The tobacco ceremony is an act of prayer, a making manifest of the dreams we have inside.
“with visible breath I am speaking.” — White Buffalo Calf Woman
Gathered some bearberry (Arctostaphylos uva-ursi) to make kinnikinnik (tobacco mix) the day before yesterday, and did a tobacco offering yesterday. Ceremony is for bringing balance. It was partly cloudy and warm, so we decided to look for kinnikinnik up the beach. The beach peas were very abundant so we also gathered some greens to steam for lunch. We have certainly enjoyed our wild greens lately, and have a newfound appreciation for the abundance of wild, edible, delicious, and healthy plants which grow here.
Kinnikinnick means, “that which is mixed.” I allowed the bearbearry leaves to dry overnight and prepared the ingredients to make a mix of the bearberry, sage and sweetgrass tobacco. Sage and sweetgrass are used for purification and are considered sacred plants. Bearberry is a traditional ingredient and is considered to be a very healing ingredient in kinnikinnik mixtures. Its common name, kinnikinnik indicates its popularity as an ingredient in tobacco mixes. It is good for asthma and many other ailments.
As the dogs and I walk to gather kinnikinnik, two eagles circle overhead, one juvenile, and one adult. The sky is very blue above us, but clouds move in from the north very soon after we have finished gathering.
I feel very blessed to have the comforting presence of the eagles and their needed guidance in the summers. They also showed me the perfect place to gather bearberry leaves. Their flight is effortless and they glide for hundreds of yards on one or two flaps of their wings and soar in the thermals rising off of the hot sand by the trees at the beach top.
I am named Laxgi’ik, or Eagle because of an encounter I had as a child when a young eagle dug its talons into my back and shoulders. I am also eagle clan, so I have a strong affinity with the eagle.
(Eagle Mask, alder www.carolinekroll.com)
The eagle is a symbol of inspiration, grace, guidance, wisdom, protection, opportunity, power, judgment, sovereignity, kingship or queenship, power, beauty, vision, mind, foresight, liberation, dominance, freedom, community, self-control, action, skill, authority, focus, vision, masculine essence and determination, finding the best route, or the right path, and making things that are very difficult look or seem easy. The eagle has eyes like the sun, wise and illuminating.
Some believe that the eagle is the earthly incarnation of, “Great Spirit.” Some believe that the eagle is the physical incarnation of the spirit bird, or thunderbird: the bringer of thunder which is heard as the voice of God, the voice of many waters, and lightening, seen as flashes of illumination, or bright, searing realizations that remove all doubt, electric symbols of oracular power surges, fiery consumers of man’s sacrifices to God.
Eagle feathers are used in ceremony, in, and as, fans, to cleanse the air with smoke mixtures for healing and creation, and also in resurrection ceremonies, to raise the dead back to life. In the story of the first Tsimshian Shaman, a young girl uses an eagle feather and a song to resurrect all the children who were killed by the great Lord of the Skies in a fit of his anger. The eagle feather is a symbol of air, of breath, and of life.
Eagles are the symbolic rulers of the sky, and as such, the air element. They are bringers of rain, which indicates they have power over the water element. As sky beings they symbolize the manifestation of dreams into reality, just as does the smoke in the pipe ceremony.
Eagles also symbolize mental liberation, mental acumen, and sharpness, and thinking on a higher plane of consciousness. The eagle helps us refine our own thoughts and skills, and if we watch and listen to the eagle, she shows us how to use our talents and skills to help others find their own paths. The eagle brings focused change and refinement, and every time we see an eagle is a blessing.
So, we found a nice patch of tobacco and gathered leaves in our bowl. We are very careful to be respectful when gathering tobacco. It must be done in a sacred and mindful manner. It isn’t magic or mysterious, and isn’t a new age thing, it’s an ancient tradition of respect that brings us into balance with the elements. It’s a means to an end, a helper and guide, a living being with much power.
