Wakantanka: The Breath Giver

by Wambdi Wicasa

Many, many seasons ago, Wakantanka, the Breath Giver, the Holy one, walked in the trees of the Paha Sapa, the Black Hills. The trees were cool and the music of the streams made him happy.

Over the high hard rock the Eagle soared on great wings. Deer looked at Wakantanka, and their delicate feet were full of beauty and grace. Moose and Elk dipped their great heads into the water to pull the sweet lake grasses. The great Black Bears, afraid of nothing, padded toward the honey trees. Antelope stood deep in the meadow grasses.

But with all this beauty around Him, Wakantanka was uneasy. He was happy and loved the Hills He had made, but there was no one He could talk to. There was no one He could love. No one who could return His love.

To all his creatures He had given something of Himself: Strength to the Bear – Swiftness to the Hawk – Grace to the Deer – Perseverance to the Turtle – Majesty to the Eagle.

But there was something still in Him that He must share — it was love. And this was His greatest gift of all. This part of Himself would make His work perfect. So He must take care with giving it.

Mother, the Earth, lay off toward the Rising Sun. She, too, stirred with life and stretched out her body trying to give birth to love. She crooned in her yearning:

“My body is yours, Life Giver. You made me a mother of many children. I nurse them. I feed them. They grow and multiply everywhere. But I see you are still lonesome, my husband. I have been faithful to you and have slept with no other. But my children do not have all of you in them. They are like me, and hide in me. Now take my red flesh. Dig deep in it. Tear it. I give it all to you. I care not if afterwards I am called a Dead Land. It is myself and all the love I can give you.

When your son is born you will look at him at first rising and at evening. You will know he is your son. He will look like you. He will turn his face to you and love you.”

Mother, the Earth, sang her song day after day, and her love never grew less. The wind heard her words and carried them to the Holy Hills where Wakantanka listened, and He looked out over the prairies, wishing.

The wind knew the heaviness in His heart and gently it spoke in the night to the Mother. “Mother, I will help you offer yourself. I would never touch you, but I know there is no other way to satisfy your prayer. In the morning I will call my strong brother from the South. He will bleach the grass that covers you and tear it away from you. He will lift it up like a cloud, and your body will bleed. It will be red like the sun and then you can say, “Breath Giver, take this part of me; from me make children like yourself and they will love you as I do. Sleeping Mother, are you ready for this hurt?”

“Yes, Yes,” the Mother sang. “Do it to me. And do not wait for the dawn. Call the south wind now and let him begin. I will sing with him. There will be no tears or pain. I am close to the Holy Hills and will always see how happy the Father is, and how loving are our children.”

The south wind was not cruel. It worked gently and warmly. A new sound began to whisper in the valleys of the hills. The deer lifted their heads to catch a new scent. The eagle whirled farther from his high home. Wakantanka turned His eyes here and there. All His creatures were alert.

Stars blazed at night, and a stillness came. The great red sun lifted itself to see what was new……. and there on a high bare red hill stood upright a new thing.

Head thrown back, fingers and arms outstretched, red as the sun, swift as the deer, wise as the owl, loving as the Mother, stood Man, the Son of God, the one being who could say A-te , Father.