes a risk, carries a weight, suffers a wound, pays a cost, for love: it does this to care about what love puts at stake and only love can redeem.
The warrior staked to the ground cannot release himself. Only another person can release him. Why is this? Once made, this Vow binds him to the sticking place. What holds him to that place, since no one else has put him there? Honour is what holds him. It is circular, and illogical: it is honour that motivates the making of the warrior Vow, and it is honour that motivates the keeping of that warrior Vow.
Vow: to die for the people.
Honour: to keep your promise, to be true to the word your heart declares in its deed.
There are two mystical realities revealed here.
God– a being of passion, a being of great heartedness.
The People– standing together in one human heart.
It is God’s vow to defend and save all the people that a warrior’s vow leans on, and believes in; a warrior’s vow is only upheld by the vow God makes primordially; the irrationality and sacrifice of the latter draws strength from the inexplicable self-giving and self-emptying of the former. And, when a warrior repeats the sacrifice God made primordially, this becomes the means for drawing the people together, and showing them there is really only one heart all humans share. The deep heart is a ground on which all stand. But this is also the killing ground, for it is here that all the forces that fragment the people into islands of fear, and self interest, contest the ground where they could stand together. Staking, with its ultimate sacrifice of dying, takes the killing ground back and makes it the heart ground.
Thus, a warrior not only makes God’s Vow, but he also upholds God’s Honour. When the last warrior has gone from the world, leaving its killing ground uncontested, it will then be as if God never made a Vow and God has no Honour. The world’s killing ground will be handed over to the evil spirit, and there will be no heart ground on which all stand together in the common destiny; the human heart which is really at depth only one will fragment and splinter into isolated, frightened, competing, hostile enclaves, each staked to nothing and each only caring about its own personal advantage, no matter what disadvantage that inflicts on the rest.
This is not the Greek conception of the warrior’s honour, exemplified in heroes like Achilles and Alexander. For the ancient Greeks, honour was seeking immortality: it meant becoming as special as the gods, to be remembered forever, unlike ordinary mortals who had no charisma and were soon forgotten. This sets up an inherent cultural rivalry between the superior few and the inferior many. For the Greeks, honour just means glory for myself, in contrast to the drabness of all the rest of you. The charisma associated with honour is exclusionary.
For the Lakota, this Greek glory seeking is a betrayal of what the warrior really is. The true warrior rallies the people: he is a hero to them because he believes in them. He is their self-belief.
He stands and makes the ultimate sacrifice for the Common Destiny. What happens to one happens to all. We sink or swim, together.
The paradox of the warrior’s two edged sword is this: until we make peace with the Common Destiny, it is at war with us.
A warrior lives for honour, not for freedom. Freedom is a given. Honour is attained.
His honour is not his own excellence, it is the honour of God and the honour of the people he lives for.
A warrior only fears betraying honour.
An old Cante Tenze prayer says: “Wakinyan Tanka, have pity on us, and let the tribe live on.”
It then addresses the directions, starting with the west: “Help us with strength, so that the tribe will live.”
To the north: “Send us cold winds and let the tribe live.”
To the east: “Shine out in full to us and let the tribe live.”
To the south it invokes good winds, because the south sends sickness, as well as being the origin of life.
A warrior prays not that he will survive, but that his life or his death will help the people to live.
6, Setting Out
The wolf was always asked for help when any war party set out. The scouts needed to have the wolf’s ability to track a quarry through all kinds of terrain, and relied on the wolf to tell them ‘who was in the neighbourhood’: something wolves always knew [hunters, for example, could always consult wolves what game was in the vicinity]. In addition, wolf songs were sung by the warriors, to reinforce their solidarity in the coming fight. In a real sense, the wolf spirit presides over main activities crucial to conducting warfare on a spiritual basis.
A Cheyenne scouting song:
“Wolf I am.
Wherever I search
Wherever I run
Wherever I stand
will be good
ea ea ea ho.”
