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Native Techniques

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Historical Perspective

We focus on Native American spiritual practices rather than religion.  For the Native American, spirituality was a way of life. There were 500 hundred plus nations scattered from “sea to shining sea” north to Alaska and south to the Yucatan peninsula. It is a mistake is to believe that all of the 500-600 tribes were alike in their beliefs.  Like most indigenous peoples, their ceremonies were tied to the land and their way of life.  Each tribe’s rituals were connected to the specific qualities of the land that they called “home”. Because of the particular history of these tribes, their way of life was severely curtailed by the coming of the European settlers, and many spiritual practices and rites have been lost forever. 
Although most of Native American societies did not have a written language or holy book, some tribes were very advanced and had written history and very organized spiritual ceremonies and practices. Some tribes were totally destroyed and others moved thousands of miles from the ancestral home. It is only in the last 25 years has the importance of the Native American culture and spiritual beliefs became more popularly known.  By delving into the practices and beliefs and experiencing their essence for ourselves, we can be enriched by them and reach a better understanding of traditions that have been practiced for thousands of years.

Spiritual Beliefs and Practices

One general truth that threads throughout the Native American spiritual beliefs is the belief of the Mother Earth spirituality.  The Native Americans felt that the earth was our mother, the sky our father, and all things were interconnected.  The many Creation myths of the Native American stress the mutuality and interdependence between people and other forms of life.  There is mutual respectfulness required when interacting with trees, birds, and plants and also natural forces such as the wind and the rain. Their creation stories empathize that Creation did not just happen a million years ago and end there, but that the Spirit that first infused the world is still with us now and can be experienced as “immanence”, the spirit which imbues all things.


Totems: Native Americans usually had several names as they progressed through life.  They often had characteristics of nature in their names and as they progressed they changed their names to reflect their experience of life.  Some tribes also used totem poles for protection of their land and homes.  It is possible to adopt an animal totem for yourself for the lessons that it can bring you.  Sometimes the animal chooses you through a dream or in a daily experience and sometimes, through study and reflection you can choose an animal that exemplifies qualities that you would like to strengthen in yourself. 

The Medicine Wheel
: Many of the Native American tribes had a belief that life a journey that made a circle and they had many medicine wheels that they used to understanding their path.  There are generally common beliefs about the four directions and the totem animals of these directions. Also the lessons of each “road” are often outlined in the literature about Native American spiritual practices.

Medicine Shield
: Some tribes created a shield that was painted with symbols for protection in battle.  Other tribes used to collect various objects and carried these objects in a leather bag on their person for protection. 


Techniques, Prayers, Meditations

Techniques: (usually combined with prayers or meditations invoking the help of the Great Spirit or Ancestors)

  • Take a nature walk, “hug a tree”, and commune with the nature spirits all around.  Experience the interconnectedness of life.  Let your thoughts be of appreciation, appreciate the sky, the breeze, the colors, the total experience of the natural beauty around you.

  • Draw your shield.  Meditate on how you want it to look and then attempt to capture that on paper. Or, on your nature walk, have the intent of finding objects that you would want to include in a leather bag that you carried with you for “good medicine.”

  • Smudging, use of sage: Many ceremonies were of blessing and cleansing of the environment and the body.  Smudging is one such ceremony was many tribes used sacred herbs to cleanse the body and area with smoke with specific intents in mind.  Some were for cleansing; other types were for inviting creativity and improved harvest, etc.

Cleansing the Human Aura and Purifying Environments
(ie., homes and buildings) is traditionally done by burning sage, an herb found in nature.
1. A bundle of sage is tied together and lighted to produce smoke and a purifying scent. The sage stick can be used like a wand circling the smoke around a person, over the head and body, to cleanse the aura.
   A lighted sage bundle can be taken to the four corners of a structure and ashes from the sage placed on doorways.
2. Use sage, sweet grass, or one of the purer tobacco and burn in glass bowl.  Gently wave your hand over the flame and bring the smoke to your heart center first and then over your head and up and down the spine.  Then take throughout the room or environment.  Remember to keep in mind your intent, your desired result from doing this type of smudging as you move the smoke around the area.
1. Drumming has been used for centuries by tribes for ceremonial dancing, communication and meditation. It is based on the beating of the heart, consistent energy vibrations that evoke healing and spiritual awareness. Cycles, such as the changing of seasons, the full moon, etc, are often the focus of ceremonial drumming.
2. Gather a group of persons with drums and other percussion instruments who wish to tune into the heartbeat of Mother Earth.
3. Drumming can be combined with chanting and dancing to create harmonic rhythms. (Try drumming and/or dancing in a fellowship for an hour or so).

