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How is a medicine bag properly laid to rest after the owner has passed?
If the deceased was not Native American, it is a highly personal matter. The medicine bag and/or its contents could be buried with the deceased or passed along to a family member or friend if that is the owner’s intended desire or designation.
If the deceased was a Native American, it would be best to contact an elder, a medicine man, a shaman or healer from the tribe to learn the proper customs for the treatment of the medicine bag and its contents.
Although it is not customary for a Native American to be buried with his riches, it is customary to bury his medicine bag or totem with him unless he wills them away. A totem is an animal spirit that a person chooses (or the totem chooses the person) as an ally through life, so it is in death. A totem item, such as a carved stone fetish of the animal, might be included in the medicine bag.
In addition, some tribes bury food (a small sack of corn or beans), water, possibly tobacco and hunting tools, such as a bow, arrow and knife with the deceased for his journey.
Native American Materials:
Abalone and Mother of Pearl
Some Mother of Pearl can be from Abalone but not all Abalone is Mother of Pearl.
An abalone is a mollusk whose shell is irridescent on the inside. The shells are used whole as smudge bowls.
Portions of the shells are used as buttons and decorations on medicine bags.
The ABALONE represents solace, the greatness of the oceans, a life of beauty, gentleness, caring, comfort, peacefulness, and delight. Abalone shell discs are an age old object that has been traded tribally for centuries. It is a symbol of power and protection and symbolizes ancient travels.
Mother of Pearl (MOP), also called nacre, is the inner layer of some shells. It is made by when the mollusk (the organism inhabiting the shell) makes crystals – this is an oversimplification, but think of it like an oyster making pearls – very similar.
MOP is a blend of minerals that are secreted by oysters, abalone, and other mollusks and deposited inside their shells, coating and protecting their bodies from parasites and foreign objects.
Mother-of-Pearl is said to stimulate intuition, sensitivity, imagination, and adaptability and help with clarity in decision making. Mother of Pearl stirs and awakens the primordial memory of your origin in the infinite ocean of divine love and stirs this memory in every cell of your physical body thereby producing an overall calming effect as it gently stirs the life energy of your cells. Like waves lapping the shore, this stirring is steady, relaxing, and rhythmical.
Mother of Pearl has a beautiful glow and can range from a pearly white, clear or with some striation, to iridescent multicolored blues, greens, golds, pinks, whites, and purples.
So…some Mother of Pearl can come from Abalone but it can also be from a variety of other fresh-water and salt-water mollusks including the pearl oyster.
The Sacred Smoke Bowl Blessing – Smudging
The “Sacred Smoke Bowl Blessing” is a powerful Native American cleansing technique. It is a ritual to remove negativity. Smoke attaches itself to the negative energy and removes it to another space.
Cleansing is the word traditionally used, but you can think of it as a shift in energy from any bits of negativity to a more positive, peaceful state.
Smudging can be used to cleanse an object, a place, or your spirit, mind or body. Native Americans often use smudging in association with other ceremonies.
Contemporary uses includes purifying a new vehicle, your work area or a room or dwelling before moving in; purifying a sacred object such as stone, book or fetish; or for self-cleansing before meditation, prayer or sleep.
Certain plants are used for smudging. Smudging is done in a particular way. The herbs are burned in a small bowl or a shell, such as an abalone shell. The shell represents Water, a gift from the ocean. The smoke is distributed with a feather, a gift from our winged friends.
For driving out negativity and for healing, White Sage is preferred.
A smudge kit contains herbs, a “bowl” or shell, and a feather to direct the smoke. The entire kit can be carried in a medicine bag.
Each part of the smudge kit and the smudging process signifies one of the four elements, that, when used, evokes the fifth element, life energy.
– The shell represents WATER
– The unlit herbs and ashes represents the EARTH
– The lit herb represents the FIRE
– The smoke represents the AIR
Before you begin, be sure the area is well ventilated because the smoke, carrying the negative energy, must have an escape route.
Take normal precautions to prevent an unwanted fire, such as placing your smudge pot or shell on a non-combustible surface.
Gather your smudge kit and a means to light the herbs. Long wooden matches are the best because a candle can add dripping wax to the process and a lighter, is well, kind of out of character.
Light the herb and when a flame appears, put the herb out so it will smolder and smoke. Before you smudge another person, an object or a place, you should smudge yourself. You can do this by bringing the smoke to you and rolling it in swirls over your head, shoulders and around your body. Send the smoke away with the feather.
When smudging a place, such as a room or car, pay homage to the cardinal directions which include the east, west, north, south, up and down.
When you are finished smudging, extinguish sweetgrass by damping the braid against the shell. For sage, you can crush it against the bowl or shell or in a bowl of sand.
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
Native American Artifact:
What is a Medicine Bag?
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.
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: