Sheridan, Clare – Big Eagle’s Sacred Pipe
Type of Spiritual Experience
A description of the experience
Clare Sheridan – Redskin interlude
" Once, when I was very ill, I knew I could only be 'saven' through the Medicine-pipe-I gave sixty head of horse for it. The Pipe is older than anyone can remember, earlier than the White man came. It is so old no one can tell of what skin is made the bag that contains it. Then I had a dream. I was in a tepee with many old men. Among them Big-Wolf- dead now-a great old Medicine-man.
The Sacred Person was telling me and Big-Wolf how to use the Pipe-first we should pray with it, and afterwards dance with it. If we did this in the right way, in the order he directed, I would never have any trouble- never lose a child or a grandchild. Then he sang a song, the song of the Sacred Pipe-yes, I remember the song, I will sing it to you presently-“
He went on about the Pipe, and I tried hard to follow, but his English pronunciation was not very clear and Esto's machine made it harder. At intervals she would stop, translate a word impatiently and go on machining.
I knew that a Sacred Pipe is a very important thing.
There are supposed to be only seventeen distributed among the various tribes. It is the most sacred and most complicated object to own. It entails endless ceremonial and care. It dominates a man's life, he can never forget its Presence. Every day it has to be taken for a walk and brought back by the opposite way to the way it started out. Always it must move in a circle, in the direction of the sun. The owner must have a special horse for his own use, painted in a special design, and if he lends that horse, some ill befalls either the horse or the rider. The Medicine-pipe is contained in an elk-hide bag wrapped in the skin of a black bear. The wrapping contains, besides the pipe, an owl, two loons, two white swans, two cranes, a musk rat, an otter skin, the skin of a fawn, and sometimes the skin of a prairie dog. The sacred tobacco is contained in the bird skins.
The opening of the bundle, which is an extremely elaborate ceremony, can only occur when the first thunder is heard in the spring. The bare details of the rites make monotonous reading, it needs the music of the drums, the chanting of the prayers, the dancing, and the colour. I could write on endlessly about the Sacred Pipe. Dick-Soup, who owns one, came to the house one day. When I invited him to be seated on a bench upon which I had spread a black bear-skin he said he could not sit on it, he could not touch it, he must not mention its name. The Bear has something to do with the Sacred Pipe ritual, it is all very mysterious, and it is very dangerous not to do the right thing by it. . !
From Big-Eagle's account I gathered that Big-Wolf on whom the chief part of the ceremonial depended, failed to carry out correctly the instructions given in the dream. Instead of first praying with the Pipe, he first took it for a dance. The result was that it failed to save Big-Eagle's grandchild, who was sick and died.
After that they were careful that the rites were performed in their proper sequence.
Big-Eagle kept that Pipe five years, and during that time he never lost another grandchild.