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CROW CALLS No. 4

Sacred Ceremonies
The circle is the basic structure of ritual among Native Americans, with the Six Directions being honored in ceremonies. These are the Four Directions, plus Grandfather Sky and Earth Mother. All tribes construct the sacred space of the circle. This is especially the place where dancing is performed and ceremonies are carried out. The circle is usually formed by the participants gathering in the circle, after the area has first been smudged and blessed by the Medicine Man. Protocol requires the place next to the fire be kept for guests and important persons, and those entering the circle always walk clockwise behind the others. One never passes between a seated person and the sacred fire in the center of the circle.

Smudging
Smudging, or sweeping the smoke, is the burning of certain herbs to create a cleansing smoke bath, which is used to purify people, ceremonial and ritual space, and ceremonial tools and objects. The effect of the smoke is to banish negative energies and bring good energy. The four plant people used for smudging are tobacco, sage, sweet grass and cedar. They are gifts of the Spirits of the Four Directions. Sage and Cedar are used first, to dispel negative energies or spirits, and sweet grass is burned afterward to bring good spirits.

The plants should be collected in a ritual manner (that is, in solitude and silence, except to apologize to the plant for taking it and asking the plant person to help you) and hung in the shade to dry. They are then tied together in bundles, although sweet grass is more often braided into ropes. Begin by lighting the end of the bundle or rope and letting it go out, so that smoke is produced. Alternately, a container can be used to hold the smoking herb, which is then fanned with an eagle feather. When a smudge pot is used, it is usually made of clay or stone.

Smudging is used to mark the boundary when any ceremony is to be celebrated, as well as the entire area in which the ceremony is to be held. Smudge the area, slowly walking clockwise around the perimeter of the area, fanning the smudge pot if that is what you are using, keeping it lit and wafting the smoke about. Smudge any Medicine tool you will be using such as Pipe, jewelry, outfit, etc. It is good practice to smudge each person present. Starting from the East, smudge each person in turn. Many people smudge the heart area first, next the head area, and then the arms, then downward toward the legs. Others prefer to smudge from the feet upward. Smudge both the front and back of people.

The Dance
Life is experienced as a constant movement, and the dance is man's natural way of attuning himself to the powers of the spirit. Rhythmic movement provides a key for creating, transcending and reintegrating the dream-like forms of man's existence. Thus, it is a way of returning to touch the source of all life. Dance is man's earliest art form, expressing his emotions, thoughts and spiritual striving. This ecstatic release of energy evolved into deliberate religious ritual as a means of transcending the ordinary world and participating in the divine creative process. This is a sacrificing and surrendering of the self to spirit by identifying with spirit and becoming one with creation (and thereby, the Creator). By attaining a state of rapture, man transcends the fragmented and troubled self to become touched by and immersed in the ocean of universal spirit. This results in an exhilaration and feeling of wholeness that brings new hope and inspiration in daily life. The purpose of the Dance is renewal of the self, an atavistic and universal form of healing. Dancing is a gift to man from the Great Spirit.

The Four Directions
Four Star Gods hold up the heavens, and four gods instructed the first humans to build the round earth lodge to imitate the dome of the night sky. East corresponds to the energy that gives birth to action, the heavenly face of the Spirit. The Medicine Man faces east when he works his Medicine. West corresponds to transformation and rebirth. North corresponds to wisdom from the ancestors and the Stars. South corresponds to the generative power that gives life to all things, the strength and abundance of one's family line, relationships and marriage. Many tribes consider the Center to be the fifth direction, the primary direction. It is green and is the place where the World Tree grows. This is where one acquires a 'face' from the spiritual world.

Between the semi-cardinal directions of the Four Direction Star Gods, there were four ancient Watchers in the Heavens. The Serpent of the East is represented by Antares. The Elk or Buffalo of the West is represented by the Pleiades. The Wolf of the South is represented by Sirius. The Eagle or Hidden Warrior of the North is represented by the Void, since there are no visible large stars in this quarter. This Void conceals the entrance to the Spirit Worlds. There are four Great Ones in the universe, and man is one of them.

