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Article Archives: Mi'kmaq Spiritual Traditions [archive]

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Drum

The drum with its drumbeat represents the centre of all life as if it were the heart providing life with its heartbeat. Centre to all things in creation is the drum, in the same way as the heart provides life for the body. Generally all Native people, for centuries and centuries, have held on to the belief that the heart and the drum share the same purpose and responsibility, that is, providing life through its beat. This connection of the drum and the heart as the centre and the source of life promotes a "oneness" concept between man and nature. Seeing the world in this unique perception therefore cultivates a special bond, a very personal man/world relationship that manifests itself to giving Native people a sense of genuine love and respect for all living things of Nature.

Talking Circle

Talking circle is a gathering of people where the participants are arranged in a circular formation often officiated or headed by a Circle Leader who would hold in his hand a sacred symbol such a feather, pipe or sweetgrass symbolizing his/her leadership. As long as that symbol is being held by this speaker, he/she has the sole right to speak to the members of the circle on any subject. After completing his/her speech, the speaker then passes on the speaker's symbol to the person next to him/her,which than sanctions the receiver of the symbol to be the leader and speaker for that time being. A person may decide to speak and the symbol would then be passed on to the next person until the circle has been completed. The circle is a form of social or societal healing or uncluttering of the system whereby the participant is able to speak frankly about subjects that he/she would normally "keep" privately to themselves. In otherwords, this activity could be called an ancient form of traditional therapy or community healing process.

Fasting

Fasting is a sacred ceremony that is very personal and spiritual in nature. It is carried out usually on individual basis very much in privacy.The purpose for fasting could range widely from self-healing to communication with Spirit Beings, to preparation for a Vision Quest. Four days fasting in total isolation in the wilderness is not uncommon among Native fasters.

Vision Quest

Vision Quest is a form of relating and communicating with the forefathers or our ancestors who often serve as teachers or our spiritual guides. A vision quest may be initiated for many reasons, but high among those reasons, would be for consultative purposes when a person comes to critical points in life or needs to make a most important decision about choosing a particular direction in his/her life path.

The vision quest ceremony is usually preceded by a lengthy fast and is done in guarded seclucion usually in the woods or other areas where absolute privacy could be assured. Often times the person in a vision quest is overseen by an elder or a medicine person who often gives guidance, instruction and protection to ceremony usually questers while the ceremony is taking place. The ceremony usually does not end until the person in the ceremony is successful in attaining a vision and gives a message.

Smudging

To do a Smudging ceremony, burn the clipping of these herbs (dried), rub your hands in the smoke and then gather the smoke and bring it into your body or rub it onto yourself especially onto any area you feel needs spiritual healing. Keep praying all the while that the unssen powers of the plant will cleanse your spirit. Sometimes one person will smudge another, or a group of people, using hands or more often a feather to lightly brush the smoke over the other people.

The Elders say that all ceremonies, tribal or private must be entered into with a good heart, so that we can pray,sing and walk in a sacred manner and be helped by the spirit to enter the sacred realm.

Sacred Herbs

Sage...the botanical name for true sage is Salvia. Salvia comes for the Latin root Salvare which means "to Heal". Sage is burned in smudging ceremonies to drive out bad spirits, feelings, or influences and also to drive out bad spirits from entering the area where a ceremony takes place. In plains nations, the floor of the sweatlodge is wrapped in cloth. or is usually burned by shaving little bits over hot coals or lighting the end and waving it around, letting the smoke spread though the air. We were taught to burn sweetgrass after the sage or cedar had driven out the bad influnces. Burning cedar or sweetgrass while praying send the prayer up to the creator in the smoke.

Sweetgrass is also put in pipe bundles and medicine bundles along with sage to purify and protect sacred objects. Sweetgrass is very rare today, its territory severly cut by development, cattle grazing, and wheat fields.

Sweetgrass

Sweetgrass is often found in relatively moist ground or boggy soils where other long grasses grow well. Because of the long shiny stems of sweetgrass and with its purplish roots, a person is able to pick them out quite easily from among other wild grasses Often the gathering of sweetgrass is preceded by a thanksgiving ceremony performed by the person who is to pick the straws. Gathering of sweetgrass is done mainly in the months of June and July. Sweetgrass is used by Native people in many, many ways including interweaving into their basketry and other craftwork. But probably the widest and the other significant use of it is made in prayer purposes and other spiritual related ceremonies.

