Native Hermeneutics: Reverse Typology and Remythologization, or: The Theological Genius of Black Elk's Dual Participation
- Transactions of the Charles S. Peirce Society: A Quarterly Journal in American Philosophy
- Indiana University Press
- Volume 53, Number 3, Summer 2017
- pp. 447-465
- View Citation
- Additional Information
Our understanding of the importance for, and the influence on the American philosophical tradition of Native American thought has been usefully extended in a number of ways in recent decades. With a few notable exceptions, however, scant attention has been paid to the unique contribution to the history of American thought made by Black Elk, the preeminent wicasa wakan, or holy man, of the first reservation generation of the Oglala Lakota. Scholarship on Black Elk's religious life has struggled between two interpretive possibilities. Traditionalists are concerned to preserve the image of Black Elk as fully native and traditional, a member of the resistance, if not exactly an open insurrectionist. By contrast, the Catholic camp is concerned to claim Black Elk for the Church, championing him as a great conversion success story. Holler has pointed out that both camps fail to overcome their respective burdens of proof with regard to claims of exclusive observance, however. Thus, he hypothesizes that Black Elk comfortably practiced "dual participation," contending that the fundamental, relevant religious category for the Lakota was sacred power, not propositional truth. An orientation toward sacred power alone is inadequate to account for Black Elk's dual participation, however; it may illuminate a necessary condition for Black Elk's dual participation, but it does little to explain the particular form his dual participation took. To that end, this essay argues there are at least two specific, novel and creative hermeneutic strategies—reverse typology and remythologization—developed and deployed by Black Elk as partial means of harmonizing traditional Lakota religion and Catholicism. Taken together with the basic orientation toward power rather than truth, these strategies not only provide us with a fuller understanding of the theological basis of Black Elk's particular form of dual participation, but also recommend Black Elk as a far more sophisticated and significant intellectual figure than he generally receives credit for being.