Spirits of the Four Directions
The Gods of the Four Directions have helpers here on earth, and they are the Chikoos, the forces of Mother Earth. The white man calls them space or solids (earth), time or liquids (water), sound or gases (air) and light or radiant energy (fire). We call them by other names. H'uararu, the earth spirit, who brings abundance of food and hidden treasures, can be contacted with Medicine rocks, earth and powders. Chahuru, the water spirit, who helps the growth of plants and brings healing, and will transport the Medicine Man over great distances, can be contacted with washes, solutions and other liquids. Hotoru, the wind spirit, who brings inspiration and dreams and cleanses the land with his storms, can be contacted with smoke, as well as chanting and prayers. Shakuru, the fire spirit who lives in the Sun, and brings freedom and change, can be contacted with fire and incense.

Basic Ceremonial Format
The Pawnee had no lodge dedicated to ceremonies; the ceremonies were held in the large lodge of a Chief or Medicine Man. Bundle rituals were held in the owner's lodge, or sometimes the lodge of a Medicine Man. The Morning Star bundle ritual was held in the visionary warrior's lodge. Lodges used for ceremonies were always oriented with the entrance facing east. At the west end of the lodge, the Medicine bundle was suspended from an overhead rafter. Under the bundle was a raised platform on which the skull of a Medicine Animal rested. During ceremonies, the officiating Medicine Man sat just in front of this skull altar, facing east, and the skull itself was frequently placed on the north side of the fire. The Medicine Men spread out the contents of the bundle in the area before them, the wahka-ru or 'place where the wise sayings of those who have gone before us are resting'. Between this altar and the fireplace was another sacred spot, a square excavated area several inches deep, called the kusa-ru. This represented the Garden of the Evening Star. During the Corn Shelling Ritual, ears of corn, each tied to a stick, were placed upright on the north and south sides of it, and other ears were placed in the bottom. Before the coming of the white man, ceremonies for good crops were the most important ceremonies, and corn was the most important crop.

Preceding every ceremony, the lodge was cleared of most of its furnishings and swept clean. The fireplace in the center was prepared, and if necessary, it was dug out. Otherwise, it was cleaned out and the dirt and ashes from it were placed in a mound several paces east of the doorway. This represented Tirawahat and was one place that offerings were placed in some ceremonies; in others, the Medicine Animal skull from the west altar was placed on it. After the ashes or earth were removed from the fireplace, an earthen embankment a few inches high and three inches wide was formed around the pit. If the embankment was already there, it was repaired. Offerings were made at various points on the ring at every ceremony. Each ceremony was announced by the pattikus, 'the crier,' an old man who announced the ceremonies to the tribe.

An important part of all Pawnee ceremonies was the standard offerings made to the deities: the smoke offering of Tobacco and the two food offerings of corn and meat. At all public ceremonies gifts were also normally given to the deities. The smoke offering was performed at least once and sometimes twice in every ceremony. When the time for the offering arrived, the leading Medicine Man designated one of the participants to come forward and receive the filled Pipe. Always moving counter-clockwise, the Pipe man carried it to the south side of the fireplace, where an errand man lit it. Circling the lodge again, he went to the entrance where he offered two whiffs of smoke, one each at the north and south entry posts. Then he offered whiffs at the following points: upward, to Tirawahat; east, to the morning Star; west, to the Evening Star; east again, to the Big Black Meteoric Star; north three times, to breath, Wind and Pahukatawa; southeast and southwest, for Sun and moon, respectively. As a rule, the offering was continued, with whiffs given to each of the objects exposed on the altar.

After he acknowledged all of the supernatural beings, the Pipe-bearer gave the Pipe to the leading Medicine Man, who took a puff and gave it to each of the other Medicine Men at the altar. The Pipe was then passed down the north side, from west to east, finally reaching the north errand man. He took it to the south side, where it began with the man nearest the Medicine Men. After everyone had smoked, the Pipe man took the Pipe and at various points around the fireplace he moved his hands over the pipe and handed it to the Medicine Man, who returned it to the altar.

In some ceremonies, other offerings included Tobacco, beads, etc., but were placed outside the lodge. The corn offering immediately preceded the meat offering. Corn was generally contributed by any woman who felt religiously inclined or who wanted the Medicine Man to recite a particular ritual, such as a name change for her child. If a visionary had sponsored the ceremony, his female relatives provided the offering. When the time came, an errand man placed the kettle of cooked corn between the fireplace and the entrance, and put eight bowls around it. After placing two spoons in each bowl, he filled the bowls from the kettle until all but a small amount of the corn was distributed. Then he filled a large spoon with the remaining corn and proceeded to make the offerings.

