I follow a Multicultural Shamic belief structure, principally Dakota Sioux. No this does not mean that I worship many gods, I do not, I worship only One. Who is known as Nagi Tanka (The Great Spirit), who is also Taku Skanskan (The Great Mystery). The Great Mystery is the most powerful of the Wakan Beings. In what follows I will try and give a brief discourse on this belief structure.

Wakan means many things. The Dakota understands what it means because he/she was raised with the term and knows instinctively the things that are consideredWakan; yet sometimes this meaning must be explained to others. It is something that is hard to understand and sometimes harder to explain specially to a stranger.
Therefore I will start with a white man's (doctor) medicineman who is known as
Wasica Wakan; but a Dakota Priest is called Pejuta Wacasa. Wicasa Wakan is the term for a Dakota priest of the old religion. At times a white person will call the Wasica Wakan a medicineman, which is a mistake for they are Priests. Again, they say a Wasica Wakan is making medicine when he is performing ceremonies. This is an error. The Dakota call a thing a medicine only when it is being used to cure the sick or the wounded, the proper term would be Pejuta. When a priest uses any object in performing a ceremony that object becomes endowed with a spirit, not exactly a spirit, but something that acts like one, the Priest calls it tonwan or ton. Now anything that has thus acquired ton has Wakan, because it has the power of the spirit or quality that has been put into it. A Wasica Wakan has the power of the Wakan Beings.

Every object in the world whether it be of the earth, the air, the fire or the water has a spirit and that spirit is Wakan. Thus the spirit of the tree or beings of that kind, while not like the spirit of man, are also Wakan. Wakan comes from the Wakan Beings. These Wakan Beings are greater than mankind in the same way that mankind is greater than the animals.They are the never born, the always living. They can do many things that mankind cannot do. Mankind can pray to the Wakan Beings for help. There are many of these beings but all are of four kinds. The word Wakan Tanka means all of the Wakan Beings because they are all as The Great Spirit (Nagi Tanka). Mankind is permitted to pray to the Wakan Beings. If their prayer is directed to all the good Wakan Beings they should pray to Wakan Tanka; but if the prayer is offered only to one of these beings, then the one addressed should be named.

Wakan Tanka is pleased with music. He likes to hear the drums, rattles and the flute. When any of the Wakan Beings hear the drum and the rattles they always give attention. He is also fond of the smoke of sweetgrass and evil Wakan Beings are afraid of the smoke of sage.
All of the
Wakan Beings both the good and evil, are pleased with the smoke of the pipe.

The Wicasa Wakan or Priests, speak for all the Wakan Beings. Wakan Tanka gives them the power that makes them Wakan and by which they can put ton into anything. Each Priest has an object for himself into which ton has been put. This is called a Wasicun. The Wasicun is one of the Wakan Beings. It is the least of them, but if its ton is from a powerful being it may be more powerful than many of the Wakan Beings. This Wasicun is what the Priests do their work with, but the white people call it the medicine bag, which is a mistake, for there are no medicines in it. A medicine bag is a bag that doctors have their medicines in. If a man has a Wasicun he may pray to it, for it is the same as the Wakan Beings whose ton (wan) is in it.

The Sacred Pipe

Much has been said about 'going back to the ways of the pipe' or 'making peace with the pipe', but few people, even some full-bloods, today know the proper use or traditions of the pipe or even how it came to us.

First, contrary to what you have seen in the movies or on TV, it is not a 'peace pipe'. We have been taught by the Old Ones, passed down through the generations, that before beginning any worthwhile undertaking one should always have a pipe ceremony. This is probably where this misconception of a 'peace pipe' started. When the early Native Americans came in contact with the European 'visitors' the Pipe was brought forth to assure all involved that the words that were spoken at the councils would be true and from the heart. One of the first rules or laws concerning the pipe is that this must be, one never picks up the pipe with a bad heart or tells a lie in it's presence.
To do so would be as blasphemy to The Great Spirit!