But the warrior road also requires searing honesty about our failings. Here is a Lakota song that involves the humility of a reality check:
“A wolf I considered myself
I have eaten nothing
From standing I am tired out.
A wolf I considered myself
The owls are hooting
The night I fear.”
In some warrior societies, everyone had a shield decorated the same. This was not so for the Cante Tenze; each man’s shield symbolically declared the precise nature of his own personal empowerment by the Thunder Being.
In fact, the shield was the summit of a warrior’s paraphernalia, not his weapons. Why? Because the shield was his spiritual power; it both portrayed and embodied the spiritual power that inspired and guided him, as well as protecting him. The shield manifests a warrior’s way, his road, his path. This was far more important than the fact that a well constructed shield, made from buffalo hide first wetted and subsequently dried to become very tough, could deflect arrows, lances, and even the bullets of the old muskets. Boys had to learn the deflecting motion with a shield to turn anything striking it; they learned this by holding a shield and trying to turn away a rain of arrows shot at them by warriors standing some feet away.
The shield, representing and channelling a warrior’s spiritual power, was said to be his true face, his “front.” Thus the shield says, ‘this is who I am.’ It proclaims to the enemy, ‘this is what is coming for you.’ It not only threatens the enemy, but vows and promises the man: he knows what he is letting down or betraying if he funks it.
Your war clothing prepares you for death; this is why warriors are always buried with their shields.
Warrior societies had their songs, and so did individual warriors. A Kit Fox song:
I am a Tokala
I am living in uncertainty
Anything difficult or dangerous
That is mine to do.
A Cante Tenze song:
Friends, difficulties I seek.
Difficulties I have now.
A Cheyenne Dog Soldier Song:
I will walk on the ashes of the earth, singing.
Lance Henson, poet and Cheyenne Dog Soldier, says this: “A warrior is a man saying goodbye to himself.”
9, The Ones Who Wrap Their Braids
Everyone has heard that a warrior was known as a ‘brave’; but they were also known among their own people as “aske ki giuwipi”: ‘those who wrap their braids.’ Since the soul is in the hair, and unfettered hair indicates a powerful life force emanating from the soul, wrapping up the hair means curbing the soul, in order to unleash and strengthen the heart. All boys, but especially those wanting to be warriors, were separated from their mothers at 7 years of age; after that, the boy never addressed his mother or his sister again, speaking to them only through a third person. The intuition in this practice pertains to masculinity becoming free of the glued-to-mother kinds of pathology so widespread in western society– such as symbiotic over dependence on the mother, enslavement to the mother’s narcissistic demands, and the oedipal complex where mother elevates the son by making him believe he can defeat the father. These early ‘infantile sicknesses’ have the power to emasculate the growing boy, by depriving him of the exercise of his heart in the existential arena where he faces life and death. A good father teaches him some of the self discipline he will need to enter that arena, but even more important is a mentor figure who can teach, encourage, and challenge the boy more rigourously, in order to get the best from him.
There is another factor about Lakota warriors that is much commented upon, but often misunderstood. The boy initiated into warriorhood as a man had to learn both a stoicism whereby he could put up with much, not reacting to it, in order to reach the moment of decision, and a kind of seeming recklessness whereby, once that key time had arrived, he could go straight in, with no hesitation, no holding back, but total abandon. I was once told by a friend that this recklessness is nothing but a death wish. This is not so. Traditionally the Lakota, and other Plains Indians, preferred to send a small war party into the very heart of their enemy’s territory, instead of using large numbers to destroy a weak enemy. Why? Because by going in with small numbers against much larger forces, you strike at the very spirit of your enemy, and proclaim your own strength, courage, and faith in your own medicine power—and contempt for death. Such recklessness is no death wish: it is to break the enemy’s spirit, with your spirit.
