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Sun-Dance

sun, ceremony, dance, devotee and sun-pole

SUN-DANCE, a ceremony performed, with local variations, by most of the prairie Indians, including the Mandan, Omaha, Pawnee Loup, Cheyenne, Arikara, Hidatsa, Blackfeet, Nez Perce, Winnebago, Yankton, Santee and Kiowa. It is held apparently at the full moon occur ring at or next after the summer solstice, and lasts from three to six days. The budding of the wild sage also indicates the times for hold ing the ceremony, and all neighboring tribes, whether friendly or not, are usually invited. The dance begins at sunrise and ceases at the following sunrise. As may be inferred fnom the length of the festival, including the fasting and purification of the devotees and other preparatory acts, the actual sun-dance is but the chief episode in a ritual comprising a congeries of ceremonies. The motive or pur pose of the dance is to promote welfare through the gratification of desires and wants and to avoid ill-fare through the dispelling of hostile agents. The devotee or sun-dancer indulges in the ceremony to fulfil a vow, made by him during the previous winter or season from va rious motives, that he would malce a prayer to the disposer of what he needs through an ap peal to the sun, to "Wakanda" (among the Sioux). The Tetons call the ceremony by a name which means "They dance looking at the sun." In it the moon is regarded as the rep resentative of the SUB, hence the dancers gaze at it just as they do at the sun. Among the principal objects in the festival of the sun dance is the sun-pole or 'mystery tree" (sym bolic of the centre of the four quarters of the heavens), the sacred tent of preparation erected within the so-called camping-circle of the tribe, wild sage, a sweet-smelling grass called wach alga by the Teton and the dancing-lodge.

Each devotee persists in his part until he has received a vision from the sun; but if at the close of the ceremony no such vision has been vouchsafed to him, resort is had to self-sacri fice, which is called uvision-hunting.* One of the characteristic forms of self-sacrifice is that of having two wooden skewers inserted under neath strips of skin raised by slashing the breast or back, to which stout thongs are made fast, by which the devotee is drawn up and fastened to the sun-pole, to which he remains suspended until his weight, sometimes made greater by having a buffalo-skull hung to his person by similar skewers, causes the latter to rend the skin, thus letting the devotee fall to the ground, usually in a faint; another may have a buffalo-skull suspended from thongs passing through raised strips of the skin on the back.or breast, which is allowed to hang thus until the skin is parted by violence and the thongs are freed. Some men who do not intend to dance seat themselves near the sun-pole, and small pieces of flesh are cut out in a row from the shoulders of each; these are offered to the being represented by the sun-pole. Women do not scarify themselves in the sun-dance, and self-torture and the shedding of blood are not practised in the Kiowa ceremony. Consult Cat lin, G., 'North American Indians> (new ed., 2 vols., Philadelphia 1913) ; Lowrie, R. H., The Sun Dance of the Crow Indians> (New York 1915).