Medicine Pipe
The Sacred Pipe
The Native American Chanunpa

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. The U.S. government sent representatives to The People with an understanding that the pipe would allow for peaceful land transactions because no Native person would lie once words were spoken in the presence of the pipe. (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).

When the bowl and stem of a Sacred Pipe are joined the pipe is considered to be a living entity. 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. The pipe, when joined, is a living being with energies coursing up and down its spine. 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.

What does the bowl represent

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

What does the stem represent

Sky, Father, Male ,Spine, Transcendent, Impregnation, Original Energy, God Beyond Creation, The Tree Nation, The Airway, Lightning/thunder, Grandfather Sun. It is 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 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 right and left 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 (Kinnikinnik 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. 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; four and two-legs; 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.

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 original Creator. 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.

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 a pipe 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. This 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 both 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

In the time of the Ancestors, the pipe was 'dreamt' by one person (already a Pipe Carrier) on behalf of another, or it was passed down from Mother to Daughter, Father to Son, AND only after the receiver had shown themselves to be worthy.

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.

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

(A) A legitimate Native Elder or Traditional Teacher 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) A legitimate Native Elder or Traditional Teacher who is a pipe carrier and 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 smoke



The Sioux Story of The Native American Chanunpa

Eagle Claw Holding Mother Earth's Globe

Symbolizes "He Holds The Whole World"

The sacred pipe and ceremony are at the heart of native people's culture, as they travel the Red Road, the native road of balance in a good way, their way, our way, the way of Wakan-Tanka, the Creator, the way of Tunkashila, the living breath of the Great Spirit Mystery, and the way of the Helpers, the way of love and freedom, here on the back of our Earth Mother. Simply put, 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 sacred pipe is a spiritual artifact, a religious altar, always to be treated with respect and care, and used only in a sacred manner. When it is put together with the stem it is sacred.

The ceremony is really very simple. The pipe is loaded with a pinch of tobacco at a time, (or a tobacco mixed with sweet smelling herbs, barks and roots such as bayberry, bearberry, mugwort, lovage, red willow inner bark, wild cherry bark, white willow bark, birch 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.

The ceremonial tobacco is usually very strong, the tobacco used in North America is nicotiana rustica, and usually the smoke is not inhaled, but puffed into, then out of the mouth in each of the four directions, acknowledging Father Sky, Mother Earth, and the Great Spirit as the pipe is smoked and passed from one person to the next around the circle.

A Typical Pipe Ceremony

The pipe holder stands holding the bowl of the pipe in his left hand, the stem in his right, pointing the stem to the East. He sprinkles a small amount of tobacco on the ground as an offering to Mother Earth and The East. As he loads a small pinch of tobacco into the pipe, he will say something like:
"The East is Yellow. The East is where the Morning Star rises, the Star of Knowledge. Yellow is for the Rising Sun which brings us a new day and another chance to learn. We thank the Great Spirit for each day we are allowed to live upon Mother Earth under Father Sky, Tunkashila.
We pray for Knowledge, for from Knowledge comes Peace".

The pipe holder faces the South and again gives tobacco to Mother Earth, continues to load the pipe, saying something like:
"South is Black. South is were the Spirit Helpers live and black stands for the Spirit World.
We will all go to the Spirit World and we will all know one another and our deeds. We seek our spiritual wisdom in the South and pray for help from our Spirit Guides".

The pipe holder faces the West and again gives tobacco to Mother Earth, continues to load the pipe, saying something like:
"The West is Red. West is where the Sun sets. Red is for the color of Fall and the warm wind, and the Red hoop. While we load this pipe, we give thanks for our strength, growth, and healing that is brought forth from the West wind. We use this as a time of planting so that the seeds may grow into a new life."

The same is done for the North: "White is for the North. The White Giant covers Mother Earth with the white blanket of snow. White Buffalo Calf Woman, Ptecincala Ska Wakan Winan, came to us from the North. We stand here seeking endurance, and health from the North".

The pipe holder now touches the stem to the ground, saying something like: "Green is the color of Mother Earth. We are all part of Mother Earth, each rock, each four legged, each two legged, all creatures, plants and minerals. We are all related. We respect our Mother Earth and protect her".

The pipe holder now holds pipe above his head with the stem up at an angle, perhaps at the Sun or Moon:
"Father Sky in union with Mother Earth are our true parents. Father Sky gives us energy for our lives and heats our bodies and our lodges. We are thankful for Father Sky".