Sage

Sage, which grows mainly in drier; almost arid part of the country, is another wild plant that is widely used by Native people in cultural and traditional ceremonies. Burning of sage, either in bundle form or in powdered form, produces a sweet aroma that enhances the atmosphere of the area where the ceremony is being performed. It serves the same purpose as sweetgrass or incense in its functions in ceremonies.

Tobacco

Commercial or home-grown tabacco is yet another item that is commonly and quite universally used across the Indian country where traditional and cultural ceremonies are taking place. Tobacco can either be smoked in a ceremonial pipe carrier's pipe or it can be just sprinkled freely into an open fire during some kind of a ceremony being preformed. One of the most widely accepted practices is exchanging or giving tobacco when one person asks another for personal favours or requests a performance of a special service such as a purification, healing thanksgiving, or other traditional line ceremonies. Among the sioux, a multiple blend of tobacco which might be carried in a medicine pouch, is called "kinikinik"

Eagle and the Eagle Feather

The Eagle and the Eagle feather are yet other sacred symbols or objects that are universally recognized and widely used in ceremonies. The eagle, representing the medium through which Native people can identify and appreciate the significance of the Creator's spirit among them, holds high esteem and honour. This honour and esteem extends as well to those who merely own or carry a feather or a claw of a eagle. In any talking or healing circle, the eagle feather is very evident and is used widely to energize and lead the participants into many cultural activities and ceremonmies.

Sweat Lodge

Sweat Lodge is an ancient Indian place of spiritual communicatng that is all Native Peoples in both North and South America. The constuction of a sweat lodge usually is made of willow bushes that are placed in a particular way and direction so that the door accomadates from 4 - 12 prsons seated in a sitting position around the central dugout where the pre-heated rocks (grandfathers) are put to generate heat and steam inside the lodge for the ceremony. It is often associated with a sauna or steam bath by those who are unfamiliar with Native Practices. That association is quite understandable since the idea of "cleansing" is common in both cases. In the traditional Native world the idea of "cleansing" or the spiritual healing is the focal point of interest where in the non-Native world the purpose may be more of physical purposes.

What Is A Pow Wow

Pow Wow time is Aboriginal People getting together, to join in dancing, singing, visiting, renewing old friendships and making new ones. This is a time to renew thoughts of the old ways and to preserve a rich heritage.

Pow Wow singers are very important part of the Pow Wow. Without singers and the rhythm of the drum beat, there would be no dance. Original songs were in the Native language of the singers. Songs are many and varied; fun and festive war and conquest; honour and family songs; spiritual songs; songs of joy and songs of mourning.

Dancing has always been a very special part of the North American Indians. Most dances seen today at Pow Wow are "social" dances which might have had different meanings in ealier days, but have evolved through the years to the social dances seen today.

Origin of the Pow Wow

It is believed by many of the Natives that still practice the Traditional ways of life, whose roots trace back to the begining, "that nature and Native Peoples spoke the same language." A common belief is that when the Creator, made this world, he gave, as in nature, a uniqueness and power to each tribe. Geographically, each nation enjoyed a very respectful and harmonious relationship with nature as a guide and provider. The relationship with the Creator was pure and its strength was at its peak, being both visible and heard through the voices of Nature.

In times of need, guidance, and sickness, Indian peoples prayed and gave by means of spiritual fast, sweats, and sacrifice. Prayers were answered through the voices of Nature, thus establishing the Spirit of Nature and Man as one. This explains the reasoning for the creation of the clan system and its respect for the balance of nature. Each clan has a functon and responsibility within the nation. Both nations and clan affiliation can be seen in color combinations, design and ornament.

Numbers were also very important in respect to nature and the Indian way of life. The number 4 is held sacred by most tribes in respect to the four cardinal direction, as well as the Creator, in the context of the symbol of the cross. The cross has always been synonymous with the Great Spirit even before the first Christian missionaries came to North America, and is referred to by Aboriginal Peoples as the " Medicine wheel." The spirit of power is held sacred in the combination of certain color, design and numbers.

Additional Reading

 North American Indian Tribes
 Native American Spirituality
 The Mi'kmaq
 Micmac Culture
 Micmac Legend
 Maine Indian History

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