This practice continued on through the 1800's when many of The Native Tribes met with the white men in various treaty councils for one reason or the other. That probably is where it started; the chiefs, elders, and holy men at these meetings would bring forth their pipes as they had done for countless generations and the white man took it as a instrument of peace! But it is so much more than that! Did you know that in some plains tribes it was a sacred tradition that if anyone, even your worst enemy, approached you carrying the pipe that he was to be honored and greeted as a friend?

The Legend of The Pawnee and Bear Butte
Sacred Bear Butte Threatened
~ Bear Butte - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

A story was once related to me of how, long ago, a group of Dakota were camped on the plains to the east of Mato Sapa, or Bear Butte, a sacred mountain to both the Dakota and Cheyennes, when they were approached by a party of Pawnees, probably their most hated enemy. Leading the group of Pawnees was a holy man carrying a pipe in a sacred manner. The Dakota scouts saw this and reported it to their leader. The leader sent out word to his warriors and people that these Pawnees would be received in a sacred, and friendly, manner and not be molested. The Pawnees were allowed to enter the camp where they were seated in a circle, fed, and a pipe ceremony, called a Canupe by the Dakota, was performed. After the ceremony the Pawnees stated their reason for coming, the were traveling with the remains of an old holy man, whose last wish was to have his funeral ceremony on Bear Butte. It was said that he had met a spirit there, in a vision quest many years before, and his last wish was to return to Bear Butte and go to The Land of Sky People with his spirit helper. Upon hearing this, the Dakota allowed the Pawnees safe passage and simply "looked the other way" as they passed.

The Legend of Buffalo Calf Pipe Woman
White Buffalo Woman ~ The Story of The First Pipe

Where did the Sacred Pipe come from?
I have been taught of this in the Dakota way so I will relate to you the legend as it was taught to me;

Early one morning, many winters ago, two Dakota were out hunting. They had been hunting for four suns, but had found nothing. They climbed a high mesa, looking for game, when they saw something coming towards them in a strange and beautiful manner. When this wondrous thing came closer to them, they saw that it was a very beautiful woman, dressed in white buckskin, and bearing a bundle on her back. The woman was the most beautiful either of the men had ever seen. One of the men had bad intentions, and told his companion; "I will take this woman here and now!" The other man had good thoughts and told the bad one; "You must not even think of these things, for surely this is a Wakan {holy} Woman!"
The strange woman was now very close to the men, and after putting down her bundle, she asked the one with the bad thoughts to come over to her, saying "Do as you wish." As the young man approached the mysterious woman, they were both covered by a great cloud. Soon when it lifted the sacred woman was standing there, and at her feet was the man with bad thoughts who was now nothing but bones and great snakes were eating him!

"Behold! You see!" The woman said as she turned to the good man; " Do not be afraid, for I am coming to talk to your chief, Standing Hollow Horn. Return to him, and tell him to prepare a large lodge in which he should gather all his people, and make ready for my coming. I wish to tell them something of great importance." The young man hastily returned to the lodge of his chief, and told him of what had happened: that this Wakan Woman was coming to visit them and that they all must prepare.

Standing Hollow Horn then had several lodges taken down, and from them a great lodge was made as the sacred woman instructed. He sent out a Icimani, or news crier, to tell the people to put on their best buckskin clothes and meet at once in the lodge. The people were all very excited as they waited for the holy woman. They all wondered where she came from and what she wished to say. Soon the lookouts spread word that they saw something in the distance. Suddenly she entered the lodge, walked around sun-wise and stood in front of Standing Hollow Horn, who was seated in the West, the place of honor, as a leader of his people should be.

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 always treat it as such. No impure person should ever be allowed to see it, for within this bundle is a sacred pipe. With this pipe you will send your voices to Wakan Tanka, your Father and Grandfather." After she said this, she took from the bundle a beautiful pipe, and also a small round stone, which she placed on 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 is thus sacred. Every step that is taken upon Her should be as a prayer. The bowl of the pipe is of red stone; it represents the Earth. Carved in the stone is a buffalo calf who represents all the Four-Leggeds who live on the Earth Mother. The stem of the pipe is of wood. This represents all that grows upon the Earth. These twelve feathers that hang where the stem meets the bowl are from Wambl Galeshka, the Spotted Eagle, and they represent the eagle and all wingeds of the air. All these peoples, all the things of the universe, are joined to you who smoke the pipe. For all send their voices to Wakan Tanka, the Great Spirit.
When you pray with this pipe, you pray for and with EVERYTHING!"

