GENERALIZED ABORIGINAL TRADITIONS
Aboriginal Peoples Traditions and Practices Vary from Territory to Territory and from Group to Group.
The following is a general concept of traditions for educational purposes and sharing.
WHAT ARE TALKING AND HEALING CIRCLES?
The North American First Nations regarded the circle as the main symbol for understanding life's mysteries. They have observed that all of life was circular movement which could be seen everywhere throughout nature. Man looked out on the physical world through their eyes, which is circular. The Earth is round, and so is the Sun, Moon and planets. The rising and setting of the Sun follows a circular motion. The seasons form a circular movement. Birds build their nests in circles. Animals marked their territories in circles. In the old days, tribes lived in circular homes called tepees and their communities were arranged with the tepees in a circle. Indeed, to the Natives, the whole of life appeared to be circular.
TALKING CIRCLE OR HEALING CIRCLE
An Ancient Tool for better decision making and strengthening a team or a community. It is a method of collaborative learning built on the ancient wisdom and traditions of the Natives, which uses the group process for developing direct, honest, and effective communication in a team or community, using the "circle" format. An experience of partnering in action, when the "compete and dominate" models, under the condition of increasing complexity and interdependence, are growing largely ineffective.
WHAT THE CIRCLE PROVIDES
A framework and tools for using the diversity of views and talents present in the group, to create better decisions and strengthen community by reaching high-level synergy. The circle format offers new possibilities for better understanding of self, others and the issues at hand. The circle improves communication and collaboration between team members and relationships with others.
HOW TO USE THE CIRCLE
As in the ancient circles of elders, each member comes to know they bring a piece of the truth to the circle - essential in itself, but only a part of the whole. The passion of our personal vision is shared without attachment, and then our position is released to the larger truth of the circle.
In the Circle, a specially chosen object, frequently a talking stick, an Eagle Feather, a Stone or a Crystal, is passed around to each person and in turn speaks his or her truth. These tools often embody the wisdom-heart of their group, and are objects of great beauty, simplicity or significance. They spiritually empower the holder of the object to speak her or his heart-felt truth as an offering to the circle. These tools should serve as an encouragement to speak from the most undefended place in one's self.
THE RULES OF A CIRCLE
Speak honestly and truthfully from the heart, be brief, and listen attentively to others, do not cross talk or interfere with what someone else is speaking.
The process is not one of making strong arguments for or against something, or convincing one another of right or wrong, but a process of becoming still and quiet, connecting with collective wisdom. When the truth is spoken on some issue it is seen and heard as such.....it rings true.
It’s listening without reacting or intending to respond, listening without being influenced by long-held images, memories or firmly held position, listening instead with a beginners mind. This is not to say that all is serious. Wholeness includes all forms of experience, good and bad, light and heavy, joyous and sad, trivial and significant. Everything is an invitation to look deeper, sense more fully.
The power of a circle lies in our seeing and feeling exactly what is, and suspending the noisy internal and external responses that get in the way. There's no right and wrong way to do participate in a circle or to do a circle. There are only honest efforts to hear, see and say what is most real at any given moment.
The Talking Stick Circle Can Help: decision making, inquiry management, prioritizing opportunities, clarifying group dynamics, team product development, problem solving, planning, conflict resolution, creating the bonding needed to build learning communities or just about anything that organizations use meetings for.
Whether with humor, the weaving of words or silence, strong leaders stay present and committed to what is actually taking place, rather than invested in the Circle being "successful"... a truly successful Circle is an authentic one, no matter how dark or unresolved the outcome.
Good facilitation is usually "transparent," in the sense that members leave the Circle less impressed with the wisdom and power of the facilitator(s) than with a strong feeling of the movement and connectedness of the whole circle.
THE CREE/ALGONQUIN/PLAINS MEDICINE WHEEL
The Medicine Wheel teachings are based on a circular pattern and cyclical set of four: the four Seasons, the four stages of Life, the four Bio-psychosocial and spiritual aspect of a person.
