It’s been about two years since I was gifted a personal prayer pipe. And in all that time I’ve had a pretty healthy fear of it’s power.
Well, at least I thought it was a healthy fear.
As someone who can’t document my Native American ancestry, some may consider my want to carry a pipe as sacrilege. And others may say that even though I’m native, because I didn’t grow up within the native culture that I am disrespecting the pipe by even owning it.
This is something that I have fought against for a great deal of my life, and I know I’ve spoken of it here many times before. Growing up, when I would find new information on my spiritual heritage I became very excited. A new book, contact through friends with tribal elders, a new nugget of wisdom to ponder and treasure was something that comforted me. But continued searching would most inevitably lead me to others within the native community who would bash what I had found; claiming either that the teachings were watered down or not true teachings at all. I went round and round like this, until early in the 1990s when I finally just gave up and tried another spiritual path. But the native ancestry always called me back, even though for many years I was afraid to answer the call.
Fast forward to several years ago when the pipe came into my life. Here is where I thought I would finally get somewhere; that I would finally be able to fit the pieces of what I learned so long ago into my current practices. Here, I thought, through working with the pipe I would find more about my ancestry and how I could become a part of it. The naysayers and limited information still remained, however, the root cause of that problem changed. When I thought it was the naysayers that still held me back, it was something different. It wasn’t because they judged me as unworthy. I was judging me as unworthy. I didn’t find myself native ‘enough,’ or worthy and strong enough to hold such a valued item. All of the talk from those that I looked up to years and years ago stuck with me, and not in a positive way.
I didn’t realize this problem until this past evening, while on a phone call with a friend who is dealing with the same issues. My friend is someone who I trusted, and who gave me advice about the pipe before. So when I asked him more specifics about how he worked with his pipe, I think he realized what it was I was dealing with, and therefore he opened up to me more than he had in the past. He told me about his own fears; that in the past he never felt like he was ‘enough’ of the blood for his pipe. He spoke about his fears of being judged by peers in the community, or his fear of being called insensitive and unworthy outright.
When I heard about these fears, I was shocked. This is a man who is respected in our local native community, someone whose mother is full blood, and here he is telling me he didn’t feel like HE was enough? I have seen many things that this man has done for the native community. I have seen this man rescue older pipes that have fallen into hands who did not know what they had. I have seen him lead spirit fires. Yet here he was, saying he felt like he wasn’t enough to hold a pipe. How could this be? Even now, after the conversation I’m still in a bit of shock. But now I understand why he and I have felt this way for so long.
The whole issue that repeats itself for many people like me (and for him), who are called to do the work of a pipe or to walk the ‘red road’. We become afraid of doing so because in some form or fashion we have been told that we do not carry the proper paperwork that we are told we need to allow us to walk within Native spirituality. Or we are told that we can walk some of the road, but we will never be allowed behind the ‘buckskin curtain’ to know the true ways that we seek so desperately in our hearts.
I am not saying what full blooded Native Americans do is wrong. What I am suggesting is that there is more malice towards some of us that are mixed than perhaps there should be. Those who love their traditions dearly and want to see them continue just as they are may not be looking at the full picture of the world becoming a global community. Or perhaps instead of wanting to embrace that global community, they feel that they need to protect the purity of the teachings to ensure they are kept alive. And while I fully understand some teachings are only meant for specific people, some teachings can be shared – NEED to be shared – for the good of the global community. This means that those who have pressed for so long to keep these teachings under wraps and only available to a select few may need to reevaluate some of the things that they hold as secret. And perhaps, in their zeal for keeping things secret, they may be doing more harm than good, as they have done in the past with me, and with my native friend.
I am going to say again, I don’t feel like going to the other end of the spectrum would be of any benefit. Opening up ALL of the teachings is also not the solution here. Already we have seen people use even small pieces of the teachings for personal gain, something that I doubt the elders and spirits ever wanted to happen. And worse, others have used the teachings to invoke power over others. The teachings must be protected from this just as much as other people must be protected from this abuse.
Another point to consider – the ceremonies of the pipe are very sacred. The knowledge needs to be treated with the same respect that the pipe itself is treated with. Flooding the world with this knowledge would not be respecting either one, and would only make the entire ceremony and pipe useless. And with as dire need as the world has right now, by putting these things out there for everyone to see is to remove some of the sacred from this world. We would also lose another very important tool of community, healing and strength. The pipe goes to they that treat it with respect, and those who are willing to stretch themselves to do good in the world. This I understand now.
My native friend talked to me about his own fears for a long time. Then he told me how he how there was a reason why I was called, just like there was a reason I was having the conversation with him. There are reasons for why things are as they are. It didn’t matter whether or not I was full blooded, or even if I didn’t have any native blood. The reasons for the pipes coming out into the world can only really be guessed at. But they ARE coming out. That is the truth of the matter.
And he went deeper with this truth: The pipe came to ME. The call was there, and I answered it. And because the call was there, and this pipe came to me, I was meant to carry it. And as long as I give it the proper respect and do my best to continue the tasks I have been charged with, that is what truly matters. And that was what I was not doing before we had the conversation. I THOUGHT I was giving it proper respect, But further introspection made me realize that the ‘respect’ that I was giving was actually fear. For too long I had confused ‘fear of’ with ‘respect for’ the pipe. So instead of respect empowering me to utilize what I had been given, I was frozen in fear of the pipe and its powers.
Regarding the entire situation, with mixed Natives and full blood Natives, I don’t know the way forward. I am not in any place to suggest any path for the tribes to follow. But I do think that we have to learn to understand situations where Native teachings are being given on a case per case basis. We need to learn to stop condemning that which we come to learn about in a respectful manner. But more importantly, and for me personally, we need to learn to look inside ourselves and undo the damage that was done. It doesn’t matter if the damage was done 20-30 years ago or just yesterday. If we feel called to learn to carry the pipe, we must consider that pull seriously, no matter what lineage we have in our DNA. And we must not be deterred from that duty should we choose to follow our hearts. To carry a pipe is to bring hope to people, to bring blessings and to bring a powerful vehicle of prayer and intersession. We cannot turn away this call lightly.
After the phone call with my friend, I felt compelled to journey. So after the appropriate measures were taken, I journeyed to meet my Gods and to discuss with them what it was that I had learned. I discussed my fears, my hopes, and their expectations for me. I was given cleansings and some appropriate trials. Finally, I was allowed to be a part of a pipe ceremony where I was spiritually given the pipe whose physical form laid beside me as I was doing my journey. I was also given more instruction on the pipe ceremony itself and how I was to utilize that ceremony. Today, the fear has subsided some, but I know that I may still have work ahead in order to deal with it better.
Moving forward, I have been given plans on when I am to keep ceremony, and how to work with the pipe outside of ceremony. And most importantly, I have accepted it much more deeply into my life than I had before. Now my hope is that someone else may read my words and get some solace out of what it is that I have gone through.
Picture from Deviant Art