The woman touched the foot of the pipe to the round stone laying on the ground and said; "With this pipe you will be bound to all of your relatives, your Grandfather, Father, Grandmother, and Mother. This round rock, which is made of the same stone as the bowl of the pipe, your Father Wakan Tanka has given to you. It represents the Earth, your Grandmother and Mother, and it is where you and all your relations will live. The Earth which He has given you is red, and the two-leggeds who live upon this earth are red; and the Great Spirit has given you a red day, and a red road. All this is sacred! Never forget! Every dawn as it comes is a Holy event. Every day is Holy, for the light comes from your Father, Wakan Tanka. Also you must always remember that the two-leggeds and all the other peoples who stand upon this earth are sacred and should always 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 that 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 that I shall give to you, and the other six circles represent which a later time will be given unto you. Standing Hollow Horn, be good to these gifts and your people, for they, too, are Wakan! With this pipe the two-leggeds will increase, and there will come unto them all that is good. Wakan Tanka has given unto you this sacred pipe, and through it you may have knowledge. For His great gift you should always be grateful! Before I leave I will give you instructions for the first rite in which your people should use the pipe."

"It should be a sacred day in which one of your people dies. You must then keep their soul as I teach you, and through this you will gain much power; for if this soul is kept, it will increase 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 returned to itís home, Wakan Tanka. For on this day four women will be made holy, and in time they will 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 they will take into their mouths, and it is through this that they may become Wakan." "He who keeps the soul of a person must be a good and pure man. He should use the pipe so that all people, with the soul, will together send their voices to Wakan Tanka. The fruit of your Mother 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 unto Him. So long as you remember this you will live; the rest you will learn from Wakan Tanka." The woman started to leave the lodge but then turned to Standing Hollow Horn. She said to him; "Behold this pipe! Always remember how sacred it is and treat it as such, for it will take you to the end of time. Remember, in me there are four ages. I will leave now, but I will look upon your people in every age, and at the end I shall return!" Walking around the lodge in a sun-wise manner, the holy woman left, but as the people watched her disappearing in the distance, they saw a shimmering light form around her. She emerged as a sacred white buffalo calf! The calf trotted to the top of a small hill, bowed once to each of the four directions, and disappeared!

Wasicun
Native American Medicine Story ~ Medicine Bundle - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Sometimes erroneously referred to as a Medicine Bundle or Medicine Bag, It is a wrapped package used by Native Americans and Shamic Practitioners for religious purposes.These "Medicine bundles" are usually employed as a ritual aid in Shamanistic religions. The size of a Wasicun generally varies from 2 to 14 inches in length, but could be larger.

Contents

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 a high spiritual value to the Wasicun's owner. A Priest's bundle generally contains more items than a Warrior's bundle, and can include such objects as bone rattles, skins from unborn animals, and even the Priest's own hair and nail clippings.

Other characteristics

The contents of a Wasicun are generally considered holy by the tribal community, and are meant to be kept secret by the owner. The contents of a Wasicun are not meant to touch the ground. This is why they are to be securely wrapped. Prayers and rituals usually accompany the manufacture and opening of medicine bundles, and women rarely handle them. A Wasicun can be passed down generationally as an inheritance.

A Wasicun is considered a very precious possession which represents a person's spiritual life, and can possess powers for protection and healing. As the owner grows older, more items can be added to it. Wasicun are usually buried with the owner, or passed on to a friend upon the owner's death.

Wasicun can also be maintained for an entire tribe. A tribal Wasicun is usually much larger and contains special objects which can only be handled by certain tribe members. It is only opened on special occasions.

