Published on May 15, 2014 by Amy
Huron Indian myth has it that in ancient times, when the land was barren and the people were starving, the Great Spirit sent forth a woman to save humanity. As she traveled over the world, everywhere her right hand touched the soil, there grew potatoes. And everywhere her left hand touched the soil, there grew corn. And when the world was rich and fertile, she sat down and rested. When she arose, there grew tobacco…
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Tobacco, found everywhere in the Americas, was primarily used as medicine before contact with Europeans. It has been used for many generations as offerings to the spirits, for planting, for gathering food, for healings and for the Native American Pipe Ceremony. After contact, it was used for export to Europe to support the establishment of the colonies, the clergy and the militia. In the capital building in Washington, DC, you can see tobacco leaves sculpted into the columns.
Info snippet: Did you know… In the 1600′s in Colonial America, tobacco comes into use as “Country Money” or “Country Pay”. Tobacco continues to be used as a monetary standard–literally a “cash crop”– throughout the 17th and 18th Centuries, lasting twice as long as the gold standard.
So prominent is the place that tobacco occupies in the early records of the middle Southern States, that its cultivation and commercial associations may be said to form the basis of their history. It was the direct source of their wealth, and became for a while the representative of gold and silver; the standard value of other merchantable products; and this tradition was further preserved by the stamping of a tobacco-leaf upon the old continental money used in the Revolution. –19th century historian
The sacred pipe and Native American Pipe Ceremony are at the heart of native people’s cultures as they travel the road of balance. The smoke coming from the mouth symbolizes the truth being spoken, and the plumes of smoke provide a path for prayers to reach the Great Spirit, and for the Great Spirit to travel down to Mother Earth.
The Native American pipe ceremony is a sacred ritual for connecting physical and spiritual worlds. “The pipe is a link between the earth and the sky,” explains White Deer of Autumn. “Nothing is more sacred. The pipe is our prayers in physical form. Smoke becomes our words; it goes out, touches everything, and becomes a part of all there is. The fire in the pipe is the same fire in the sun, which is the source of life.” The reason why tobacco is used to connect the worlds is that the plant’s roots go deep into the earth, and its smoke rises high into the heavens.
There are different kinds of pipes and different uses for them during a Native American pipe ceremony. There are personal pipes and family pipes as well as pipes for large ceremonies. The particular stone used depends upon the tribe’s location, and various symbols are added to attract certain spiritual energies. Also, the type of tobacco used depends on tribal custom. The tobacco could also be mixed with sweet smelling herbs, barks and roots such as bayberry, bearberry, mugwort, lovage, red will inner barnk, wild cherry bark and many others indigenous to a local area. The cultivation of the tobacco and the mixture preparation were the sacred responsibility of the “Tobacco Society” of the tribe, and practices varied in each area. But despite these differences, there are certain important similarities: The Native American pipe ceremony invokes a relationship with the energies of the universe, and ultimately the Creator, and the bond made between earthly and spiritual realms is not to be broken.
Ed McGaa (Eagle Man), an Ogalala Sioux, and author of Mother Earth Spirituality: Native American Paths to Healing Ourselves and Our World, says that most pipe ceremonies have the same intention: to call upon and thank the six energies: “All of our Sioux ceremonies beseech to the four directions, the earth and sky, and ultimately the Great Spirit. We see our Creator through nature, and we try to emulate what the Creator has made. This has worked out well, as you can see from the track record of Native American people. The old time Indians were honest, ethical people, and they had an unblemished environmental record. When the Pilgrims first landed, they kept them alive, and they took in black slaves. They were extremely humanistic. That’s one of the main reasons that I believe in the natural way.”
Eagle Man begins a Native American pipe ceremony by beseeching the West power, while thinking about the life giving rains and the ever present spirit world. Next, he beseeches the north power, the source of endurance, strength, truthfulness, and honesty, which are qualities needed to walk down a good path in life. Then, he will look to the east power. The east is where the sun rises, and the sun brings us knowledge, the essence of spirituality. Without knowledge, we become ignorant and cause harm to ourselves and others. The fourth energy is the south power, which brings us bounty, medicine, and growth. Next to be acknowledged is the earth spirit. Eagle Man touches the pipe to the ground, and says, “Mother Earth, I seek to protect you.” Since Mother Earth depends on the sun’s life giving energy, the pipe is then held up towards the sky. Lastly, the Native American pipe is held straight up to the Great Spirit, the Great Mystery, the unexplainable source of all life. These words are then spoken: “Oh Great Spirit, I thank you for the six powers of the universe.” Unlike many westerners, Eagle Man explains that the person reaching out to the spirit world has no fear: “Most of us are not afraid of the Great Spirit. We don’t fear something that has given us our life.”