In the past, there has been much confusion and misinterpretation of it, especially by the Hollywood film industry. Even
among Native American Indians today there is some confusion about its deep meaning and symbology. In an attempt
to "set the record straight", I offer these teachings or lessons of the pipe so that others may grasp the spiritual
significance of it, and earn the respect by others that it rightly deserves.
There are many teachings of the pipe not included here nor even known by me. I am still learning myself. One can study the pipe for a lifetime and never be aware of all the lessons that await to be revealed as one grows spiritually. As my sage Mother once put it, "What you know, you do not own. And what you do not own, you must share." Because the pipe was brought to all men and women of this world, we must share this world.
I recognize that this view is not shared by all Native American Indians. Some have a negative mind to allowing non-Indians to conduct or participate in rituals that have long been a part of our sacred traditions. They fear others may or will dilute the importance of the pipe ceremony or desecrate it. But I feel the sacred pipe is for all those who wish to learn and grow with, and let its sacred powers administer to all people who believe in it and who have need of it. The pipe does not choose who, but knows whose heart it can trust independent of race, color or religion. This is a human thing
A pipe ceremony is not strictly bound by definite rules and procedures, and hence, there is no right or wrong way
To the traditional American Indian, the Sacred Pipe is a holy implement to honor the Great Mysteries and Their works in nature. The Sacred Pipe was given as a gift and a means of prayer communication with the spirit world—the Great Spirit, the vast universe. Just as the cross has certain religious significance to the Christians, the Sacred Pipe also represents important spiritual symbols that oddly enough, share the same or similar values. One should approach the pipe and pipe ceremony with a serious intent much as if participating in any meaningful and sacred religious Christian rite or any other respectful world religious custom. No one should ever joke about the pipe or cause others to be disrespectful in the presence of the pipe, thereby preserving not only its spiritual character but also its sanctity and sacred value.
If possible, the participants should refrain from the eating of food immediately prior to the pipe ceremony. This is only a suggested temporary personal self-sacrifice to fast in order to clear one's body and mind in preparation for the entry of more spiritual thoughts and actions.
No one should use profanity, vulgar or lewd language in the presence of the pipe or pipe carrier. Smoking of commercial tobacco in cigars, cigarettes or any other form should not be allowed. Any loud, disturbing sounds, shouting or loud talking should also be avoided, and a place to conduct the ceremony should be outside and away from nuisances as much as feasible. To avoid other disruptions, onlookers and curiosity seekers should be discouraged or banned from attendance.
Though not required, it is preferable to wear older but comfortable clothing and attire. Jewelry not be taken off before the ceremony commences, as well as anything else worn that may be bright colors, flashy, shiny or would otherwise call attention to oneself. One's full concentration should be on the pipe ceremony and not represent a distraction to oneself or others.
The preparation of the ground upon which the ceremony is conducted should be done by all the participants. The immediate ground on and surrounding the ceremony should be cleared of all trash and debris. Rocks and any other materials, natural or manmade, should also be cleared to aid in the comfortability of the sitting participants.
No photography should be taken during the pipe ceremony preparations, during the ceremony, or immediately following the pipe ceremony. The pipe carrier should never be photographed during the preparation or blessing of the pipe. Should it be desire, participants may be photographed individually or in a group only prior or following the ceremony, and only after the pipe has been wrapped by the pipe carrier at the end of the ceremony.
There is a reverence to the pipe and its smoking mixture. Mistakenly identified as a "peace pipe", the pipe is considered a sacred object rather than an item of pleasure. With the Sacred Pipe as a guide, the traditional Indian walks upon the Mother Earth with every footstep as a prayer upon Her.
People can learn great lessons of wisdom from the pipe. With an increased realization, it helps make our lives more harmonious with the rhythms of the universe. But for those who are unable to grasp its meaning, the pipe serves no fruitful purpose other than being viewed as an object of art -- a decorated implement of wood and stone.
If people remain blind to its sacred powers, then the pipe has little more value than a wooden stick with a chunk of stone attached. Then, it is seen as a curiosity, powerless to aid us and that which yields nothing in return. But for those who do find meaning in the pipe, it holds a much deeper attachment with those who honor and abide by it.
Treated properly, it can gather the wisdom of the universe into the midst of those who smoke and have faith in it. To the traditional Indian, the pipe is the universe and all its parts are symbolic of creation. From it, we draw strength and wisdom from the powers and other life forms of Mother Earth. By this coming together, one can be a part of them. One can find kinship with them and use their powers to assist in living in harmony with the things around us.
