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Wakan or Wakon ( waˈkʰɑːŋ̍ ) is a word from the Sioux languages ​​of the northern Lakota / Nakota / Dakota , the southern Dhegiha Sioux ( Kansa , Omaha , Osage , Ponca , Quapaw ) as well as the related Oto , Iowa and Missouri Indians and means “Wonderful”, “incomprehensible” or “mysterious”.

In the traditional religions of these Sioux peoples , the term originally had different meanings:

  • Wakan was a mysterious life force or creative force that brings forth, penetrates and connects all natural phenomena and processes; or appears in the most varied of forms (→ animism ) .
  • Wakan was also a moral authority who punished violations of taboos (compare: Lord of the Animals ) .
  • Everything was difficult to understand, or had outstanding or unusual characteristics, was wakan associated . Food, medicine and anything that reveals the miracle of life (like small children or old trees) was outstanding; The first horses called Šunka wakan (“mysterious dog”) or the alcohol Mni wakan (“mysterious water”) appeared unusual .
  • Wakan were the names of some supernatural spirits , some of which had vaguely human-like features (→ anthropomorphism ) .

The Wakan concept essentially corresponds to the Manitu concept of the Algonquian peoples, which can also be both power and (one or more) spirit beings. In contrast to the Iroquois Orenda, for example , people could not dispose of this power, collect it or increase it. In addition to wakan , the southern Sioux also had the powers xube or maxpe with the Mandan and Absarokee , which could be increased through certain ritual acts or transferred to objects (see also: medicine bags ) . With the Mandan, this power wore off over time, so that it was in the interest of the people to "recharge".

Wakan tanka / Wakonda

“There is only one God and His presence is in all things and everywhere. We say a tree is wakonda because wakonda also lives in it. "

- Answer from an Osage to the question "Are there many Wakonda?"

Wakan Tanka ( Lakota alphabet : Wakȟáŋ Tȟáŋka - for the northern groups) or Wakonda (for the southern groups) - "the great, inexplicable secret" - was the sum of all spirits and forces, the cause of everything and the divine world soul (→ Pantheism ) . This great mystery was understood quite differently: some groups saw it as a unified divine force (see for example the Osage quote), others (such as the Omaha) speculated that there were seven great wakonda: darkness, upper world, earth, thunder, Sun, moon and morning star.

From a European point of view, Wakan (Tanka) was wrongly understood and referred to as the “Great Spirit”, who was equated with the Christian God . However, Wakan includes both good and bad, just as one can attribute good and bad qualities to nature. Every thing and living being has “its” Wakan spirit, which is unborn and immortal. People can relate to Wakan Tanka with prayer; the pipe is an important tool for this. Wichasha Wakan ("Holy Men") are considered experts on the concept .


Some religious experts classified the Wakan into four pairs of spirit beings. These in turn can be assigned eight more spiritual beings, all of which are essential parts of the next higher one. The couples are: Skan (the sky) and Tate (the wind); Wi (the sun) and Wi Han (the moon); Inyan (the stone) and Wakinyan (the thunder); Maka (the earth, see also mother earth ) and Whope (the beautiful " White Buffalo Woman ", White Buffalo Woman ). To these eight another eight can be added: Tob Kin (the four winds), Yumnikan (the whirlwind), Tatankakan (the buffalo), Hunonpakan (the bear) and the four spirits Wanagi , Waniya , Nagila and Wasicunpi .

Properties of individual spirits

Wi is one of these spirit beings and represents the sun. He is considered omniscient and as a defender of bravery and loyalty. The bison is particularly close to him as an animal and is therefore often viewed as a form of god.

Wi's daughter is the beautiful Whope (white buffalo calf woman), who is also worshiped as the wife of the south wind. She came to earth and brought the Sioux the symbol of peace, the peace pipe . This pipe is also said to serve as a mediator between the people and Wakan Tanka.

Skan is the spirit of heaven and is considered the source of all strength and power. As the designer of the world, he had everything aligned according to the number four. In addition, Skan is the judge of all gods and souls of men. The Spirit of the Wind is watching the Spirit Path, Tate . He only allows the souls to pass that are recognized by Skan as worthy. Tate also controls the seasons. In the language of the Lakota means Skan : "That which is moving."

Iya is considered a demonic monster and the embodiment of evil that devours people and animals and inflicts evil on them. The evil breath of the beast brings the diseases and Iya usually appears as a hurricane.

