Black Elk Speaks


John G. Neihardt

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Heyoka is a Lakota word meaning “contrary” or “sacred clown.” In the Lakota culture, heyokas are sacred people—people with access to spiritual knowledge and power—who publicly perform those powers in an entertaining, opposite fashion, and one might compare a heyoka’s demeanor to that of a court jester. The purpose of a heyoka ceremony is to give people joy or laughter so that they are ready to receive wisdom or truth. Only people who have had visions of the thunder beings can be heyokas.

Heyoka Quotes in Black Elk Speaks

The Black Elk Speaks quotes below are all either spoken by Heyoka or refer to Heyoka. For each quote, you can also see the other terms 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 16 Quotes

But in the heyoka ceremony, everything is backwards, and it is planned that the people shall be made to feel jolly and happy first, so that it may be easier for the power to come to them. You may have noticed that the truth comes into this world with two faces. One is sad with suffering, and the other laughs; but it is the same face, laughing or weeping. When people are already in despair, maybe the laughing face is better for them; and when they feel too good and are too sure of being safe, maybe the weeping face is better for them to see. And so I think that is what the heyoka ceremony is for.

Related Characters: Black Elk (speaker)
Page Number: 117
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:
Get the entire Black Elk Speaks LitChart as a printable PDF.
Black Elk Speaks PDF

Heyoka Term Timeline in Black Elk Speaks

The timeline below shows where the term Heyoka appears in Black Elk Speaks. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Chapter 15: The Dog Vision
Nature Theme Icon
The Transformative Power of Ceremony  Theme Icon
The Loss of Culture and Community  Theme Icon
...20 days. Further, because his people are so distraught, Black Elk must perform it with heyokas so that the people will laugh.  (full context)