Scholars will enumerate reasons war parties went out: [a] to defend one’s band from attack, [b] to revenge an earlier attack on the band– the so-called “scalp raid”, [c] to steal horses, [d] to count coup on an enemy by going close and touching him with a spear, bow, or other weapon, not killing him but risking to be killed by him. A famous example of this last was the Cheyenne warrior Yellow Nose, who snatched Custer’s standard at the Little Bighorn, and used it to count coup on as many of the 7th cavalry as he could run down when they scattered and fled: the myth that they made a ‘last stand’ is nothing but invention. Scholars generally claim that revenge raids became rare after the horse arrived, but whether this is true or not, it misses the whole point. Indeed, this 4-fold list of reasons for war parties going on the “war path” misses the real point entirely.
What Plains Indian recklessness really reveals is that warfare is spiritual: it is a spirit contest, a contest of spirits. The winner is the truer spirit, the loser is the less true spirit.
Many primal indigenous cultures given to the honour of the warrior way understood that when war is such a ‘spirit contest’, everyone profits and no one loses, because everyone can learn about the qualities of spirit that inhere ‘the fight’ which is for truth. The contest of spirits reveals who stands closer and who stands further from the truth, but all profit from this, because all can learn the lesson that is revealed. For this reason, enemies were respected. Each side knew the other was standing up for a greater truth that challenged both sides equally. In this sense, though the warriors protected their own, they never fought only in a partisan manner for their side. They fought for something bigger than either side, which oddly united both sides in the same quest, the same trial.2
The warrior’s way, in short, is a training in heart. What the heart staked to the ground really does is to put ‘spirit’ in the heart, and to put ‘heart’ in the body, so that the bodily deed becomes a pillar of fire, burning from within, and radiating without.
On the killing ground of this world, which is the only heart ground, God, the evil spirit, and the weak human heart, are all in play with the strong human heart. “Be strong” is one warrior’s constant encouragement to the other: and that is the warrior’s encouragement to the wavering heart of the world.
This is why it is better to die in battle, than from old age or sickness.
Test the heart, by letting the heart be tested.
Try the heart, by letting the heart be tried.
The ultimate pain in the heart we all carry, the “black pain” of Lorca, the deep pain, is over the heart:
does God have a heart?,
does humanity have a heart?,
do I have a heart?
If your way of living, your deeds and experiences, allow you to say ‘yes’ to this anguished existential questioning, you die happy.
If this remains unanswered, undiscovered in your living however much you might profess it as an idea, then you die in great apprehension and great trouble of spirit.
If this is answered with a ‘no’, you die in despair.
All three states are in each of us, and vie for the victory.
At root, the heart asks, is life worth it? And it asks of itself, is my heart worthy of what is worth it in life?
This is the real ‘fear and trembling’ in us, the real ‘angst’, the real ‘dread.’ Not simply, is there anything worth my heart’s sweat, tears, and blood?, but even if there is, is my heart up to it, and hence worthy of it?
The Mohawk people of the Iroquois confederation have a long word for being a warrior: “rotiskenrahkete”, which means, “those who carry the burden of peace and justice”, but more subtly, it is also understood to mean, “those who carry the burden of protecting the origins.”
The first meaning carries the implication, no justice: no peace. Therefore the suppression of warfare in a situation still unjust is not true peace. It is putting down the burden and escaping the responsibility for protecting the origins, which are holy. It is a coward’s way.
Here is a statement by a Northern Plains elder in his old age, a man who had been a leader, but looked back in sadness that he had allowed himself to be seduced into a false peace:
“I regret the fact that I did not lead as a warrior as opposed to leading as a peace-maker. Peace does not work in this country. A peaceful man gets put aside.”
He is speaking about America, but there are situations elsewhere that are analogous.
I once saw, pinned to a battered old wall in the Lakota Oglala College in Kyle, the following description of a ‘brave’; what does this say about the existential nature of the origins that uphold all the creation, all the world, in their holiness?
To be a brave, in the Lakota Way, means:
“To do what is right, just, truthful, and generous,
in spite of selfish desire,
in spite of fear of change,
in spite of hard times, in spite of painful or difficult experience,
in spite of fear of honest self reflection,
in spite of superficial ego protection,
in spite of fear of other people’s anger,
in spite of concern over issues of rejection by peers.”
