Saturday, February 25, 2012

The Pan-Indian Sacred Pipe and Tobacco Ritual

Justin Southworth
ANTH 386
The Pan-Indian Sacred Pipe and Tobacco Ritual
Tobacco is a very important sacrement among Native Americans. It is often used as an offering to the spirits as well as offerings of war and peace. As important as tobacco is the vessel within which the tobacco was offered. This is the sacred pipe, sometimes referred to as the calumet. The term calumet is derived from the French word for 'reed' which was used in reference to the stem of the pipe. This term has caused confusion over the years in investigating the sacred pipe, in that it ias been used by some scholars for the decorated feathered stem of the pipe, by others for the pipes used in a specific and complex ritual, and for simply the aforementioned ritual. To avoid confusion, "calumet" will henceforth refer to the decorated stem, and "sacred pipe" will be used to refer to all separate-stemmed pipes (Paper 648). The sacred pipe is a deeply symbolic artifact in a Native American pipe-centered tobacco ritual which has spread over most of North America.
The modern sacred pipe consists of two parts–the bowl and the stem–which are not only cosmologically symbolic but are also gendered. The bowl, commonly made of stone, is feminine and  according to Jordan Paper, "is a sacrificial vessel that itself is a miniature cosmos." This microcosm includes all the directions, spherically around the pipe, to each of which the tobacco is offered, "as well as to plants, animals, and spirits (as part of one's relations)" bringing the whole cosmos into the bowl itself. The bowl is variable in shape, including a straight bowl, an elbow shape–sometimes with more than one bowl, carved in an effigy, or with projections just beyond the bowl– a "T" shape, a disc shape, and a circular shape, as described by Paper. The stem, usually wooden, is masculine and is used to give the combusted sacrement to the spirits. This stem may be decorated with eagle feathers which "further symbolize the sending of the smoke." The stem is also "symbolically equated with the path of life" (Paper 643-4, 652).
The sacred pipe can be found in most of North America in some form. It is widely known that the pipe is used among the plains indians, most notably, the Sioux peoples, which are often credited for creating the tradition, but the pipe and its ritual are found from "the east slope of the Rocky mountains to the Atlantic Coast"(Paper 646).  There have been debates about the origin and spread of these pipes among scholars such as Tumbaugh and Blakeslee. According to Tumbaugh, the spread of the sacred pipe ritual is a response to contact with Europeans and may be "elements of a widespread revitalization process active at a relatively late period" (Tumbaugh 689). Blakeslee disagrees with Tumbaugh's conclusion in his paper "Origin of Calumet Ceremony." Blakeslee states that the ceremony and the pipe originated on the Plains, where Blakeslee says that the earliest reference to the ceremony can be found by the Plains Apaches in 1634, but that the ceremony developed "at a time too early and in a place too remote from European colonies for it to be considered a revitalization movement," although he does agree that the ceremony spread through the Eastern woodlands took place in historic times (Blakeslee 766). Both of these were based on Ethnohistorical accounts, and according to Jordan Paper, lack "comprehensive reference to artifacts" and that "a thorough survey of the ritual artifact itself clearly demonstrates that he sacred pipe was in widespread use prior to contact with Europeans" (Paper 647). According to Paper, the disc pipe, "usually dated from the thirteenth to the sixteenth centuries, is widely distributed throughout north-central North America" and that this pipe offers "a direct connection between the ethnographic and archaeological periods." This pipe is a separate-stemmed pipe, which can be found as early as C.E. 100-500, as is the pipe found at the Copena Site in Alabama, which coincides with the upper limit for the Hopewellian monitor shape pipe–although not a separate stemmed pipe, is found in the area of the ethnographic sacred pipe (Paper 655). Paper then concludes:
Therefore, the sacred pipe  as a pan-Indian ritual artifact certainly dates to  the 13th century, the beginning of  the disc pipe  shape; it is probably at least as early as the sixth century, where the use of separate-stemmed pipe is attested. The widespread use of the monitor shape ore likely indicates a pan-Indian ritual of tobacco offering than a vast single culture, as archaeologists presumed until recently (Brose:67).  Minimally, the pan-Indian pipe ritual is probably over two millennia old. (Paper 655)
The modern pipe used today is the "T" shaped pipe, because of its easy manufacture, which appears to have developed from "the disc pipe with prow-shaped projection as well as the contemporaneous double-tapered pipe bowl with similar prow" (Paper 659).
