Published on April 1, 2014 by Amy
Native American Medicine Bags and Pouches by Paula Bidwell Native Talisman Art store owner, artist and indigenous healer.
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What’s a Native American “Medicine Bag”?
A Native American medicine bag is a small leather bag or pouch that contains various healing objects. They are often painted or beaded with designs specific for the wearer. This is done to entice or invoke the spirit of the animal, figure or symbol.
What’s inside is another story. A medicine bag can contain innumerable objects. These objects are as unique as the person wearing it. Many people add their own “medicine” or healing objects. Although, most often a medicine person or indigenous healer will make the bag and add the contents. Common medicine bag objects are stones, ash from a ceremony fire, roots and barks, herbs, feathers, dirt from a ceremonial ground, or wood from a tree struck by lightening.
Many people like their medicine bags very ornate and fancy, but in reality the bag should be downplayed. This is especially true when a medicine bag is made for protection, for instance, protection from jealousy, enemies, negativity, bad spirits, illness and the list goes on and on. A medicine bag is kind of like an “ace up your sleeve”. Or maybe like a spray can of mace or another self-defense weapon. You keep it handy, but you don’t wave it around or threaten folks with it.
Medicine bags or pouches last a long time. They are made of leather and are extremely durable. But there comes a time when the medicine bag just wears out. The neck cord has broken so often it may look like a string of knots. The leather has worn down and looks like it’s been left out in the rain too long. What do you do with it at this stage? You take the bag and it’s contents to a remote location. Somewhere that people seldom go to. Then hang the medicine bag or pouch in a tree where it’s barely visible. The helping birds such as ravens, crows, eagles, or hawks and the “invisible beings” such as angels or guardians will disassemble the bag and remove all traces of it. Some people have been known to bury their bags. But this isn’t recommended. In the earth the bag will continue to exist and the special medicine belonging to it could be dug up and innocently or not so innocently misused. There are stories of ancient medicine pouches that were found, taken home or put in a museum and then all sorts of terrible things began to happen. Anyway, it is much better to let the angelic beings and our helper birds take care of something as precious as a medicine bag.