Possibly the most memorable part of John Neihardt's Black Elk Speaks is Black Elk's description of the vision that he experienced as a boy. On page 93 of Steltenkamp's Black Elk: Holy Man of the Oglala, he reviews what a couple of scholars had to say about visions:
In Lakota tradition, "visions of real significance could come to a child of ten and twelve years and might affect the course of his life" (Royal Hassrick, 1964). Never taken lightly by their recipients, such visions still retained a forceful hold on people quite advanced in age. A vision often prescribed particular obligations and brought special power to the person receiving it (Robert Lowie, 1963).
Steltenkamp refers specifically to Black Elk's own vision in his next paragraph:
At the age of nine, Black Elk received a great vision, and Neihardt vividly narrates its details in an early chapter. Referred to as the living heart of the book and Black Elk's life, one commentary notes that an "attempt to describe it would do it injustice"(Frank Waters, 1984).... This childhood experience is shown as haunting Black Elk's conscious life, and the holy man repeatedly asks Wakan Tanka [God or The Great Spirit] if he properly sought the vision's fulfillment.The book's concluding chapter movingly suggests that Wakan Tanka answered Black Elk's question affirmatively.
On page 94, Steltenkamp tells us that "a key to interpretation of the vision, perhaps unknown to Neihardt and other commentators, surfaced in Black Elk's life at the time of his conversion [to Christianity]." The key that Steltenkamp refers to is a Roman Catholic teaching aide commonly known as the Two Roads Map (pictured right). The Two Roads Map was a "picture catechism," a piece of paper one foot wide and several feet long that illustrates "what Christians have traditionally called salvation history" and, Steltenkamp adds on page 95, "the Two Roads Map imaginatively captured in picture form the basic worldview of traditional Christian theology."
Remarkably, Steltenkamp notes that there are parallels between Black Elk's vision and the Two Roads Map, including "thunder beings, a daybreak star, flying men, tree imagery, circled villages, a black road, a red road, friendly wings, an evil blue man living in flames, a place where people moaned and mourned, emphasis on people's history, and gaudily portrayed, self-indulgent individuals. "
In Black Elk's vision as well as in the Two Roads Map, the Red Road was the good path. The term "Red Road" has now come to mean the good and authentic path for all Native Americans, to many of them, "the Red Road" now means "the traditional Indian way."