SACRED SYMBOLS AND THEIR MEANINGS



May all who enter rest in peace and safety beneath my wings. May all who leave, take with them wings of comfort
(Tsimshian Prayer)

 

"They say we have been here for 60,000 years, but it is much longer. We have been here since the time before time begin. We have come directly out of the Dreamtime of the Creative Ancestors. We have lived and kept the earth as it was on the First Day."
(
Anonymous Aboriginal Tribal Elder)

 

"The following sacred symbols have sustained Turtle Island's Indigenous for thousands of years. They offer health and healing and when used correctly and in the spirit of the Old Ones, knowledge, healing and emotional wellness can be profound. For this is the way of it....all my relations." (Thunderbird)

 

 

 

 

AIR

 

"I am the Breath of Life and the male bridge between your mind and your body. I restore you to your exact self each time you take a breath. When you breath, oxygen pours into your body cells. My breath exercises the diaphragm, and therefore the organs above and blow it.

 

Say aloud the word, 'HOPE' and 'FAITH' the 'H' and 'F' rest on my breath. Breath is Life Spirit. Hope keeps all pathways open for new possibilities and dreams. Faith, not in the conventional religious sense, allows you to believe in yourself and to never underestimate what it is that you know. As long you have hope and faith, you have direction, and with that, the energy to move forward. It puts you halfway to your goal of positive self-empowerment.

 

Questions: Would you exist without me? What are some things you can do to keep me clean and healthy?

 

 ANIMALS

 

In Native stories, frequent references were given to a time when animals were considered human, gifted with the power of speech and other human attributes. It was believed that animals had immortal souls and were reborn after death. They were considered more powerful than humans in general intelligence, and surpassed humans in the particulars for which the animal was especially noted. For example, Eagle flies the highest of all living beings, and has eyesight that can see into the soul, and to also see the big picture before making a comment. The Haudenosaunne call Eagle, "Principal Messenger of Creator." 

 

CIRCLE

The Circle lies at the centre of First Nation's spirituality; it is simple logic, actually, as everything in the Universe is round. Father Sky is a great blue bowl, the Planets and Stars are round. Mother Earth and all that live upon her are round, i.e., the plant world has four circular parts, roots, stems, leaves and fruit. Air swirls, and water bubbles in circles. The human body is circular. In other words, the circle is integral to an understanding of the sacred and equal connections of all living beings. There is no beginning and no end in the cycle of life; it is an endless, respectful continuity from the past, to the present, to the future and to the plenitude of life. Mother Earth is often referred to as a Medicine Wheel, Copper Shield or Sacred Hoop because she is circular and she also turns in a circle.

 

Always remember that very sacred teaching as regard the etiquette of a circle - "What goes on a circle, stays in the circle!" The safety and confidence with which people speak their truth is sacred and must never be spoken of outside the circle. Only those who were in the circle have the privilege of hearing that truth.  It is not a debating society, therefore speak your truth from the first person and do not argue with another person's opinions or beliefs.

 

The circle is as sacred to Native People as the Confessional is to Catholics.  In other words, "Ain't nobody's business but the members of the circle, and their Ancestors!"

 

 DREAMCATCHER


 
It was a hot August day and Nokimis (Grandmother in Ojibwa) was sitting in her lodge making snowshoes for her grandson. The summer was the preparation time for the long winter ahead. Her grandson was visiting and playing at her feet. He says, "Nokimis, one day I will be a great hunter." She smiled and listen to the young one brag about his great exploits. All of a sudden he whispers, "Nokimis, don't move, many legs hangs above you. I am a great hunter and I will kill Many Legs and destroy its web." Nokimis immediately cautioned the boy. "No, no, grandson, Many Legs is a great healer and teacher. She eats the bugs that bite us and make us sick. You must not kill her. Now, go outside and play."

The young boy scampered off and Nokimis continued to work on his snowshoes. She looked up when she heard a voice above her head. Many Legs was talking to her. "Miigwetch, Nokimis for saving my life. As a gift I will give you a teaching that you must share with the children."

 

Following her instructions, Nokimis gathered willow and made a circle; it was not a perfect circle because Many Legs told her that life was not perfect. Nokimis then wove a blue stone into the centre of the web that she had strung using the sinew from her Grandson's snowshoes. "The blue stone is the Sky Stone." said Many Legs. "When the children dream, the good dreams will reside in the Sky Stone and the bad dreams will be caught in the web. When Grandfather Sun rises in the East in the morning, the bad dreams will be burned away. Eventually over time, only the good dreams will remain.  Life is how you dream it,  so dream good dreams." Wilwilaaysk, All My Relations.

 

 

 

DRUM TEACHINGS HAS ITS OWN PAGE

 

 

 

 EAGLE

 

It was the Haudenosaunee that first explained that Eagle was the Principle Messenger of Creator.  Since then, it is now a universally accepted principle.  Eagle flies the highest of all the winged ones and, therefore, can see the past, present and future at a glance. She sees the flow of change.  She alerts us to the changes so that we can respond appropriately. She sees the big pictures, and does not react until she understands it all. Eagle is the great illuminator and soars above us all, sometimes out of sight to us, but never out of its own sight. Eagle sees and hears all and sits in the east on the Medicine Wheel with the direction of leadership and courage. 

 

In other words, Eagle is connected both to the spirit of the Ancestors and to the Earth and does it with ease. Eagle, therefore, is a powerful symbol of courage; that is why its feathers are such significant tools for healing, and why there are special ceremonies for them. Eagle teaches us that it is okay to combine wisdom and courage -- it is okay to be wise enough to know that a change needs to be made in one's life and then finding the courage to execute the change. It is okay to gather our courage, for the universe presents us with opportunities to soar above the mundane levels of life; the test is the power to recognize opportunities.  Do not, in other words, be afraid of the unknown.  

 

Embracing wisdom and courage means to fly above life's difficulties and smell the tobacco from the sacred pipes as their smoke carries our prayers to our Ancestors!

 

EARTH 

 

"I am the symbol of life and Father Sky’s mate. I am your heartbeat. I am the sacred connection and universal circle of life. Honour the seven directions (East, South, West, North, Life above, below and on the Earth). I created equality in all you see, so honour me, do not waste me.

