The sacred medicine bundle is the most holy of holiest among all the Native American First People of the plains and most of the woodland and mountain tribes. Stewardship of these bundles is usually vested in a member of a tribal clan or society, although the power of the bundle is believed to be beneficial to the entire tribe or band. The bundles are opened on specific occasions, and according to precise ritual. Each bundle contains a varied collection of objects and representations of spiritual significance, from animal skins and effigies to ceremonial pipes. Most medicine bundles have been passed down from one keeper to another over such a long span of time that their origins have become shrouded in mystery and myth.
A medicine bundle is a wrapped package used by Native Americans for religious purposes. A package of this type may also be referred to as a medicine bag. Medicine bundles are usually employed as a ritual aid in the observance of their religions. The size of a medicine bundle generally varies from 12 to 14 inches in length, but could be larger.
It is usually a collection of various items that might include seeds, pine cones, grass, animal teeth or claws, horse hair, rocks, crystals, tobacco, beads, arrowheads, bones, or anything else of relatively small size that possesses spiritual value to the bundle’s keeper. A shaman’s bundle generally contains more items than a warrior’s or woman’s bundle, and may include such objects as bone rattles, skins from unborn animals, and the shaman’s hair and nail clippings.
The contents of a medicine bundle are generally considered holy by the tribal community, and are meant to be kept secret by the keeper. The contents of a medicine bundle are not meant to touch the ground. This is why they are to be securely wrapped. Prayers and rituals almost invariably accompany the making and opening of medicine bundles, and women rarely handle them, except in certain matriarchal clans. Of course, women might have their own personal medicine bag. A medicine bundle may be passed down as a generational inheritance.
A medicine bundle is considered a very precious possession which represents a person’s spiritual life, and may possess powers for protection and healing. As the owner grows older, more items may be added to it. Personal medicine bundles are usually buried with the owner, or passed on to a friend upon the owner’s death.
Medicine bundles may also be maintained for an entire tribe. A tribal medicine bundle is usually much larger and contains special objects which may only be handled by certain tribe members. It is only opened on special occasions.
As something that holds supernatural items, the medicine bag must also have some power of its own. Medicine items attributed with various supernatural abilities for the bag would often be procured in a tribal custom known as a vision quest. This ceremony includes personal sacrifice: fasting and prayer over several days in a location isolated from the rest of the community. The purpose is to make contact with natural spiritual forces that help or guide people to reach their potential. The spirits, or totems, help the individual to gather these medicine items, increase knowledge and aid personal spiritual growth.
Typical powers ascribed to medicine bags and their items include increasing hunting abilities, aiding one’s life coping skills, healing allies, hindering enemies and altering the weather.
Constructing a Medicine Bag:
A medicine bag may be constructed from any material available, red or white blanket or wool felt, but traditionally from brain tanned buckskin, with or without the fur. Typically about 6″ to 8″ diameter open x 14″ deep, traditionally laced with buckskin or sinew. A bag may be decorated or not to suit the spirit constructing it.
First, what does “medicine” mean? To the white man the term implies doctors, drugs, hospitals, and the like. To the Native American First Peoples, “medicine” is in reference to all that is mysterious, spiritual, supernatural, and the like in their lives. The medicine man (or woman) functions on two levels: he/she aids the tribe’s spiritual life, and she/he also aids the physical life; thus he/she performs both kinds of medicine.
Your medicine bag has many uses, of course. You may use it when going on a vision quest. You can carry it with you on a day-to-day basis to draw on its power. You may update the bag to mark any changes in your being and/or your interests. Following is a suggested listing of materials for your first medicine bag. You may want to change these as you go along, or even have more than one medicine bag, each directed toward a particular purpose. Bear in mind, the bag has a limited capacity, so choose small items carefully.
- Get one or more representatives of the plant kingdom. The traditional “Three Sisters” of corn, bean, and squash seeds would be a good place to start. You should also add a very small bag of corn pollen or ground cornmeal, and a small bag of tobacco. It is suitable to use small plastic bags, but buckskin or bladder or gut casing bags are preferred for this, securely tied. Finally, you should add a piece of any plant that has special significance for you. If a loved one gave you a certain kind of flower, then you might want to add a few petals from a flower of that type.
- Get one or more representatives of the mineral kingdom. These are easily obtainable from nature. For starters I would suggest a piece of obsidian or flint for grounding, and a piece of amethyst for calming. A crystal is nice, demonstrating the simplicity, the clarity, the symmetry of the spirit world. I used to carry a small smooth pebble of agate to use as a “worry bead” while meditating or considering a course of action.
- Get one or more representative items of the animal kingdom. Feathers are quite appropriate for this. You might find a piece of claw, fur, a skull, or some other like material. This involves keeping your eyes open. The animal kingdom will generally give to you what you need. Also add anything of special significance related to any animals you are closely tied to.
- Get one or more representatives of the technology kingdom. In the world at present we are surrounded by technology and its products. These have become an integral part of our lives, whether or not we care for their effects.
- Once you have your medicine bag items gathered together, carefully go ahead and smudge each of them with sweetgrass or sage smoke. Treat them as what they truly are, each a spiritual being-ness. Then place them in your bag.
- Then sit with your bag for a while in quiet isolation. Think about each being you put into the bag, and what it means to your life. Express thanks for the aid that you have been given by the members of that kingdom. See some of your energy going into the medicine bag, to be joined by a white beam of energy coming down from above. Let the energy of the bag flow into you, and establish a joint flow of energies between you and all your relations in the spirit world of Wakan Tanka, the Creator, the way of Tunkashila, Grandfather, the living breath of the Great Spirit Mystery, and the way of the Helpers, the way of love and peace and freedom, here on the back of Mahka, our Earth Mother. When the time feels right to you, end your meditation and keep the bag with you (in a purse, knapsack or briefcase, for example) for the next day or longer. Sleep with the bag beneath your head if at all possible.
- Over time as you listen to your spirit and the spirits around you that speak to you, you will hear to add to your bag or to remove something. This is a very private thing, and no other instruction or limitation may be given.
“To receive true spiritual guidance,
one must deal with the past,
have faith in the future,
but live in the present.”
Hok!, Mitakuye oyasin, hecitu welo!
Yes!, all my relations, it is indeed so!
Love and Peace