Manataka American Indian Council
Native American Spirituality Brochure
Ceremonies & ProTOCOLS
Native American healing ceremonies vary among tribes. For example, among Cherokee (Tsalagi), “medicine men” or women may employ a quartz crystal to aid in healing, while some Western tribes use other stones. Some may prefer burning cedar for smudging (applying sacred smoke for purification) while others may employ White Sage or Mullein, pine, sweet grass or other plant or herb.
To dispel misunderstanding, and so health care providers can have an insight into a few practices that could be employed, a few elements are provided here.
The Elder will use sacred objects that are not to be touched by others as they have been purified in (often arduous) ceremony. They may include, but not be limited to: Sacred Pipe (Chanunpa), rattles, medicine bowls, drums, shells, feathers, feather fan, crystals, stones, healing clay, cloth, wooden sticks or arrows, wooden staff, tobacco pouches or small medicine bags of other herbs, materials such as corn pollen or corn meal, or fetishes (representations of healing powers).
These items are often in a medicine bundle, a cloth, skin or other wrapping that is itself sacred and not to be handled by anyone other than the medicine person. It should be noted that if a “medicine man” or woman objects to being searched by hospital personnel it is not because any “illegal” substance is being carried, but out of respect for the power and sacredness of the objects.
If a facility or institution requires inspection of all packages for security reasons, the “medicine man” or woman should be informed beforehand. Some objects are considered of such sacredness and intimate connection to Creator and the healer’s personal vision (Walk in Life) that to be even viewed by an outsider will not only rob it of its curative powers but weaken the practitioner’s ability (personal medicine). Other objects may only be loaned to the medicine person by the tribe, family or medicine clan and can only be viewed by them.
To attempt to search a medicine person without warning may result in the practitioner simply walking away, possibly never to return.
To a traditional “medicine man” or woman unused to modern ways, searching a medicine bundle may be considered a dishonoring not only of the medicine person but of their family, clan, tribe, nation, their religious beliefs and an affront to Creator.
If objects are allowed to be viewed, they should only be viewed, not touched.
CEREMONIES AND PROTOCOLS (continued)
For any healing ceremony to take place, there must be respect: by the healer, for the healer, for the person to be healed, for the ceremony and, ultimately, for Creator. This requires privacy without outside interference. The family may be asked to join, sometimes not.
Frequently, family members are asked to make prayer ties (colored cloth bundles of tobacco) to be placed around the patient. These are sacred and not to be disturbed, if at all possible.
The ceremony may include smoking the Sacred Pipe (Chanunpa). Among many American Indians, the Sacred Pipe is the holiest of holies; when held in the hands, the female power (bowl) and the male power (stem) become Creation itself. The smoke is prayer. Most tribes honor the Pipe. Where oxygen is used, a suitable place for burning herbs and using the Pipe will have to be provided.
Drums and rattles are often employed. The Drum is sacred; it is the heartbeat of the Earth Mother. Rattles “clear” energy and can draw in good spirits, dispel bad ones. Even missing soul pieces (life essence) lost through trauma may be “rattled” back in. Prayer songs may also be sung; these can be in any language. They have their own power.
Due to the nature of the sound, a special room may have to be provided if disturbing other patients is a concern. However, “medicine men” or women can perform quiet ceremonies where required and as needs dictate. A respectful agreement should be made beforehand to avoid potential conflict or consider alternatives.
Other ceremonies outside of institutional settings but may be considered vital include:
Sun Dance. Not a dance “to” the Sun, but a ritual of personal sacrifice; four days of preparation and four days of rituals.
Asi/Inipi or “Sweat Lodge.” The Asi or “hot house” in Cherokee, or Inipi, Purification Lodge (Lakota) uses heated stones (Grandfathers) to bring Creator’s fire into a small framed structure that is the Womb of the Earthly Mother, where water is poured on them, releasing wisdom and healing power through steam.
Vison Quest. Under an Elder’s guidance, a person will venture alone to a lonely place for fasting, visions and guidance that can last for one to four days and take a year for preparation.
In all ceremonies, it is Creator that does the work. The Elder is only “a hollow bone,” that the Creator uses as a sort of “conduit.”
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