NATIVE AMERICAN CEREMONIAL AND DANCE RATTLES
© 2010 Cherry Hill
Native American rattles have been and are used for many purposes including healing and other medicine uses, dancing for ceremony and celebration, commemorating birth and more. To First Nations people, shakers or rattles represent rain (for prayers of abundance and prosperity) and tears, especially those of emotional release. Tears of joy signifying when the mind, body, soul and spirit connect. Ceremonially, rattles are used in cleansing and purifying, spiritual guidance work, celebration and in thanks and respect to Ancestral Spirits.
Rattles can be made of many materials including deer and elk hooves, rawhide, turtle shells, gourds, wood, buffalo parts (horn, hump bone, scrotum) bones, horns and antlers of all kinds, leather (cowhide, buckskin, elkskin).
The rattling items are either inside or outside. Rattles such as gourds might have small items inside such as beans, corn, small stones, or even the seeds native to the gourd itself.
Rattles with external sound makers are adorned with pieces of metal, tinkle cones, bells, beads and more.
Generally, medicine rattles are made entirely of natural materials and the sound is more muted. Dance rattles are made of almost any materials, natural and otherwise. In fact, unusual items such as pieces of scrap metal, coins and other resonating materials are used to create a loud, crisp sound. Dance rattles are often made like a coup stick, using bone or wood with a handle on the end.
The Sacred Pipe
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The pipe figures into Native American culture in many ways and for each culture there are different uses and traditions. The intent of this article is not to provide a comprehensive explanation of the sacred significance of the pipe in Native American cultures, but to just offer a brief idea of how pipes have been and are used by Native Americans.
On first contact with Native Americans, the French used the word “calumet” [from the Latin "calamus", for reed] to refer to the sacred pipe. Early pipes of the Miami and Illinois were hollow canes decorated with feathers.
The Lakota sacred pipe, the chanunpa, is an important part of healing ceremonies conducted by medicine men. Once a pipe is made, it must be blessed in a special ceremony that connects it to the original sacred pipe that was brought to the Lakota by the White Buffalo Calf Woman. This is to ensure that a good spirit resides in the pipe.
The Sacred Calf Pipe bundle is the most sacred object of the Sioux. It was brought to them by a messenger (White Buffalo Calf Woman) from wakan tanka (the holy being, the great mystery, the source of all healing).
The sacred pipe of the Osage is the Niniba.
Pipes currently in use by the Plains Indians are made of a catlinite bowl and a separate wooden stem, usually made of alder or ash.
The bowl can be a simple L shape or a T shape or can be a carving of an effigy or other symbol.
The primary source of Catlinite is in Minnesota along Pipestone Creek which is a tributary of the Big Sioux River. This area under control of the US National Park Service is now named Pipestone National Monument. Native Americans can apply for a permit to quarry catlinite there. Catlinite is named for the New York artist George Catlin (1796-1872), who was the first white person to visit the Minnesota quarry from which it was obtained.
Catlinite, a very deep red stone, is symbolic of blood of the ancient people and the buffalo.
Although the words catlinite and pipestone are often used interchangeably, there can be a great difference in the two stones. Catlinite, with its dark red color and exceptional ability to be carved, is only found in the Minnesota mine. Pipestone found elsewhere in the US and the world has a different composition, is often a pale terra cotta color, and cannot be carved like catlinite.
Using a Pipe
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The bowl and stem are separated and carried along with a tamper, the smoking mixture and other smoking accessories in a bag or pouch.
Each person has their own ritual about handing and smoking their pipe. It usually starts by smudging (purifying) the pipe and all of its parts and accessories in the smoke of sage, sweet grass, pine or cedar.
Once the pipe has been purified, the stem is connected to the bowl, the stem being viewed as male and the bowl as female.
Important – How to insert the stem into the pipe.
CAUTION – Never roughly jam the stem insert into the pipe hole. If you force the insert into the barrel, you could break the pipe.
Instead. . .
If you treat a pipe with respect, it will last a long time.
A certain number of pinches of the smoking mixture are added to the bowl in ceremony. Each pinch is smudged before loading in the bowl. (Read about smudging.)
The smoking of the pipe generally consists of puffing on it, not inhaling it. It is viewed as a means of sending one’s prayers to the Great Spirit and making a connection between the earthly world and the spiritual world.
