Crashing Thunder (late 19th century – mid 20th century) was an American Indian who was a member of the Winnebago tribe. His life story – elicited, translated, and published by ethnologist Paul Radin as Crashing Thunder: The Autobiography of an American Indian (1926) – reveals the day-to-day lives and the fundamental beliefs of the Winnebago.
Crashing Thunder was born in Wisconsin in a traditional Native American tribal setting. At the beginning of his autobiography, Crashing Thunder recounts that “An uncle of my mother named White Cloud spoke to her before I was born and told her, ‘You are about to give birth to a child who will not be an ordinary individual.’ As soon as I was being born, indeed as I was being washed – as my neck was being washed – I laughed out loudly.”
Crashing Thunder eventually moved from his birth town and became involved in the young, developing Native American Church. The church merged Christianity and traditional Native American religions and used Peyote in its rituals. (Peyote is a small, spineless cactus that is known for its psychoactive properties when ingested and used in certain areas as a supplement to various transcendence practices.)
In Mysticism in World Religion, author Sidney Spencer recounts that “On one occasion, Crashing Thunder tells, he became aware, as he prayed to Earthmaker [i.e., the divine creator of the world]…sitting among his fellow tribesman, of the presence of Earthmaker and of his own soul in its unity with him and with the souls of his fellows.”
In his autobiography, Crashing Thunder explained that:
“I prayed to God. I bowed my head and closed my eyes and began to speak. I said many things that I ordinarily never have spoken about. As I prayed, I was aware of something above me and there He was, He to whom I was speaking, God. That which we call soul, that which is God. This is what I felt and saw. At least this is what I learned. I instantly became spirit; I was their [i.e., the fellow tribesmen’s] spirit or soul. Whatever they thought of, I immediately knew. I did not have to speak to them and get an answer to know what their thoughts were. Then I thought of a certain place far away, and immediately, I was there. I was my thought.
I looked about and watched the people around me and then when I opened my eyes I was myself in body again. From now on thus it shall be, I felt….All those who heed God must be thus.”
Quoted from Crashing Thunder: The Autobiography of an American Indian (edited by Paul Radin).
Photo Credit: Crashing Thunder from publishing.cdlib.org.
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