9, The Sun Dance
The Sun Dance has the central significance for the Lakota, and other Plains Indians, that Christ’s crucifixion has for Christians. What is often not recalled, however, is that the Sun Dance was originally a warrior ceremony, as Wilmer Mesteth explained to me.
The Sun Dance contains the central meaning of the warrior’s way as Sacrifice. The Sacrifice depicted and enacted in the Sun Dance has two basic purposes.
[i] to regenerate and fructify life, nature, the earth;
[ii] to identify with the Great Mystery, as the source of life, whose giving of life-blood in sacrifice brings into being all that is.
The first is to renew the creation;
The second is to root human existence in the power of the Creator.
The first honours everything that lives and breathes and moves;
The second honours the Great Holiness from which they take their origin.
[II] The Cante Tenze Warrior Society: Present
1, Current History
The usual statement– all warrior societies died after the reservation period. On the reservation, there are people who claim this. They argue there was nothing for these societies to do any more; furthermore their continued existence would have been a red rag to the American bull.
An alternative account exists– the Cante Tenze, and other warrior societies, went underground, but never completely disappeared. According to Duane Martin, the current chief of the Cante Tenze, the Strong Hearts rose up again in 1924, at the request of the people.
Duane was appointed chief of the Cante Tenze when he was a boy of 10, by Frank Fools Crow, the last of the great Lakota medicine men. It moves me when I think of this boy, with such a heavy responsibility put on his shoulders so early, and his willingness to rise to it, no matter what it involved.
2, Sitting Bull on the rez situation
A Hunkpapa artist, from Standing Rock, once asked my wife, in a moment of rare unguarded vulnerability and sincerity, “Why do they hate us so much?” He meant the Americans. She replied, “We hate those we have wronged; it protects us from facing our guilt.” That is as good an answer as any. But there is another reason why Americans still hate the indigenous peoples of Turtle Island. Americans are so used to projecting themselves into a grandiose fantasy Tower, the real Pit it is constructed over does not make nice viewing for them. Most look upward toward the idealization; few look downward into the reality.
Sitting Bull’s view of the reservation was this:
“I do not wish to be shut up in a corral. All agency Indians I have seen were worthless. They are neither red warriors, nor white farmers. They are neither wolf nor dog.”
To be Red Indian, Sitting Bull taught, requires seven things.
1–live close to the earth,
2–have few possessions,
3–help each other,
4–talk to the Creator,
5–be quiet more,
6—listen to the earth,
7—don’t blame other people for your troubles and don’t try to make people into something they are not.
Honour is the sacredness of duty. Freedom increasingly means, in all western ‘liberal’ societies, just running away from duty. This makes people weak. The wrong liberalism has undermined all the true warrior fighting spirit, not only as it pertains to warfare, but also to every human activity that requires grit. Liberalism has spawned the most passionless people ever in the world.
Doing your duty means that other people can see and trust you as person of good heart. If a Lakota person says, tersely, “My heart is bad”, that means he has totally lost his way. He doesn’t know who he is anymore, and he doesn’t know what he is doing anymore. This bad heart is pervasive on the rez.
To become a reliable adult, upon whom other adults can depend, is the greatest thing this life can offer. To live only for oneself is to never really grow up, but to remain like the child who thinks the universe revolves around him.
3, Sitting Bull on the Americans
Sitting Bull said: “Americans are great liars.”
He also said: “There is no use talking to these Americans; they are all liars. You cannot believe anything they say. We have no faith in their promises.”
Dishonourable: not promised to anything worthy.
–If promised to the worthy, you can declare this as your vow, and keep your vow.
–If given to the unworthy, you never declare this but hide it, and so no promise you give means anything—you cannot promise anything.
By Lakota standards, Americans are a people without honour. They are not promised to what is worthy, thus never struggle to be worthy of it. They simply please themselves.