The pipe holder now holds the stem straight up: "Great Spirit, Creator of us all, Creator of all things, Creator of the four directions, Mother Earth, and Father Sky, we offer this pipe to you".

Now the pipe is lit, and passed around the circle sunwise from east to south to west to north, returning to the east, each person free to offer a prayer or saying if they choose.

On completion of its journey around the sacred circle the pipe is capped with sage or bark, and separated, the stem from the pipe, set aside in its pouch until it is smoked again. The typical pipe pouch has separate compartments for the pipe and the stem so that they do not touch when not being used in ritual ceremony.

The Dakota Legend of the Chanunpa

One summer so long ago that nobody knows how long, the Oceti-Shakowin, the seven sacred council fires of The Oyate, the one nation, came together and camped. The sun shone all the time, but there was no game and the people were starving. Every day they sent scouts to look for game, but the scouts found nothing.

Among the bands assembled were the Itazipcho, the Without-Bows, who had their own camp circle under their chief, Standing Hollow Horn. Early one morning the chief sent two of his young men to hunt for game. They went on foot, because at that time the Sioux did not yet have horses. They searched everywhere but could find nothing. Seeing a high hill, they decided to climb it in order to look over the whole country. Halfway up, they saw something coming toward them from far off, but the figure was floating instead of walking. From this they knew that the person was waken, holy.

At first they could make out only a small moving speck and had to squint to see that it was a human form. But as it came nearer, they realized that it was a beautiful young woman, more beautiful than any they had ever seen, with two round, red dots of face paint on her cheeks. She wore a wonderful white buckskin outfit, tanned until it shone a long way in the sun. It was embroidered with sacred and marvelous designs of porcupine quill, in radiant colors no ordinary woman could have made. This wakan stranger was Ptesan-Wi, White Buffalo Calf Woman, also called Ptecincala Ska Wakan Winan. In her hands she carried a large bundle and a fan of sage leaves. She wore her blue-black hair loose except for a strand at the left side, which was tied up with buffalo fur. Her eyes shone dark and sparkling, with great power in them.

The two young men looked at her open-mouthed. One was overawed, but the other desired her body and stretched his hand out to touch her. This woman was lila wakan, very sacred, and could not be treated with disrespect. Lightning instantly struck the brash young man and burned him up, so that only a small heap of blackened bones was left. Or as some say that he was suddenly covered by a cloud, and within it he was eaten up by snakes that left only his skeleton, just as a man can be eaten up by lust.

To the other scout who had behaved rightly, White Buffalo Calf Woman said: "Good things I am bringing, something holy to your nation. A message I carry for your people from the buffalo nation. Go back to the camp and tell the people to prepare for my arrival. Tell your chief to put up a medicine lodge with twenty-four poles. Let it be made holy for my coming."

This young hunter returned to the camp. He told the chief, he told the people, what the sacred woman had commanded. The chief told the eyapaha, the crier, and the crier went through the camp circle calling: "Someone sacred is coming. A holy woman approaches. Make all things ready for her."

So the people put up the big medicine tipi and waited. After four days they saw the White Buffalo Calf Woman approaching, carrying her bundle before her. Her wonderful white buckskin dress shone from afar. The chief, Standing Hollow Horn, invited her to enter the medicine lodge. She went in and circled the interior sunwise. The chief addressed her respectfully, saying:
"Sister, we are glad you have come to instruct us."

She told him what she wanted done. In the center of the tipi they were to put up an owanka wakan, a sacred altar, made of red earth, with a buffalo skull and a three-stick rack for a holy thing she was bringing. They did what she directed, and she traced a design with her finger on the smoothed earth of the altar. She showed them how to do all this, then circled the lodge again sunwise. Halting before the chief, she now opened the bundle. the holy thing it contained was the chanunpa, the sacred pipe. She held it out to the people and let them look at it. She was grasping the stem with her right hand and the bowl with her left, and thus the pipe has been held ever since.

White Buffalo Pipe

Again the chief spoke, saying:
"Sister, we are sad. We have had no meat for some time. All we can give you is water."

They dipped some wacanga, sweet grass, into a skin bag of water and gave it to her, and to this day the people dip sweet grass or an eagle wing in water and sprinkle it on a person to be purified.