The Medicine Wheel always centers on the individual. The Ceremonial Medicine Wheel that I use incorporates all of these aspects. They can be drawn on paper or made out of rocks in the corner of a room or in a garden. The important thing to remember is that this is an exercise in finding out about you.
The Medicine Wheel can be called a mental construct. It orients us on a time-space continuum. The Wheel divides our world into different directions and applies specific meaning and significance to each direction. This directional orientation is achieved by simple observation of the natural world. The sun rises in the east and sets in the west. Regardless of where we sit on the globe there are four phases of the moon and typically four recognized seasons. These phases and seasons follow each other in a circular and sequential rotation, because of this, our personal medicine wheels are a reflection of our relationship to the natural circular evolvement of the world.
The Wheel can be used practically to help an individual understand and deal with specific life circumstances (e.g. jobs, relationships, and illness). One example is the hormonal cycles manifesting from the brain, ovaries, and uterus. These are easily understood in terms of the Wheel. It ties these events to natural lunar rhythms both physically and energetically. Within the framework of the Medicine Wheel we see ovulation and conception occur in the full moon of the east while, menses and birth occur in the new moon of the west. This framework allows one to look at these experiences in a new way, a way that is more easily understood because it is related to our experience of the natural world. Working the Medicine Wheel Archetype empowers the individual. It gives one new tools with which to embrace the chaos of life. It serves as a way to focus and reconnect to the rhythms of the natural world.
The Wheel can also be used to contemplate the flow of events unfolding over months, years or a lifetime. One could even apply this to familial patterns and past lifetimes.
Our consensual experience of the physical world determines a lot of what goes where on the Medicine Wheel. Working the Wheel is accomplished in both consensual reality and through personal introspection.
In conclusion, there are many different ways to utilize or set up a Medicine Wheel. Despite this, the philosophies/principals and effective outcome are the same. It teaches us that we have four aspects to our nature; the physical, the mental, the emotional, and the spiritual. Each of these aspects must be equally developed in a healthy, well-balanced human being through the development stages of our life. To bring ourselves into balance in each area puts us in balance. Equal emphasis needs to be given to each of the directions of the Wheel. This can be accomplished through sheer will power or methodical introspection and action. However, if we do not do this, then we, Aboriginal People, believe that we are not walking in balance.
- Dancing With The Wheel: Sun Bear, Wabun Wind and Crysalis Mulligan
First Fireside edition 1992 copyrighted 1991
Fireside: Simon & Schuster Inc. New York N.Y.
- Big Horn Medicine Wheel - www.crystalinks.com
- Medicine Wheel Teachings - www.shannonthunderbird.com
- First Nation Legacy On The Rouge - www.rivernen.ca
- The Medicine Wheel - www.spiritualnetwork.net
- The Canadian Encyclopaedias - www.canadianencyclopedia.ca
- A Medicine Wheel Teachings - www.geocities.com
- Medicine Wheel Stock Pictures - www.google.ca/search
- Grand Teton Medicine Wheel - www.shrinesandsacredsites.com
- Allying With the Medicine Wheel: Social Work Practice with Aboriginal Peoples - www./cronus.uwindsor.ca
WHAT IS A SWEAT LODGE?
Spiritual renewal and purification of body, mind, soul and spirit are the major purposes and benefits resulting from regular sweat lodge use (D. Joseph Alderson). In one form or another, the sweat bath has been practiced in many Native North American Tribes, from the Inuit in the north, to the Navajo in the Midwest, the Sioux/Lakota/Cree in the plains, the Mickmaq in the East and all the way down south into the land of the Mayans (Bruchac). This sacred religious/healing ceremony has been in practice for thousands of years.