As the pipe is passed, one holds the pipe in the left hand while using the right hand to wave the smoke over the top of one’s own head as a blessing. When speaking to the Great Spirit, often the stem of the pipe is pointed toward the sky.
In the hands of a medicine man, his sacred pipe is full of mysterious power and able to accomplish many things for the health, safety and well-being of his people.
When smoking is finished, the pipe is again treated with great respect as the bowl is cleaned, the stem is detached from the bowl, the pipe is blessed and stored in its special bundle or pouch.
Storing a Pipe
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According to Native American tradition, once a pipe has been smoked and blessed the first time, the bowl and stem of the pipe should only be joined for smoking. When they are joined, during smoking, the spirit of the pipe is released. After the ceremony, the bowl should be separated from the stem and they should be stored that way. If you store or display a pipe with the stem and bowl connected, the spirit is free to roam.
The Offering Pipe
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The Offering Pipe is a small scale, less expensive version of the Sacred Pipe and is meant to be used as an offering or give-away.
In many cultures, offerings are left at sacred sites and as a gift to the Spirits. In Native American culture, offerings might be left each time someone passes a certain way or takes water from a spring or stones from a mine. An offering can also be left for a person (alive or dead) or for a Spirit as a symbol of thanks and respect. The offering might be tobacco, food, money, flowers, craftwork or special objects. When a person goes on a Vision Quest the pipe that he smoked during that time would be one of the greatest offerings he could make to the Spirits. The Offering Pipe by Alan Monroe is perfect for such uses. When left as an offering, the pipe is separated from the stem and traditionally wrapped in red cloth which represents the red road or the good path. The bundle can be tucked in a rock crevice or a tree at the appropriate location.
A Give-Away Pipe also has tradition in Native American culture. When someone dies, there is a ceremony similar to a wake where people come to pay respects to the departed. Sometimes an Offering Pipe is placed in the casket for burial with the deceased. (See above.) Also, the family passes out gifts to family and friends at this time as a symbol of the tradition of giving away some of the deceased’s belongings. This is where a Give-Away pipe might be used.
A year after the person has passed, a feast is held in the person’s honor and the rest of the person’s belongings are given away. This is another instance where a Give-Away pipe would be suitable to exchange between family and friends of the deceased.
Choosing a Pipe
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If you are looking for an Offering Pipe or Give-Away Pipe, see above.
For a personal pipe, generally the L-shaped bowls are thought to be for a woman, a single man or for an everyday smoking pipe.
The T-shaped bowls are for a man or a family pipe. The nose of the pipe represents a man coming of age.
The animal effigy pipes are for those who have aligned with a particular animal spirit.
The pipes we sell at Horsekeeping.com are new pipes. They have not been smoked or blessed.
Thank you to Alan Monroe, fourth generation Oglala Lakota pipe maker from South Dakota, for his amazing high quality pipes and works of art and for some of the information used in this article.
My feet are made of mirage,
My bridle of strings of the sun.
My mane is like the white lightning,
My tail is like long black rain.
My eyes are big spreading stars.
My teeth are of the white shell.
My belly is white as dawnlight.
My heart is of everlasting garnet.
Navajo Chant (From Schevill, BEAUTIFUL ON THE EARTH)
Horses have always held a special place in Native American culture. With their arrival (through Spanish conquistadors) work was made easier as horses were used to carry and pull burdens once shouldered and drawn by tribe members. In this way, horses are revered and cared for almost as a member of the family. In this way they symbolize loyalty.
Horses (Du:she) are carved by Zuni artists but mostly used by Navajo who use livestock fetishes to protect their herds from injury and disease and to promote fertility.
(from Mark Bahti’s introduction to Zuni Fetishes by Frank Hamilton Cushing’s 1880 report of ethnology submitted to the Smithsonian)
A turquoise horse is used among the Navajo in a series of specific ritual steps to assist in the birth of a horse with speed.
Horse fetishes might be used in ceremony to increase the horse’s stamina on a long hunt or journey.
The horse is an animal of freedom and symbolizes safe movement.
The Horse Fetish can contribute to the power of healing and strength.
Lakota use spirit horses to commemorate their horses. Alan Monroe writes:
“Native Americans often made Spirit Horses to honor a fallen horse, in hopes that the spirit of the horse would follow them in life. They should gain the strength and power of their fallen friend. These effigies would be used in ceremonies, for healing and often carried into battle. After a Spirit Horse is made, it is believed that the horse will take on a spirit of its own.”
