“For the power is not in us anymore.”
“After the Heyoka ceremony, I came to live here where I am now between Wounded Knee Creek and Grass Creek. Others came too, and we made these little gray houses of logs that you see, and they are square. It is a bad way to live, for there can be no power in a square.
You have noticed that everything an Indian does is in a circle, and that is because the Power of the World always works in circles, and everything tries to be round. In the old days when we were a strong and happy people, all our power came to us from the sacred hoop of the nation, and so long as the hoop was unbroken, the people flourished. The flowering tree was the living center of the hoop, and the circle of the four quarters nourished it. The east gave peace and light, the south gave warmth, the west gave rain, and the north with its cold and mighty wind gave strength and endurance. This knowledge came to us from the outer world with our religion. Everything the Power of the World does is done in a circle. The sky is round, and I have heard that the earth is round like a ball, and so are all the stars. The wind, in its greatest power, whirls. Birds make their nests in circles, for theirs is the same religion as ours. The sun comes forth and goes down again in a circle. The moon does the same, and both are round. Even the season form a great circle in their changing, and always come back again to where they were. The life of a man is a circle from childhood to childhood, and so it is in everything where power moves. Our tepees were round like the nests of birds, and these were always set in a circle, the nation’s hoop, a nest of many nests, where the Great Spirit meant for us to hatch our children.
But the Wasichus have put us in these square boxes. Our power is gone and we are dying, for the power is not in us anymore. You can look at our boys and see how it is with us. When we were living by the power of the circle in they way we should, boys were men at twelve or thirteen years of ago. But now it takes them very much longer to mature.
Well, it is as it is. We are prisoners of war while we are waiting here. But there is another world” (150-151).
These lines from Black Elk Speaks are found close to the middle of the story, just after the Heyoka ceremony. Black Elk is expressing his concern for the loss of the power that can only be found in circles. He recalls the many ways in which circles influence the Power of the World, and now the Wasichus have put them in the square houses thus taking their power away.
As is expressed in much of this novel, Black Elk describes the loss that his people are being forced to accept. He says, “In the old days when we [they] were a strong and happy people, all our [their] power came to us [them] from the sacred hoop of the nation, and so long as the hoop was unbroken, the people flourished” (150). In this Black Elk reports that in the old days his people were strong and happy due to the power from the sacred circle. However, now the hoop has been ruptured thus causing unhappiness and frailty. His people are no longer flourishing in the ways that used to bring strength to the circle; in fact, it appears as though the youth of his people are naive to the significance of many important ceremonies and customs.
Black Elk speaks of various “circles” that embody the Power of the World. He discusses the sky, the earth, the stars, the sun and moon, seasons, and life itself. Perhaps the most poignant description is that of the tepees, “Our [their] tepees were round like the nests of birds, and these were always set in a circle, the nation’s hoop, a nest of many nests, where the Great Spirit meant for us [them] to hatch our [their] children” (150-151). Black Elk is comparing their tepees to the nest of a bird, they are both circular and each fosters their own youth. This explanation is all encompassing, as it describes the “nation’s hoop”, the world, as a “nest of many nests”. The world is the home of many homes, and this is where the “Great Spirit” intended us to hatch our descendents. Now that the Wasichus have broken the essential loop, the children have lost a crucial precedent.
The boys of Black Elk’s people are case and point to this attempted plea. These boys are taking much longer to mature, as opposed to when they were living by the power of the circle; they became men at age twelve or thirteen. The Wasichus have put the people in square houses, and according to Black Elk, “Our [their] power is gone and we [they] are dying, for the power is not in us [them] any more” (151). Lack of the powerful circle has caused Black Elk’s people to lose focus and this is resulting in the lag in maturity level of the boys. Thus, we come upon a new loop, one that consists of square houses and immature boys. The power of the circle is diminishing, and this causes Black Elk’s people to feel as though they are dying as a whole. Things are changing far too rapidly for them to keep up with, and eventually this will result in their demise.
These lines represent one of the most important themes in Black Elk Speaks, the restriction of a culture and a loss of hope for the future. Black Elk describes the significance of the circle to his people. The flowering tree was the living center of this circle, and without it, his people are losing their sense of optimism. It appears to Black Elk that there is nothing more he can do, “Well, it is as it is. We are prisoners of war while we are waiting here. But there is another world” (151). In the final words of this passage, Black Elk refers to the incumbent loop that is life. He is saying that eventually, his people will all be back, and maybe then things can go back to how they used to be. All there is to do in this life is wait; nothing else can be done to bring back the governing circle that once was the Power of the World.