The purpose usually went far beyond cleaning the body. The sweat bath (Sweat lodge) provided a cure for illness, revitalization for aching muscles, and a sense of identity for Natives participating in and reclaiming their culture. It heals the mind, the body, the emotions and the soul. Finally the Sweat lodge is a holy place where we can connect and communicate with Creator (God), the Spirit Helpers (comparable to the angels and others depending on your spiritual or religious practices) and our ancestors (our grandmothers and grandfathers and all the generations who came before us). European settlers saw the Sweat lodge, with its sacred cultural and religious implications, as a threat. Even after Natives were forced onto reservations, Christian missionaries and government officials systematically denied the use of the Sweat lodge and other rituals, in an effort to eradicate practices that revitalized this millennium-old culture (Bruchac).
In Canada we saw the government introduce an Act of Parliament in 1876, called the Indian Act, which was the first act that governed the Natives (also called First Nations of Canada) and outlawed all of the ceremonial practices. It summarily gave authority to the Christian religious bodies at the time to colonize the ‘savages,’ a derogatory name given to us, in order to make us good Christians. The residential schools were also invented around this time, where thousands of Native children were forcibly taken out of their communities and brought to large centralized schools for cultural assimilation. Enforcement depended upon how great a threat was felt from a particular tribe. In doing so, the government of Canada attempted to destroy the culture of the First Nation people. We endured and our tribal rituals and way of living survived through the early 20th century. With many European settlers and westward-moving adventurers chronicling first-hand accounts of the clandestine practices the sweat lodge ceremonies(remember they were outlawed), along with many other ceremonial rituals, a great number have survived colonization and therefore are able to be performed today. Now that First Nations peoples and their ceremonies have been protected under the 1985 Constitution of Canada, we are beginning to see a re-emergence of the practice of sweat lodge ceremonies, and interestingly now enjoy participation by many non-native peoples.
There are many different types of Sweat lodge structures and variations and meanings of the Sweat lodge depending on the Tribe whose ceremonies you are following. However, all of the sweat lodge ceremonies have a similar effect and some universal meanings to Native people; these are physical and spiritual healing, and a holy place for the offering of our prayers to the Creator. Some Sweat lodges were made out of willow poles covered with birch bark or animal skins. Others were built down into the earth or on the side of a mountain, and sometimes they were made in a more solid way and therefore more permanent with rocks as a base and the walls built of wooden planks (Bruchac). Today the two most popular and widespread Sweatlodge structure and ceremonies are that of the Lakota People and the Plains Cree.
IMPORTANCE OF AN ELDER
An Elder For The Tribe Traditionally our old ones were the story tellers. Things were passed this way from generation to generation. For this reason the elders made it a point to remember every details so they could relate it at a later time. They were the word and picture carriers making history and spiritual values alive and important. In the last century we spoof their stories and in so doing make them feel foolish. The truth is that many of our youth are ignorant of what is valuable and precious and how to appreciate age.
Age is grace - a time far too valuable to waste. We can get over being poor, but it takes much longer to get over being ignorant. Elders are recognized in several ways, by age, by knowledge, by spiritual commitments to their tribe, by the people. The Elders hold a special place in Native Society. Our Elders are the carriers of our memories and life experiences. The youth have the energy while the Elders exercise their wisdom. It is everyone's responsibility to grow into a respected Elder; one who is sought out for advice and council. At Native Gatherings, the Elders eat first while the young wait their turn. Elders can often be seen in the center of a group of young ones sharing their knowledge.
Our society today is so youth driven that it has forgotten that Elders also have a contribution to every day life. What is an Elder? The following definitions are useful in establishing this important concept: "A label given to men or women who, are recognized by others, possesses knowledge of Aboriginal stories, values, and the history of communities and nations." (Draft proposal, the Ontario Curriculum, Grades 11 and 12, Natives Studies, January 1999, p69)
“It is important to note that the title “Elder” does not necessarily indicate age. In Aboriginal societies, one is designated an Elder after acquiring significant wisdom and experience.” ( Meadow Lake Tribal Council website) “Elders are repositories of cultural and philosophical knowledge and are the transmitters of such information.” (Medicine 1987:142)
“Elders are those people who have earned the respect of their own community and who are looked upon as elders in their own society.” (Mark, cited in Medicine 1987:146) Elders are people who: have significant wisdom in areas of traditional aboriginal knowledge, are recognized as having that wisdom by their community and their Nation and have the capacity to transmit this knowledge to others. Within Native culture, the Elder occupies a revered position: he or she is a person gifted with great wisdom, an individual who advises, resolves disputes, and acts as a model of acceptable behaviour within the Native community. Although Elders are very much an element of reservation life, they are developing a role within the culture of urban Natives.
