Saturday, September 10, 2011

Native American Sacred Medicines

During recent days, I have had several ask questions about the information covered in this post.  Maybe there is something going on in the spiritual planes that is making folks seek this information out.  With that in mind, I decided to post the article here and share the knowledge with others that may be seeking such.

Sweetgrass, sage, cedar and tobacco encompass the four sacred plants. Burning these is a sign of deep spirituality in Native practices. Cedar and sage are burned to drive out negative forces when prayer is offered. Sweetgrass, which signifies kindness, is burned to invite good spirits to enter. Participants also use these purification rituals to smudge regalia, drums and other articles before taking part in a pow-wow. Tobacco is considered the most sacred of plants.

Rattles are shaken to call up the spirit of life when someone is sick. The Elder also uses a rattle to summon the spirits governing the four directions to help participants who are seeking spiritual and physical cleansing to start a “new” life during a sweat lodge ceremony.

Very sacred objects, drums represent the heartbeat of the nation, the pulse of the universe. Different sizes are used depending on the ceremonial purposes.

Pipes are used during both private and group ceremonies, the prayer itself being wafted through the smoke of the burning plant material.

Feathers are the connection to the "air" forces; air being one of the four elements. The remaining three elements are water, fire, and earth. A healer can incorporate the use of feathers in different ways. The feather is useful in cleaning auras. Different types of feathers are used depending on the need of the client.

Sweat Lodge
Used mainly for communal prayer purposes, the Sweat Lodge may also provide necessary ceremonial settings for spiritual healing, purification, as well as fasting. Most fasts require a sweat ceremony before and after the event.

Medicine Pouches
Prescribed by an Elder, plant material can also be worn in a medicine pouch by a person seeking the mercy and protection of the spirits of the Four Directions.

The Medicine Wheel
The symbol of the circle holds a place of special importance in Native beliefs. For the Native American, whose culture is traditional rather than literate, the significance of the circle has always been expressed in ritual practice and in art. The lives of men and women, as individual expressions of the Power of the World move in and are nourished by an uninterrupted circular/spiral motion. This circle is often referred to as the Medicine Wheel. Human beings live, breathe and move, giving additional impetus to the circular movement, provided they live harmoniously, according to the circle’s vibratory movement. Every seeker has a chance to eventually discover a harmonious way of living with their environment according to these precepts.

Role of Spirit & Connection:

A major difference between Native-American and conventional medicine concerns the role of spirit and connection. Although spirituality has been a key component of healing through most of mankind’s history, modern medicine eschews it, embracing a mechanistic view of the body fixable pursuant to physical laws of science.

In contrast, Native-American medicine considers spirit, whose life-force manifestation in humans is called, ni by the Lakota and nilch’i by the Navajo, an inseparable element of healing. Not only is the patient’s spirit important but the spirit of the healer, the patient’s family, community, and environment, and the medicine, itself. More importantly, healing must take in account the dynamics between these spiritual forces as a part of the universal spirit.

Instead of modern medicine’s view of separation that focuses on fixing unique body parts in distinct individuals separate from each other and the environment, Native Americans believe we are all synergistically part of a whole that is greater than the sum of the parts; healing must be consider within this context. Specifically, we are all connected at some level to each other, Mother Earth (i.e., nature), Father Sky, and all of life through the Creator (Iroquois), Great Spirit (Lakota), Great Mystery (Ojibway), or Maker of All Things Above (Crow).

This sense of wholeness and connection is implied by the concluding phrase of healing prayers and chants “All my Relations,” which dedicates these invocations to all physical and spiritual relations that are a part of the Great Spirit. To metaphorically describe our universal connection, the Lakota use the phrase mitakuye oyasin – “We are all related,” while Southwest pueblo tribes, who consider corn as a life symbol, state “We are all kernels on the same corncob.”

In Native Science: Natural Laws of Interdependence (2000), Dr. Gregory Cajete uses modern science’s chaos theory to support the Native-American concept of connection. Sometimes called the “butterfly effect,” this theory postulates that a butterfly’s wing flap may initiate a disturbance that ultimately leads to a hurricane or another phenomenon across the world. Whether it is this flap, a prayer for healing, or one’s stand against oppression, chaos theory, as well as Native American philosophy, implies that everything is related and has an influence no matter how small.

Moreover, we all have “butterfly power” to create from the inherent chaos of our universe, which Cajete describes as “not simply a collection of objects, but rather a dynamic, ever-flowing river of creation inseparable from our own perceptions.”

Cultural Rebirth:

Although you cannot appreciate Native-American medicine without its spiritual dynamics, surprisingly, the practice of Native-American spirituality was banned in the land of religious freedom until the 1978 passage of the American Indian Religious Freedom Act. For example, in Coyote Medicine: Lessons from Native American Healing (1997), Dr. Lewis Mehl-Madrona tells how he risked jail for attending an early 1970’s healing ceremony.

Because of this ban, which forbid congregating and keeping sacred objects, much of Native-American healing was driven underground or to extinction. It is the equivalent of telling physicians they can’t practice medicine if they do surgeries or prescribe drugs. Since the prohibition’s lifting, however, world-wide interest in Native-American wisdom has soared, in part, because it is perceived as an antidote to modern society’s soul-depleting and environment-damaging aspects.


The idea of wholeness is paramount in understanding Native-American perception of disability. Unlike many cultures that shun people with disabilities, Native Americans honor and respect them. They believe that a person weak in body is often blessed by the Creator as being especially strong in mind and spirit. By reducing our emphasis on the physical, which promotes our view of separation from our fellow man and all that is, a greater sense of connection with the whole is created, the ultimate source of strength.

Overall, in treating physical disability, Native-American healers emphasize quality of life, getting more in touch with and honoring  inherent gifts, adjusting one’s mindset, and learning new tools. By so doing, the individual’s humanity is optimized.

This article is posted from my website: A Rainbow of Spirituality

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