I see that I have given the wrong impression. "I am Not a Native American" Though I do follow many of their practices and beliefs. Specifically Dakota Sioux, my beliefs also contain Celtic, Germanic and Russian overtones, With the Grace and the assistance of Native American Tribal Leaders I am able to practice my beliefs. I am a Multicultural Shamanic Wiccan and Contrary to popular opinion, a "shaman" is not an Indian medicine man, and "Shamanism" is not a Native American religion. In fact, many Native Americans find the terms "shaman" and "Shamanism" offensive. The word "shaman" actually originates among the natives of Siberia, where it describes a specialized type of holy person. The "Shamans" of Siberia interact with deities and spirits not only with prayer, ritual and offerings, but through direct contact with the spirits themselves. If I am to claim any Tribe, it would have to be The Rainbow Tribe (The Rainbow Family),
(yes that infamous confederation) currently, world wide there are 2,895,000 of us and 1.4 billion
shamanic practitioners.
I hold active memberships in The Circle Sanctuary and The Foundation for Shamanic Studies from where I have obtained most of my training...

"When one defines oneself as a "Shamanic Practitioner" , it means that he or she follows an earth or nature religion, one that sees the divine manifested in all creation.In other words That they see the devine in nature and the nature in the devine and the divinity within themselves and everyone else.
The cycles of nature are our holy days, the earth is our temple, its plants and creatures our partners and teachers.
We worship a deity that is both male and female at the same time, a mother who is our father,
the Lady who is our Lord,
who together created all that is, was, or will be.
We respect life, cherish the free will of sentient beings, and accept the sacredness of all creation."

OK what is or identifies a Shaman? If any one practice denotes the "Shamanic Practitioner" it would have to be the Vision Quest.
A Spirit Quest is a rite of passage in some Native American cultures. In traditional Dakota culture the
Hanblecheyapi (vision quest, literally "crying for a vision") is one of seven main rites. Spirit Quest preparations involve a time of fasting, the guidance of a tribal Medicine Man and sometimes ingestion of natural entheogens; this quest is undertaken for the first time in the early teenage years. The quest itself is usually a journey alone into the wilderness seeking personal growth and spiritual guidance from the Great Spirit Wakan Tanka. Traditionally, the seeker finds a place that they feel is special, and sits within a 10 foot circle (Medicine Wheel). They bring nothing into the Circle with them except a drum, a prayer blanket, water and a fire. A normal Spirit Quest usually lasts two to four days, in which time the seeker is forced to look into his or her soul. It is said that a strong urge to leave the Quest area will come to the seeker and a feeling of insanity may set in. However, the seeker normally overcomes this by reminding himself or herself of the overall outcome of the quest, causing the mind to stop wandering on random thoughts. The individual can generally find solace in the fact that he or she will not die in just two to four days. It is noted that few have claimed grand visions on their first Vision Quest. Native American totems are said to be capable of speaking through all things, including messages or instructions in the form of an animal or bird.
Generally a physical representation of the vision or message such as a feather, fur or a rock is collected and placed in the seeker's medicine bag to ensure the power of the Spirit Quest will stay with the individual to remind, protect or guide him.
I practice what is known as a Vision Quest though this can be a Spirit Quest it is so very, very much more, With the aid of rhythmic drumming and chanting, the shaman enters a very deep and Ecstatic Trance.
In discussions of Shamanism, the word ecstasy is used in its original sense, from the Greek roots ex and histanai, meaning "out of place" or "out of the physical" - an out-of-body mystical state. This trance frees the shaman's consciousness from the body, allowing it to fly into the realms the spirits inhabit, and to experience these Otherworlds with all the senses of the ordinary physical realm.

Yet, shamanic journeys are more than mystical encounters with spirits; shamans undertake trance-journeys for self healing, the healing of others and other practical purposes. A shaman may journey in the Otherworlds to gather information from the spirits, perform healings, guide the spirits of the dead to resting places, gain spiritual favor and power, or any number of other reasons. Like priests in Western society, shamans are not self-appointed, but called to their tasks by the spirits themselves, and then trained and recognized by the Elders of the World Community. For me it was The Foundation for Shamanic Studies

This specialized, sacred role of the shaman exists in many cultures outside Siberia, and the accounts of ecstatic trance journeys are remarkably similar around the world. The ecstatic trance seems to open the human mind to archetypal experiences, transcending cultural boundaries. The spiritual realms are almost always experienced in three layers: one equivalent to the physical plane of the earth, another to the heavens above, and a third that lies below the earth. Each culture interprets these realms and their inhabitants slightly differently, but the similarities are enough to suggest that the pattern of imagery arises from the process of the ecstatic trance journey itself, rather than from cultural expectations. There is even evidence that the ecstatic trance journey may have been part of the development of all religions, including Christianity. Although the practice of the ecstatic trance journey has all but vanished in many cultures, remnants of it exist in myths and traditions.