Knowledge:There are birds of many colours. Yet all is one bird. There are horses of many colours. Yet all is one horse, so all living things, Animals, Flowers and Trees, so all four races, with one heart that beats. That this should last and last and everywhere there’s peace.”

 

 Questions: Do you think about me in your daily life? Do you send me healing and love? Would you exist without me? What are some of the things you could do on a regular basis to keep me healthy? Why is caring for another so important?"

 

The root of all Native knowledge, lies in the reverence for the land. Noo Halidzoks (Mother Earth) gave the Red People a special gift of Turtle Island (North America): They were charged with the responsibility of being Caretakers of this vast land and were given much wisdom and knowledge as regards its care and preservation. As an Elder once said, "We are the environment and the environment is us. We deal with all of nature as equal members of the universal family. We go to the mountain, we go into the mountain, we become the mountain - never trying to overcome it, but always being part of its energy."

 

There was a fundamental misunderstanding in the early dialogues between First Nations people and the Europeans who sought to purchase their land. The Indigenous Ancestors were mystified by such negotiations because the land was not something to be bought and sold. The land was the lifeblood of The People; its inherent sacredness lived in the souls of every member of the Red Race. It was to be kept in a good way, nourished and loved. In the words of Chief Sealth (also known as Seattle), "How can I sell what I do not own. It is only owned by that which created it in the first place." 

 

The rest as they say is history, as the land was then simply taken from the First Peoples, and quickly became a marketable commodity by which great riches could be gained. As humans we need to look around and inside of ourselves and learn from this. It was never the intention of Noo Halidzoks for the land to have no meaning except for what it could bring monetarily.

 

"We are no bigger than grains of sand. Yet everyone is so unique and so different that there are no two alike. Each little grain of sand holds its own vibration. That is the beautiful part of walking on this pathway - Nature  is always speaking to us, always reconfirming, telling us to pay attention, we are here for you. Connect Nature's gifts with humans walking the earth walk in a good way and the vibrations can change to constructive energy."

 

Embrace Noo Halidzoks with pureness, respect, truth, love, dignity, peace and constructive energy so that together we can save what is left of her. When we walk the walk with the twin elements of knowledge and courage, (knowledge of the importance of the Land to our living world, and courage to save it), all things are possible.

 

 

 


FIRE

"I am the Heart of the People. Warm with me, Dance with me, Cook with me, Hear my stories. I am cleansing and renewal. Out of my ashes comes new ways of thinking and behaving. The Plant world regenerates itself. I am a brilliant glow across the spectrum. I am candles, sparkles and colour. I am warm, male and light. I am heat, change and motion. I am witches, beacons and brightness. My smoke carries my prayers to your Ancestors. I am the eternal witness in sacred ceremony. The centre of life fueled by Mother Earth's tresses, the trees. Don't misuse me. In the heart of all people, I am passion, love and rebirth...I am fire."

 

More on Prophecies and Teachings  

 



INUKSUK

 

The Inukshuk has become the main cultural symbol of recognition for the Inuit people and the Canadian North.  It had a variety of meanings. (a) It was a directional marker used to help with navigation. (b) It was used as a memorial marker. (c) Warn of impending danger particularly on open water. (d) It marked sacred space.

 

The word "Inukshuk' means "something that substitutes the actions of a person." Often spelled "INUKSHUK", with the addition of an "H", the Inuit prefer their way. The plural is "Inuksuit." It also means friendship, hope, safety, protection. It is a beacon in the North, a welcome sight of greeting. "I have always been here," it seems to say, "You are welcome in my world."

 

MASKS

 

On the Pacific Northwest Coast of British Columbia, Masks symbolized what they were designed to depict: animals, heroes, characters in a drama (i.e., good and evil), wind, rain, supernatural beings, nature, and so forth. They have also been used for satire and buffoonery, as emblems for special groups, to cause laughter or fear, to cure disease, and to impersonate people or supernatural beings. Masks were and are an integral part of the dance dramas at Yaawk (Feast) ceremonies. They are elaborately carved and often designed with a human element. Photo above is of a Giant Raven.

 

ALL ABOUT THE PACIFIC NORTHWEST COAST

 

 

 

 

 

MEDICINE BUNDLE


The Medicine Bundle is usually associated with a Spirit Doctor or a Healer. It contains the items that the Healer uses in her  healing ceremonies. In the Tsimshian Tradition, the bundle was usually burned with the Medicine Doctor upon his death because it was thought to contain items of spiritual power unique only to that person. If used by another, without her express permission the energy could be destructive.

 

Generally, however, the bundles were handed down from family member to family member. Each item in the bundle has its own song and the owner was expected to sing that song, when the item was to be used.  The items came in visions and dreams and could include any of the following: crystals, roots, animal hides, shakers, arrowheads, horse hair, tobacco, sage, sweetgrass, cedar, animal bones, feathers, drums, stones, pipe, even nail clippings and human hair. From time to time, the bundle is feasted to keep is magic and power alive.  There are also large medicine bundles that represent the entire tribe and held by certain trusted people, such as Elders and Storytellers. Anyone can create a medicine bundle containing things that are important. (Photo: Pawnee Medicine Bundle)

 

 

 MEDICINE SHIELD

Power of the Medicine Shield came from the energy of the individual warrior who created it from a dream received on a visionquest. It was used as a symbol of protection and strength in battle or success in the hunt. The Shield is most associated with the Plains Native people and was often elaborately adorned with the warrior's spirit guide(s) and other items of a personal meaning, i.e., feathers, animal fur.  Photo is a more modern shield that I made and entitled, Serenity Medicine Shield.

 

 

MEDICINE WHEEL HAS ITS OWN PAGE


 

 

 

 

GYEMGM AATK - MOON

 

 

She moves elegantly around Mother Earth every 27 days. She is responsible for the earth's waters, and controls the tides as her energy merges with Mother Earth's heartbeat and causes the oceans to move. She is the light in a darkened world and stands as a beacon of faith and hope.

 

She is the queen of feminine life and is quintessentially female energy. Strong, Fair, Kind, Generous, Inspired, Dreaming, Nurturing, Intelligent. The female body throughout its lifetime goes through many profound internal changes from childhood to Elder. Gyemgm Aatk is with each woman constantly and provides the balance needed during the changes. 

 

Woman's life-giving gift to to the future of the world gives her a powerful voice in how the world is shaped.  It is this voice that Gyemgm Aatk encourages women to use in the service of the sisterhood and the safety and protection of Mother Earth.

