(The following is a literal transcript of a conversation with Finger, a distinguished shaman, March 25, 1914.)
I heard you exclaim when a meteorite fell and heard you address the people immediately afterwards. Then I saw you burning sweetgrass. Will you tell me why you did this? You are a white man's medicineman and you want to know the mysteries of the Lakota. Why do you want to know these things?
The old Indians who know these things will soon be dead and gone and as the younger Indians do now know them they will be lost. I wish to write them so they will be preserved and your people can read them in years to come. Will you tell them to me? My father was a shaman and he taught me the mysteries of the shamans and I will tell them to you. What is it you want to know?
When the meteor fell you cried in a loud voice, "Wohpa. Wohpe-e-e-e." Why did you do this? Because that is wakan.
What is wohpa? It is what you saw. It is one of the stars falling.
What causes the stars to fall? Taku Skanskan.
Why does Taku Skanskan cause the stars to fall? Because He causes everything that falls to fall and he causes everything to move that moves.
When you move what is it that causes you to move? Skan.
If an arrow is shot from a bow what causes it to move through the air. Skan.
What causes a stone to fall to the ground when I drop it? Skan.
If I lift a stone from the ground what causes the movement? Skan. He gives you power to lift the stone and it is He that causes all movement of any kind.
Has the bow anything to do with the movement of an arrow shot from it? Taku Skanskan gives the spirit to the bow and he causes it to send the arrow from it.
What causes smoke to go upward? Taku Skanskan.
What causes water to flow in a river? Skan.
What causes the clouds to move over the world? Skan.
Are Taku Skan and Skan one and the same? Yes. When the people speak to Him, they say Taku Skanskan. When a shaman speaks of Him, he says Skan. Skan belongs to the wakan speech used by the shamans.
Is Skan, Wakan Tanka? Yes.
Is he Wakan Tanka Kin? No. That is Wi, the Sun.
Are Wi and Skan one and the same? No. Wi is Wakan Tanka Kin and Skan is Nagi Tanka, the Great Spirit.
Are they both Wakan Tanka? Yes.
Are there any other wakan that are Wakan Tanka? Yes. Inyan, the Rock and Maka, the Earth.
Are there any others? Yes. Wi Han, the Moon; Tate, the wind; Wakinyan, the Winged; and Wohpe, the Beautiful Woman.
Are there any others that are Wakan Tanka? No.
Then there are eight Wakan Tanka, are there? No, there is but one.
You have named eight and say there is but one. How can this be? That is right. I have named eight. There are four, Wi, Skan, Inyan, and Maka. These are the Wakan Tanka.
You named four others, the Moon, the Wind, the Winged, and the Beautiful Woman and said they were Wakan Tanka, did you not? Yes. But these four are the same as the Wakan Tanka. The Sun and the Moon are the same, the Skan and the Wind are the same, the Rock and the Winged are the same, and the Earth and
the Beautiful Woman are the same. These eight are only one. The shamans know how this is, but the people do not know. It is wakan (a mystery).
Did the Wakan Tanka always exist? Yes, the Rock is the oldest. He is grandfather of all things.
Which is the next oldest? The earth. She is grandmother of all things.
Which is next oldest? Skan. He gives life and motion to all things.
Which is the next oldest after Skan? The Sun. But He is above all things and above all Wakan Tanka.
Lakota have told me that the Sun and Taku Skanskan are one and the same. Is that true? No. Many of the people believe that it is so, but the shamans know that it is not so. The Sun is in the sky only half the time and Skan is there all the time.
Lakota have told me the Skan is the sky. Is that so? Yes. Skan is a Spirit and all that mankind can see of Him is the blue of the sky. But He is everywhere.
Do you pray to Wakan Tanka? Yes, very often.
To which of the eight you have named do you pray? When I pray I smoke the pipe and burn sweetgrass and Wohpe carries my prayer to the Wakan Tanka. If the prayer is about things of great importance, it is carried to the Sun; if about my health or my strength it goes to Skan; if about my implements, to Inyan; if about food or clothing and such things, to the Earth.
Are such prayers ever carried to the Moon, or the Wind, or the Winged, or to Wohpe? They may be carried to the Moon and to the Wind; but this is the same as if to the Sun or Skan. Lakota do not pray to the Winged. They defy Him. They do not pray to Wohpe, for She carries all prayers. The Lakota may pray to any Wakan, but if to a Wakan that is below Wakan Tanka, such must be named in the prayer and it will be carried to the one named.
You say wohpa is a falling star. Is Wohpe in any way related to a falling star? She first came like a falling star.
Where did she come from. From, the stars.
What are the stars? Waniya.
What are waniya? They are ghosts. Skan takes from the stars a ghost and gives it to each babe at the time of its birth and when the babe dies the ghost returns to the stars.
Is Wohpe a ghost? She is Wakan Tanka. A ghost is Wakan, but it is not Wakan Tanka.
Has a Lakota ever seen Wohpe? Yes. When She gave the pipe to the Lakota She was in their camp for many days.
How did she appear at that time? Like a very beautiful young woman. For this reason the people speak of Her as the Beautiful Woman. The people do not speak of Her as Wohpe. Only the shamans call her that.
Lakota have told me that Her ton is in the pipe and in the smoke of the sweetgrass. Is that true? It was a shaman who told you that. When the people say ton, they mean something that comes from a living thing, such as the birth of anything or the discharge from a wound or a sore or the growth from a seed. Only shamans speak of the ton of the Wakan. Such ton is wakan and the shamans only know about it. The people are afraid to talk of such ton because it is wakan. The people smoke the pipe and burn sweetgrass because Wohpe will do no harm to anyone.
You say the Rock is the grandfather of all things and the Earth the grandmother of all things. Are the Rock and the Earth as a man and wife? Some Shamans think they are, and some think they are not.
Who were the father and mother of all things? The, Wakan have no father or mother. Anything that has a birth will have a death. The Wakan were not born and they will not die.
Is anything about a Lakota wakan? Yes. The spirit, the ghost, and the sicun. Do these die? No. They are wakan.
What becomes of them when the body dies? The spirit goes to the spirit world, the ghost goes to where Skan got it, and the sicun returns to the Wakan it belongs to.
What is the sicun? It is the ton of a Wakan. Skans gives it at the time of the birth.
What are its functions? It remains with the body during life, to guard it from danger and help it in a wakan manner.
How does the spirit get to the spirit world? It goes on the spirit trail.
Where is the spirit trail? It can be seen in the sky at night. It is a white trail across the sky.
Is it made of stars? No. It is like the clouds, so that nothing but wakan can travel on it. No man knows where it begins or where it ends. The Wind alone knows where it begins. It moves about. Sometimes it is in one direction and sometimes in another.
How does the ghost go to the place where Skan got it? The ghost is like smoke and it goes upward until it arrives at the stars.
What becomes of the body when it dies? It rots and becomes nothing.