The prevalence of thunder and other weather events in Black Elk’s visions and daily life reflects the significant role that nature plays in Lakota culture and spirituality. Thunder’s spiritual associations—particularly as they pertain to Black Elk’s initial vision—also highlight the book’s themes of unrealized dreams and alienation. For Black Elk, thunder is both a comfort and a source of immense anguish and frustration. On the one hand, thunder comforts Black Elk because it brings him back to his vision and reminds him that the spiritual world’s “thunder beings” are looking over his people; in this way, thunder affirms his faith in the spiritual world and validates him as a holy man and visionary. On the other hand, thunder’s association with his vision and the spiritual world frustrates him, because it is a constant reminder of his failure to enact the powers granted to him in his vision. When Black Elk hears thunder, he is overwhelmed by feelings of fear and unworthiness because it reminds him that he has done little to improve his people’s situation, despite his spiritual obligation to do so. Eventually, Black Elk’s fear of thunder and, by extension, the fear of failing his people, leads Black Elk to feel lonely, depressed, and alienated from his people. In this way, thunder symbolizes Black Elk’s higher calling as well as the psychological burden that this calling places on him.
Thunder Quotes in Black Elk Speaks
I could not get along with my people now, and I would take my horse and go far out from camp alone and compare everything on earth and in the sky with my vision. Crows would see me and shout to each other as though they were making fun of me: “Behold him! Behold him!”
When the frosts began I was glad, because there would not be any more thunder storms for a long while, and I was more and more afraid of them all the time, for always there would be the voices crying “Oo oohey! It is time! It is time!”
The fear that was on me so long was gone, and when thunder clouds appeared I was always glad to see them, for they came as relatives now to visit me. Everything seemed good and beautiful now, and kind. Before this, the medicine men would not talk to me, but now they would come to me to talk about my vision. From that time on, I always got up very early to see the rising of the daybreak star. People knew that I did this, and many would get up to see it with me, and when it came we said: “Behold the star of understanding!”