 

 

 

 

NATURAL WORLD & THE NUMBER FOUR

 

First Nations teachings bases itself on balance and harmony of all living things anchored by the four great directions on the Medicine Wheel - East, South, West, North.  All things come in groups of four. Some examples:

 

(a) Four Elements - Earth (south), Air (East), Fire (West), Water (North);

(b) Those that walk on four legs, those that swim, those that crawl and those that fly.

(c) Four realms of human existence: Child (East), Youth (South), Adult (West), Elder (North).

(d)  Four winds who found their origin in the lower world, but blew up through Mother Earth into the four directions. West Wind is often thought to be the most powerful.

(e) Four Seasons Spring (East), Summer (South), Fall (West), Winter (North)

(f) Four original colours of human that followed the geographical layout of the globe: (Yellow (East), Black (South), Red (West), White (North).

 

There are circles with circles in each direction each containing endless sacred symbols and knowledge that are contained within and around the Medicine Wheel.  As an Elder once said, the knowledge on the medicine wheel will always exceed the grains of sand on a beach!

 

 

 

 

 

PARFLECHE

 

     

                       From left: Shoshone, Cheyenne, Crow

Rawhide bag. The word is not Indigenous, but French as it first was introduced during the Fur Trade years. Interestingly, it is derived from the French, 'para' meaning "to defend" and 'flech' meaning to "deflect arrows." When combined, Parfleche describes the bag as something that could have been used as a shield because of the stiffness of its construction.  The original bags were rather crudely made from buffalo hide that had been soaked in wood-ash lye that removed all hair and other properties.

 

Like all Indigenous artifacts, although practical, there was no reason they should not be beautiful as well. The bags were painted with symbols belonging to the owner or of individual tribal significance. It was used mainly by the Plains Native people as a means of transporting a variety of items that included: dried plants, clothing, herbs, tools, pemmican. There were even 'box' versions that could hold larger items. They became family heirlooms and were passed down for generations, turning them from practical to sacred to art.

 

 

 PIPE

 

There are different kinds of pipes and different uses for them. There are personal pipes, family pipes as well as pipes for large ceremonies. NOTE: There really is no such thing as a Peace Pipe. When the U.S. government sent representatives to negotiate for the land, the Native leaders produced their pipes with an understanding that the pipe would allow for peaceful land transactions. No falsehoods were spoken anytime, but particularly in the presence of the pipe.  When the pipe was presented to the circle and then smoked, it was a symbol of the "straight truth" that went directly to the Ancestors. If an individual accepted the pipe and smoked it, he was, in fact, saying he believed what he was hearing and that he, in return, would not lie.  (Note:  It was never the Native people who lied!!)

Afterwards, when the Europeans started using tobacco for financial gain, its use became corrupted and great sickness came to the world - the inevitable results when a gift is misunderstood and misused. The great sickness was also contained in several ancient prophecies.

 

Generally Sacred Pipes consist of two parts, a tobacco-holding bowl made of bone, wood, stone, or metal (as in calumet pipes or some of the later trading pipes) and a stem, usually made of wood. The pipes of the Plains were usually made out of soft, red catlinite stone (found in southwestern Minnesota). 

 

The pipe, when joined, is a living being with energies coursing up and down its spine. The pipe is a ritual object created to focus and alter the consciousness of the user. It has its reflection in the human body and in the Universe. The pipe is a cosmos unto itself uniting all dualities within Creation.

 

NOTE: Although the pipe represents one of the highest forms of Native spirituality, you do not have to be a pipe carrier to receive the messages from the universe or to live a sacred life.

 

WHO ARE KEEPERS OF THE SACRED PIPE:

Normally pipe carriers are those Native individuals who have been walking and talking their earth walk in a good way for many years, and who have accepted the responsibility that goes with such an onerous undertaking.  

Individuals
should not give themselves pipes because this is viewed as self-indulgent and arrogant.  Sadly, it is the case however, that more and more folks after a spiritual weekend here or there, are suddenly pipe carriers. 

Also, non-Native people have a habit of giving pipes to other non-Native people. Such a practice is both mystifying and dangerous. It is viewed as particularly heinous to many Native cultures  who see this as just another attempt to purloin Native spirituality without any real thought as to the consequences of their actions. Many Elders believe that both the giver and receiver of such a sacred item will suffer in one way or another.

In these instances, the pipe has no essence, no power.  If you purchased a pipe for yourself or someone else hang it on your wall, it has no spiritual value, and like Elvis, the Ancestors and all things magical and mystical have left the longhouse!

HOW DOES AN INDIVIDUAL RECEIVE A PIPE? 

A pipe is normally received in three time-honoured ways and this is only after years of learning, walking the walk and talking the talk. 

(a) From a legitimate Pipe-Carrying Native Elder who is a pipe carrier and who has earned the right to give pipes and who does NOT know you, yet has had at least four profound experiences about you (dreams, visions).

(b) From a legitimate Pipe-Carrying Native Elder who does know you and has had at least four profound experiences about you (dreams, visions).

c) The pipe was inherited through the family and the current Native owner has "earned" the right to carry and smoke it.

There are very serious ceremonies that are undertaken before a pipe is smoked or used in ceremony. It must become the property of the carrier and, therefore, there are rituals involved for that process.  In my case, I underwent a four day fast/visionquest, followed by ceremonies that covered thirteen full moons, culminating in another four day fast/visionquest.


WHAT DOES THE BOWL REPRESENT?


Earth Mother, Female, Heart of Creation/Creativity, Birth, Rebirth,  Womb, The Stone people, Female Beyond Creation, The Heart, Soil, Fertility, Life, Grandmother Moon. Held in Left Hand.

WHAT DOES THE STEM REPRESENT?


Sky, Father, Male, Spine, Transcendent, Impregnation, Original Energy, Male Beyond Creation, The Tree Nation, The Airway, Lightning/thunder, Grandfather Sun. Held in Right Hand.

BEGINNING THE PROCESS:  Your intentions should be pure, peaceful and for the greater good.  Keep negative and violent thoughts away. The purpose of smoking the pipe is to provide and receive messages of harmony, balance and wholeness. The pipe is not to be used as a vehicle for a self-indulgent wish list. Ego has no place here.

