Indian Myth And Legends

The Sacred Weed

For Longer Than Anyone Knows

Indians throughout the Americas have smoked tobacco
And other plants for pleasure and for praying
The smoke was the Great Spirit’s breath taking the prayers up to the Ones Above
With a pipe in his hands a man could speak nothing but the truth

Sir Walter Raleigh learned the use of tobacco from the Indians
When he first had a smoke in a London Inn
The bartender thinking that he was on fire emptied a tankard of ale over him

To the white man
Smoking became an addiction
But to the native American pipe and tobacco were sacred and smoking was a holy ritual
A man who had killed a member of his own tribe could not smoke ritually with the others
He had to smoke a mean little pipe all by himself as hard punishment

There once were four brothers
All of them spiritual men who had power

In a vision the oldest of them heard a voice saying
"Out there is a sacred weed pick it and burn it"
The man looked around
Saw the strange weed and put it in the fire
It gave off a very pleasing aroma

Then the second brother had a dream in which a voice said
"Take this herb
Chop it fine
Put it into a hide bag"
The man did what he was told
The dry herb in his hide bag was wonderfully fragrant

The third brother had a vision in which he saw a man hollowing out a bone
He then put the strange weed into it
A voice said
"Make four pipes like this"
The third brother carved four pipes out of an animal's leg bones

Then the youngest of the four brothers had a vision
A voice told him
"You four men light your pipes and smoke
Inhale the smoke and exhale it
Let the smoke ascend to the clouds"
The voice also taught him the songs and prayers that went with smoking

So the four medicine men
All born of the same mother smoked together
This was the first time that men had ever smoked
They sang and prayed together as they did so

The brothers who called the sacred weed nawak' osis
Were meant to teach its use to the people
But nawak'osis made them powerful and wise and clear minded
They did not want to share it with others

They planted the sacred weed in a secret place that only they knew
They guarded the songs and prayers and rituals that went with smoking
They formed a Tobacco Society
There was just the four of them

So there was anger
There was war
There was restlessness of spirit
There was impiety

Nawak'osis was meant to calm anger
To make men worship
To make peace
To ease the mind

But without the sacred herb
Unity and peace were lacking

A young man called Bull-by-Himself said to his wife:
"These four powerful ones have been given something good to share with the people
But they are keeping it for themselves
So things are bad
I must find a way to plant and reap the sacred weed they call nawak'osis"

Bull-by-Himself and his wife went to a sacred lake and set up their tipi close by its shore
The man left every day to hunt and look for the plant nawak'osis
The woman stayed in the lodge to quill, tan and prepare food

One day while she was alone she heard somebody singing beautifully
She searched everywhere to find the source of the music
She discovered that it was coming from a beaver house close by the shore
"It must be the beavers singing" she thought
"Their songs are lovely
I hope they don't stop"

Though her husband came home with plenty of meat
He had not found nawak'osis
The woman called his attention to the music but he said
"I hear nothing
It's your imagination"
"No" she said "I can hear it clearly
Put your ear to the beaver house"
He did
But still he heard nothing

Then the wife took her knife and made a hole in the beaver lodge
Through it they could not only hear the beavers sing
But also watch them performing a strange, beautiful dance
"My young brothers"
The wife called to them "be of a sharing spirit
Teach me your wonderful song and your medicine!"

The Beavers answered
"Close the hole you have made because it lets the cold in
Then we will come out and visit you"
So she sealed their wall up
That night four beavers came to Bull-by-Himself's lodge
As soon as they were inside
They turned themselves into humans
Four nice-looking young men

One asked
"What have you come here for?"

"I have come" said Bull-by-Himself
"To find the sacred weed called nawak'osis"

"Then this is the right place" said the man-beavers
"We are water people and nawk'osis is water medicine
We will give you this sacred herb
But first you must learn the songs
The prayers
The dances
And the ceremonies that go with it"

"There are four powerful men in our tribe" said Bull-by-Himself
"Who have the medicine and the knoweldge but keep them from us"

"Ah" said the man-beavers
"That is wrong
This sacred weed is meant to be shared
Here is what you must do
By day
Go out and get the skin of every four-legged and two-legged creature
That lives in and around the water
With the exception of course
Of the beaver

You must get the skins of the Muskrat
The Otter
The Duck
And The Kingfisher
Of all creatures like that because they repesent water

Sun and water mean life
Sun begets life
And water makes it grow"

Every day Bull-by-Himself went out for the skins
While his wife scraped, tanned and smoked them

And every night the four man-beavers came to teach them the Prayers
And the dances that went with nawak'osis

After a while the beavers said
"Now all is ready
Now you have all the skins and now you have the knowledge
Make the skins which represent water power into a bag
Into a medicine bundle
Tomorrow night we’ll come again for the last time to tell you what to do"

