One summer, untold lifetimes ago, our different bands gathered for their
yearly get-together. The earth was beautiful, covered with high grass and flowers, but
the people were hungry. This happened long before we had either guns or horses, and the
life of a hunter was hard and uncertain. Among the Lakota, the Itazipcho - the "
Without Bows, Sans Arcs" tribe - had not had any meat for days. They decided to send
out two hunters to scout for buffalo. The two men searched a long time for game without
finding any. Early one morning, they came to the top of a hill, from which they had a
good view, and as they were standing looking for game, they saw in the distance something
coming towards them in a very strange and wonderful manner. At first they thought that it
was a buffalo, but as this mysterious thing came nearer to them, they saw that it was a
very beautiful woman, dressed in a finely made dress of white buckskin so wonderfully
decorated that no human hands could have made it. She wore her hair loose, except for a
part of it on the left side which was tied together with buffalo hair, She wore a bundle
on her back and carried a fan of sage leaves in her hand. Now this woman was so good to
look at that one of the Lakota had bad intentions and told his friend of this desire, but
this good man said that he must not have such thoughts, for surely this is a wakan
woman. The mysterious person was now very close to the men, and then putting down her
bundle, she asked the one with bad intentions to come over to her. As the young man
approached the mysterious woman, they were both covered by a great cloud, and soon when
it lifted the sacred woman was standing there, and at her feet was the man with the bad
thoughts who was now nothing but bones, and terrible snakes were eating him.
"Behold what you see!" the strange woman said to the good man.
"I am coming to your people and wish to talk with your chief Hehlokecha Najin
[Standing Hollow Horn]. Return to him, and tell him to prepare a large tipi in which he
should gather all his people, and make ready for my coming. I wish to tell you something
of great importance!"
The young man then returned to the tipi of his chief, and told him all
that had happened: that this wakan woman was coming to visit them and that
they must all prepare. The chief, Standing Hollow Horn, then had several tipis taken down,
and from them a great lodge was made as the sacred woman had instructed. He sent out a
crier to tell the people to put on their best buckskin clothes and to gather immediately
in the lodge. The people were, of course, all very excited as they waited in the great
lodge for the coming of the holy woman, and everybody was wondering where this mysterious
woman came from and what it was that she wished to say.
Soon the young men who were watching for the coming of the wakan
person announced that they saw something in the distance approaching them in a beautiful
manner, and then suddenly she entered the lodge, walked around sun-wise [clockwise], and
stood in front of Standing Hollow Horn. She took from her back the bundle, and holding it
with both hands in front of the chief, said: "Behold this and always love it!
It is lela wakan [very sacred], and you must treat it as such. No impure man
should ever be allowed to see it, for within this bundle there is a sacred pipe. With this
you will, during the winters to come, send your voices to Wakan Tanka, your Father
After the mysterious woman said this, she took from the bundle a pipe, and
also a small round stone which she placed upon the ground. Holding the pipe up with its stem
to the heavens, she said: "With this sacred pipe you will walk upon the Earth;
for the Earth is your Grandmother and Mother, and She is sacred. Every step that is taken
upon Her should be as a prayer. The bowl of this pipe is of red stone;   it is the Earth.
Carved in the stone and facing the center is this buffalo calf who represents all the
four-leggeds who live upon your Mother. The stem of the pipe is of wood, and this represents
all that grows upon the Earth. And these twelve feathers which hang here where the stem fits
into the bowl are from Wanbli Gleška, the Spotted Eagle, and they represent the
eagle and all the wingeds of the air. All these peoples, and all the things of the universe,
are joined to you who smoke the pipe - all send their voices to Wakan Tanka, the Great
Spirit. When you pray with this pipe, you pray for and with everything."