JOINING THE PIPE: Before joining the pipe, the stem and bowl are laid on a ceremonial blanket or held in the left and right  hands respectively. The stem is lifted to the stem hole in the bowl as if in greeting; the stem is then fitted into the bowl. If the pipe is being used in ceremony or prayer, it is normally turned away from the body with a one-quarter turn.

HOLDING THE PIPE: The bowl of the pipe is held in the left hand (closest to the heart). The bowl is cradled gently in the open palm. The stem is held near the top generally with an overhand grip when a pipe ceremony leader is praying in public, and in an underhand, palm up, grip for private ceremony.

LOADING THE PIPE: Native tobacco (Kinikinik made from natural herbs) is normally used, and each pinch that is inserted into the bowl means something.  The reason tobacco is used is because its roots go deeply into the earth, and its smoke rises high into the heavens carrying prayers. The tobacco represents both the seen and unseen worlds, and the connections that every living being within these two realms have as a huge and cohesive group. For example, the flying, crawling, swimming beings; animals and humans; Mother Earths blood (water), air, fire, earth, star nation, planets, Ancestors, Stone and Tree families, and on and on......They all meet inside the bowl in a peaceful dance.

LIGHTING THE PIPE: The pipe should generally be lit with a wooden match or taper  for it represents the fire of Creation meeting its children. (I also adapt to modern times and use the best the Asians have to offer, long barbecue lighters work really well! I also think that if these lighters were available back in the day, my Ancestors would have happily used them because they would have invented them!

SMOKING THE PIPE: The pipe in the right hand should switch from an overhand to an underhand grip almost as if you are sipping water from the heel of the palm. The smoke is drawn down the stem and not inhaled.  The smoke for a moment merges with the breath and at that moment, the sacred and the profane become one; it is then gently released into the air as a whole being and the smoke carries prayers and intentions to the source of all.  When you have finished smoking, the right hand should return to an overhand grip and the pipe should be passed clockwise to the next person.

PASSING THE PIPE: The pipe is nearly always passed in a clockwise direction representing the travel of the sun. The pipe is passed with an overhand grip on the stem and a careful cradling of the bowl. The pipe is received with two open, upward palms, and then the bowl is cradled in the left hand while the right hand closes over the stem in an overhand grip.

POSTING THE PIPE: This means the pipe is set on an altar which could be a buffalo skull, 2 forked sticks, rock or ceremonial blanket. During the time the pipe is posted the conversation should remain spiritual.

BREAKING THE PIPE: When the pipe ceremony is finished the pipe is taken apart by holding the bowl in the left hand and stem in the right. The ashes are returned to the earth and blessed. The stem is turned away from your body one quarter turn then pulled straight out of the bowl. When not in use, the two parts are usually stored separately. 

 

 

 

EFFIGY PIPE - HAUDENOSAUNNE

 

  The pipe is relatively small and was found in burial mounds in Ohio (the main area), Mississippi, New York, Wisconsin, Haudenosaunne and the Lakhota. They made an appearance in Ontario around the fourteenth century. It is estimated that the pipes go back some two thousand years.

 

 Interestingly, the word 'effigy' has a negative connotation. It means someone who is disliked. It is unclear as to whether the pipes were smoked for good or evil reasons. The pipes are elegantly carved, with realistic depictions of animals and human that do not appear as negative images.  Animals such as reptiles, birds, animals and rodents were carved into the stone and sat on platforms, hence the name "platform effigy pipe." In other words, animals indigenous to the area were depicted on the pipes. For example, Pipestone found in Ohio was used.

 

The carving of a human face was also most popular and their meanings complex, which was often the case with most Indigenous cultures that combined both the secular and the supernatural in daily life. Photos below is a modern effigy pipe; it was given to me in 2014. I doubt that it is of any age, because it is in such perfect condition, and it is carved out of wood, instead of stone.  Nonetheless, I accorded it the proper respect by doing a pipe ceremony for it. It is quite beautiful and smokes calmingly.

 

There appears not to be a concise explanation as to the meaning of these artifacts:

 

"With no historical records regarding effigies, archaeologists are still unclear on the actual purpose of these figures. In general, it is believed these objects had an important spiritual or religious significance for their owners. However, effigies may have had specific meanings based on the type of object and who used them. Many of these objects were created to be worn or carried by an individual and may represent guardian spirits or protectors. Effigies may also be totemic symbols that identify the individual as part of a specific clan or group"

(Kent, Barry C., Susquehanna Indians, pg. 164. Commonwealth  of Pennsylvania, Harrisburg, PA 1984)

 

Some of the suggested purposes for the pipes:

 

1. Ceremonies such as the False Face or Medicine Mask.

2. Spirit Doctors using them for healing purposes.

3. Personal pipes that depicted an individual's guardian spirit.

4. Many of the pipes were found in burial mounds which suggested that the dead were honoured by having their spirit guide accompany them beyond the white veil.

5. Personal pipes for people in authority, i.e., chiefs.

6. Clan Pipes.

 

It seems to me that these purposes are in direct contrast to the term word 'effigy' and it negative connotations.

 

References:

(a) Google Hopewell Project on the Internet.

(b) Archaeology of the Iroquois, Ed. by Jordan Kerber, Syracuse University Press, 2007.

(c) 'Ontario Iroquois Effigy Pipes', William C. Noble, Canadian.

(d) Journal of Archaeology, Vol. 3, 1979.

(e) Pinched-Faced Human Effigy Pipes, Ronald Glen Kearsely,
(f) 'Effigy Pipes, Diplomacy and Myth: Exploring Interaction between St. Lawrence Iroquoians and Easter Iroquoians in New York'.
Society for American Archaeology, April, 2005.

 

NOTE: I have heard the women were and are not allowed to own or smoke these pipes. Since very little is known about the pipes themselves and their uses, isn't it sad that the re-writing of history once again bans a woman from using a sacred object. Moreover, Effigy Pipes are currently being made and sold on the internet to anyone with cold,  hard cash! So, have at it, ladies!

 

Reminders:

Pipe keepers and membership in the Haudenosaunne Medicine Societies are for both female and males with the responsibility to uphold and preserve the rituals associated with the culture.

 

The Haudenosaunne are governed by a powerful Matriarchy.

 

We really need to stop this pathetic, patently, predictable attack on Indigenous women.

