Sacred Red Pipestone from Minnesota

Lakota horse pipe carved by 4th generation Lakota pipemaker Alan Monroe from pipestone he quarried from Pipestone National Monument

 

From the website of Pipestone National Monument 

“When you pray with this pipe, you pray for and with everything.”  -Black Elk

 

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For countless generations, American Indians have quarried the red pipestone found at this site.

Red Pipestone is also referred to as Catlinite. Read more about Catlinite by clicking here.

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 These grounds are sacred to many people because the pipestone quarried here is carved into pipes used for prayer. Many believe that the pipe’s smoke carries one’s prayer to the Great Spirit. The traditions of quarrying and pipemaking continue here today.

More information from the Pipestone National Monument website

Located in rural southwestern Minnesota, the pipestone quarries are considered a sacred site by many American Indians. For the last 5,000 years or more, tribes across the central region of North America have traveled to this site to quarry. Today, they still travel long distances to this site to continue the tradition of pipestone quarrying and pipe making. Since 1946, the 56 active pipestone quarry pits have been managed by issuance of a quarry permit.

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Pipestone quarrying is often an underappreciated part of the tradition surrounding pipe making. The task of extracting pipestone from the earth is slow and laborious using hand tools not much more advanced than the tools and methods used in past millennia. The process can require many days of physical labor with only sledgehammers, pry bars, chisels, wedges, and steel bars allowed. Good physical condition is a prerequisite.

 

A cross-section view of a quarry showing the layers of earth and quartzite that needs to be removed before reaching the layer of pipestone. Note that the pipestone seam is angled downward. Over time, the quarriers must remove more and more quartzite, one of the hardest rocks in the world, to continue extracting the pipestone.

Depending upon the specific quarry and amount of material extracted, experience has shown that quarrying time can be estimated at two to six weeks to reach the subsurface layer of pipestone. This pipestone lens is sandwiched between layers of very hard Sioux Quartzite formation rock. Depending upon a quarry’s location along the quarry line, the upper levels of quartzite can be four to ten feet thick above the pipestone layer. Prairie plants and soil varying in depth from one to six feet cover the upper layer of quartzite.

Quarriers use shovels and wheelbarrows to dig up surface soils and glacial till. Then they dump it in rubble piles at the rear of the quarries. Subsequently, broken pieces of quartzite rock are also discarded.

The upper layer of quartzite is composed of multiple quartzite strata, with vertical fractures and cracks in the rock. Wedges or chisels are placed into these cracks can be driven down with sledge hammers to break apart loose individual quartzite blocks. Upon loosening a piece, it is worked free with a steel pry bar and allowed to drop to the floor of the quarry. Heavy sledge hammers are then used to break the bigger chunks of quartzite into smaller, more manageable pieces that can be lifted and thrown out of the back of the quarry. The process of breaking out the quartzite is repeated many times until the pipestone layer is exposed.

See the slide show below which shows the blessing and quarrying of the pipestone that is used to make the items in our store

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The smaller pieces are also used in building a rock retaining wall along the front of the rubble pile. The rock wall serves as a barrier so that as additional quartzite and soil are thrown or stacked at the rear of the quarry, the rubble pile is prevented from collapsing back into the quarry. Building a sturdy retaining wall to keep rock and fill out of the pit is an essential part of managing a quarry and a very important protective safeguard for quarriers.

Sacred Catlinite Ceremonial Necklace

Once the pipestone is exposed, care must be taken in removing the stone as it is very fragile and when handling large slabs it can break. The pipestone layer may vary from 10 to 18 inches thick and it too is composed of multiple layers from 1 ½ to 3 inches thick. Individual layers are carefully removed one slab at a time by driving wedges into the natural horizontal seams. The natural vertical cracks in the quartzite carry down through the pipestone, which allows the quarrier to remove the pipestone layers in irregularly-shaped slabs or tabular blocks.

Raven Effigy Pipe

The quarry pits are located in the bottom of a bowl-shaped drainage. In the spring and early summer months groundwater from rain and snow melt collects in this low lying area, filling the quarries with water. Most quarriers prefer to work during the summer to late fall months to avoid the groundwater problems. Monument staff will assist quarriers by pumping water out of the quarries, but only two days ahead of when quarrying is planned. Often, when it is high, groundwater will flow back into the quarries as fast as it is pumped out. Since continued pumping will not reduce the water level, it will not be attempted during these periods when groundwater is high.

Buffalo Effigy Pipe

Paula

Native American Pipes – The Sacred Pipe

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.

Lakota Catlinite T 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.

Ash Pipe Stem

The bowl can be a simple L shape or a T shape or can be a carving of an effigy or other symbol.

Catlinite L Shaped Bowl

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.

Catlinite Double Eagle Pipe by Alan Monroe, Oglala Lakota

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. . .
Moisten the insert with your lips. Insert the stem into the pipe barrel and gently give it ¼ turn. This will give the stem a good hold on the inside of the barrel. The slight moisture will swell the stem insert slightly which results in a snug fit.

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.

Catlinite Horse Effigy Pipe by Alan Monroe, Oglala Lakota

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.

Raven Effigy Catlinite Pipe by Alan Monroe, Oglala Lakota

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.

Catlinite Offering Pipe by Alan Monroe, Oglala Lakota

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.

Horse Effigy Pipe from Catlinite by Alan Monroe, Oglala Lakota

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.

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