Since any Western words for the role of shaman disappeared along with the practice, the term shaman was adopted into English from Russian in approximately 1700. It describes not only the Siberian shamans, but any community-recognized specialists of the ecstatic trance-journey, whatever their culture or religion may be. Shamanism refers to the typical practices and beliefs of these spiritual specialists, including the methods of ecstatic trance-journey, as well as the beliefs and methods that arise from their experiences. The term shamanism also describes religions like those of Siberia which support and depend upon the shaman as a necessary central figure to their practices (much as Catholicism supports and depends upon on priests). Modern examples of this type of religion are rare, so most current uses of the word "shamanism" refer to trance-journey practices used within a religion, rather than to a religion itself.

Although Euro-American cultures don't support the classical role of a "shaman" there is a modern effort to re-introduce shamanic practices to the West.
Known as neo-shamanism, this spiritual movement adapts the methods of the shamanic trance-journey to the needs of modern society.
Like traditional shamanism, neo-shamanism is not a religion, but a set of practices and techniques used within existing belief systems and cultures.
Neo-shamanism focuses on spiritual and psychological healing, and is finding acceptance not only within alternative belief systems, but also among some Christian and other mainstream religious groups, as well as in certain branches of psychotherapy.

Unfortunately, the term "Shamanism" has been misused in popular culture for many years. The entertainment industry has used "medicine man" and "shaman" interchangeably (and usually inaccurately) to describe holy men and women of Native America. The public began to assume that "shaman" was a Native American word, and that "Shamanism" was a universal Indian Religion -- yet in reality, there is no universal "Indian Religion." There are hundreds of Indian Nations in North America, each with its own culture, language, and spiritual belief system. Many of these Nations are very different from one another in their religious traditions, and none of them describe their beliefs as "Shamanism". Even from a scholarly standpoint, few Native systems can be accurately described as "Shamanism" - the ecstatic trance journey is simply not a major part of most North American Indian cultures.

This confusion is reinforced by commercialized pseudo-indian groups that sprang up in the late 1970's. Focused mainly on New Age alternative healing methods and environmental awareness, these groups misrepresent themselves as genuine teachers of Indian traditions. Exploiting the stereotype of Native Americans as ecological warriors and spiritual healers, they commonly charge high fees for teachings and ceremonies, a practice particularly offensive to traditional Native Americans. Although the teachings of these movements may be valid in their own right, they are neither traditional nor typical of Indian beliefs, nor are they shamanic, as they rarely if ever stress the ecstatic trance-journey as a central practice. Yet the movement continues to misrepresent itself as both Indian and shamanism.

As a result, many Native Americans see the use of the word "Shamanism" as the height of an offensive stereotype and commercial exploitation of their people's beliefs. Many "neo-shamanists" and "scholars" are sensitive to this issue, and strive to educate the public about exploitation of indigenous cultures, as well as correcting common misconceptions about the words "shaman" and "Shamanism"

A "shaman" is a specialist and master of the ecstatic trance-journey, not a synonym for tribal healer, holy person or medicine man. "Shamanism" is the practice of ecstatic trance journey, and the typical beliefs and techniques that arise from and support it. "Shamanism" is not a catch-all term for an indigenous religion, earth-based religions, spiritual healing, or beliefs in totems, animal guardians or nature spirits. These misconceptions about shamanism are promoted by both well-meaning and fraudulent teachers, books, periodicals and web pages. They need to be corrected both for the preservation of traditional Native American cultures, and for the advancement of spiritual learning in the West.

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