Updated: Aug 2, 2021
White Buffalo Calf Woman – Healer, Teacher, and Inspirational Spirit.
White Buffalo Calf Woman is also known as Pte Ska Win or Ptesanwi. Her story seems to be centered in Lakota mythology, but other Native Americans also have legends about her. She is traditionally known as an individual who brings messages from the ancestors, but she has also been regarded as a healer who comes to help during critical situations. White Buffalo Calf Woman brings inspiration, strength, and the power of creation.
The traditional story is that, long ago, there was a time of famine. The chief of the Lakota sent
out two scouts to hunt for food. While the young men traveled they saw a figure in the distance and as they approached, they saw that it was a beautiful young woman in white buck skin. She had dark hair, skin and eyes. One of the men was filled with lust for the woman. He approached
her, telling his companion he would attempt to claim her as a wife. His companion warned him that she appeared to be a sacred woman, and to do anything sacrilegious would be dangerous and disrespectful. The man ignored the other's advice.
The second man watched as the first approached and embraced the woman, during which time a white cloud enveloped the pair. When the cloud disappeared, only the mysterious woman and a pile of bones remained. The bones were the remains of the man. The remaining man was frightened, and began to draw his bow. But the holy woman beckoned him forward, telling
him that no harm would come to him, as she could see into his heart and he did not have the motives the first man had. As the woman spoke Lakota, the young man decided she was one of his people, and came forward.
At this time, the woman explained that she was ayamihewiskwew (holy, having spiritual and supernatural powers). She further explained that if he did as she instructed, his people would rise again. The scout promised to do what she instructed, and was told to return to his encampment, call the Council, and prepare a feast for her arrival. She taught the Lakota
seven sacred ceremonies and gave them the Pîhtwâwinihkêw, the sacred ceremonial pipe.
The 7 sacred ceremonies are
1. Pîhtwâwinihkêw; The Sacred Pipe Ceremony 2. Matotisân: The Sweat Lodge 3. Bawaajigan : The Vision Quest 4. Giizis Midewiwin : The Sun Dance 5. wicewâkanihtowin : The Making of Relatives 6. Ganawenim =jichaag The Keeping of The Soul 7. ikwezens = iskwêwiw : Preparing a Girl for Womanhood
Pîhtwâwinihkêw the Sacred Pipe Ceremony
The bowl of the pipe she gave the Lakota was made of red stone, representing the Earth. A buffalo head was carved on the bowl, symbolizing all of the four-legged animals of the Earth. The stem was wood and represented all that grows on the Earth. Twelve eagle feathers hung from the place where the bowl joined the stem; this symbolized all the birds. The round stone was made out of the same red earth as the pipe and had seven circles on it representing the seven rites.
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 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.
Matotisân The Rite of Purification : to renew life
The Ojibwa term for sweat lodge is Matotisân which means 'to live again'.
Matotisân is a purification rite and is necessary in order to help the vision quest seeker enter into a state of humility and to undergo a kind of spiritual rebirth. The sweat lodge is central to Matotisân. Prayers offered there draw on all the powers of the universe — Earth, Water, Fire and Air. In the old days, Matotisânwas done before any major undertaking to purify the body and gain strength and power.
The actual lodge itself is a dome constructed of 16 young willow trees placed in a circle, traditionally covered with hides so no light could penetrate inside. On the outside, the formation of the site comprises an earth mound just outside the door of the sweat lodge, facing east, and a fire pit containing stones. The fire represents the sun. Another mound partially encircling the fire pit represents the crescent moon. This is the outer world or cosmos; the inner world is the sweat lodge. It represents the womb of the universe from which souls are created anew.
Prayers are said at each stage of the construction of a sweat lodge. When it is completed, a burning coal is brought in and sweetgrass is burned by the leader of the Matotisânwas to purify the lodge. The pipe is smoked and carried outside, where it is placed on the mound of earth.
The other participants enter the lodge, sitting in a circle on sacred sage, and the Pipe is brought in and smoked. The heated rocks are placed on the center fireplace and the Pipe returned to the earth mound. Then, the door is closed.
During the ritual, the door is thrown open four times to represent the four ages described by the Sacred White Buffalo Calf Woman. The fourth time, participants leave the lodge, emerging from dark to light which represents the liberation from the physical universe. All that is impure is left in the sweat lodge.
Bawaajigan : The Vision Quest
They provide an important connection between the participant, the Creator and nature. As a rite of passage, a vision quest helps one to develop survival skills, gain maturity and connect with nature and ancestors. Most importantly, the visions that participants may receive during their quests are said to reveal great knowledge about their life.