Because the pipe means more than mankind can comprehend, and its many secrets of life wait for our discovery, the pipe is a holy sacrament. But there are a few of the many lessons I know and am able to share . . .
Oftentimes, when one feels troubled, threatened or endangered, one has a tendency to "get religion" as a measure of security or feel compelled to abide by religious codes or practices, at least until the unfavorable condition subsides or passes. But not so with a Sacred Pipe.
One should never "run" to a Sacred Pipe only in such bad times and ignore it in times good. Medicine, to be of any value, should work for a person all the time. To remember the Sacred Pipe only when needed as a crutch, is a wrongful act and disrespectful of its great powers. It is not one's teddy bear nor security blanket thought of only in times of stress or cloudy days.
If one is new to the pipe, it should not be "smoked" without some explanation as to its meanings and teachings. There is a common false impression by many that a sacred pipe is smoked. The purpose of the pipe is not to smoke it, but to unite with it.
A man or woman's truth is in his or her soul and is revealed to the Creator when the pipe is smoked. If you or your words are not true, do not smoke the pipe. If your spirit is not good or you seek to deceive, do not smoke the pipe. The Creator always knows the truth about yourself, and when not in good relations with the Creator, something may happen to you to teach you a lesson.
Next, the pipe carrier asks each person to form a straight line abreast and face the direction of the Grandfather Sun. Each person should stand with arms along his or her sides, palms open and also facing the direction of the Grandfather Sun. The open palms signifies and openness of each participants heart that is bare to the Great Spirit and the spirtual world. The pipe carrier traditionally smudges each participant carefully as a purification and blessing to rid one of possible evil interference by any unfavorable spirits within or outside the person, and also to assist in the preparation and mental attitude adjustment of letting go and loose of interferring thoughts and feelings which keep us from our inner peace and joy.
Although sacred pipes come in several shapes and sizes, just as people do, they all have certain common elements with symbolized meanings. So do all people share a mutual humanness and a bond of unity with each other. Differences of size, shape and color are irrelevant and not important in the recognition of our relatedness.
In daily living, it is common for mankind to add its own egocentric influences to material objects and possessions, especially in the creation of ritualistic interpretations of spiritual truths. Decoration and ornamentation can sometimes only mask or cloak naked truths. Therefore, one should be careful not alter the appearance of the Sacred Pipe by adding anything that would detract or take away from its natural, inherent beauty and simplistic form. This comes from one's ego.
Beads and flashy colors should be discouraged in lieu of a more sacred interpretation and understanding rather than emphasis on a worldly conscious motivated by artistic or collector value.
The heart of the pipe is the traditional red bowl of catlinite stone, made of the Mother Earth and representing the mineral spirits as well as the red blood of Her people. It symbolizes the humbleness of the spirit of Mother Earth, who lets us walk on Her to show how to be humble, yet She produces all things that make life possible and brings us many blessings. From this, one learns respect as you would for your own human mother.
The pipe's bowl is from the same red clay The Creator used to make our kind. The red clay is of woman kind and is from the Mother Earth. Just as a woman bears children and brings forth life, the bowl bears the sacred tobacco to bring forth smoke. No drugs or incense of any kind should be placed within the pipe bowl. To violate this and act with wrongful substances will bring danger and/or potential harm to all those who allow this abuse.
The pipe bowl's stability and durable quality of stone is something one must strive to learn by being faithful and strong in character. The roundness of the bowl symbolizes the circle of the Mother Earth, and the Great Circle-of-life among Her living things. The center of the bowl represents the universe itself.
Some pipes seen in shops and tourist areas are not sacred pipes, and serve as tokens and souvenirs, art decorations and other non-spiritual uses. The bowl of a sacred pipe is usually left unfigured or uncarved artistically. A pipe's bowl should only be shaped round along its elongation and cylintrical bowl. The simpler the shape and design, the more powerful and meaningful. Its simplicity calls us to also live simply and modestly without having too much decoration that may detract from our spiritual balance.
The term "calumet" stems from the French word "Chalumeau", meaning "tube" or "reed". Thus, the wooden stem represents all that grows upon the Mother Earth, symbolizing the growth of our spiritual selves. Together, the bowl and stem join in such a way to teach the sacred union of male to the female, man to woman, father to mother, in order to produce life of its own kind.
The stem symbolizes man. Strong and rigid, the stem is from the plant kingdom and like man, it supports the bowl just as a man supports his woman and family."
