Seven Arrows

Hyemeyohsts Storm's Seven Arrows is a most unusual book, and reading it has been a profoundly interesting and moving experience for me. Seven Arrows is in the form of a novel with a lengthy nonfiction introduction and loads of artwork and photographs. However, as novels go, it simply fails to follow the convention, in two basic ways: most of the main characters are violently killed in the story, and the book contains half-a-dozen lengthy allegorical tales that dramatically slow the action.

Overall the picture presented is that of the ending of a way of life and the introduction of a new way. The narrative mostly consists of characters riding or walking from place to place, meeting other indians (I believe there are no non-indian characters), talking about the latest doings of the crazy white man, telling stories, and killing or being killed. The death of the main characters is quite disconcerting at first. The novel begins by presenting the doings of a character, who is then killed. Another character becomes central to the story, and sooner or later he also is killed. Eventually one learns not to expect the current main character to survive; this expectation leads to abandonment of the usual "naive identification" that engages the reader to most novels and to take instead a more Olympian view. One begins to think of the human characters being as symbolic and allegorical as the mice, wolves, and buffalo that are prominent in the "teaching tales."

Embedded in the narrative are about half-a-dozen lengthy allegorical tales that often seem to bear little relation to the actions of the human characters who tell the stories. In addition to these "teaching tales" themselves, interpretations of the events of the tales are presented. These interpretations, in conjunction with the introduction, lead one to think of the symbolism, "looking beneath" and reinterpreting everything that happens in the story. As is the case with any allegory worth reading, these tales and the book as a whole defy simple and unambiguous interpretation. There are multiple layers here, and each tale, and the entire book, should be thought of as flowers which can be opened a petal at a time. This approach to the tales is explicitly encouraged in the narrative.

The artwork and photographs alone are worth the price of the book. The photographs are mostly of indians and their artifacts and various native animals and birds, and almost all of them are striking or thought-provoking. There are also about a dozen exquisite color plates of indian figures and shield designs incorporating symbols that occur in the narrative. Many line drawings decorate and illustrate the text. All these elements work well with the text, though regrettably some of the photographs are marred by the two-page spread treatment they receive.

Seven Arrows presents a point of view and way of life which I found alien, yet attractive. The gentleness of these indians and their good will towards each other, the slow pace of indian life, and the symbolic and puzzling stories the characters tell each other, all contribute to the inducing of a state of peaceful contemplation and a longing for a quieter way of life. This is a book I intend to reread often. It strikes me as a very profound book, but this is the profundity of obscure poetry, of a flawed quartz crystal, or of a human eye or mind: the deeper you look, the more you will see, but the dull or hurried eye may discern little of interest. If you're looking for something different and potentially life-changing, give Seven Arrows a try.

One of the allegories has become a favorite of mine. Here it is: Jumping Mouse.

Note: one reviewer on states that this book is a fake and gets the religion all wrong (and that's why it's published as fiction). I urge you to read that review, as it certainly gave me food for thought! Here's the link. If that link doesn't work, go to and search for Seven Arrows. Even if what Al Carroll says there is true, the book is still a great read; just don't believe it as fact and don't take Storm's description of the religion as accurate.

Carroll's review is not the first encounter I've had with criticism of "the white man" continuing to abuse indians, now by "stealing" their religion. I am sympathetic with this point of view, but I also think that "the white man" desperately needs all the help he can get toward becoming more respectful of other life forms and more "spiritual" in the sense of being less materialistic. Surely, the religion and spirituality can be shared by all who need it.

The beautiful artwork in Seven Arrows is criticized for "getting the colors wrong." This strikes me as a foolish criticism, as though the only valid interpretation of a traditional theme must have the traditional colors as well. This is reactionary thinking; for a tradition to be of value to the living, I think that change is sometimes necessary. If the artwork in Seven Arrows is valid as art, I think that's enough to justify its existence, regardless of its lack of "reverence to tradition." Not every crucifix needs to have a bleeding Christ on it. I don't recall what Storm says about the art in the book, but I don't think it's presented as "views of traditional Cheyenne art." It seems pretty clear that these are modern interpretations of traditional themes.

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