Great Spirit and central figure in the cosmology of a number of indigenous north American tribes, most notably among the Lakota. Wakan Tanka is a male figure with a role similar to the Judeo-Christian Jehova and is often called the Grandfather. Unlike the Semitic god though, Wakan Tanka is also described as "many and one" and takes on numerous forms. He is Shiva, Kali and Brahma in one. Wakan Tanka is not an abstract concept of godhead; he personifies everything. He is not the god of a monotheistic religion but rather signifies a pantheistic philosophy in Lakota thought.

One of Wakan Tanka's more typical manifestations is the Thunderbird:

This Thunderbird is really Wakan Tanka as the giver of Revelation, symbolized by the lightning. He is the same as the great one-eyed bird Garuda of the Hindu tradition, or the Chinese Dragon (the Logos), who rides on the clouds of the storm, and whose voice is the thunder. As giver of Revelation, he is identical in function to the Archangel Gabriel of Judaism or Christianity -the Jibrail of Islam.

--Joseph Epes Brown

The same Spirit is also associated with the great flood myth common to many cultures. The wickedness of man causes Wakan Tanka to drown the earth in a great flood and start from scratch. In this myth, the turtle gains its revered status by being the animal that brought mud from beneath the waters to build the new land with.

In one creation myth, Wakan Tanka is formed of the personified elements Rock, Sun, Earth and Sky, to which are added Thunder, Moon and Wind. Leadership is given to Skan (Sky). An entire mythology with the soap opera qualities of the best greek mythology centres on these entities that collectively form Wakan Tanka.

The sacred rites of the Lakota often involve only drums; the circle archetype represents the unity and infinity of Wakan Tanka. The drum's round shape makes it suitable and its beat sounds the pulse of creation. Encampments, structures and seating arrangements are circular. The circle is natural perfection. Another version of the circle that is also found in other cultures is the swastika. This is a powerful symbol showing the universe in motion and is used in rites where this is important such as vision quests.

Wakan Tanka is not easy to understand for the uninitiated. He transcends the idea of divinity of someone brought up in a semitic, monotheistic culture. Much closer analogies can be found in Hindu religion and European paganism.

Disclaimer: I am not Lakota, nor a member of any other indigenous American tribe, and therefore do not claim to grok the subject in its entirety but can only draw analogies to that which I am more familiar with. Corrections via /msg are welcome.

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