 

 

 

 

PLANTS/FLOWERS/TREES

 

 

   

 

The Plant World generally symbolizes transformation

 

--Roots represent the past, and honour heritage and the Ancestors.

--Trunk represents the present and reveals the life force and creative spirit within each of us.

--Branches represent desired future goals.

--Fruit or Flowers represent attainment of goals.

Four Sacred plants used for ceremonial and healing purposes are: Tobacco (East), Sage (South), Sweetgrass (West), Cedar (North)

 

 

 

STANDING PEOPLE (TREES)

Trees are regarded as the medicine people of the plant kingdom. They best represent the Warrior because trees are rooted and contained beings. They are stable yet flexible which allows them to bend in the wind but not break. Trees symbolize the process of transformation: Roots are the past and how we honour our heritage and Ancestors; the trunk is the present; the branches are future goals.

 

TREE OF LIFE

Haudenosaunee people of the Great League of Peace were instructed to search for their roots under the Great Tree, which is the symbol of the Haudenosaunee Confederacy, the original five nations who chose to govern their people by peace. (Mohawk, Onandaga, Oneida, Seneca, Cayuga - later, Tuscarora).

 

The Tree is the white pine with four roots extended to the four directions of the earth to embrace all people. The White Roots represent peace and strength. If any person or nation outside the Five Nations wishes to obey the Great Laws of Peace they may follow one of the great roots to the tree. If their minds are clean and they promise to obey the wishes of the Confederate Council, they are welcome to take shelter beneath the "Tree of the Long Leaves." The tree has the guardian bird, Eagle, perched on the top to warn the people. The eternal central sun, the source of all life lies beyond the  tree.

 

 

 

 

POTTERY

 

                    

 From left: Pueblo,         Cherokee,       Haudenosaune        Hopi

Magnificent pottery is another artifact that started out as simply an item to store things. Those tribal communities that were agriculturally-based such as the Haudenosaune, created stunning pottery to hold corn. Pottery and its potters cannot lumped into one category because the creation of the work as as unique as the different tribes famous for it, Southwestern pottery (Pueblo) is perhaps one of the more well known probably because the tribes were sedentary as opposed to nomadic. To this day they have not moved far from their ancestral land, and did not suffer European intrusion quite to the extent of eastern tribes such as the Haudenosaune, for example. Prior to European contact, pottery could be found pretty much all over Turtle Island. Haudenosaune pottery is recognized by its dark patina because it was made from dark clay found in southern Canada, New York State and parts of Wisconsin. Pottery was usually made by women.

 

 

POWER ANIMALS/SPIRIT GUIDES/TOTEMS

A power animal (or Guardian Spirit) is one that has made itself known in dreams or visionquest at least four times, in a significant way

 

They are also ‘helping allies’ that assist during times of transition, growth, war, healing. Part of a person's individual medicine bundle should contain something from the natural world that represents the powerful spirit guides.

 

From time to time they should be honoured with a feast and a special ceremony.

 

 

 

 

RATTLE OR SHAKER


Shakers imitate rain and tears. Tears of sadness are the parts of the soul that have been lost. Tears of joy are when the four realms of human existence unify (mind, body, emotions, spirit).

Shakers are used for: soul retrieval, cleansing and purifying, visionary work. The rattle is asked through its sound for spiritual guidance. Rattles are used to softly and gently call ancestral spirits in case they are travelling and need time to return.  The rattle calls softly to those in their long sleep and summons them respectfully for their assistance. The drum is not normally used to summon them, les tthey be awakened with a jolt - they tend to be a bit cranky if you do that.

 

   

 

BACK TO HOME PAGE

 

 

RELATIONSHIP TO OUR ANCESTORS

 

  First Nations people are often accused of having a rather cavalier attitude toward death, probably, in part, due to our stoic demeanour. Nothing could be further from the truth. Native ceremonies allowed for a time of keening for the dead, but the prophetic words of a number of Elders, including the great Nimii-puu (Nez Percé) leader, Chief Joseph still resonates through most tribes. He said that his Ancestors were not dead, but merely "living in another world." In this way they would always be kept alive in present day realities.

 

Moreover, they are always the first ones called to a ceremony. We simply accept that the essence of a person remains an integral part of everyday life even though the physical body has been returned to Mother Earth. The harshness of tribal survival also could not allow for extensive grieving; life had to go on. Therefore, it was a comfort to those who were grieving that their love-one(s) were never far away, "just living in another world."

 




SAND PAINTING

   

 

The Navajo have elevated sand painting to a fabulous spiritual art form. It is a very meticulous process were were originally created only by Spirit Doctors who called upon Yeibicheii (Holy People) to help with the ceremony or healing process. Effortlessly, the sand would flow through his fingers creating upwards of forty paintings for one ceremony. At the end of the ceremony, the paintings would be destroyed.  In some respects this was the 'sand' version of oral storytelling, as the culture of the Navajo people emerged through this sacred art form.

The sand was created with naturally colour sand, crushed gypsum (white), yellow ochre, red sandstone, charcoal, corn meal, flower pollen, powdered roots and bark, and a mixture of any and all of the above to make other colours. Unfortunately there are patriarchal overtones to the process because women on their moontime are prevented from becoming involved, and not allowed participation in any way lest if effect the Spirit Doctor's ability to do his job. Seems he ought to work on his own inner strength if he has a problem with women. Sigh!

 

 

 

SMUDGING & THE FOUR SACRED PLANTS

 

Back before recorded time, in the time of spirit, ceremony and belief, Turtle Island's Indigenous people adopted four sacred plants to be used in ceremony. These medicines were meant to be used in prayer and for other peaceful purposes.  When combined the smoke carried prayers to our Ancestors. Today, what is often called a "Sweetgrass Ceremony" opens many gatherings, powwows, meetings, conferences, anywhere people are gathered together in a good way. The word 'smudge' is a bit of a slang term when describing the four plants as a group; 'smudging' means the action of fanning or pushing the smoke over you to create harmony mentally, spiritually, emotionally and physically.

