By Nanci Des Gerlaise
(Canadian Cree author of Muddy Waters)
False “Christs” exist among Native Americans just like they exist in other ethnic groups. One of the most memorable is Wovoka (born c. 1858 in Nevada), also known as Jack Wilson. Wovoka was a Paiute religious leader who combined Christianity with Paiute mysticism. He founded the Ghost Dance movement in 1890, which spread throughout much of the western United States. Wovoka saw the power Jesus wielded as magic. One biographer of Wovoka explains:
He [Wovoka] learned about Jesus—palefaced wizard of long ago. Jesus was adept at magic. He had only to touch a man to heal him. He could change plain water into firewater. He could take one small trout, and with a hand pass, turn the trout into enough fish to feed the whole tribe. He could breathe on a dead man, and the dead man’s eyes would open once again into life.1
Wovoka claimed to be the Messiah and told the Natives who followed him not to tell “white man” about him, saying, “Jesus is now upon the earth. He appears like a cloud. The dead are all still alive again.”2 Wovoka believed he had made a personal visit to Heaven in which he learned that:
The enlightened ones must perform the stately circle dance in the precise manner which God and the spirits demanded. They must sing the songs the Messiah prescribed. They must wear the holy garment, which protected against danger and death. This visible badge of oneness was a shirt, marked with mystic symbols, which not only guaranteed everlasting life to the believer, but had the miraculous power to turn back even the white man’s bullets.3
The book Ghost Dance Messiah states:
To the desperate and conquered Plains tribes, in 1890, the doctrine and promises of the Paiute Messiah struck almost instant response. The Sioux, the Arapahoes, the Cheyennes, and Kiowas, in the throes of their desperation, sent investigative teams out to Nevada to sit at the feet of the Indian Jesus. The fever caught on to dozens of other tribes. Soon, across the nation, ten thousand Indians were shuffling in the Ghost Dance, and experiencing its miracles.4
Wovoka became the “Jesus” of his nation and of many other Native American nations. However, to truly fit the description, he needed to have been God, conceived by a virgin, sinless, holy, obedient to the Gospel, and dying a cruel death on the Cross to pay for the sins of mankind. Wovoka was nothing more than a deceived sinner and one who led many into his own deception. In the Gospel of John, it says, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” (John 1:1).
The apostle Paul knew that false teachers and false Christs would present themselves. He warned in the Book of Acts:
For I know this, that after my departing shall grievous wolves enter in among you, not sparing the flock. Also of your own selves shall men arise, speaking perverse things, to draw away disciples after them. (Acts 20: 29-30)
Paul said that through deception, our minds could become “corrupted from the simplicity that is in Christ.” He warned about those who preach “another Jesus,” “another spirit,” and “another gospel” (2 Corinthians 11:3-4).
Satan is roaming about the earth, seeking those he may deceive. We are warned to be on the lookout for his devices:
Be sober, be vigilant; because your adversary the devil, as a roaring lion, walketh about, seeking whom he may devour. (1 Peter 5:8)
When something (or someone) looks good or sounds good, we automatically tend to think it is good. The same holds true when something feels good. But think about how many times in the Bible we are told about spiritual deception and about those who deceive. It’s one of the major themes in the Word of God. And as for false Christs (or antichrists), we are told there will be many. The prefix anti in antichrist means pseudo, another word for a counterfeit of the real thing. It may look similar and may promise the same things, but in reality, it is not the real thing. And following a counterfeit will lead one down a path to destruction at worst and deep disappointment at best. This is the very reason why we should not lean on our own understanding but acknowledge God in all our ways.
Let no man deceive himself. If any man among you seemeth to be wise in this world, let him become a fool, that he may be wise. For the wisdom of this world is foolishness with God. For it is written, He taketh the wise in their own craftiness. (1 Corinthians 3:18–19)
To learn more about Native Spirituality and the Emerging Church, read Muddy Waters: an insider’s view of North American Native Spirituality
1. Paul Bailey, Ghost Dance Messiah (New York, NY: Tower Publications, Inc., MCMLXX), p. 12.
2. Ibid, back cover.
3. Ibid, pp. 5-6.
4. Ibid, p. 6.
Other articles by Nanci Des Gerlaise: