hide You are viewing an archived web page collected at the request of University of Alberta using Archive-It. This page was captured on 20:10:40 Dec 08, 2010, and is part of the HCF Alberta Online Encyclopedia collection. The information on this web page may be out of date. See All versions of this archived page. Loading media information
Heritage Community Foundation Presents
Alberta Online Encyclopedia
  This Site
The Encyclopedia    
spacer spacer spacer spacer
Nature's Law
Spiritual Life, Governance, Culture, Traditions, Resources, Context and Background
The Heritage Community Foundation, Alberta Law Foundation and Albertasource.ca
Home  |   About  |   Contact Us  |   Partners  |   Sitemap spacer

Meanings of Sacred Pipe



Variety of 'Sacred' Moments

Dominance of
the Pipe

Meanings of
Sacred Pipe

Western Use of Language


Other Ways
of Speaking
and Knowing


Visual representation of nature's laws

It is beyond our ability and our right to do more than sketch the place of the Sacred Pipe in the Spiritual Universe of the Indigenous Peoples in North America. Even if this were theoretically possible to do, enough has been said here to indicate that we cannot and should not try to depict its reality. What follows is but an outline to indicate that there are domains of the Sacred that differ significantly from European ways, and that these domains are not just "Indian Ways" but, according to Indigenous people themselves, are part of the spiritual heritage of the very terrain and landscape itself.

In other words, North American as a physical and spiritual landscape gives rise to certain visions of reality and these visions have settled upon the pipe, a physical object hued from the landscape itself, as a means to interpret the cosmos. While interpretations of that phenomenon might give rise to differing opinions, the genesis of this vision is clearly from the land itself, and the response to it. Rather than paraphrase his work we will quote directly from Paper:

Tobacco and the Pipe were given to humans at the very beginning of their existence. In the Winnebago Medicine Lodge myth, tobacco was given to people even before the staple of subsistence, corn. For the Cree, the Sacred Pipe complex (fire, pipebowl with tobacco, pipestem, and sweetgrass) was the parting gift to the people from the Creator. In the Gros Ventres re-creation myth, the Pipe was central to both the formation of the world and the release of the game animals. In the Hidatsa merging of Caddoan and Siouan traditions, the Pipe and tobacco were present at the emergence of the people onto the newly re-created earth. According to the Iowa Black Bear clan origin myth, the first items received by the bears after they came out of the earth were first a pipebowl and then a pipestem.

The Sacred Pipe is essential for life, because it is with tobacco smoke offered through fire or the medium of the Pipe that humans can pray for the necessities of life from the more powerful beings. For this reason, La Flesche (1921:61) interprets the Osage ritual affirmation, "I am a person who has made of a Pipe his body," to mean that the Pipe is the "life symbol" of the people. Pipes were and are given to individuals by these beings for use by families, clans, societies and whole tribes. Through the medium of the Pipe, people can heal the sick, control the weather, ask the animals to give themselves to the people for food, and harm their enemies and make peace. The gift of the Pipe from the powerful beings allow humans in turn to offer the gift of tobacco smoke to these and other beings.

The myths described above enable us to begin to understand these powerful and helpful beings; they allow an analysis of Native American "theology." The term must be used with caution, because Native spiritual beings, unlike the Western deity, are not supernatural, that is, beyond nature, but rather are fully natural beings; there is no absolute distinction between creator and created. All beings are relations; hence, the spirits, including animals, plants, and minerals, are all addressed by humans as "Grandfather," "Grandmother," "Mother" and "Father." This connection is often given verbal affirmation at the conclusion of sweat lodge ceremonials and the smoking of the Sacred Pipe when the participants may individually state, "All my relations." Hallowell's now classic "other-than-human persons" still best distinguishes this understanding.

A related issue is whether "theology" or "theologies" is most appropriate. Among the large number of tribes using the separate-stemmed pipe in North America, a common theology, as well as a common cosmology, is found, even among cultures of different language families. Details may differ, but there is a similar structural relationship between other-than-human persons and humans. This is why Sacred Pipes and bundles may come from another people, either as a gift or by capture, which in this mode is a gift from the spirits, as in the Crow myth. This theological similarity exists despite the means by which theological understanding develops. Being experiential, understanding is based on and open to, continual revelation from the spirits themselves.

Hence, Native theology is flexible and able to rapidly respond to changing circumstances without altering its fundamental characteristics. Revelation takes place during ecstatic religious experience resulting from the rituals of fasting, sweat lodge and self-sacrifice (e.g., the sun or thirst dances), and lucid dreams. Since continuing revelation takes place within a mythic and ritual context, it maintains rather than disrupts religious continuity.

The theology of the Sacred Pipe is not, in itself, due to the influence of Christianity as Father Steinmetz has suggested (1984:68): "The religious meaning of the Sacred Pipe and its sacramental use has been influenced by Christianity, I believe, far more than most anthropologists are willing to admit." Steinmetz has correctly pointed to the importance of the Christian backgrounds of George Sword and Black Elk on the development of Lakota ideology, a development analyzed by Clyde Holler (1984,1984a). But, as I have argued in a previous study (1983), it is the very ritual and understanding of the Sacred Pipe that distinguishes the aboriginal concepts from the Christian overlay. The modification that did take place was a Native means of responding to Christian domination in order to preserve Native spirituality. The Sacred Pipe as a vessel for sacrificial offering allows for synthesis with Christianity; but the significance of the Pipe existed long before Christianity came to the Americas, but even before Christianity began.

From the myths and rituals of the Sacred Pipe one can functionally distinguish four categories of spiritual beings: primary spirits, effective spirits, originating spirits, and instructive spirits. These categories are solely for analytical purposes; in actuality they overlap.(57-59)

We can now see that, even the role that the Sacred Pipe plays in Indigenous life may shift depending on the interpretation given to its place in the worldview. Yet, despite that, it is important to see that powerful perceptions maintain its position even to today, and that Nature's Law continues to impact directly and forcefully through Ritual Law in complicated ways.

deco deco

Albertasource.ca | Contact Us | Partnerships
Copyright © Heritage Communty Foundation All Rights Reserved