Rattle There is a belief that before the Creator made everyone, the universe was in darkness and the only sound was the sound that a shaker/rattle would make, that the sound of shaking seeds in a gourd is what guided the spirits, when one shakes a rattle, the spirits are attracted to the sound and are guided to the ceremony that is underway. We shake rattles to cleanse a room to chase bad spirits away by calling the good spirits in.
Drum The drum is the heartbeat of Mother Earth, the heartbeat of life and our people. We live the first nine months of our life in the womb of our mother listening to her heartbeat which sets the pattern of our existence. We play these drums in ceremonies to bring in the spirit of Mother Earth. The drumstick which is used to beat the drum is called many things, some people say it is the Thunderbird coming, others call it the arm of the Creator who is breathing life into the ceremonies.
Feathers Eagle feathers are usually carried in a sacred bundle, however, different Nations use different feathers for all kinds of reasons. The Eagle Feather is the one who is closest to Creator because he can fly so high and he speaks for the people to the Creator. When you receive an Eagle Feather you have been given a very high honor and you must walk with such honor from that day forward.
Respecting and Honoring your Medicine Bundle Some people display their sacred items on an altar in a special place in a main room of their home, others keep them in a bundle until they are ready to be used. Some leave their feathers or other objects out as they help calm the energy and ground people and/or the home. People feast their sacred items at least 4 times a year which follows the seasons, some feast their bundle every time they do a ceremony.
THE RITE OF PRAYERS WITH THE PIPE
Since then the sacred pipe and ceremony became a very important ritual of native people's culture as they travel the Red Road. The native road of balance in a good way, the way of Kitchi Manitou, the Creator or the living breath of the Great Spirit Mystery, the way of love and freedom, here on the back of our Earth Mother Turtle Island. Simply put, the smoke coming from the mouth symbolizes the truth being spoken, and the plumes of smoke provide a path for prayers to reach the Great Spirit, and for the Great Spirit to travel to know who you are.
The sacred pipe is a spiritual artifact, always to be treated with respect and care, and used only in a sacred and prayerful manner. When it is put together with the stem it is sacred and represents two spirits, that of the male and the female. The stem represents the male and the bowl represents the female.
The ceremony is simple. The pipe is loaded with tobacco a pinch at a time, or a tobacco mixed with sweet smelling herbs, barks and roots such as bayberry, bearberry, mugwort, red willow inner bark, wild cherry bark, white willow bark, birch bark, cherry bark, mullen and many others indigenous plants to a local area. The cultivation of the tobacco and the mixture preparation were the sacred responsibility of the "Tobacco Society" of the tribe, and practices varied in each area. Today most pipe carriers prepare their own mixtures.
The ceremonial tobacco is usually very strong, and usually the smoke is not inhaled, but puffed into the mouth, then out of the mouth in each of the four directions, also acknowledging Father Sky, Mother Earth, and the Great Spirit by the pipe carrier and then the pipe is smoked and passed from one person to the next around the circle while people chant a pipe song or drum a beat.
THE MEDICINE BAG
Medicine Bags A medicine bag is an ancient item that spiritually represents the person who wears it. Medicine bags can be as small as 1 inch by 1 inch or as large as 30 inches in length. They are typically made of leather from the deer, elk, moose or buffalo.
The reasons to carry a medicine bag are for guidance, healing and protection. Most medicine bags contain a quartz crystal as one of its objects. Quartz energy resonates with all the energies of the physical body and is considered a remarkable healing stone. It connects you to your spiritual self. Other items you might like in your medicine bag are items you may have found a special attraction to or resonance with in your life. For example, a special shell you found at the seashore, a feather you found, or a piece of pine tree or a juniper berry that holds meaning for you.