Change of meaning

When the Bible was translated into the Dakota of the Santee Sioux in the 19th century, Wakantanka was used as a name for God - similar to Kitche-Manito with the Cree and Ojibwe . Around 1900, certain Christian attributes were already recognizable in the Sioux's own performances.

In today's Pan-Indianism - the burgeoning sense of community of the different Indian tribes through the confrontation with the majority society - Wakan Tanka is often translated as "Great Spirit" and used synonymously with similar concepts of other tribes as a creator god in the sense of Christian God with "Indian stamp".


  • Alice Cunningham Fletcher: Wakonda. In: Handbook of American Indians North of Mexico. (= Bureau of American Ethnology: Bulletin ; 30). Part 2. GPO, Washington 1910, pp. 897-898. ( Online , Internet Archive).
  • Raymond J. DeMallie (Ed.): Handbook of North American Indians . Volume 13: Plains. Smithsonian Institution Press, Washington DC 2001, ISBN 0-16-050400-7 .
  • O. Douglas Schwarz: Hardship and evil in Plains Indian theology. In: American Journal of Theology & Philosophy. Vol. 6, No. 2/3, 1985, pp. 102-114. (Online: JSTOR Stable URL ).
  • James Riley Walker: Lakota Belief and Ritual. University of Nebraska Press, Lincoln NE 1991, ISBN 0-8032-9731-9 . ( limited preview in Google Book Search), here: pp. 68–73.
  • Julian Rice: Before the great spirit: the many faces of Sioux spirituality. University of New Mexico Press, Albuquerque 1998, ISBN 0-8263-1868-1 .
  • Archie Fire Lame Deer: Sioux Medicine Man. Tahca Ushte's son talks about his life and his people. Deutscher Taschenbuch-Verlag, Munich 1998, ISBN 3-423-36057-7 . (Original title: Gift of power ).

Web links

Individual evidence

  1. Jessica Dawn Palmer: The Dakota Peoples: A History of the Dakota, Lakota and Nakota through 1863. McFarland, Jefferson (USA) / London (GB) 2008, ISBN 978-0-7864-3177-9 . P. 12, 166, 190, 199. (Note: "Dakota language" stands for the three northern Sioux languages).
  2. a b c d e Christian F. Feest : Animated Worlds - The Religions of the Indians of North America. In: Small Library of Religions. Volume 9. Herder, Freiburg / Basel / Vienna 1998, ISBN 3-451-23849-7 . Pp. 79-82.
  3. Keyword Wakon in the English-Russian dictionary of regional studies, accessed on December 11, 2015.
  4. Christian F. Feest: Animated Worlds - The religions of the Indians of North America. In: Small Library of Religions. Volume 9. Herder, Freiburg / Basel / Vienna 1998, ISBN 3-451-23849-7 . P. 80.
  5. ^ O. Douglas Schwarz: Hardship and evil in Plains Indian theology. In: American Journal of Theology & Philosophy. Vol. 6, No. 2/3, 1985, p. 105. ( JSTOR Stable URL , accessed July 6, 2013).
  6. James Riley Walker: The Sun Dance and Other Ceremonies of the Oglala Division of the Teton Sioux. In: American Museum of Natural History Anthropological Papers , Vol. 16, 1917.
  7. James Riley Walker: Oglala Metaphysics. In: Dennis Tedlock, Barbara Tedlock (Eds.): Teachings from the American Earth. Indian Religion and Philosophy. Liveright, New York 1992, ISBN 0-87140-146-0 , p. 210 (Walker names four sources here).
  8. Dakota wowapi wakan kin. The New Testament, in the Dakota language . Translated by Stephen Return Riggs into the Santee dialect. American Bible society, New York 1871. See John 1,1-9 ( Joh 1,1  EU ) on Worldscriptures.org
  9. Dakota Wowapi Wakan. The Holy Bible in the language of the Dakotas. Translated by Thomas S. Williamson and Stephen Return Riggs into the Santee dialect. American Bible Society, 1879. 1304 pages. Example: Genesis 1,1 ( Gen 1,1  EU ), John 1,1 ( Joh 1,1  EU )
  10. Christian F. Feest: Animated Worlds - The religions of the Indians of North America. In: Small Library of Religions. Volume 9. Herder, Freiburg / Basel / Vienna 1998, ISBN 3-451-23849-7 . Pp. 74-77.