Black Elk Speaks

by

John G. Neihardt

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The Six Grandfathers Character Analysis

The Six Grandfathers are the six wise men who summon Black Elk to the cloud world in his great vision. In his vision, Black Elk finds the Grandfathers waiting for him in a cloud tepee that has a flaming rainbow for a door. The Grandfathers take turns giving Black Elk sacred objects and powers to restore his people before showing him the dire future that awaits the Lakota, followed by a depiction of Black Elk’s people living in peace and harmony. Black Elk returns from his vision with the understanding that the Grandfathers have given him the sacred task of restoring his nation’s hoop (which symbolizes cultural unity) and saving his people. Black Elk believes that the Six Grandfathers are the Powers of the World, or a manifestation of all that the Lakota believe to be sacred.

The Six Grandfathers Quotes in Black Elk Speaks

The Black Elk Speaks quotes below are all either spoken by The Six Grandfathers or refer to The Six Grandfathers. For each quote, you can also see the other characters and themes related to it (each theme is indicated by its own dot and icon, like this one:
Nature Theme Icon
). Note: all page numbers and citation info for the quotes below refer to the University of Nebraska Press edition of Black Elk Speaks published in 2014.
Chapter 3 Quotes

So I took the bright red stick and at the center of the nation’s hoop I thrust it in the earth. As it touched the earth it leaped mightily in my hand and was a waga chun, the rustling tree, very tall and full of leafy branches and of all birds singing. And beneath it all the animals were mingling with the people like relatives and making happy cries. The women raised their tremolo of joy, and the men shouted all together: “Here we shall raise our children and be as little chickens under the mother sheo’s wing.”

Related Characters: Black Elk (speaker), The Six Grandfathers
Page Number: 21
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter 12 Quotes

I was fifteen years old that winter, and I thought of my vision and wondered when my duty was to come; for the Grandfathers had shown me my people walking on the black road and how the nation’s hoop would be broken and the flowering tree be withered, before I should bring the hoop together with the power that was given me, and make the holy tree to flower in the center and find the red road again. Part of this had happened already, and I wondered when my power would grow, so that the rest might be as I had seen it in my vision.

Related Characters: Black Elk (speaker), The Six Grandfathers, Crazy Horse
Page Number: 91
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter 14 Quotes

I looked about me and could see that what we then were doing was like a shadow cast upon the earth from yonder vision in the heavens, so bright it was and clear. I knew the real was yonder and the darkened dream of it was here.

Related Characters: Black Elk (speaker), The Six Grandfathers
Page Number: 105
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter 18 Quotes

It is from understanding that power comes; and the power in the ceremony was in understanding what it meant; for nothing can live well except in a manner that is suited to the way the sacred Power of the World lives and moves.

Related Characters: Black Elk (speaker), The Six Grandfathers
Page Number: 129
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter 23 Quotes

I did not depend upon the great vision as I should have done; I depended upon the two sticks that I had seen in the lesser vision. It is hard to follow one great vision in this world of darkness and of many changing shadows. Among those shadows men get lost.

Related Characters: Black Elk (speaker), The Six Grandfathers
Page Number: 157
Explanation and Analysis:
Get the entire Black Elk Speaks LitChart as a printable PDF.
Black Elk Speaks PDF