 

SWEETGRASS, the hair of Mother Earth and the power of emotional healing. It is literally is sweetgrass with a wonderful aroma. It often grows in dark, marshy places. It is braided to signify unity and strength. A single blade of grass represents an aspect of the living world, when separated it can be broken, but when braided it cannot be broken. When in ceremony, human hair is usually braided to signify that we are all one people and that our world vision is one of strong, united, supportive communities. Sweetgrass is a tangible metaphor for a unified world. Our task is to work towards a world community that is in harmony with itself. Sweetgrass soothes the emotions, calms the nerves, brings down the heart rate. Its perfume drops your shoulders in relaxation as you move into the rhythm of the Earth.

 

CEDAR - The power of physical healing. It's sweet smell and healing properties are used in physical healing. Bathing in a cedar bath or the occasional cup of cedar tea helps to cleans the internal and external body.  Feel its power seep into your pores. Feel the pulse of your heart as your body embraces its own health and well-being. Line the floor of a sweatlodge with Cedar so that its sweet smell can imbue the bodies of those sitting inside. It is refreshing, it invigorates, it heals.

 

SAGE - The power of spiritual healing. As the white sage (salvia apiana) wafts across your body, breathe it into your soul. Let your spirit find its balance with the emotions and the physical body.  Feel its power raise your spirits, feel yourself stand taller and stronger in your own truth. There are holes in the spirit when it is sad, let the sage fill those holes with good thoughts and positive attitudes.

 

TOBACCO - The power of Mental Healing. Ah, the most powerful of all, it gives thanks to the Ancestors. Often considered to be the oldest plant on Turtle Island, it was never meant to be smoked for commercial purposes! Sacred tobacco is pure and called 'Kinikinik'. It is comprised of Bearberry leaves, red willow and alder bark, among other things. It is smoked in sacred pipes and given to Elders when requesting assistance or information. Tobacco is sprinkled in thanks to the Earth Mother, and to the Ancestors for gracing us with their presence. Tobacco should be held in the left hand, closest to the heart. Raise your hand, it should be offered to the four directions before being scattered on the earth.

 

HOW TO SMUDGE:  Place cedar, sage, sweetgrass into a clay bowl. Light it carefully and let the smoke start to rise, it carries your prayers to your Ancestors.

--Rub your hands in the smoke to cleanse them; scoop the smoke into your hands and bring it to your head, so you will think good thoughts - no anger, jealousy, hate;

--To the eyes so you will see the world around you in a good way, in other words beyond cultural and human diversity, beyond wealth, beyond poverty. All the matters is "heart to heart".

-To the throat so you will speak always in kindness and in non-judgmental ways - no hate, no criticism, no racist rhetoric.

-To the ears, so that you will listen truly listen to each other instead of "waiting to speak" which we so often do. Truly hear each other, listen to the joy, the pain, the music of another soul.

-To the heart so you feel connected to all living beings in a loving way. First Nations people know they are only one part of a wide world, open acceptance of all others keeps the world in circular balance.

-To the solar plexus so your emotions connect with the Earth Mother.;

-Women to the womb, so your life giving energies go out into the world in balance and harmony. 

-Finally under the feet, this way the dark side of your soul and the world will not follow in your footsteps.

 

Ah, do you hear that? Listen carefully, for the Ancestors have awoken from their deep sleep and have come with the spirit of the smudge.  They are here to help you heal.  As is the way with all things sacred, great respect must be given to the process of smudging for a relationship is being formed between you, the plant spirits, the Ancestors and all that is unseen.  It is powerful and must be respected.

 

Often shells are used for smudging (Left in photo); big, beautiful abalone shells. In my Pacific Northwest tradition, shells once contained the spirit of a living being. My heritage is borne of the seas and oceans, streams and rivers; respect for all living beings that reside there is paramount for they offered themselves so my people could eat and live well. As a result I do not use the shells for they once contained the living spirit of a relative! To burn the bottoms of these shells is to burn the spirit that once lived there. 

 

Over the years I have been given a number of these beautiful shells. I use them to hold my healing rock crystals, or as a prayer bowl which contains the names of those who require healing, or I simply pass them on to others. A simple, clay or pottery bowl is my choice for smudging.

 

For this is the way of it.....wilwilaaysk, all my relations

 

 

 

 

SOUL CATCHER

 

  The Soul Catcher (Pacific west coast) was used for healing work, not necessarily for use after the patient had gone to his/her day of quiet. In death, it was expected that the soul would leave and find its way to the light. There were other ceremonies to ensure this happened.

 

The Tsimshian, Inuit, Tlingit Spirit Doctors used soul catchers as an important part of their healing work. Physical, mental, emotional and spiritual health are all intertwined as they make up the four realms of human existence. The four realms relied on a healthy spirit to anchor the other three parts. If the soul became lost while separated from the body during a dream, or was driven out by sorcery (either self-inflicted or by someone else), the body was now empty. A spirit doctor was engaged to find the lost soul, capture it in a soul catcher and restore it to the patient. Soul retrieval is a very complex and special ceremony.

Once the soul was found, the Spirit Doctor then placed one end of the soul catcher near the solar plexus and blew the person’s spirit back into them. This prevented illness from invading the "empty" body. Loss of soul can also be considered a metaphor for some sort of mental or emotional breakdown.

 

Note: 1: The term ‘Spirit Doctor’ in lieu of the term ‘Shaman’ is being used. 'Shaman' is a term that came from central Asia. There is no word in any Native language for the word ‘Shaman’.

Note 2: The northern tribes also recognized sorcerers in their midst. These were often spirit doctors who had gone to the dark side of their own souls and who could inflict considerable damage on a person(s). Sorcery is within each of us. The human condition has a bad habit of routinely driving itself into the dark void of the soul often taking others with them.

Note 3: Soul Catchers were most often carved from the leg bone of a grizzly or brown bear.  Because bear femurs were large, much bigger soul catchers could be created to plug the smoke hole of the healing house just in case the soul tried to make a premature getaway!

Note 4: There were also 'plugs' made from cedar bark to plug the holes at either end of the soul catcher to hold the soul until it was blown back into the patient.  

 

 

 

SUNRISE CEREMONY

 

Most tribal communities have adopted the Sunrise Ceremony as part of their ceremonies (i.e. powwows, other special events).

Just as each day is a new beginning, so should that beginning be honoured at the point that Grandfather Sun rises in the morning starting his leisurely journey across the sky. It is an opportunity to give thanks for the bounty that is Mother Earth, for the health of family, friends and to pray for peaceful interaction among the world's people. It is a silent time of reflection before the start of the business of human life to give thanks to Grandfather Sun and his healing properties and so, tobacco is scattered on the earth in the four directions as the tangible recognition of our thanks. 

