Wakan Tanka

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In the Lakota way of life, Wakan Tanka[1][2] (Standard Lakota Orthography: Wakȟáŋ Tȟáŋka) is the term for the sacred or the divine. This is usually translated as "The Great Spirit". However, according to Russell Means, its meaning is closer to "Great Mystery" as Lakota spirituality is not monotheistic.[3] Before their attempted conversion to Christianity, the Sioux used Wakȟáŋ Tȟáŋka to refer to an organization of sacred entities whose ways were mysterious: thus, "The Great Mystery".[4]


It is interpreted as the power or the sacredness that resides in everything, resembling some animistic and pantheistic beliefs; this term describes every creature and object as wakȟáŋ ("holy") or having aspects that are wakȟáŋ.[3] The element Tanka or Tȟáŋka corresponds to "Great" or "large".

Cognate terms in other languages[edit]

Siouan: Wakan Tanka or Wakan is also known as Wakanda in the Omaha-Ponca, Ioway-Otoe-Missouri, Kansa and Osage languages;[5] and Wakatakeh in Quapaw. In addition, there is Ho-Chunk Mahanah, Mandan Omahank, and Tutelo Mahomny.[citation needed]

See also[edit]

Further reading[edit]


  1. ^ The Indians' Book. Edited by Natalie Curtis Burlin. p38-40
  2. ^ Smithsonian Contributions to Knowledge, Volume 4. Smithsonian Institution, 1852. p302
  3. ^ a b Rice, Julian (1998). Before the great spirit: the many faces of Sioux spirituality. University of New Mexico Press. ISBN 0-8263-1868-1.
  4. ^ Helen Wheeler Bassett, Frederick Starr. The International Folk-lore Congress of the World's Columbian Exposition, Chicago, July, 1893. Charles H. Sergel Company, 1898. p221-226
  5. ^ Drury, Nevill (19 December 2011). The Watkins Dictionary of Magic. Duncan Baird. ISBN 1780283628. Retrieved 23 February 2018.