The stem, being a link between two ends, represents a direct path or channel we have to the Creator and the universe, with nothing that stands in the way between.
Considering the Great Circle-of-life, with the Creator residing at the center of the Sacred Circle, the pipe is like one spoke in the wheel that joins us with our Maker. The elongation of the stem indicates the long narrow path of life on which all of us must walk. The straightness of the stem epitomizes the sacred connection of people with their Maker—a pathway in which straightness of tongue, honesty and purity must dominate one's every thought.
The hole in the stem signifies the open heart and minds we must have to let the spirit touch us. The hole also represents our connection to the center of the bowl of the pipe and to our connection with the Great Spirit. The hole also reminds us that our connection to the Creator must be straight and narrow.
The hole is also analogous to the dark channel of birth we come down when born from our Mothers. Connection of the hole to the pipe's bowl symbolizes our connection not only to our natural Mothers, but also the grand connection to our Earth Mother from whence all things are born.
The hole is round so that when prayers are sent, they round the universe in a circle to reach each and every one, to enfold them with the smoke.
The feathers hanging from the pipe signify the heavens and all things that fly. Tied at the junction are four eagle feathers representing the Great Spirit and Great Mysteries of the Father Sky. They are most sacred because they come from one who above all others, soars to the highest places, teaching us to fly in the same manner with our spirits, rising skyward into the everlasting place of the infinite Cause-of-our-being. We must follow the eagle's flight to make our lives more beautiful. They also represent the powers of the four directions, four seasons, and the four ages of man. Although four in number, they are only one spirit. The loose feathers hanging from the stem represent other bird life and their spirits.
A small bag of hide, buffalo or deer, is sometimes tied to the stem. Along with some horsehair and fur, they represent the spirits of all animal life and their swiftness of thought, high wisdom and powers. Contrary to popular belief, commercial or processed tobacco was not traditionally used. Instead, other natural materials such as red willow bark, cedar, sage, Kinnikinnick and herbs were blended into a smoking mixture and blessed before filling the pipe. Each particle of the smoking mixture is representative of all things and beings included within the universe. Each particle of the mixture represents some specific being in the universe.
A man and woman remain separate until joined in marriage or a relationship. Hence, the bowl and stem remain separate and never to be joined until the pipe and participants are properly prepared and ready.
In ceremony, the pipe is always filled in the same manner. Before preparing the pipe, one offers a pinch of smoking mixture to first honor each of the four directions, then to the Mother Earth and the Father Sky. Also, a pinch is offered for all who strive to serve the will of the Creator. Only, then, is the smoking mixture placed in the pipe. The filling of the pipe signifies the joining of all the forces of creation: the living and non-living creatures on Mother Earth, in the Father Sky, and human beings.
When filled, the pipe becomes the total universe. All powers contained within the grains of tobacco are, now, drawn inward to a single focal point and placed within the bowl. Thus, every part of the pipe is a living tribute to the Great Spirit and Its many manifestations.
As part of the preparations and readiness to begin the pipe ceremony, the pipe carrier first speaks to lay a foundation of the purpose and meaning of the occasion by which the participants have been brought together. It may consist of a brief monologue or oratory combined with a sacred song or songs, and perhaps a prayer in English or traditional language. Next, each participant is invited to speak or say something that comes from their personal heart message. After each person has been given the opportunity to speak, the pipe ceremony is ready to begin.
Traditionally, only one pipe is blessed and partakes in a ceremony. After the pipe has been blessed, it is offered to the Great Spirit, our Giver-of-life. The pipe is lighted by the pipe carrier, puffed and smoke offered to each of the four directions, to the Mother Earth and Father Sky. With Lakota custom, it is sometimes spoken, "For all my relations!" before and/or after the pipe is smoked. [Note: The traditional way of lighting a pipe is from a glowing ember from another fire, or natural stem. More contemporary is the lighting by a match or cigarette lighter.] Absolute silence must reign for all those who choose to partake in the ceremony.
After the pipe has been properly prepared, and the proper awareness and attitude reached by the pipe carrier, the pipe is then ready to be passed to the participants. When one is handed or offered a pipe, one treats it gently as one was first cuddled and nurtured by his or her mother. When one receives the pipe, it is handed slowly and respectfully by the two hands of the pipe carrier and and then, gently placed and released in the two outstretched hands of the recipient. A slight pause of prayer and reflection by each participant should always preceed its smoking to be sure that the participant has reached a steady state of harmony and balance both within and outside of oneself. One should feel a developing inner peace and connection with the other participants and one's environment.