The wakan woman then touched the foot of the pipe to the round stone
which lay upon the ground, and said: "With this pipe you will be bound to all
your relatives: your Grandfather and Father, your Grandmother and Mother. This round
rock, which is made of the same red stone as the bowl of the pipe, your Father Wakan Tanka
has also given to you. It is the Earth, your Grandmother and Mother, and it is where you will
live and increase. This Earth which He has given to you is red, and the two-leggeds who live
upon the Earth are red; and the Great Mystery has also given to you a red day, and a red
road. All of this is sacred and so do not forget! Every dawn as it comes is a holy event,
and every day is holy, for the light comes from your Father Wakan Tanka; and also
you must always remember that the two-leggeds and all the other peoples who stand upon this
earth are sacred and should be treated as such.
"From this time on, the holy pipe will stand upon this red Earth, and the
two-leggeds will take the pipe and will send their voices to Wakan Tanka. These seven
circles which you see on the stone have much meaning, for they represent the seven rites in
which the pipe will be used. The first large circle represents the first rite which I shall
give to you, and the other six circles represent the rites which will in time be revealed to
you directly. Standing Hollow Horn, be good to these gifts and to your people, for they are
wakan! With this pipe the two-leggeds will increase, and there will come to
them all that is good. From above Wakan Tanka has given to you this sacred pipe, so
that through it you may have knowledge. For this great gift you should always be grateful!
But now before I leave I wish to give to you instruction for the first rite in which
your people will use this pipe.
"It should be for you a sacred day when one of your people dies. You
must then keep his soul as I shall teach you, and through this you will gain much power;
for if this soul is kept, it will increase in you your concern and love for your
neighbor. So long as the person, in his soul, is kept with your people, through him you
will be able to send your voice to Wakan Tanka.
"It should also be a sacred day when a soul is released and returns
to its home, Wakan Tanka, for on this day four women will be made holy, and they
will in time bear children who will walk the path of life in a sacred manner, setting an
example to your people. Behold Me, for it is I that they will take in their mouths, and
it is through this that they will become wakan.
"He who keeps the soul of a person must be a good and pure man, and
he should use the pipe so that all the people, with the soul, will together send their
voices to Wakan Tanka. The fruit of your Mother the Earth and the fruit of all that
bears will be blessed in this manner, and your people will then walk the path of life in
a sacred way. Do not forget that Wakan Tanka has given you seven days in which to
send your voices to Him. So long as you remember this you will live; the rest you
will know from Wakan Tanka directly."
The sacred woman then started to leave the lodge, but turning again to
Standing Hollow Horn, she said: "Behold this pipe! Always remember
how sacred it is, and treat it as such, for it will take you to the end. Remember, in
me there are four ages. I am leaving now, but I shall look back upon your people in
every age, and at the end I shall return."
Moving around the lodge in a sun-wise manner, the mysterious woman left,
but after walking a short distance she looked back towards the people and sat down. When
she rose the people were amazed to see that she had become a young red and brown buffalo
calf. Then this calf walked farther, lay down, and rolled, looking back at the people,
and when she got up she was a white buffalo. Again the white buffalo walked farther and
rolled on the ground, becoming now a black buffalo. This buffalo then walked farther away
from the people, stopped, and after bowing to each of the four quarters of the universe,
disappeared over the hill.
From "Lame Deer, Seeker of Visions", 1972, by Lame Deer
and Richard Erdoes.
John (Fire) Lame Deer was born around the turn of the last century on
the Rosebud Reservation in South Dakota. He is a full-blooded Sioux and has been many things
in his life including a rodeo clown, a painter, a sheep herd, and a thief. Above all, though,
he was a Lakota holy man.
Richard Erdoes was born in the old Austro-Hungarian Empire. He would read
books that, though not historically accurate, cast American Indians in the role of hero. After
he grew up, he moved to the United States to escape Nazi rule. He met Lame Deer during Martin
Luther King Jr.'s peace march in New York city in 1967. This was the beginning of the collaboration
that would last the next four years. Richard has since written several more books.