4, ‘Concentration Camps’
What Black Elk [1863-1950] said to John Neihardt in 1932 sums up the tragedy still engulfing the traditional indigenous life as a consequence of American invasion: “Once we were happy in our own country and we were seldom hungry, for then the two-leggeds and the four-leggeds lived together like relatives, and there was plenty for them and for us. But the Wasichus came, and they have made little islands for us and other little islands for the four-leggeds, and always these islands are becoming smaller, for around them surges the gnawing flood of the Wasichu; and it is dirty with lies and greed.”
The Lakota word for the white invaders literally means ‘fat-taker.’ The word refers to the richest part of the buffalo, which the hunter who brings down the animal in the chase bestows upon someone else, rather than keeping it for himself. Hence the useage of the word for the incoming settlers refers to their tendency to keep the best of everything for yourself, or your own group, or your own kind, even if that entails the other, or his group, or his kind, must make due with little or nothing.
It took time for the Lakota, and other tribes, to fully realise that the American nation was not dealing with them honourably. Thus the native peoples trusted American leaders to be like their own, and were duped, repeatedly, until they learned that politically the Americans would invariably make a show of integrity, but underneath had hidden agendas. By 1873 Kicking Bird was disillusioned: “My heart is as a stone; there is no soft spot in it. I have taken the white man by the hand, thinking him to be a friend, but he is not a friend; government has deceived us; Washington D.C. is rotten.” The Wasichus were driven by acquisitiveness and ambition, but could not be truthful about it. Red Cloud put it like this: “They made us many promises, more than I can remember. They kept but one— they promised to take our land, and they took it.”
Today the Agencies that Crazy Horse and Sitting Bull surrendered to are no better than they were in the 19th century. [These Agencies were called ‘concentration camps’ in the 1860s, and it is now known that Hitler borrowed the name for his own ‘final solution’.] They are still places of cultural genocide and the murder of a people’s spirit.
5, Inverted anger on the rez
It is well known in psychology that the oppressed often identify with the oppressor, by internalizing his oppression and transmuting it into self hatred, self doubt, self paralysis. This inverted anger means that native peoples destroy themselves, and destroy one another, rather than fight the oppressor.
In effect, the oppressor can step back, and relinquish control, because the oppressed do his work for him: they attack themselves.
Yet the situation on the res is more complex than that, for in addition to the self punishing are the collaborators and appeasers who try to do the oppressor’s biding for him, as his stand-in and stooge, and hope by that to get a few more crumbs from the master’s table. In stark contrast to these two stances is a small but admirable minority of heroic people trying to save the Lakota Way, the culture, politics, and spirituality, from extinction. One of the things most striking about the rez is that the difference between neurosis and collusion and heroism is so starkly defined; the choice is stark, thus the differences created by taking different stances toward that choice are stark: crumble; kow tow; stand up. Or: despair; manipulate; fight. To live on the rez, is to have to choose.
In some respects there is a great serenity and silence on the res, and many people there who are in touch with it. The rez is like a beautiful dream in the midst of a nightmare.
6, The way forward?
The pain that coexists with the widespread inverted anger is extreme, but it strangely mirrors the pain in all people who feel the Creator has let them down; beneath everything, the unvoiced cry is, “why did the Creator let this happen?” The worst pain is unacknowledged, a hurt about the Divinity that failed. Personal tragedy is common place and can be borne. But how can the tragedy of a whole people, a whole way of life, disappearing be borne?
I doubt the Lakota can return to some pre-cataclysm paradise; it seems more likely that they will have to come to terms with the ultimate existential dereliction, and existential abandonment, that the Great Mystery has caused them to enter. But this is part of the warrior’s bad black road: they have, as a people, come to the place where the two roads cross, and it is in this most extreme terrible place they will have to find the most extreme holiness. Drinks Water, who foresaw in the 1820s the whole coming fate that would befall his people, and reputedly died from this vision, also foretold the need for two new ceremonies to be created in addition to the 7 given the Lakota by the White Buffalo Calf Woman. Perhaps these two new ceremonies yet to come hold the seeds for the Lakota being resurrected from their crucifixion at the place where the good and bad roads cross.