We often meet up with items that seem to be just waiting for us to pick them up and carry them home and then we don't know what to do with them. This is one place to give them a home close to your heart. The essence of these special items create an energy in your medicine bag and that energy is the force that represents you. So by creating a medicine bag and wearing it close to your heart you are connecting with your spiritual self, the authentic you and always remembering who you are.
Traditionally most Aboriginal peoples had a "medicine bag" much like a purse. Like the purse, the medicine bag, which might be three or four feet long, contained objects and substances which had a meaning for the owner. As years went by items were added. For example, a person could find a feather, and come to believe that he/she could access the power and magic of the Great Spirit, therefore, that feather would go into the medicine bag. The same thought and meaning could be giving to roots, herbs and stones.
Healing powers of plants and herbs is universal and across all continents, the only difference is that not all plants grow in one region. People usually utilize the plant or the herb that is abundant in their region There are Four major medicine plants; tobacco, sweet grass, sage and cedar that we natives use frequently in ceremonies.
Sacred tobacco is used to make smoke, is one of the most sacred of plants for Native people. It is said to be the main activator of all plants. It was given to us so that we can communicate with the Spirit world and when you use it, all things begin to happen. Tobacco is always offered before picking medicines. When you offer tobacco to a plant and explain your reasons for being there, the plant will let all the plants in the area know your intentions and why you are picking them, tobacco is used first as an offering for everything and in every ceremony. Going to ceremonies you would offer tobacco to the Elder leading those ceremonies along with an honoring gift. This announces your intention and the Elders may ask you of your intentions with this offering.
SWEET GRASS (WEENGUSH)
Sweet grass is the sacred hair of Mother Earth; its sweet aroma reminds people of the gentleness, love and kindness she has for the people; this is why Native people pick it and braid it in 3 strands representing love, kindness and honesty. Sweet grass is used for smudging and purification of the spirit; when Sweet grass is used in a healing or talking circle it has a calming effect. It is said that it attracts the good Spirit, so use it to call in the Spirit.
CEREMONIAL SAGE (SUKODAWABUK)
Sage is used in many different ways, it helps the people prepare for ceremonies and teachings. Because it is more medicinal and stronger than Sweet grass, it tends to be used more often in ceremonies, it also has physical healing properties, you can boil sage and drink it as a tea. Sage is for releasing what is troubling the mind and for removing negative energy, it is used for cleansing homes and sacred items. There is male and female sage
CEREMONIAL USE OF CEDAR (KEEZHIK)
Like Sage and Sweet grass, cedar is used to purify the home, it also has many restorative medicinal use. When mixed with sage for a tea, it cleans the body of all infections, cedar baths are also very healing. When cedar mixed with tobacco is put in the fire it crackles, this is said to call the attention of the Spirits to the offering that is being made. Cedar is used in sweat lodge and fasting ceremonies for protection, cedar branches cover the floor of many sweat lodges and some people make a circle of cedar when they are fasting. It is a guardian spirit and chases away the bad spirits. Since it is believe, in many cultures, that the plants we use to burn and purify ourselves provides us with access to their soul and power, it is essential that we ask their permission before gathering these plants. Take only what we need without damaging the plant and give thanks for what we took. If you did not pick these plants yourself, know that someone else did that for you and that you could still give thanks for the life of those plants and the people who did pick them. The format of the smudging in today's rituals varies from culture to culture and so does the plants and herbs used for such sacred ceremony. In the Dancing To Eagle Spirit Society's rituals we utilize mostly sage (all kinds), cedar, juniper, sweet grass, lavender, wild tobacco, Native American Tobacco.
Sweet grass was strewn before church doors on Saints' days in northern Europe, presumably because of the sweet smell that arose when it was trodden on. It was used in France to flavour candy, tobacco, soft drinks, and perfumes. Widely used in neo-pagan practice (syncretized from North American indigenous practice). In Europe, the species H. alpina is frequently substituted or used interchangeably. In Russia, it was used to flavour tea