The following night the beavers came as they had promised
They brought with them the sacred weed nawak'sis
The top of the stalks was coverd with little round seeds
Te man-beavers put the seeds into the medicine bundle
A medicine bundle that the woman had prepared

"It's planting time now" said the Beavers
"Don't touch nawak'osis before you are ready to plant
Choose a place where there is not too much shade and not too much sunlight
Mix plenty of brown earth with plenty of black earth and keep the soil loose
Say the prayers that we have taught you

Then you Bull-by-Himself
Must take a deer horn
And with its point make holes in the earth-one for each seeds

And you
His wife
Must use a buffalo-horn spoon to drop one seed into each hole

Keep singing the songs we taught you all the while
Then both of you dance lightly over this earth
Tamping down the seeds
After that you just wait for nawak'osis to grow
Now we have taught you everything
Now we go"
The nice-looking young men left
They turned back into beavers as they went

Bull-by-Himself and his wife planted the sacred weed as they had been told

The four medicine-men brothers said to one another
"What can this man Bull-by-Himself and his wife be planting?
Their songs sound familiar"

They sent somebody to find out and this person came back saying
"They are planting nawak'osis and doing it in a sacred manner

The four powerful men began to laugh
It can't be
It's some useless weed they they are planting
No one but us can plant nawak'osis
No one but us can use it
No one but us has its power"

But when it was time to harvest nawak'osis
A great hailstorm destroyed the secret tobacco patch of the four medicine brothers
Nothing was left and they had not saved a single seed

They said to each other
"Perhaps this man and his wife did plant nawak'osis after all
Perhaps the hail hasn't destroyed their tobacco patch"

Again the four brothers sent someone to find out
That person came back saying
"This man and his wife had no hail on their field
Here is what they have been growing"
He showed the brothers some leaves
"It is indeed nawak'osis" they said shaking their heads in wonder

Thus with the help of the beaver people
Bull-byHimself and his wife brought the sacred tobacco to the tribes
They have been smoking it in a sacred manner ever since

Retold From Several Nineteeth-Century Sources

How GrandFather Peyote Came To The Indian People
Brule Sioux

Vision quests
In which an individual seeks spiritual power are common to many Indian tribes
The peyote plant is often used by the Sioux and Cheyenne
In the rituals associated with such quests
The sweat lodge, a solitary vigil or a flesh offering
The plant is often considered to be a human spirit
It is a sacrament in the Native American Church
The church was founded by a Comanche chief in the last century

Henry Crow Dog
The father of the man who told this story
Was among those who introduced the peyote religion to the Sioux in the 1920s

This Is How Grandfather Peyote Came To The Indian People

Long ago before the white man
There was a tribe living far south of the Sioux in a land of deserts and mesas
These people were suffering from a sickness and many died of it

One old woman had a dream
That she would find a herb, a root, which would save her people
The woman was old and frail but taking her little granddaughter
She went on a vision quest to learn how to find this sacred herb
They walked away from the camp until they were lost

They arrived at the top of a lonely hill
The grandmother made a brush shelter for herself and the young one
Without water or food they were weak
As night fell they huddled together not knowing what to do

Suddenly they felt the wingbeats of a huge bird
It was an eagle flying from the east toward the west
The old woman raised her arms and prayed to the eagle for wisdom and power
Toward morning
They saw the figure of a man floating in the air about four steps above their heads

The old woman heard a voice
"You want water and food and do not know where to find it
I have a medicine for you
It will help you"

This man's arm was pointing to a spot on the ground
It was about four steps from where the old woman was sitting
She looked and saw a peyote plant
A large Grandfather Peyote Plant with sixteen segments
She did not know what it was
But she took her bone knife and cut the green part off
And there was moisture
The peyote juice
The water of life
The old woman and her granddaughter drank it and were refreshed

The sun went down again and the second night came
The old woman prayed to the spirit

"I am sacrificing myself for the people
Have pity on me
Help me!"

And the figure of the man appeared again
He was hovering above her as before
She heard a voice saying

"You are lost now
But you will find your people again and you will save them
When the sun rises two more times
You will find them"

The grandmother ate some more of the sacred medicine
She also gave some to the girl
And a power entered them through the herb
Bringing them knowledge and understanding and a sacred vision

Experiencing this new power
The old woman and her granddaughter stayed awake all night
Yet in the morning when the sun rose and shone upon the hide bag with the peyote
The old one felt strong

She said

"Granddaughter pray with this new herb
It has no mouth but it is telling me many things"

During the third night the spirit came again
And taught the old woman
How to show her people the proper way to use the medicine

In the morning she got up
Her thoughts were

"This one plant won't be enough to save my people
Could it have been the only herb in this world?
How can I find more?"

