In the Lakota way of life, Wakan Tanka (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. 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".
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. The element Tanka or Tȟáŋka corresponds to "Great" or "large".
Cognate terms in other languages
Siouan: Wakan Tanka or Wakan is also known as Wakanda in the Omaha-Ponca, Ioway-Otoe-Missouri, Kansa and Osage languages; and Wakatakeh in Quapaw. In addition, there is Ho-Chunk Mahanah, Mandan Omahank, and Tutelo Mahomny.
The Lakota form Wakan Tanka in particular has also occasionally been compared to names from more distant cultures:
- Polynesian: Tangaroa "the god on high". Vaka "the son of Tangaroa".
- Central Asian: Tengri "god of heaven".
- Sumerian: Dingir "god of sky or heaven".
- The Holy Bible, in the language of the Dakotas: translated out of the original tongues. 1883.
- The Indians' Book. Edited by Natalie Curtis Burlin. p38-40
- Smithsonian Contributions to Knowledge, Volume 4. Smithsonian Institution, 1852. p302
- Rice, Julian (1998). Before the great spirit: the many faces of Sioux spirituality. University of New Mexico Press. ISBN 0-8263-1868-1.
- 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
- Drury, Nevill (19 December 2011). The Watkins Dictionary of Magic. Duncan Baird. ISBN 1780283628. Retrieved 23 February 2018.
- James George Roche Forlong, Faiths of Man: Encyclopedia of Religions, Volume 3, reprint University Books, 1964, page 400. quote: The Polynesian god of heaven and of light (perhaps the Central Asian Tangri or Tengri for the god of heaven), who may also be compared with the "supreme Tangara" of America (Bradford, Americ, Antiq., p. 400). The name Tangaroa appears to mean "the god on high" : he was the good deity of light (see Rongo) the patron of fair-haired persons, the sky god and food giver, who settled in Raro-tonga leaving the isle of Anau, or Mangaia, which represents the cradle of the Polynesian race and their mythical paradise. Tangaroa sprang from his mother's head, and was symbolised by sacred lingam stones (see Fiji) his color being red. His principal sons were Vaka (or Laka) and Ahu (or Tupo), of whom the first killed the latter, being jealous (as in the story of Kain and Abel) of his goodness and diligence : the myth seems to represent the war of light and darkness, as does that of Tangaroa and Rongo.
- Türk Dünyası Araştırmaları Vakfı (Turkish World Research Foundation), Tarih: Türk dünyası tarih ve kültür dergisi, Issues 190-195, 2002, page 5. quote: Bu sözün farklı coğrafi bölgelerde nasıl dönüştüğünü gösteren birkaç örnek vermek istiyorum: Buryatlar: Tengeri, Tatarlar: Tingir, Pasifik adalarındaki Polinezyalılar: Tangaroa, Kuzey Amerikan Kızılderililer: Tanka / Tangra.
- Tadeusz Gadacz, Bogusław Milerski. Religia: Belzebub-ciałopalenie, Volume 2 of Religia: encyklopedia PWN, Wydawn. Naukowe PWN (Polish Scientific Publishers PWN), 2001. page 213. quote: Terminy oznaczające gł. siłę sprawczą wśród ludów ałtajskich, tj. tengri, wskazują na hierofanię uraniczną, a rym samym bliskie są chin. tian, czyli niebu. Także sumeryjskie dingir, oznaczające ogólnie bóstwo, wydaje się mieć identyczne pochodzenie. [...] Wiele współcz. ludów plemiennych posiada ideę najwyższej mocy sprawczej (Orenda, Wakan Tanka, Tengri); nasunęła ona W. Schmidtowi myśl o monoteistycznej koncepcji bóstwa jako pierwotnej formie wierzeń, która z czasem poprzez komplikowanie się form [...]
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