Encyclopedia of Fantasy (1997)
Ghost Dance

In the history of the Native American nations, the phenomenon of the GD represents a final and almost wholly desperate attempt to resist the cultural genocide being visited upon them by the advance of white civilization. It was invented by a Shaman named Wovoka (1856-1932), a Paiute from what is now Nevada, who went through a typical shaman's trip to Heaven in 1886, returning from his visit to God and the host of the dead with the movements of the GD, and a doctrine: after a great catastrophe (see Holocaust and After), the whites would disappear from the face of the Earth; the bison would return, greening the Waste Land the Whites had created; and all the dead ancestors would return bearing Healing gifts. A new Golden Age would begin. Within a few years, various Rocky Mountain and Plains nations were performing the GD, a circular slow shuffle which followed the course of the Sun. One of the Sioux leaders who converted to the GD religion was Sitting Bull, who was killed in 1890 by the US military. Within a few months, his followers – who believed their "ghost shirts" would protect them from soldiers – were massacred at Wounded Knee.

In fantasy, where Magic exists, and where Gods may intervene to help the worthy at the last moment, versions of the GD may underlie particularly moving moments when the weak and the honest humble their innumerable foes, or perhaps escape into an Otherworld through a Portal opened by the pattern of the dance. In the mundane world, the GD terminated in dead silence. [JC]

This entry is taken from the Encyclopedia of Fantasy (1997) edited by John Clute and John Grant. It is provided as a reference and resource for users of the SF Encyclopedia, but apart from possible small corrections has not been updated.