Those who "smoke" the pipe unite themselves with it, bringing the wisdom and power of the universe within their being. Thus, one cannot participate in handling or smoking the pipe until one feels he or she is ready. It the participant feels he or she is not ready, the pipe should be declined by the individual and the pipe carrier should be signaled postponement until the participant is ready.
Before smoking the pipe, each person should respectfully raise the pipe with both hands above one's bowed head as a sign that the Creator and what the pipe represents is of a higher order than ourselves. This is an act of humbleness and a visible sign to the spirit world that we are ready to unite and join with all our relations.
These and all the things of the universe are joined to those who smoke the pipe— all send their voices to the Great Giver-of-life and Knower-of-all. The smoke, like an invisible mist, is the silent bearer of a heaven-sent voice. When one draws the smoke into your body, he or she will be cleansed, purified and made whole. When the smoke leaves ones mouth, it rises to the Creator. One's dreams, desires, hopes, and prayers will be taken to the Creator in the smoke.
All of life and the six directions join in sending it as a prayer to the Great Mysteries. Holding the stem upward, a curl of thin smoke is seen to rise slowly upward, "For You, Great Spirit, and for all our relations." The smoke is now free to ascend aloft and free to find its path upwards . . . a lesson for all of us to also live free and to follow our own ascension to loftier heights.
To offer smoke, the elements of the Mother Earth (the pipe bowl), air, fire and water (the human saliva that touches the stem) need to come together, without which, we could not live. When one draws with breath from the pipe, the smoke travels the length of the pipe to touch us in response. Notice that the smoke is ready and waits upon us. This brings to mind that not only does the Great Spirit have Its part to play in life, each of us has our own responsible role in life.
Similar to the Christian concept of ask and you shall receive, when we initiate action, the Creator always acknowledges us and responds to all our needs and desires when we are ready and when it is time. The Great Spirit never abandons us. The smoke also travels directly from the bowl to our mouths, internally, silently, unseen and invisible to others. This teaches that there is great power in things that are silent, and that in silence, there is great power.
The moon and sun rises in silence. All things grow in silence. Communication with the spirit world is best without words and is conducted in silence. Words do not blend in harmony and disturb the surroundings. Words come from one's mind, and not from one's heart.
The pipe is not merely a symbol of sacred things. The pipe itself is sacred. Not everyone is called to be a pipe bearer. The person who chooses to carry the pipe and practices the pipe ceremonies and traditions has a great responsibility to his or her brothers and sisters; his or her land, nation and especially to the Mother Earth.
A pipe bearer does not 'own' the sacred pipe he or she carries. He or she carries it until it is time comes for him or her to pass it to the next pipe bearer. A pipe bearer acquires special powers of insight from the pipe and an ability to counsel and advise others on the sacred path of life. Should a pipe bearer fall from grace and become a liar or thief, or deceitful, the sacred pipe may repossess these special gifts or powers. Then, there is a possibility that the bearer may incur misfortune.
A pipe bearer must be ready at all times to accept the responsibility of the pipe, its lessons, and any demands it may make upon you. If treated properly and respectfully, it will also become your teacher and guide ~ and a worst enemy if used wrongfully.
At the conclusion of the ceremony, the pipe is separately gently from its parts and laid to rest on the Mother Earth to restore its energies and sacred powers. After a few moments of silence, the pipe carrier returns to Mother Earth the pipe bowl's charred contents into the wind or lightly upon the Mother Earth after making sure all fire has been extinguished.
When finished, all present remain in silence while the pipe is wrapped in red cloth, keeping the parts separate, but all bound together in the same bundle. Sometimes prarie sage or cedar is placed with the parts to freshen them and nurture their special powers. It is also customary to return the pipe bowl and/or stem to the pipe bag.
The participants now should gather in a circle and rejoice in celebration! It is a time to give thanks and be grateful for the unity and love expressed by the participants and the Creator. Prayers of good will and departure for a safe journey to their home or destination may also be said at this time.
These are some of the Teachings of the SACRED PIPE uncovered in my journey path. So live, too, your life in a way that you may discover the rest! Keep the sacred pipe with you and remember all you have learned. Aho! . . . .
be filled with the many blessings
of the Great Spirit.
You are a person of medicine.
You are a spiritual person.
Your heart soars with the eagles.
And in the division of days to come,
May it give you strength