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The principal ceremonial rite of a peculiar Indian religion with originated about 1887 with Wovoka, alias jack Wilson, an Indian of the Piute tribe in Nevada. He claimed to have obtained his revelation in a vision in which he had been taken into the spirit world and talked with God, Who had promised a speedy return to the old Indian life through the reincarnation of all the dead Indians, the buffalo and other game, upon a new earth, which was already advancing from the west and would push before it the alien whites to their own proper country beyond the ocean, while the Indian believers would be taken up, as by wings, upon the new surface, and there reunited with their old-time friends. By performance of the prescribed dance and songs the consumation would be hastened, while in the frequent hypnotic trances brought about by the efforts of the priests the more sensitive subjects were enabled to anticipate the event in visions.
The belief spread among nearly all of the tribes eastward of the Missouri, and produced much excitement for several years, until several dates of the great change had passed without realization of the prophecy, when the ferment gradually subsided. In Dakota it lead indirectly to an outbreak among the Sioux in the winter of 1890-1, notable events of which were the killing of Sitting Bull and the massacre at Wounded Knee. In the dance, men and women held hands, facing toward the centre, singing the ghost songs, without instrumental accompaniment, while the priests within the circle brought the more sensitive subjects into the trance condition by means of hypnotizing performances. An essential doctrine of the new religion was the brotherhood of man, and in consequence of this all acts or ceremonies of a warlike nature were prohibited.
Mooney, The Ghost Dance Religion in 14th Rept. Bur. Am. Ethn., II (Washington, 1896).