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Ghost Dance

Nevada Indian ceremonial rite

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Ghost Dance, the principal ceremonial rite of a peculiar Indian religion which originated about 1887 with Wovoka, alias Jack Wilson, an Indian of the Piute tribe in Nevada. He claimed to have obtained his revelation in a vision in which he had been taken into the spirit world and talked with God, Who had promised a speedy return of the old Indian life through the reincarnation of all the dead Indians, the buffalo and other game, upon a new earth, which was already advancing from the west and would push before it the alien whites to their own proper country beyond the ocean, while the Indian believers would be taken up, as by wings, upon the new surface and there reunited with their old-time friends. By performance of the prescribed dance and songs the consummation would be hastened, while in the frequent hypnotic trances brought about by the efforts of the priests the more sensitive subjects were enabled to anticipate the event in visions.

The belief spread among nearly all the tribes eastward of the Missouri, and produced much excitement for several years, until several dates for the great change had passed without realization of the prophecy, when the ferment gradually subsided. In Dakota it led indirectly to an outbreak among the Sioux in the winter of 1890-1, notable events of which were the killing of Sitting Bull and the massacre of Wounded Knee. In the dance, men and women together held hands, facing towards the center, and danced slowly in a circle, singing the ghost songs, without instrumental accompaniment, while the priests within the circle brought the more sensitive subjects into the trance condition by means of hypnotizing performances. An essential doctrine of the new religion was the brotherhood of man, and in consequence of this all acts and ceremonies of a warlike nature were prohibited.

JAMES MOONEY


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