According to Native American mythology, Wakan Tanka is the concept of a life force, a Supreme Being or God sometimes called “The Great Spirit.” To the Lakota, Sioux, and other Tribes, it was the animating force of the universe who created the universe, but at the same time, they comprised the universe.

And being the “creators,” the Wakan Tanka also are Wakanpi, who are above humankind and are never born and they never die.” The Wakanpi, spirits, have power over everything on earth and control everything humanity does.

Every­thing partakes in a sacred relationship born from the oneness of creation which is a manifestation of Wakan-Tanka. All things come and return to Wakan-Tanka, who is all in the universe yet transcending all above all. Wakan Tanka is everything, of everything, and all there is. (1)

Although the Sioux and Lakota recognized that Wakan Tanka could at the same time be both one and many,
it was only the Holy Men called wicasa wakan who were said to be conduits to Wanka Tanka. They sought to impose social order and understand this mysterious life-giving force that sustained all being and gave power to all things through what appears to be a systematic classification not fully comprehended by Westerners.

For example, much of what we know of Wakan Takan comes from early 20th century authors who had worked with local Native American Tribes. The Lakota medicine man Lame Deer says that the Great Spirit “is not like a human being. . . . He is a power. That power could be in a cup of coffee. The Great Spirit is no old man with a beard.” (2)

The shaman Long Knife (George Sword), described as “a man of marked ability with a philosophical trend far beyond the average Oglala” (Walker, 1917:59) elaborated on the concept of tobtob kin; he also explained the place of the shaman as a medium through which Wakan Tanka could communicate with mankind: “When Wakan Tanka wishes one of mankind to do something he makes his wishes known either in a vision or through a shaman. (3)

Some akicita wakan or sacred messengers of the Hunkpapa
Siouxas depicted by HisFight. Here, His Fight shows the cedar
and pipestone spirits, a homed thunder god, dragon fly, swallow and coyote. The lines linking each tell the observer that
these sacred messengers smoked the pipe with His Fight and
were there to help him.Froma pictograph collected byDe Cost
Smith, circa 1885.

The Sun Dance is one of the seven significant rites of Lakota religion. Only two other rites are known to survive—the purificatory sweat-bath lodge and the vision quest, the seek­ing of power from the forces which pervade and animate the universe.

In 1932, Lakota medicine man Black Elk said that “The four-leggeds and the wings of the air and the mother earth were supposed to be relative-like. . . . The first thing an Indian learns is to love each other and that they should be relative-like to the four-leggeds.” 11 And thus we see this very strong kinship relation to the Wemi Tali, the “All Where”: “The Great Spirit made the flowers, the streams, the pines, the cedars—takes care of them. . . . He takes care of me, waters me, feeds me, makes me live with plants and animals as one of them. . . . All of nature is in us, all of us is in nature.” (4)

At the center of all of the creation is the Great Mystery. As Black Elk said:

When we use the water in the sweat lodge, we should think of Wakan-Tanka, who is always flowing, giving His power and life to everything. . . . The round fireplace at the center of the sweat lodge is the center of the universe, in which dwells Wakan-Tanka, with His power which is the fire. All these things are Wakan [holy and mystery] and must be understood deeply if we wish to purify ourselves, for the power of a thing, or an act is in the meaning and the understanding.

Lakota elder, Luther Standing Bear, stated;

“From Wakan Tanka, there came a great unifying life force that flowed in and through all things – the flowers of the plains, blowing winds, rocks, trees, birds, animals–and was the same force that had been breathed into the first man. Thus all things were kindred and brought together by the same Great Mystery . . . . Kinship with all creatures of the earth, sky, and water was a real and active principle . . . .

The animal had rights – the right of man’s protection, the right to live, the right to multiply, the right to freedom, the right to man’s indebtedness – and in recognition of these rights the Lakota never enslaved the animal and spared all life that was not needed for food and clothing . . . .

Everything was possessed of personality, only differing with us in form. Knowledge was inherent in all things. The world was a library, and its books were the stones, leaves, grass, brooks, and the birds and animals that shared, alike with us, the storms and blessings of earth. We learned to do what only the student of nature ever learns, and that was to feel beauty.” (Land of the Spotted Eagle – 1933)


1. John Fire, Lame Deer, and Richard Erdoes, Lame Deer, Seeker of Visions (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1972), 39–40.

2. Sioux Indian Religion: Tradition and Innovation Raymond J. DeMallie, ‎Douglas R. Parks · 1987


4. Luther Standing Bear, Land of the Spotted Eagle (Lincoln, Nebr.: University of Nebraska Press, 1978), 192–193.

Pin It on Pinterest