 

For the Apache, the Sunrise ceremony was an important rite of passage of young girls move into womanhood after experiencing her first moontime (menstrual cycle) and beginning to gain mastery over how own spiritual, mental, emotional and physical power.  It came out of the ancient knowledge of White Painted Woman.

 

 

 

MORE ABOUT CEREMONIAL PROTOCOL  

 

 

 

TALKING STICK & SHARING CIRCLES

 

The teaching of the Talking Stick is an exquisite example of the combined sacredness of the Talking Circle and the Five Codes of Ethics, in particular Non-Interference and Anger Not be Shown. When the Talking Stick is passed around the circle it is an action that is overtly indicative of the respect that we have toward the concept of harmony, balance and good manners, The Ancestors and Mother Earth. The Talking Stick is a symbol of respect for the individual thoughts, stories and histories of each participant in the circle.

 

Whoever is holding the stick speaks their truth at that moment in their personal history, The role of the rest of the participants is to sit quietly and engage in active listening. No one else should interrupt while the person holding the Talking Stick is speaking. When the individual has finished speaking (however long that takes), the Talking Stick is handed to the next person in the circle. If the receiver chooses not to speak, she simply hands it to the next person until the Talking Stick has been passed to everyone participating. In this way each person has had the opportunity to Speak and to Listen. The Talking Stick does not have to be a fancy, beaded Stick, It can simply be something that has been found in nature that has personal meaning. My favourite items are, a ‘Talking Stone’, a wonderful round stone I found on the beach of Haida G’wai; A small, beautiful totem pole that was carved especially for her by a friend. Always remember that what is said in the circle remains there.

 

THE CIRCLE: There are different kinds of Talking Circles and they generally start the same way. The convener opens the circle with a smudging ceremony and prayer. The convener usually sits in the East. If it is a 'mixed' circle, men sit in the north, women in the west, youth in the south.

 

THE CIRCLE IS NOT a debating society, it is not used as a dialogue between or among participants. The circle is to allow each person to speak their truth in a place of no-judgmental confidence and safety. All anger, jealousy, hate, anguish must be left outside the circle so that a feeling of calm, kinship and kindness can dominate the proceedings. Speak from the 'first person only and in your own truth'. Introduce yourself first, first name, last name, both, whatever you are comfortable with. It's just a polite thing to do.

 

The circle is symbolic of the Medicine Wheel where no one is more prominent than any other person, all are equal and there is no beginning and no end, so that all words spoken are accepted and respected on an equal basis. If there are Native Elders present, they should be given a gift of tobacco, and it is a fairly large circle, be cognizant of the fatigue-level of the Elders and try to keep your story efficient as everyone is accorded the right to speak.

 

Honesty, Truth, Courage, Wisdom, Humility, Honor, Trust, Respect, Love are the themes used as each person seeks to find balance, healing and harmony in their lives.

 

SHARING/CARING CIRCLE. This is the most common circle. There is no common theme but rather a time of reflection where Individuals come together and speak whatever is in their hearts in a place of safety.

 

HEALING CIRCLE. The most powerful circle of all. The Convener gently helps Individuals speak their truths however painful. Sometimes the circle has been convened to assist only one Individual. Even so, everyone present benefits in a variety of different ways.

 

MEDIATION CIRCLE. These are circles convened to mediate between Individuals or groups.

 

 

 

TOTEM POLES
(PACIFIC NORTHWEST COAST)

 



TURTLE 

 

Turtle is considered to be the oldest, sacred symbol of the Anishinaabe and Haudenosaunee people. They believed that North America was created on the back of a turtle.  Father Sky's wife fell through a hole in the sky, and to keep her from drowning little Muskrat managed to bring up a handful of soil from the bottom of the ocean; she placed it on Turtle's wide back and the land immediately began to grow eventually forming North America.  To this day most Indigenous peoples refer to North America as Turtle Island. (Look at the shape of North America in an Atlas, it look just like a turtle.  The feet are: Alaska, Northern Quebec/Labrador, California and Florida. The tail is Mexico. Top half of the shell is Canada, bottom half is the continental United States.)

 

The medicine of turtle is its deliberate and thorough approach to life; Turtle is also courageous because it makes progress only when it sticks its neck out, and moves forward with patient, steady flow in order to achieve the desired results. The turtle shell, regardless of size, was also used as a calendar, with the thirteen large patterned squares counting out all the full moons of the year. The 28 small squares on the outside counted the days of each lunar month.

 

 

 

 

WAMPUM

 

At the urging of Benjamin Franklin, the United States Declaration of Independence is based on the Haudenosaunee League of Nations Great Law.

 

  FIVE NATIONS TERRITORIAL WAMPUM BELT

 

Square on far left is Mohawk: Keeper of the Eastern Door Second from Left: Oneida: Keeper of the Northern Door. Centre white tree of life represents the Onandaga: Keeper of the Fire. The white tree also means that the five nations act as one unit in their loyalty to the Great Peace. To the right of the Heart, Cayuga: Keeper of the Southern Door and far right the Seneca: Keeper of the Western Door.

 

Overall the white beads symbolize that no evil or jealous thoughts shall enter into the minds of the leaders while in Council as they are governed by the knowledge of the Great Peace. White is the symbol of peace, love, charity and equity and surrounds and guards the Five Nations (Six when the Tuscarora came later)

 


 

TWO ROW WAMPUM BELT

The two row wampum belt is also called Tékeni Teioháte, it symbolizes the relationship between Native people and white people. One purple row of beads represents the path of the Haudenousaunee's canoe which contains their customs and laws. The other row represents the path of the White man's vessel, the sailing ship, which contains his customs and laws.

The meaning of the parallel paths is that neither boat should out pace the other, and the paths should remain separate and parallel forever, that is, as long as the grass grows, the rivers flow, the sun shines, will each group continue to understand their place in the world, honour it and continue to renew their understanding

 


 

EVER GROWING TREE BELT

This belt represents the Ever Growing Tree of Life with its branches spread to the east, west. The top to the north, roots to the south. It is the tree of peace for any nation or individual outside of the Five Nations who wishes to also obey the great laws of peace. If you are of clean mind and heart, you can rest awhile beneath its branches and listen to the great law. Jake Thomas stands with a reproduction of the Ever Grown Tree Belt...