The Six Grandfathers Character Timeline in Black Elk Speaks

The timeline below shows where the character The Six Grandfathers appears in Black Elk Speaks. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Chapter 3: The Great Vision
Nature Theme Icon
Alienation Theme Icon
Unrealized Dreams  Theme Icon
...clouds that he had seen when he was four. The men tell him that his Grandfathers are calling him. Black Elk follows the men, and his legs stop hurting. A small... (full context)
Nature Theme Icon
Unrealized Dreams  Theme Icon
...transforms into a tepee with a rainbow for a door. There are six old men—the Grandfathers—in the tepee. The oldest Grandfather explains that they have summoned Black Elk to this council... (full context)
Nature Theme Icon
Unrealized Dreams  Theme Icon
The first Grandfather presents Black Elk with a wooden cup of water that “[is] the sky,” which gives... (full context)
Nature Theme Icon
The Loss of Culture and Community  Theme Icon
Unrealized Dreams  Theme Icon
The second Grandfather gives Black Elk a sacred herb. Black Elk feeds the herb to the black horse.... (full context)
Nature Theme Icon
Unrealized Dreams  Theme Icon
The third Grandfather gives Black Elk a peace pipe with an eagle on its stem, and he tells... (full context)
Nature Theme Icon
The Loss of Culture and Community  Theme Icon
Unrealized Dreams  Theme Icon
The fourth Grandfather gives Black Elk a red stick with branches sprouting from it. He tells Black Elk... (full context)
Nature Theme Icon
The Loss of Culture and Community  Theme Icon
Unrealized Dreams  Theme Icon
The fifth Grandfather—the oldest of them all and the one who sent for Black Elk—transforms into an eagle... (full context)
Nature Theme Icon
The Loss of Culture and Community  Theme Icon
Unrealized Dreams  Theme Icon
...to plant on Earth. The Voice tells Black Elk he will return to his six Grandfathers now. Black Elk follows the men back to the Grandfather’s tepee, and the men turn... (full context)
The Loss of Culture and Community  Theme Icon
Alienation Theme Icon
Unrealized Dreams  Theme Icon
The oldest Grandfather tells Black Elk he must return to Earth with the power and wisdom they have... (full context)
Chapter 4: The Bison Hunt
Nature Theme Icon
Alienation Theme Icon
Unrealized Dreams  Theme Icon
...he imagines that they are the bow and arrows given to him by the first Grandfather in his vision, which makes him feel foolish. Just as Black Elk is about to... (full context)
Chapter 7: Wasichus in the Hills
Unrealized Dreams  Theme Icon
...he believes that the “white wing of the wind” given to him by the second Grandfather gave him the power to win. (full context)
Chapter 13: The Compelling Fear
Nature Theme Icon
The Loss of Culture and Community  Theme Icon
Alienation Theme Icon
Unrealized Dreams  Theme Icon
...(June), they perform a sun dance. Black Elk feels guilty for not doing what the Grandfathers in his vision wanted him to do; he feels bad every time a thunder cloud... (full context)
Chapter 14: The Horse Dance
Nature Theme Icon
The Transformative Power of Ceremony  Theme Icon
Unrealized Dreams  Theme Icon
...horses for the dance while singing a sacred song. Everyone looks beautiful but fearful. The Grandfathers paint the black and red roads in the middle of the tepee, and place the... (full context)
The Transformative Power of Ceremony  Theme Icon
...stands in the sacred tepee and holds a red stick. The dance begins with the Grandfathers singing and announcing the horse rider. As each band of horses is announced, they take... (full context)
The Transformative Power of Ceremony  Theme Icon
Unrealized Dreams  Theme Icon
Black Elk sees the Six Grandfathers before him in the cloud, as well as himself on the bay horse. A thunder... (full context)
Nature Theme Icon
The Transformative Power of Ceremony  Theme Icon
The Loss of Culture and Community  Theme Icon
Unrealized Dreams  Theme Icon
The Grandfathers beat their drums. The four black horsemen lead a procession toward the western side of... (full context)
Chapter 15: The Dog Vision
Nature Theme Icon
The Transformative Power of Ceremony  Theme Icon
The Loss of Culture and Community  Theme Icon
Unrealized Dreams  Theme Icon
The chicken hawk tells Black Elk that his Grandfathers will speak to him now. The dust rises around Black Elk, and he sees the... (full context)
Chapter 22: Visions of the Other World
The Transformative Power of Ceremony  Theme Icon
The Loss of Culture and Community  Theme Icon
Unrealized Dreams  Theme Icon
...Elk thinks about his vision and realizes that the six villages must represent the Six Grandfathers from his initial vision. He wonders if Wanekia might be the red man from this... (full context)