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Wovoka

Wovoka (wōvōˈkə) [key], c.1858–1932, Paiute, prophet of a messianic religion sometimes called the Ghost Dance religion. Also known as Jack Wilson, he was influenced by his father (a mystic) as well as by the Christian family for whom he worked and the Shaker religion. Wovoka claimed that during an eclipse of the sun (Jan. 1, 1889) he had had a vision in which God had given him a message—the time was coming when the earth would die and come alive again; all whites would disappear from the earth's surface, and all native people, living and dead, would be reunited to live a life free from death, disease, and misery. In order to bring this about, however, the Native Americans would have to follow Wovoka's doctrine of pacifism and practice the sacred dance he taught them. To make his message more convincing, Wovoka proved his supernatural powers by simple tricks, one of which, the supposedly bulletproof ghost shirt, was to play a tragic part in the massacre of the Sioux at Wounded Knee. Before long his stature grew from Paiute prophet to Messiah, and his religion, which spread rapidly through the western indigenous nations, took on warlike overtones never intended by its founder. The great popularity of Wovoka's ghost dance waned as his prophecy failed to materialize and as his converts were forced onto reservations.

See biography by P. Bailey (1957, repr. 1970).

The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.

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