The offertory stations for corn differed from those of the smoke and meat. Several kernels were deposited at each of the following locations: the two outer doorposts, the northeast and northwest posts or points on the rim of the fireplace. The officiator then retraced his steps, making movements of his hands at each place. The offerings were completed, and the errand man distributed the eight bowls to selected pairs of men on either side; they then ate some of the corn and passed it on until everyone had eaten. After the corn offering was the meat offering.

There were always two errand men, called taru-cuhus, who sat near the entrance inside the lodge and tended the fires, cooked and served food for offerings and fasts, and generally assisted the leaders of ceremonies; this position was often handed down father to son.

The Ceremonies
Pawnee festivals were held when people could see the Stars. In February, a great forecasting ceremony was held when the Wise Men consult the Stars to forecast the coming year's crop-growing conditions and other important matters. The harvest ceremony occurred in September at the time of the full moon, and the ceremony was begun around midnight when the Chaka (Peiades) are directly overhead. The most important ceremony among almost all of the Native American tribes before the coming of the white man was a corn ceremony.

The Ground-Breaking Ceremony
The only ceremony in which Pawnee women play a major role is the Ground-Breaking Ceremony, when spring crops are planted. During the wintertime, a woman in the village specially chosen by Tirawa has a vision of the ceremony. She tells the Medicine Man her vision. The Medicine Man declares her to be the visionary who will be the sponsor of the Ground-Breaking Ceremony. The visionary's brother or nearest living male relative puts aside enough food for a village feast.

After the willow tree has budded and during the dark of the moon, the Medicine Man tells the visionary it is time to begin. The visionary arises early the next morning, and takes the Medicine Bundle from its hanging place in the lodge, and hangs it outside on a tripod. She then cleans the lodge with willow branches and sprouts.

The Medicine Man appoints three other men of distinction to accompany him and then has the visionary bring the food that has been stored for the ceremony, and he also invites four women specially chosen to participate by donating more food. The group, with a number of other people of importance, gather together in the ceremonial lodge or in a circle. The visionary does her special dance for the occasion, and the others shake gourd rattles and sing. Then everyone eats the food that has been brought and stay up talking and telling stories until the early morning hours.

The next day, the Ground-Breaking Ceremony called the Karikisu takes place. The entire ceremony lasts from dawn to sunset. Its major feature is a dance depicting the hoeing of the corn, which is always the first crop to be planted. Keres Iatiku, the Moon Woman who gave corn to man, and Uti Hiata, the Corn Mother and harvest goddess, is invoked to bring a good crop. Then the Medicine Man and the three men of distinction ritually break the ground with four sacred hoes. After the Ground-breaking Ceremony, the actual planting begins. While planting, the Pawnee women sing special songs to help the seeds sprout.

The planting of corn has always been a sacred ceremony for all People. After the earth has been prepared for planting, a Grandfather blesses the soil and offers Prayers of Thanksgiving to Mother Earth and Great Spirit, asking that the crop be bountiful. Then a Great-Grandmother will begin the planting. After Great-Grandmother, Grandmother plants her seeds, followed by Daughter and finally a "maiden", one who has not married or had her Moon.

There are five seeds planted one at a time in each mound. The first seed is to Great Spirit. The second is to Father Sky, the third is to Mother Earth, the fourth to the Animal Kingdom, and the fifth to the People. After thanking Great Spirit and blessing the newly planted corn, Grandfather closes the ceremony with the smoke from his ceremonial pipe carrying the Prayers of Thanksgiving to Great Spirit and the Four Directions.

After the seeds are planted by the women, the men tend to the crops. Men never plant the corn. They prepare the soil and tend the crops. Only the women plant the seeds. After the ceremony, there is drumming and dancing.

The Green Corn Ceremony
The Green Corn ceremony has been the most important religious ceremony of the American tribes since the old days. The ceremony is held in late spring, when the corn is three or four fingers high, after a man has dreamed the preceding year that he should be the one to ensure that the ritual is performed. The visionary provides all the food for a feast at the festival, which lasts from four to seven days. The event is a time of purification and cleansing.