 

IN MEMORIUM

Jacob (Jake) Thomas January 6, 1922 -August 17, 1998

 

This section honours Oneida Elder, Mr. Jake Thomas who was the last Haudenasaunne Elder to speak the Great Law in its entirety. It took him almost two weeks. He is now beyond the white veil, no doubt, continuing to keep the Great Peace alive with his wondrous speaking skills. Mr. Thomas was a well-known Cayuga Hereditary Chief and Culture-Bearing Elder. Years ago, I hosted an Elder's Conference and was privileged to spend time with Mr. Thomas.

 

WANIYETU WOWAPI (WINTER COUNT CALENDAR) - LAKHOTA


Without a written language, tribal communities found ways to record their lives, their experiences and their relationships. In other words, they were pictorial essays of what they knew to be true. These valuable artifacts and symbols told the stories of the original people on Turtle Island (North America). Petroglyphs, medicine wheels were two such symbols that showed the our Ancestors were here.

 

The Lakhota used the Winter Count Calendar to record important events in the daily life of the tribe, snowfall to snowfall, or one year. Waniyetu means 'year', Wowapi means anything that is recorded on a flat surface, most often a piece of animal hide. A further interpretation of Wowapi, is anything that could be counted or read. The Waniyetu Wowapi, along with other artifacts, as noted, such as the medicine wheel supported the vast oral histories of each tribe. Here is a photo of an original Calendar.

 

 

 

WATER

I tumble and I roll, my waves clean your soul, I bring rain to clean the land. I breathe and you live another day indivisible as Air. I am lakes, rivers, streams and brooks, wetlands, swamps, lagoons and pools. I am watersheds, waterfalls, seas and ocean. I am liquid magic. I am clear, I am clean, I am soothing. I am ice and sleet and snow. I am darkness, thickness, waves and motion. I am cold, I am warm, I am female. I am fog, mist, and clouds. I shape the world-I shape your body-I shape the land within me. Honour me and calm your mind that you never thirst for love or life.” Questions: Would you exist without me? What are some of the things you could do on a regular basis to keep me clean and healthy?

 

Water has a spirit. Water floods around the boat protecting and holding your conscious and unconscious selves. It speaks to you as you swim or float in your own dreams.  Water cleanses the physical body, the mind, emotions and the spirit. Tears clean the soul. Bathe in it, drink lots of it, do not take it for granted.  


 

 

A CORNUCOPIA OF GLORIOUS SYMBOLS

 



HOPI KACHINA DOLLS  - THE HOPI ARE VERY WISE PEOPLE

 

They are connected to powerful Ancestor spirits called to bring rain to help the crops grow. They come as winter says its farewell for the year and the growing seasons begin. The are a variety of dolls that represent Mother  Earth, Father Sky, Grandfather Sun, the bird and animal people along with the the clouds. The Kachina mainly celebrates abundant harvest, fertility, long life, good health and provide harmonious balance in nature.  There are over 300 different Kachinas. There is a prophecy about the return of the Blue Kachina to herald the Fifth Age of Man.

 

OTHER HOPI SYMBOLS

 

Hopi Spiral represents the number of times an individual has gone to the four corners of the world through vision, dreamtime, Spirit Doctor journeys.

 

 

Hopi World Symbol. Four bars that form the cross are the four directions; the four outer points of the cross are associated with the two solstices and two equinoxes;  four circles represent the four colours of human who came to the world to keep in balance.

 

 

Sun Kachina also known as Tawa Kachina which symbalizes life, new growth and abundance.

 

 

KOKOPELLI  A common fertility symbol through the southwest. His image is found many times in petrography art . He is honoured as a Kachina by most Pueblo cultures. He is associated with fertility. Usually depicted as old, bent under his heavy load with his flute. He travels to many communities impregnating young women who are mesmerized by his flute playing (yikes!). Original Kokapelli figures were not as watered-down in appearance as they are now. They had prominent genitals, afterall he was the king of fertility back in the day!     

 

SPIDER   The dominance of Spider Woman, the female creative principle, befits a culture that is matrilineal. In the beginning there were only two: Tawa, the Sun God, and Spider Woman, the Earth Goddess. All the mysteries and power in the Above belonged to Tawa, while Spider Woman controlled the magic of the Below. In the Underworld, abode of the Gods, they were the only ones that lived there. There were no humans, birds, animals, not living things until Tawa and Spider Woman made it so.

 

SWASTIKA  Before it was evil, it was good, and it is the oldest cross/symbol/emblem in the world.  The image can be found throughout Native  history and means, in part, "May the four winds from the four corners of the heavens upon you gently blow." It is also not exactly the same symbol that Hitler and his Nazi Party used. Upon closer inspection, the true symbol is actually a reverse of the counterclockwise Nazi version. Sadly, what was a beautiful symbol that represented peace and the natural order of things (sun, winds, four directions) has been perverted for all time by one evil individual and a terrible time in human history.

 

 

POLAR BEAR  To the Inuit, the Polar Bear also called the Dawn Bear is the ancient ancestor of all bears. There are many Inuit myths in which polar bears have sexual intercourse with women. Many images by Inuit artists show humans and animals inhabiting the same social space in a harmonious and amicable manner. Animals are often seen engaging in human activities such as speaking and dancing. Animals have a 'soul' and must be hunted with due respect and ritual. Animals, for the Inuit, have 'personhood' though are not human. Offense against an animal soul can lead to all manner of misfortune including bad hunting and inclement weather. Bad hunting can bring starvation for there are few wild plants to be gathered for food in the arctic.

 

 

NAVAJO YEII SPIRIT

A spirit who mediates between humans and The Great Spirit. Yeiis control elements such as day and night, rain, wind, sun & others. A very exceptional kind of yeii is the Yei'bi'chai, grandparent spirit or "talking God" who can speak to human directly, instructing them how to live in harmony with all living things by following some simple rules of behaviour; to conserve and use well only the things needed to survive. A symbol of harmony achieved is the "Rainbow Kokopelli", a Yeii commanding the rainbow, giving beauty to all those in harmony. 

 

 

 

 

 BACK TO HOME PAGE

   VOICE@SHANNONTHUNDERBIRD.COM

 

 

 

TOP