February 11th, 2011

Sun Dance -- They Suffer that the People Might have Life.

I have often been told and have always believed that the self torture undertaken by men during the Sun Dance was some kind of macho thing so that they could prove their courage and strength.  Apparently nothing could be farther from the truth.  Erdoes and Ortiz introduce a telling of the Cheyenne version of the Sun Dance (called by them, the new life lodge, or The Great Medicine Dance) with these words:

"...Dancers suffered--'they gave of their flesh so that the people might live.'  They underwent piercing in obedience to a vow, or to help a sick relative recover, or to bring a beloved son back unhurt from the warpath;

"The dance was a celebration of the renewal of all life, 'to make the grass grow and the buffalo and the people increase and thrive.'  It was the one occasion when all the  small hunting bands of a tribe come together, a time for old friends to talk, and for young men to find wives."
     Richard Erdoes and Alfonzo Ortiz (editors).American Indian Myths and Legends, Pantheon 1984. pp 33-34.

Pyramid Mesa