Vision Quest  
1. Usually a right of passage into adulthood, the vision quest is a time of solitude in nature for self-examination, seeking a vision of one’s unique purpose as well as connection with a guardian spirit.
2. A type of vision quest can be undertaken during a fellowship, giving opportunity for participants to spend time in the outdoors (whether a few minutes or hours) to seek guidance from the signs in nature. Ask for totems  (living signs or symbols, ie., animals, birds, fish, insects, etc. that give meaning and a spiritual message to the person).

Healing Claw Technique (from the Ojibwe Tribe)
1. Separate fingers and make “claws” of each hand. With hands facing each other, quickly rotate “claws” until energy is felt in the space between fingers (may feel like pulling taffy).
2. Then quickly place hands “claws” on body part that needs healing. This technique generates a lot of energy and heat. Try it on yourself or others.


Prayers and Meditations

There are many prayers in Native American traditions for various purposes, including, wisdom, healing, peace, hunting, planting, fertility, transition, wisdom, guidance, etc.

A Totem Meditation: Meditate on the qualities of what you would like to bring out in yourself over the next year.  Meditate on any animal that may help you on your journey toward those goals. Ask the animal for its assistance.  Ask the animal for its wisdom and guidance.  Write down your insights. You may choose to use research tools such as the internet to find out further information on your animals and their attributes commonly known in the Native American Tradition.

A Meditation on Purpose & Direction:
“The Creator gave humans the ability to have visions, to find their purpose or reasons for being here, knowing all along that people sometimes lose their way.
Humans are imperfect beings. We all stray from the Good Path. Then we dream of better times and of a better life, for ourselves and for all who are important to us. And we live to make it real. That is what makes us human.”  Maskewisen (Be strong),  Mi-iw (That is all)
            --From “The Good Path” by T. Peacock and M. Wisuri (Ojibwe tribe)

The Indian Ten Commandments:

1.      Treat the earth and all that dwell thereon with respect.
2.      Remain close to the Great Spirit.
3.      Show great respect for your fellow beings.
4.      Work together for the benefit of all mankind.
5.      Give assistance and kindness wherever it is needed.
6.      Do what you know to be right.
7.      Look after the wellbeing of mind and body.
8.      Dedicate a share of your efforts to the greater good.
9.      Be truthful and honest at all times.
10.  Take full responsibility for all your actions.

A Prayer

“May it be beautiful
before me.
May it be beautiful
behind me.
May it be beautiful
All around me.
In beauty
It is finished;
In beauty
It is finished.
            -Traditional Dinah (Navajo chant)

A Prayer

“Oh Great Spirit, Whose voice I hear in the wind, whose breath gives me life to the world, Hear Me! I come to you are one of your many children.  I am small and weak.  I need your strength and wisdom.  “May I walk in beauty.  Make my eyes behold the read and the purple sunset.  Make my hands respect the things that you have made, and my ears sharp to hear your voice.  Make me wise so that I may know the things that you have taught your children—the lessons that you have hidden in every leaf and rock.  Make me strong, not to be superior to my bothers, but to be able to fight my greatest enemy: myself.  Make me every ready to come to you with straight eyes, so that when life fades as the faded sunset my spirit will come to you without shame”.
 --     John Yellow Lark


References for Reading, Movies, Music


Harmony-Spirit.com Warron BigEagle's Harmony Spirit, Village & Farm 
Warron BigEagle is a Cheyenne Medicine Man and a Lutheran Ordained Minister

Manataka.org  Ma-na-ta-ka® (Place of Peace) American Indian Council


GreatSpirit.org.uk/resources/NatAmerSpir.htm [site is gone - where did it move?]

Music: “Spirit Nation”, CD
                  “Natives”, Peter Kater & R. Carlos Nakai, CD
                  “Spirit Nation”

"The Medicine Way: How To Live the Teachings of the Native American Medicine Wheel" by Kenneth Meadows
"Seven Arrows" by H. Storm (Plains Indians)
"Mother Earth Spirituality" by Ed McGaa, Eagleman (Sioux)
"Native American Medicine Cards" by Jamie Sams

Movies to rent (Plan a Spiritual Cinema Night Fellowship):
            The Last of the Mohicans
            Dances With Wolves
            Dreamkeeper, A Hallmark Production available on DVD

Explore  Native American Spirituality   October Retreat 2009
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