The ritual surrounding the sacred pipe stretches across most of North America, and is on the whole, quite similar, but may differ in regards to complexity. The ceremony always begins with the assembly of the pipe; the male stem inserted into the female bowl. This is the joining of the two genders, as all life is created. (Paper 644). In the rituals, the pipe is the center of the cosmos and thus this center passes with the pipe. The pipe and smoke are offered to the sacred directions; typically the four cardinal directions, the zenith, and the nadir (Paper 643). These sacred directions often possess their own gender qualities. The Nadir is often considered to be feminine, as the Earth is also considered feminine. The bowl of the pipe, made of earth is often touched to the ground, symbolizing the feminine connection of the two. The zenith, according to Paper, has a complex understanding: "While the day sky, the Sun, the West Wind, and the Thunder Beings are male, the night sky, in particular the Moon, is female." The stem is usually raised to the zenith, as it is made of wood and like the trees from which this wood comes from, stretches from the earth to the sky. The four cardinal directions are "Grandfathers," but the South, according to Paper, "may be understood as female," as it is considered to be the direction of "growth and nature" (Paper 644-5). More than indicating the direction cosmology of the native peoples of north america, the ritual also covers a symbolic social cosmos, which is described by Paper:
In communal smoking, the ritual also indicates the cosmos of social relationships. At the center is the self, the one holding the pipe.  Next come the circles of human relationships: family, clan, and "nation." Further outward is  the sphere of animal relations: those who walk on the earth in  the four directions, those who fly in  the sky above, and those who crawl through the earth below or swim in  the sea.  Finally there  is  the sphere of  the  most  powerful spirits: the  four  directions/winds,  the sky  and  the  earth/sea.  Together these spheres of beings form "all my relations. (Paper 644)
The most common leaf smoked in the pipe ritual is tobacco, which is considered sacred. It is used as "facilitating agents in religion and ceremonial trance induction, witchcraft, divination, and healing ceremonies." Among the Caroline Indians and the Seminoles, it is used to "improve fishing, abate storms and lightning, or [as a token of] thanksgiving from escape from danger." Among the Tunica, its uses include" to "augment magical properties of body" as well as an initiation rite for boys entering puberty. It is used as "offerings... to supernatural spirits or gods" among the Iroquois, and other tribes East of the Rocky mountains. The smoke is used in "shamanistic divination" by "watching [the] direction in which [the] smoke drifts" and "to avert hunger and thirst" among the Florida Indians. The Iroquois and Montreal indians smoke tobacco to ensure good health. It is used among the Plains Indians "to achieve harmony" between quarreling men. It is also used among some West Indian groups to "make oneself drunk to see visions, [and to] know of future success." This last use, as well as uses among South American tribes have led to the conclusion of possible hallucinogenic properties of tobacco. In a Medical Anthropology Newsletter, it has been suggested that this is produced by the presence of beta-carboline alkaloids, such as Harmaline, and tetra-hydroharmine (Jangier 6-11). The ethnobotanist Jonathan Ott points out however, "the tobacco species important in shamanism contain nicotine and sometimes lesser amounts of nornicorine, and these compounds are the most important in tobacco pharmacology" (Ott 375).
The use of the sacred pipe is widespread among North America. The rituals associated with the pipe follow the same basic form, but may be more or less complex in comparison to a neighboring tribe of people. Through archaeological evidence, it is apparent that the shape of the pipe has, over time, changed and developed into the modern sacred pipe, and the origin of the ritual and the pipe may be quite old. The wide spread use of tobacco among the Native American peoples as an offering to spirits and the similarity of rituals is an indication of a pan-indian ideological practice.
Works Cited
Blakeslee, Donald J. "The Origin an Spread of the Calumet Ceremony." American Antiquity 46.4 (1981): 759-68. JSTOR. Web. 5 Apr. 2011. < 280104>.
Janiger, Oscar, and Marlene Dobkin de Rios. "Suggestive Hallucinogenic Properties of Tobacco." Medical Anthropology Newsletter 4.4 (1973): 6-11. JSTOR. Web. 5 Apr 2011. <>.
Ott, Jonathan. Pharmacotheon: Entheogenic Drugs, Their Plant Sources and History. Kennewick, WA: Natural Products, 1996. 373-76. Print.
Paper, Jordan D. "The Sacred Pipe: The Historical Context of Contemporary Pan-Indian Religion." Journal of the American Academy of Religion 56.4 (1988):
643-65. JSTOR. Web. 5 Apr. 2011 < 7>.
Tumbaugh, William A. "Calumet Ceremonialism as a Nativistic Response." American Antiquity 44.4 (1979): 685-91. JSTOR. Web. 5 Apr. 2011 < 279107>.

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