Mother Corn represents growth, life, fertility and abundance. She controls vegetation and "male rain" (destructive storms) and can withhold her care if the people do not act correctly. The spring corn ritual is performed to ensure an abundance of crops, increase the fertility of the tribe's women and bring rain. The dance of the corn ritual is a supplication of humans to the Corn Mother. Old men sing to the beat of the drums, while the dancers honor and pray to Corn Mother. In small dances, only the men dance, but in larger dances, both men and women dance. When the women dance, they wear a headdress that identifies them with the Corn Mother.

This ceremony marks the beginning of the New Year. Thanks are given for the corn crop and the tribe's ability to maintain itself as a result. It is a time for forgiveness and wiping the slate clean between tribe members. There are many celebrations and feasts, and many games are played. The healing power of Mother Corn is invoked during the Green Corn Ceremony, and the Medicine Men perform healings for the people. Mother Corn is said to reside in the west, where she renews herself each year. This power of renewal is said to confer wisdom and spirituality on those who participate in the ceremony. The Corn Mother's symbol is the perfect ear of corn without a single missing or mis-shaped kernel. Such an ear is kept in the Medicine Bundle, and is believed to have healing power.

The Drum or Harvest Festival
The Harvest Festival honors Mother Corn for an abundant harvest. It is held in the fall, at the new moon. This rite is one of atonement to clear the fields of human fear and ill will as the ripening season begins. The men perform the Corn Dance, but women are not allowed to dance. Afterwards, there is a big feast.

The Chiefs, Elders and Medicine Men fast for four days, eating on the fourth day. Four ears of corn gathered from the current harvest are thrown into the fire along with tobacco as a sacrifice to the gods in order to ensure continued abundance for the corn crop. For the next four days, only corn from the last year's crop can be eaten. The corn from the current harvest can not be eaten until after the ceremony.

Elders hand out punishment for lawbreakers during the ceremony, and young men who have earned the right are given their adult names. The sacred Medicine Bundle is brought out for the ceremony, and because of its importance, outsiders are not allowed to attend. Afterwards, the sacred pilgrimage is held.

The Hako
The Hako ceremony of the Pawnee is performed whenever there is felt a need for a gesture of peace or reconciliation or joining between two tribes. The Corn Mother plays a central role, and two main groups take part. One group, the Fathers, initiates the ceremony and pays a ritual visit to the second group, the Children. These two groups cannot belong to the same clan of the tribe, and very often they are members of completely different tribes, a considerable distance from each other. The term Hako refers to the various items concerned in the ritual, especially the pipe stems, which feature prominently. The Hako is performed whenever felt appropriate - except in the winter season. A Pawnee Medicine Man explained "With the Hako, we are praying for the gift of life, of strength, of plenty, and of peace. We must make these prayers when life is stirring everywhere."

The Fathers set out on their journey to the village of the Children. At the head of the group walks the Medicine Man, carrying the Mother Corn bundle, wrapped in a wolf skin, attended by the Father and the Hako holy men with their assistants, and the sacred pipe stems that have been decorated specially with symbolic feathers and paint. Behind this groups walk priests with eagle wings to sweep away evil from the path of the party. Then come many singers with their drums, and finally the men, women and children of the Father's extended family, leading ponies loaded with gifts and food supplies.

Today, this is more often a convoy of vehicles. They cross the countryside, stopping to contemplate and sing praises for every feature of the land. As the group moves along, the Medicine Man appeals constantly to Mother Corn to show them the right road, an act she alone can accomplish, because Tira'Wa, the All-Power, has given her authority to direct them.

The Children of the host village are well-prepared. When the Fathers arrive, the sacred pipe is ceremonially smoked and there are several reciprocal feasts. The climax is the adoption rite. The Child, who represents the children, or Son, as he is now called, is given sacred objects used in the Hako, including the painted ear of corn representing Mother Corn. The tip is blue, symbolizing the sky. Four blue lines, running halfway down the ear, symbolize the four paths along which the spirits descend to minister to humanity. The climax of the Hako is the uniting of the Father of the visiting group, with the Son of the host group, merging old and new.

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Email: Don.Cardoza@baltimorecity.gov