White Buffalo Calf Woman showed the people how to use the pipe. She filled it with chan-shasha, red willow-bark tobacco. She walked around the lodge four times after the manner of Anpetu-Wi, the great sun. This represented the circle without end, the Sacred Hoop, the road of life. The woman placed a dry buffalo chip on the fire and lit the pipe with it. This was peta-owihankeshini, the fire without end, the flame to be passed on from generation to generation. She told them that the smoke rising from the pipe was Tunkashila's breath, the living breath of the great Grandfather Mystery.

White Buffalo Calf Woman showed the people the right way to pray, the right words and the right gestures. She taught them how to sing the pipe-filling song and how to lift the pipe up to the Great Spirit, up toward Father Sky, and down toward Mother Earth, and then to the four directions of the universe.

"With this holy pipe," she said, "you will walk like a living prayer. With your feet resting upon the earth and the pipestem reaching into the sky, your body forms a living bridge between the Sacred Beneath and the Sacred Above. Wakan Tanka smiles upons us, because now we are as one: earth, sky, all living things, the two-legged, the four-legged, the winged ones, the trees, the grasses. Together with the people, they are all related, one family. The pipe holds them all together."

"Look at this pipe," said White Buffalo Calf Woman. "Its stone represents the buffalo, but also the flesh and blood of the red man. The buffalo represents the universe and the four directions, because he stands on four legs, for the four ages of man. The buffalo was put in the west by Wakan Tanka at the making of the world, to hold back the waters. Every year he loses one hair, and in every one of the four ages he loses a leg. The Sacred Hoop will end when all the hair and legs of the great buffalo are gone, and the water comes back to cover the Earth.

The wooden stem of this chanunpa stands for all that grows on the earth. Twelve feathers hanging from where the stem- the backbone- joins the bowl- the skull- are from Wanblee Galeshka, the spotted eagle, the very sacred, who is the Great Spirit's messenger and the wisest of all who cry out to Tunkashila. Look at the bowl. Engraved in it are seven circles of various sizes. They stand for the seven ceremonies you will practice with this pipe, and for the Ocheti Shakowin, the seven sacred campfires of our Dakota nation."

The White Buffalo Calf Woman then spoke to the women, telling them that it was the work of their hands and the fruit of their bodies which kept the people alive. "You are from the Earth Mother," she told them. "What you are doing is as great as what warriors do."

And therefore the sacred pipe is also something that binds men and women together in a circle of love. It is the one holy object in the making of which both men and women have a hand. The men carve the bowl and make the stem; the women decorate it with bands of colored porcupine quills. When a man takes a wife, they both hold the pipe at the same time and red cloth is wound around their hands, thus tying them together for life.

So now we have learned what happened when White Buffalo Calf women entered into the circle of the Dakota nation, she sang a sacred song and took the sacred bundle containing a pipe to the people who were waiting for her. She spent four days among the Dakota and taught them about the sacred bundle, the meaning of it.

She taught them these seven sacred ceremonies. Sweat lodge, or the purification ceremony; Naming ceremony, Child naming; Healing ceremony; Making of relatives or the adoption ceremony; Marriage ceremony; Spiritquest; Sundance ceremony, the People's ceremony.

She promised to return again. The birth of the first white buffalo in 1994 was a sign to the Dakota that the world was near the time when she would return again to purify the world, and return it to its original state of harmony, balance and love. (To date, nine white buffalo have been born in the South Dakota area)

And so it is . . .

Ho! Mitakuye oyasin. Hecetu Yelo !! . . . All my relatives, it is indeed so..!!

The Dakota Legend of the Great Flood

There was a world before this world, but the people in it did not know how to behave themselves or how to act human. The Great Spirit was not pleased with that earlier world.

He said to himself: "I will make a new world." He had the pipe bag and the chief pipe, which he put on the pipe rack that he had made in the sacred manner. He took four dry buffalo chips, placed three of them under the three sticks, and saved the fourth one to light the pipe. The Great Spirit said to himself:

"I will sing three songs, which will bring a heavy rain. Then I'll sing a fourth song and stamp four times on the earth, and the earth will crack wide open. Water will come out of the cracks and cover all the land."