When the participants are ready, they leave their community for an isolated place, such as in the wilderness or near the grave sites of elders, where they can be alone and at one with their thoughts. During this time, it is typical for participants to forgo food, and sometimes sleep, as a means of preparing their mind.
Individuals often experience dreams, visions or hallucinations, potentially the result of sleep and food deprivation. However, participants believe that the visions are sacred and specific to the person who receives them, a gift from the Creator and ancestors.
Giizis Midewiwin : The Sun Dance
The Sun Dance is a ceremony practiced differently by several North American Indian Nations, but many of the ceremonies have features in common, including dancing, singing and drumming, the experience of visions, fasting, and, in some cases, self-torture.
The Sun Dance was the most spectacular and important religious ceremony of the Plains Indians of 19th-century North America, ordinarily held by each tribe once a year usually at the time of the Summer Solstice.
The Sun Dance last from four to eight days starting at the sunset of the final day of preparation and ending at sunset. It showed a continuity between life and death - a regeneration. It shows that there is no true end to life, but a cycle of symbolic and true deaths and rebirths. All of nature is intertwined and dependent on one another. This gives an equal ground to everything on the Earth.
The Native American tribes who practiced sun dance were:
The Arapaho, Arikara, Asbinboine, Cheyenne, Crow, Gros, Ventre, Hidutsa, Sioux, Plains Cree, Plains Ojibway, Sarasi, Omaha, Ponca, Ute, Shoshone, Kiowa, and Blackfoot tribes. Their rituals varied from tribe to tribe the sun dance was the major communal religious ceremony - the rite celebrates renewal - the spiritual rebirth of participants and their relatives as well as the regeneration of the living Earth with all its components - the ritual, involving sacrifice and supplication to insure harmony between all living beings, continues to be practiced by many contemporary native Americans.
Wicewâkanihtowin : The Making of Relatives
Wicewâkanihtowin is the ceremony performed when two or more people want to make a powerful blood bond, stronger then even a parent and a child. They will share everything and even die for each other.
Ganawenim =jichaag - Keeping of the Soul
The Sacred White Buffalo Woman told the Lakota when they die, their souls must be purified so they can reunite with Wakan Tanka - the Great Spirit. A lock of hair from a departed person was taken and held over a piece of burning sweetgrass to purify it. Then it was wrapped in a piece of sacred buckskin, and the Sacred Pipe was smoked. The buckskin bundle, called the soul bundle, was kept in a special place in the tipi of the soul’s keeper, usually a relative. The Keeper of the Soul vowed to live a harmonious life until the soul could be released, usually about one year. The ceremony to release the soul began with a buffalo hunt and construction of a special lodge. Kinnikinnik - sacred tobacco - was smoked in the Pipe and special food was buried as an offering to the Earth.
The bundle containing the soul was carried outside and as soon as it reached the air, the soul was released. The soul then traveled along the Spirit Path, which is the Milky Way, to reach Maya Owichapaha - the old woman who judges each soul. If she judged it worthy, she sent the soul to the right ... to Gitchi Manitou . Unworthy souls were sent to the left where they remained until they finally could become purified and join Gitchi Manitou .
Ikwezens = Iskwêwiw : Preparing a Girl for Womanhood
Berry Fast - To mark a female’s end of childhood/coming of age, they will perform a berry fast in which they will not eat berries for an entire year and meditate in a sweat lodge frequently. During this year, she meets with older women and learns about the roles she will take on as a mother one day. Typically, this happens when a girl hits her first menstruation. The actual coming-of-age traditions vary from tribe to tribe, but they usually happen around the time of a young girl's first menstruation, and involve some type of seclusion accompanied by fasting and the use of a sweat lodge. Sometimes, periods of seclusion are done in addition to other practices, depending on the tribe.
A girl or woman's "Moon" or "Moon Time" is the period when she is going through her menstrual cycle, because, like the moon, women also have a 28-day monthly cycle. In the Ojibwe culture, this is a time of purification for women, and it represents the sacrifice that women make for their people -- that is, bleeding and bearing children. It is a time of connecting to, and recharging, one's power. The first menses is regarded as the first opportunity to connect with "Spirit," and in Native American culture, menstruation is something to be respected During the ritual periods of seclusion, women go to "rest and receive dream guidance," which is a form of the vision quests mentioned previously in this blog. Women use this time to evaluate their role as creators and to evaluate their relationship with "the Creator"