Native American Artifact – What is a Medicine Bag?

Native American Artifact:

What is a Medicine Bag?

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You might think that a medicine bag should only be carried by a Native American Shaman, Medicine Man or Healer. That is one type of medicine bag – quite large as it would contain many herbs and articles, sometimes as many as fifty items.

Native American Indian Buckskin Medicine Bag

Apache Wolf Spirit Medicine Bag

Cree Native American Medicine Bag

Cree Native American Beaded and Fringed Medicine Bag

Today, non Native Americans also use Medicine Bags. They are symbols connected to personal protection and power. Some wear a small medicine bag around the neck, under the clothing, or on a belt or saddle or carry it in a purse, pocket, knapsack or briefcase. Some people sleep with their medicine bags under their pillows.

What the bag contains is sacred and good medicine for that person. It can be traditional items or anything else – a locket, photo, key, bullet, or coin, for example.

Traditionally a medicine bag contains something from the plant, animal and mineral kingdoms and from the life of man. Here are some ideas:

Plant Kingdom

  • Sage
  • Sweetgrass
  • The Three Sisters: Corn,
    Bean, and Squash Seeds
  • Flowers

Animal Kingdom

  • Lock of hair, mane or tail
  • Bone
  • Feather
  • Claw
  • Tooth

Mineral Kingdom

  • Stone fetish
  • Piece of stone such as turquoise or lapis
  • Gem
  • Crystal

Man’s World

  • Key
  • Photo
  • Coin
  • Microchip
  • Bullet

10 thoughts on “Native American Artifact – What is a Medicine Bag?

  1. My husband has a business that for the last 25 years has created products for awards and sale for rodeos primarily on the Navajo nation rodeos. Although he is not Native American, he is well known and liked by the Dine.

    We had a Navajo employee who recently died. The young man was almost a son to us – his death was mourned by many Dine and we also mourn him. He left a wife, son, and countless brothers, sisters, aunties, uncles and other family members. He often called my husband Papa Boss and me Mom. We miss him greatly.

    At the next event we attended after his death, a strange thing happened. We set up our booth the night before and upon returning to the rodeo, we found that several bundles of sweet grass (with seeds) placed on our booth. They contained a strand of sweet grass and a small stick, wrapped in wire and attached to the booth enclosure. We were wondering what if anything this symbolized, and if it was related at all to our young friend’s death.

    Thank you for any insight.

    • Hello and thank you for writing. I would imagine that leaving you a sweet grass bundle was a sign of respect and was making a spiritual connection between you and your close friend/employee. Sweet grass is used in many Native American ceremonies for prayer, blessings, purification and to invite the presence of the Great Spirit, often for purposes of healing. I can not speak for the person who left you the bundle as to their intended significance, but you can read about smudging and sweet grass here . It is possible that they left the bundles as a heart felt symbol to thank you for being a friend and to help you deal with your grief. Whether you actually burn the sweet grass like incense or cherish the gift as is, it will make you feel better.

  2. I get a lot of questions and comments about my medicine bag,do you have any suggestions for how to explain it to people who don’t know what it is and the significance they hold? And any suggestions about how to ask them not to touch it without being rude would be greatly appreciated as well. Thanks in advance

    • Hi Alex,
      I find it is all in the WAY I say something and my overall tonal or body language as to what effect it has on someone……..I usually look directly at the person and say in a loving but firm way “It’s personal”. I follow that with a warm smile. In that way, instead of closing doors, you might open one and the person might say something like, “Oh I didn’t realize. What _______???” and then they will ask you what is in it, what it means and so on. Then you can explain as you wish and perhaps introduce people to the idea and purpose. Some people use similar pouches for everything from money, car keys to cell phone, so the bag might not seem so sacred and special to someone who doesn’t know. I hope this gives you some ideas how to handle it tactfully. And if someone does touch or invade the contents of your pouch, rather than let it upset you, you can embrace that with the idea that each experience is all part of your life and these things and more will happen. Paula

  3. hi i was talking to a new friend on face book and said that i had a dreamcatcher over my bed to keep me safe an she said that i need a medicine bag to help keep me safe but not sure whether i need to buy one or make one so how do i go about either and what would i put in it please
    angie x

  4. Pingback: Howell Davis, Rest in Peace | The Journal of Blue Lou Logan

  5. We found a leather bag and it’s contents are similar to what is described here. If I sent a picture and described it could you tell me what this is?

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