Native American Beliefs: “The Great Mystery”
Many Native American beliefs — ranging from beliefs about nature and animals, to traditional customs and ceremonies — are cause for discussion among non-Native peoples. Also discussed are the various spiritual and religious beliefs of Native American tribes. I want to speak to one specifically, the Native American belief in “The Great Mystery.”
When non-Natives consider “The Great Mystery,” thoughts and discussions might revolve around religious passages such as the Ephesians passage in the Bible that speaks to the great mystery hidden through the ages in God, or perhaps Paul’s reference to the great mystery in his letter to the Romans, or the Colossians passage that describes “the mystery that has been kept hidden for ages and generations… which is Christ in you, the hope of glory.” (Colossians 1:24-27 NIV)
When Lakota speak of the Great Mystery, they speak of Wakan Tanka, which is more of an abstract force of creation and spirituality that is to be honored and given thanks. It is not a reference to a personified or singular deity, but rather an encompassing life force and energy existing in all things.
Chief Luther Standing Bear said: “From Wakan Tanka, the Great Spirit, 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 were brought together by the same Great Mystery.”
There is a similarity between Christian and Lakota beliefs about the Great Mystery as far as giving thanks and realizing what exists around you. However, the Lakota believe Wakan Tanka, the Great Mystery, is represented as an all-encompassing collective or oneness. And, the Lakota understanding of the Great Mystery is a reverence and thankfulness to all things made possible by this Great Mystery and a realization that all things are related and interconnected.