Ghost Dance, central ritual of the messianic religion instituted in the late 19th cent. by a Paiute named Wovoka. The religion prophesied the peaceful end of the westward expansion of whites and a return of the land to the Native Americans. The ritual lasted five successive days, being danced each night and on the last night continued until morning. Hypnotic trances and shaking accompanied this ceremony, which was supposed to be repeated every six weeks. The dance originated among the Paiute c.1870; later, other Native Americans sent delegates to Wovoka to learn his teachings and ritual. In a remarkably short time the religion spread to most of the Western Native Americans. The ghost dance is chiefly significant because it was a central feature among the Sioux just prior to the massacre of hundreds of Sioux at Wounded Knee, S.Dak., in 1890. The Sioux, wearing shirts called ghost shirts, believed they would be protected from the soldiers' bullets.
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