The well known Dakota writer Vine de Loria Jr. says that the Lakota, and other indigenous peoples, are in an exile, and it is up to them, as happened with the Jews, to find a spiritual meaning in this exile that will build on the pre-exilic spirituality but can develop an exilic understanding that is a transition to a new spirituality.
These things remain a mystery. Their working through is coming from the future to the present, and will change how the past is accepted. It is coming. Truth is coming. It will hurt and it will heal.
If the Lakota are currently lost on the bad black road of worldly difficulties and war, then only warriors walking this road in a good manner, upright, strong, brave, generous, heroic and sacrificial, can signal to all the people that they too can dust themselves off, and stand upright again. This cannot be led by the medicine people, who are leaders on the good red road of cleansing and spiritual illumination, but has to be led by the warriors who lead on the bad black road. When both roads are strong again, the chief as supreme leader can reappear, for it is the chief in whom both roads converge.
Two songs on which to end.
This is the song that the people sang to honour Crazy Horse, when he surrendered:
I love the ways of war
But I have difficulties
Trying to maintain them.
The Cante Tenze song Duane Martin created in prison, which says ‘the Strong Hearts are walking on the ground’, and implies a return, a restoration of an old vow and an old honour, is a staking to the ground, a seed and spark for a future flowering and kindling:
Cante Tenze ki maka ahkatog
Leciya inajilo hey hey hey ho
Leciya inajilo hey hey hey ho
Cante Tenze ki maka inajilo hey hey hey ho.
The ground on which we stand is here,
The universe is also where we stand,
Strong Heart stands on the ground.
It is so. Let it be. Let’s do it. Let’s go.
Today is a good day to die.
Today is a good day to live again.
In the heart, we are on hard ground.
This is warrior ground.
- 1 John 4, 18. This is because fear expects punishment, and so he who dwells in reward and punishment is not perfected in love. Elsewhere, in Proverbs 9, 10, the claim is made that “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom.” This is a different kind of fear. The Hebrew for this ‘fear’ means, not being terrified or frightened, but ‘awe, holy terror, respect, reverence’; while ‘beginning’ means ‘the chief building block.’ Similarly, in Proverbs 1, 7; Proverbs 15, 33; and Job 28, 28, our reverence for God vies against our being self-important [Luke 1, 51, describes those who remain self-important as “the proud in the imagination of their hearts”]; reverence makes us open. We can be instructed through our experience. Gradually, we reach understanding, and this leads us away from evil, even as it initiates us into the profound. Thus reverence for God is humility, and such humility is more primal even than moral integrity. Morality without reverence can easily turn into moralism, which is that kind of judging we are warned not to do, lest it be visited upon us. It is love that completes what reverence begins.
- The honourable basis of warfare gradually died out in Europe, and when the Europeans arrived in the New World, it stood no chance of revival in the building of America, because the new comers had no heart to share the land with the peoples who had been already established on it for thousands of years. Their fever to possess what was not theirs told them the lie that God had given them all this ‘uninhabited’ land, and so they mounted a war of extermination, resulting in a genocide both material and spiritual far larger than what the Nazis did against the Jews, or the Turks against the Armenians. This put native tribal peoples in a predicament they still have not resolved: if you are used to fighting with honour, how do you deal with a new kind of enemy who wants you to totally disappear as a people, as a culture, as a spiritual way? With your back to the wall, war becomes about sheer survival. American patriotism, to this day, remains a dishonourable exercise in war serving no larger truth, but merely serving ‘mine’ against ‘yours’, as if divine truth did not embrace both of us, but preferred you and yours to me and mine. By this, the Americans constructed a pseudo ‘god’, built on the image of their own avarice and the murderousness needed to defend it. But this problem is universal. For the most part, ‘the way of war’ is cruelty and selfishness wearing a mask of moral hypocrisy. Any noble cause for war, and any noble conduct of war, is long gone. Yet the spiritual warfare raging in each of us, and raging in all the world, between the two hearts cannot be magiced away, or suppressed by too easy and cowardly ideas about ‘peace.’