Lakota

Lakota - Oglala - Dakota

The colors and directions are:

East, red – Newness, beginnings, new awareness, dawn
South, yellow – Healing, growing, vigor, youth
West, black – Inner vision, reflection, soul-searching, endings
North, white – Wisdom of ancestors, Higher Power, guidance

East (Yellow) - The direction from which the sun comes. Light dawns in the morning and spreads over the earth. This is the beginning of a new day. It is also the beginning of understanding because light helps us see things the way they really are. On a deeper level, East stands for the wisdom helping people live good lives. Traditional people rise in the morning to pray facing the dawn, asking God for wisdom and understanding.

South (White) - Because the southern sky is when the sun is at its highest, this direction stands for warmth and growing. The sun's rays are powerful in drawing life from the earth. It is said the life of all things comes from the south. Also, warm and pleasant winds come from the south. When people pass into the spirit world, they travel the Milky Way's path back to the south - returning from where they came.

West (Black) - To the west, the sun sets, and the day ends. For this reason, west signifies the end of life. As Black Elk says, "... toward the setting sun of his life." The great Thunderbird lives in the west and sends thunder and rain from its direction. For this reason, the west is also the source of water: rain, lakes, streams and rivers. Nothing can live without water, so the west is vital.

North (Red) - North brings the cold, harsh winds of the winter season. These winds are cleansing. They cause the leaves to fall and the earth to rest under a blanket of snow. If someone has the ability to face these winds like the buffalo with its head into the storm, they have learned patience and endurance. Generally, this direction stands for hardships and discomfort to people. Therefore, north represents the trials people must ensure and the cleansing they must undergo.

If you begin to study the four directions you may notice quickly that the colors equated to each may appear differently from reference to reference. For example, in the book Sioux Indian Religion authors Raymond J. DeMallie and Douglas R. Parks depict the correlation between the direction and color this way:

Black for the west
Red for the north
Yellow for the east
White for the south
And, they add blue for the sky and green for the earth, as is often done.

It would not be until the writings of John G. Neihardt (Black Elk Speaks: Being the Life Story of a Holy Man of the Oglala Sioux - 1932), and Joseph E. Brown (The Sacred Pipe: Black Elk's Account of the Seven Rites of the Oglala Sioux - 1953), that the world learned of this one Holy man’s interpretation for the colors assigned by "his vision" to the four cardinal directions. "His vision" dictates meanings, which were, Black for West, White for North, Red for East, and Yellow for South.
Allen Grey Wolf sent me a letter some years back:
         The version that I use is based on the Lakota colors as set out by 
black Elk in the 1800's based on his vision. Primarily as you probably know,
his choice is based on the colors being the four races of Man. The version
I use differs from your Siouxian example and is based on:

North-White
Purity and Cleansing and Spirit
Fire/Spirit

West-Black East-Yellow
Harvest, going within Inspiration, beginnings
Earth/Body Mind/Air

South-Red
Growth, Change, Family
Water/Emotions

Not everyone sees it this way, but that's what makes it interesting.

Thanks again for your wonderful article.

Alan Grey Wolf.


THE FOUR DIRECTIONS

In their worship the Dakota Indians (Sioux) are very attentive to the Four Directions. When praying with the Sacred Pipe, both in private and public ceremony, they face each direction successively, beginning with the West.

In worship the color of the West is Black. Evil is Black. Danger is Black. Black is the condition of Man as he stands before Wakantanka (Wakan - Mystery - - - Tanka - Great).

The color of North is Red. Red is conflict. Red is tension. Red is decision, as Man determines whether to revert to Black or go on to White.

The color of East is White. White is victory. White is purity. White is life. The rising Sun eliminates Redness and brings clear sky.

The color of South is Yellow. Yellow is Peace. Yellow is fruitfulness. Yellow is warmth. Whatever danger or tension or conflict there might have been, it is now all past; now the Camp can rest.

Unfortunately, every man knows that at another time, in his prayer, he will have to begin again and will have to face the Black.

cf. Charles Alexander Eastman's THE SOUL OF THE INDIAN
John Epes Brown's THE SACRED PIPE, the Seven Rites of the Sioux

History and tribal connections of the Loukota Sioux and Oglala

General information about the Sioux

Cardinal directions in world cultures | Back to Chart | Related Links

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