“After you light tobacco, with your first puff, you should think a good thought or make a prayer. With your second, quiet your mind; rest in stillness. With your third puff, you can receive insight related to your prayer – perhaps an image, words spoken by spirit, or an intuitive feeling.” –Rolling Thunder, Cherokee
Some people think Native Americans worship the Great Spirit. This is not the case. The Great Spirit is everywhere. Ceremony is to bring balance and remind us of where the heart is, which is where we are, always in the center of the hoop of life.
Some people think Native American believe that the Great Spirit created all things. This is also not exactly the case. The Great Spirit IS all things, and all things dwell within the Great Spirit. Some groups think of themselves as created things, some do not. In the case of the latter, we are emanations, little microcosms of the big macrocosm, like a fractal which contains the characteristics of the whole, not beings of clay.
We do not ask for “things” in the kinnikinnik ceremony. Sometimes we ask for peace, but really, the act itself brings peace and clarity, sometimes we ask for guidance, that our steps may be sacred, and in tune with what our ancestors would expect of us, that we will always be mindful when we walk the path, whether we walk the sacred red road, or the black road of suffering.
It is necessary at different times to walk both of these roads to find balance, because the black road of suffering and the good red road cross at the center in the heart of the human being. Mainly, tobacco is for purification and balance, and reminding of us of the interrelatedness of all life, for protection for negativity and obscuration, and for clairity of seeing.
The kinnikinnik mix I prepare has white sage, sweetgrass, cedar bark, and juniper: all purifying, balancing, and clarifying herbs.
Kinnikinnik itself is an ally, a friend, and the smoking of the tobacco is a powerful prayer. Kinnikinnik is sacred and must be respected. The pipe is sacred and must be respected, just like the tobacco itself.
“Only the hands of the good shall take care of it, and the bad shall not even see it.” —White Buffalo Calf Woman
Burning kinnikinnik with reverence and offering the breath to the four directions around us often brings a new perspective, a heightened awareness of our own presence and radiance, and brings forth much love from the heart and a connectedness with all things.
We say the prayer of White Buffalo Calf Woman as we go about our activities preparing the bundles and burning sage and sweetgrass to purify the area.
With visible breath I am walking.
A voice I am sending as I walk.
In a sacred manner I am walking.
With visible tracks I am walking.
In a sacred manner I am walking.
The prayer bundle is very personal act which also brings balance to the land which surrounds us. I decide to use red and black materials because these are sacred colors for my people, the Tsimshian. I cut the squares of red and black material to about three inches:
Today I am using yarn that I use for weaving, red, chilkat yellow, chilkat green, purple, white and black. As I tie the bundles, I am reweaving the sacred hoop, a circle of protection, love and unity that unites all beings in the web of life.
East: yellow, sunrise, spring, rebirthing, eagle
South: red, noon, summer, the sacred feminine, coyote
West: black, afternoon, fall, harvest, enlightened mind, black bear
North: white, evening, winter, ancestors and elders, sacred white buffalo, great white bear
blue: Father Sky, water, rain, Thunder Beings, healing energy, raven
green: Mother Earth, All creations, plants, creatures, four seasons
purple: Creator, Old Ancient Ones, spirit mind, love’s sovereignity
I place a pinch of tobacco in each bundle and fold the fabric on itself twice, and tie it at the top, wrapping it with my colored yarn, looping the string and bringing the end through the loop and pulling it tight to make a string of prayer ties.
As I create the bundles the intention is focused on connecting to the creative force of the all space-time, the purity of mind. I rememer the work it took to create the fabric and the sheep that gave their wool for the yarn.
I wrap the bundles with string and tie them on a longer string.
I say a prayer, place the bundle in front of my mouth and nose and breathe into it, as I describe the qualities of the bundle, a bundle of love, and blessing, peace, and harmony for example.
I then hang the bundles on the trees on four sides of the cabin repeating the same prayer.
As I finish hanging the last bundle, the sun starts to appear again from behind the clouds.