Neihardt, John

Neihardt, John (1881–1973) – Poet and writer (Nebraska’s poet laureate for 52 years) who published a version of the biography of Nicholas Black Elk, a Lakota holy man. Brought up on a Nebraska farm, Neihardt had an experience that inclined him not only toward poetry rather than technology but also toward the study of mysticism. He describes flying across the universe and being spoken to by the voice of a “ghostly brother.” A reading of Vedantic philosophy added impetus to what he experienced as a demand to become a mystic. Reece Pendleton argues that these experiences, inclinations, and experiences prepared Neihardt for his friendship and literary work with Black Elk. It is interesting to speculate what role “mysticism” played in Neihardt’s selective presentation of aspects of Black Elk’s biography. The failure of the book to make an impact before the 1960s suggests that it required a rereading in the light of rising interest in shamans and indigenous people (albeit as environmentalist and countercultural icons) to replace Neihardt’s more mystical intentions. Or perhaps it is simply that Neihardt lacked the shamanic language to understand his experience and thus mistook it for mysticism until he encountered Black Elk. According to Raymond DeMallie, Black Elk interpreted Neihardt’s vision to him as a shamanic calling by an Indian spirit guide. All of this raises questions about the interpretation of shamanism and its relationship with other kinds of religious experience and practice.


Historical Dictionary of Shamanism by Graham Harvey and Robert J. Wallis 2007


Related Articles


Lakota – Indigenous nation originating in and around the Great Plains of the center of North America. Their holy people serve as repositories of knowledge,…

Erdoes, Richard

Erdoes, Richard – American coauthor of a number of biographies (or partial autobiographies) of significant Native Americans, including John Lame Deer and Leonard Crow Dog,…

Pretty Shield

Pretty Shield (1856–1944) – Medicine woman of the Apsáalooke (“Children of the Large-Beaked Bird,” often now called Crow) during the 19th-century transition to reservation life.…