Mircea Eliade "From Primitives to Zen":
THE SACRED PIPE

DAKOTA INDIANS


The sacred pipe plays a central ritual role among a great number of North American Indian tribes. The smoke is blown like incense to the celestial Beings, to the earth, and to the four cardinal points.

Two young men, in time of famine, were scouting for game upon the prairies. They encounter a beautiful woman, solitary. One of the Young men, being lascivious in thought of her, is enveloped in a cloud, which, lifting, leaves only his bones. The other, reverent in heart, is instructed to hasten to the tribe and prepare them for the reception of the stranger. The Medicine Lodge is erected, and at sunrise on the following day to the awaiting tribesmen the mysterious maiden appears, bearing with her a sacred calumet. This she bestows, as something very precious, to the tribal custodians, at the same time charging the members of the tribe with their duties to one another.

The version of Lone Man, a Teton, gives most fully the essential teaching. His narrative is recorded by Frances Densmore.

Braided sweet grass was dipped into a buffalo horn containing rain water and was offered to the Maiden. The chief said, 'Sister, we are now ready to hear the good message you have brought.' The pipe, which was in the hands of the Maiden, was lowered and placed on the rack. Then the Maiden sipped the water from the-sweet grass.

Then, taking up the pipe again, she arose and said: 'My relatives, brothers and sisters: Wakantanka has looked down, and smiles upon us this day because we have met as belonging to one family. The best thing in a family is good feeling towards every member of the family. I am proud to become a member of your family- a sister to you all. The sun is your grandfather, and he is the same to me. Your tribe has the distinction of being always very faithful to promises, and of possessing great respect and reverence towards sacred things. It is known also that nothing but good feeling prevails in the tribe, and that whenever any member has been found guilty of committing any wrong, that member has been cast out and not allowed to mingle with the other members of the tribe. For all these good qualities in the tribe you have been chosen as worthy and deserving of all good gifts. I represent the Buffalo tribe, who have sent you this pipe. You are to receive this pipe in the name of all the common people (Indians). Take it, and use it according to my directions. The bowl of the pipe is red stone-a stone not very common and found only at a certain place. This pipe shall be used as a peacemaker. The time will come when you shall cease hostilities against other nations. Whenever peace is agreed upon between two tribes or parties this pipe shall be a binding instrument. By this pipe the medicine-men shall be called to administer help to the sick.'

Turning to the women, she said:

'My dear sisters, the women: You have a hard life to live in this world, yet without you this life would not be what it is. Wakantanka intends that you shall bear much sorrow-comfort others in time of sorrow. By your hands the family moves. You have been given the knowledge of making clothes and of feeding the family. Wakantanka is with you in your sorrows and joins you in your griefs. He has given you the great gift of kindness towards every living creature on earth. You he has chosen to have a feeling for the dead who are gone. He knows that you remember the dead longer than do the men. He knows that you love your children dearly.'

Then turning to the children:

'My little brothers and sisters. Your parents were once little children like you, but in the course of time they became men and women. All living creatures were once small, but if no one took care of them they would never grow up. Your parents love you and have made many sacrifices for your sake in order that Wakantanka may listen to them, and that nothing but good may come to you as you grow up. I have brought this pipe for them, and you shall reap some benefit from it. Learn to respect and reverence this pipe, and above all, lead pure lives. Wakantanka is your great grandfather.'

Turning to the men:

'Now my dear brothers: In giving you this pipe you are expected to use it for nothing but good purposes. The tribe as a whole shall depend upon it for their necessary needs. You realize that all your necessities of life come from the earth below, the sky above, and the four winds. Whenever you do anything wrong against these elements they will always take some revenge upon you. You should reverence them. Offer sacrifices through this pipe. When you are in need of buffalo meat, smoke this pipe and ask for what you need and it shall be granted you. On you it depends to be a strong help to the women in the raising of children. Share the women's sorrow. Wakantanka smiles on the man who has a kind feeling for a woman, because the woman is weak. Take this pipe, and offer it to Wakantanka daily. Be good and kind to the little children.'

Turning to the chief:

'My older brother: You have been chosen by these people to receive this pipe in the name of the whole Sioux tribe. 'Wakantanka is pleased and glad this day because you have done what is required and expected that every good leader should do. By this pipe the tribe shall live. It is your duty to see that this pipe is respected and reverenced. I am proud to be called a sister. May Wakantanka look down on us and take pity on us and provide us with what we need. Now we shall smoke the pipe.'

Then she took the buffalo chip which lay on the ground, lighted the Pipe, and pointing to the sky with the stem of the pipe, she said, 'I offer this to Wakantanka for all the good that comes from above.' (Pointing to the earth:) 'I offer this to the earth, whence come all good gifts.' (Pointing to the cardinal points:) 'I offer this to the four winds, whence come all good things.' Then she took a puff of the pipe, passed it to the chief, and said, 'Now my dear brothers and sisters, I have done the work for which I was sent here and now I will go, but I do not wish any escort. I only ask that the way be cleared before me .

Then, rising, she started, leaving the pipe with the chief, who ordered that the people be quiet until their sister was out of sight. She came out of the tent on the left side, walking very slowly; as soon as she was outside the entrance she turned into a white buffalo calf.


H. B. Alexander, The World's Rim (Lincoln, Neb.: University of Nebraska Press, 1953), PP. 155-7; quoting from and commenting on Frances Densmore, Teton Sioux Music (Bureau of American Ethnology, Bulletin 61, 1918), pp. 65-6

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