Black Elk Speaks

by

John G. Neihardt

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Black Elk Speaks: Chapter 16 Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
After waiting 20 days, it is time for Black Elk to perform the heyoka ceremony. Black Elk compares the heyoka ceremony’s function to a thunder storm: Thunder storms are terrifying when they occur, but after they’ve passed, “the world is greener and happier.” Heyoka ceremonies happen in an opposite way, instilling happiness within people first so that they are happy and clear-headed enough to receive harder truths. The heyoka ceremony balances out suffering and laughter.
In practice, the heyoka ceremony differs from the horse dance because it goes about conveying wisdom or truth in an opposite way, priming the audience with laughter and foolish antics so that they possess an open-minded disposition and are more willing to hear the truths to ceremony conveys. In contrast, the horse dance was a more straightforward performance of Black Elk’s vision.
Themes
The Transformative Power of Ceremony  Theme Icon
Related Quotes
A man named Wachpanne supervises the ceremony. Wachpanne tells everyone to form a circle around the sacred tepee. In the center sits a pot of boiling water. Two heyokas sacrifice a dog, breaking its neck and cutting away everything except for the head, spine, and tail, which are offered to the Powers. Then, they boil the dog meat in a pot. Meanwhile, Black Elk and his friend One Side, both painted red and “streaked with black lightning,” perform tricks alongside the other heyokas to make the people laugh.
Only people who have had visions of thunder beings can be heyokas. Black Elk and One Side are painted red and “streaked with black lightning” because they represent the two messenger men in his vision, who are of the cloud world and associated with the thunder beings.
Themes
Nature Theme Icon
The Transformative Power of Ceremony  Theme Icon
Black Elk and One Side act out Black Elk’s dog vision, charging toward the boiling pot. Mimicking the two men who kill the dogs in his vision, Black Elk pierces the dog’s head with his arrow, and One Side pierces the dog’s heart. After this, everyone charges to get a piece of the meat and flesh, which is now sacred with the power of the west. Everyone feels better after the ceremony.
The thunder beings are of the west, so the dog’s meat is now sacred with their power. By extension, performing the heyoka ceremony brings Black Elk closer to the thunder beings, whose power once intimidated him. 
Themes
Nature Theme Icon
The Transformative Power of Ceremony  Theme Icon