The Quandelacy family of the Zuni pueblo has a tradition called the Grandmother Necklace which is a fetish necklace made of birds and animals – one animal carved by each member of the family and presented to Grandmother or Mother.
How big is your family? Or your extended family?
Native American Tribes -
Oglala Lakota Sioux of South Dakota
The Lakota are part of seven related Sioux tribes and speak Lakota, one of three major dialects of the Sioux language.
The Lakota obtained horses in the early 1700s and used them to hunt buffalo and move their villages when weather or grazing required it.
The Lakota were compelled to sign a treaty in 1877 ceding the Black Hills to the United States but there was continued unrest which ended up with the killing of Sitting Bull in 1890 followed by the Massacre of Wounded Knee the same year at Pine Ridge.
Tatanka, the Lakota word for buffalo, means “bull buffalo” or a male bison but has a greater spiritual and ceremonial significance to the Lakota. Because the buffalo provided food, clothing and shelter for the Lakota, the buffalo is treated with great respect.
The Four Directions – The Four Colors – The Four Races
The Medicine Wheel represents American Indian Spirituality – the journey each individual must take to find his or her path. The Medicine Wheel is based on the four cardinal directions and the four sacred colors. A circle represents life; at the center of the circle is the eternal fire.
There are various pairings of the colors with other groups of four and it varies greatly among tribes.
The four seasons: Spring, Summer, Fall, Winter
The cycle of a day: Dawn, Day, Dusk, Night
The four directions: East, South, West, North
The four races: White, Yellow, Red, Black
The four colors: White, Yellow, Red, Black
The four elements: Air, Water, Fire, Earth
The Naja has its origin with the Moors in Spain. It is a good luck charm to ward off the evil eye. It was often used on the browband of Moorish Horses. It is thought that it was handed down from the Spanish Moors to Mexico and then to the Navajo Indians. The sterling silver naja pendant shown at above was made by Navajo artist Francis Begay.
The naja is the base of many ornate squash blossom necklaces.
How Zuñi & Navajo Native American Fetish Carvings are Made
Although fetishes are carved from many types of rock today, fish rock is the stone traditionally used for fetish carvings. Also popular are pipestone, serpentine, Picasso marble, turquoise, jet, picture jasper, argite, lapis, azurite, sodalite, marble, dolomite, mother of pearl (MOP), onyx, and spiny oyster. See more about Stones.
Many fetishes have a medicine bundle, offering bundle, or adornment tied on the back of the animal that can consists of coral seed beads, shell heishi, feathers and other stone pieces. These may be used as an offering to the fetish, to evoke the spirit of the fetish or to increase the strength of a fetish.
Coral bits, from the ocean, represent marine life or the heart of the fetish.
Turquoise represents the sky and water.
Penn shell heishi is brown and represents the earth.
Use of the six colors (see Six Directions below) white, yellow, red, blue, black and speckled or multi-colored, together symbolize the six directions.
Feathers are very powerful medicine when added to fetishes, so are rarely added to rock carvings for the market.
Sometimes a stone arrow is included in the bundle. It used to be these were real arrowheads but now they are small arrowheads carved out of shell. The arrowhead can protect the fetish from harm on its journey and the arrowhead can strengthen the power of the fetish.
If the arrow points ahead, it protects the fetish from things it will encounter.
If the arrow points backward, it protects the fetish from things that might come up from behind.
The bundle is tied on with sinew, which is from muscle fiber and symbolizes strength. Some contemporary artists use leather or heavy beading thread.
The style and detail of carving varies among artists but usually includes detail on the face, ears, tail and mane. Often the eyes and other spots of adornment on the animal are inset pieces of contrasting stones such as turquoise and coral.
Single, double and triple heart lines are inset in some fetishes. The heart line is a line etched, painted or inlaid along one or both sides of the animal. It usually extends from the mouth to the region of the heart.
There are many interpretations as to what a heart line represents, but it is often said to represent the pathway of the breath of the animal to the life force, which is the heart. Others feel that the heart line points to the soul of the animal. It is thought that a heart line gives the fetish healing or medicinal power.
Lakota Horse Stick
The horse stick is a Lakota Sioux tradition used to honor a specific horse. Carved from bone and painted, the horses were then adorned with feathers, horse hair, animal claws and other items.
The horse stick pendant (above) made from bone was hand carved and painted by Lonny and Michelle Cloud.