Then she heard many small voices calling

"Over here!
Come over here!
I am the one to pick!"
These were peyote plants guiding her to their hiding places
The peyote plants were hidden among the thorn bushes and chaparral
The old woman and the girl picked the herbs and filled the hide bag with them

At nightfall once more they saw the spirit man
He was silhouetted against the setting sun
He pointed out the way to their camp so that they could return quickly
Though they had taken no food or water for four days and nights
The sacred medicine had kept them strong hearted and strong minded

When they arrived home
Their relatives were happy to have them back
But everybody was still sick and many were dying

The old woman told the people

"I have brought you a new sacred medicine which will help you"
She showed the men how to use this pejuta
This holy herb

The spirit had taught her the ceremony
The medicine had given her the knowledge through the mind power which dwells within it

Under her direction the men put up a tipi and made a fire
At that time there was no leader
No roadman to guide them
The people had to learn how to perform the ceremony step by step
They had to learn from the ground up

Men and women
Old and young ate four buttons of the new medicine

A boy baby was breast nursing
The peyote power got into him through his mother's milk
He was sucking his hand and he began to shake it like a gourd rattle

A man sitting next to the tipi entrance got into the power
He caught a song just by looking at the baby's arm

A medicine man took a rattle of rawhide and began to shake it
The small stones inside the rattle were the voice of Grandfater Peyote
Everybody understood what it was saying

Another man grabbed a drum and beat it
He kept time with the song and the voice inside the rattle
The drumming was good but it did not yet have the right sound
Because in that first ceremony there was no water in the drum

One woman felt the spirit telling her to look for a cottonwood tree
After the sun rose
All the people followed her as Grandfather Peyote guided her toward the west

They saw a rabbit jumping out of a hole inside a dried up tree
They knew that this was the sacred cottonwood
They cut down the tree
They hollowed out the trunk like a drum where the rabbit hole had been
At the woman's bidding they filled it with fresh spring water-the water of life

On the way back to camp a man felt the power
It told him to pick up five smooth, round pebbles
It told him to cover the drum with a piece of tanned moose hide
He used the pebbles to make knobs around the rim of the drum
By doing this he could tie the hide to it with a rawhide thong
And when he beat the drum it sounded good
It was as if a spirit had gotten hold of it

When night came
The people made a fire inside the tipi and took the medicine again
Guided by peyote power the old woman looked into the flames
She saw a heart
It looked like the heart shaped leaf of the cottonwood tree
Thus she knew that the Great Spirit who is also in Grandfather Peyote
He wanted to give his heart to the red men of this continent

She told the man tending the fire to form the flowing embers into the shape of a heart
The people all saw the heart
They beat in rhythm with the drum

A little later one helper who was under the spirit power
Saw that the hide rope formed a star at the bottom of the drum
He shaped the glowing coals of the fire into a star and then into a moon
Because the power of the star and the spirit of the moon had come into the tipi

One man sitting opposite the door had a vision
He was told to ask for water
The old woman brought fresh, cool water in a skin bag
They all drank and in this way came under the power

Feeling the spirit of the water
The man who was in charge of the fire shaped the embers into the outline of a water bird
From then on the water bird became the chief symbol of the holy medicine

Around the fire this man made a half moon out of earth
All along the top of it he drew a groove with his finger
Thus he formed a road
The road of life
He said that anybody with the gift of wacankiyapi should sit right there
Wacankiyapi meant having love and heart for the people
From that day on the man who is running a meeting was called the "Roadman"

In this way the people made the first peyote altar
After they had drank the water
They thanked the peyote

Looking at the fire in the shape of the sacred water bird
They prayed to the four directions
Someone sprinkled green cedar on the fire
The fragrant
Sweet smelling smoke was the breath of Grandfater Peyote
He was the spirit of all green and growing things

Now The People Had Everything That They Needed
The Sacred Herb
The Drum
The Gourd
The Fire
The Water
And The Cedar

From That Moment On They Learned To Know Themselves
Their Sick Were Cured
They Thanked The Old Woman And Her Grandchild
For Having Brought This Blessing To Them
They Were The Comanche Nation
And From Them
The Worship Of The Sacred Herb Spread To All The Tribes Throughout The Land

Told By Leonard Crow Dog
At Winner Rosebud Indian Reservation
South Dakota--1970

The Eagle

When the world was new the Creator made all the birds
He colored their feathers like a bouquet of flowers
The Creator then gave each a distinct song to sing
The Creator instructed the birds to greet each new day with a chorus of their songs

Of all the birds our Creator chose the Eagle to be the leader
The Eagle flies the highest and sees the furthest of all creatures
The Eagle is a messenger to the Creator

During the Four Sacred Rituals we will wear an Eagle Feather in our hair
To wear or to hold the Eagle Feather causes our Creator to take immediate notice
With the Eagle Feather the Creator is honored in the highest
When one receives an Eagle Feather
That person is being acknowledged with Gratitude
With Love
And with ultimate respect
That feather must have sacred tobacco burnt for it
In this way
The Eagle and the Creator are notified of the name of the new Eagle Feather holder

Author Unknown

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