When he sang the first song, it started to rain. When he sang the second, it poured. When he sang the third, the rain-swollen rivers overflowed their beds. But when he sang the fourth song and stamped on the earth, it split open in many places like a shattered gourd, and water flowed from the cracks until it covered everything. The Great Spirit held the Sacred Pipe as he floated on his huge pipe bag. He let himself be carried by waves and wind this way and that, drifting for a long time.

At last the rain stopped, and by then all the people and animals had drowned. Only Kangi Tanka, the Great Crow, had survived, though he had no place to rest and was very tired. Flying above the pipe, "Tunkshila, Grandfather, Please, I must soon rest." And three times Kangi Tanka asked him to make a place for him to alight.

The Great Spirit thought: "It's time to open the pipe bag."

After unwrapping and the pipe bag it was found to contain all manner of animals and birds, from which he selected four animals known for their ability to stay under water for a long time. First he sang a song and took Blega, The Loon out of the bag. He commanded Blega to dive and bring up a lump of mud. The loon did dive, but it brought up nothing.

"I dived and dived but couldn't reach the bottom," Blega said. "I almost died. The water is too deep."

The Great Spirit sang a second song and took Skeca, The Otter out of the bag. He ordered Skeca to dive and bring up some mud. The sleek otter immediately dived into the water, using his strong webbed feet to go down, down, down. he was submerged for a long time, but when he finally came to the surface, he brought nothing.

Taking Capa, The Beaver out of the pipe's wrapping, the Great Spirit sang a third song. He commanded Capa to go deep below the water and bring some mud. The beaver thrust herself into the water, using her great tail to propel herself downward. she stayed under water even longer than the others, but when she finally came up again, she too brought nothing.

At last the Great Spirit sang the fourth song and took Keglezela, the turtle out of the bag. The turtle is very strong. And, Among our people it stands for long life and endurance and the power to survive. A turtle's heart is great medicine, for it keeps on beating for a long time after the turtle has died.

"You must bring the mud," the Great Spirit told Keglezela. Keglezela dove into the water, She stayed underwater for so long that the other three animals shouted: "The turtle is dead; she will never come up again!"

All the time, Kangi Tanka was flying around and begging for a place to alight. After what seemed to be eons, the turtle broke the surface of the water and paddled to the Great Spirit. "I got to the bottom!" Keglezela cried. "I brought some earth!" And sure enough, its feet and claws -- even the space in the cracks on its sides between its upper and lower shell -- were filled with mud.

Scooping mud from the turtle's feet and sides, the Great Spirit began to sing. He sang all the while that he shaped the mud in his hands and spread it on the water to make a spot of dry land for himself. When he had sung the fourth song, there was enough land for the Great Spirit and for the Kangi Tanka to sit and rest.

"Come down and rest," said the Great Spirit to the crow, and the bird was glad to. Then the Great Spirit took from his bag two long wing feathers of Anunkasan The Eagle. He waved them over his plot of ground and commanded it to spread until it covered everything. Soon all the water was replaced by earth.

"Water without earth is not good," thought the Great Spirit, "but land without water is not good either." Feeling pity for the land, he wept for the earth and the creatures he would put upon it, and his tears became oceans, streams, and lakes. "That's better," he thought.

Out of his pipe bag the Great Spirit took all kinds of animals, birds, plants and scattered them over the land. When he stamped on the earth, they all came alive. From the earth the Great Spirit formed the shapes of men and women. He used red earth and white earth, black earth and yellow earth, and made as many as he thought would do for a start. He stamped on the earth and the shapes came alive, each taking the color of the earth out of which it was made. The Great Spirit gave all of them understanding and speech and told them what tribes they belonged to. The Great Spirit said to them:

"The first world I made was bad; the creatures on it were bad. So I burned it up. The second world I made was bad too, so I drowned it. This is the third world that I have made. Look: I have created a rainbow for you as a sign that there will be no more Great Floods. Whenever you see a rainbow, you will know that it has stopped raining."

The Great Spirit continued: "Now, if you have learned how to behave like human beings and how to live in peace with each other and with the other living things -- the two-legged, the four-legged, the many-legged, the fliers, the no-legs, the green plants of this universe -- then all will be well. But if you make this world bad and ugly, then I will destroy this world too. It's up to you."

The Great Spirit gave the people the pipe. "Live by it," he said. He named this land the Turtle Continent because it was there that the turtle came up with the mud out of which the third world was made.

"Someday there might be a fourth world," the Great Spirit thought. Then he rested.


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