The Old North Trail, by Walter McClintock, , at sacred-texts.com
Preparations of Mad Wolf and Gives-to-the-Sun.—Rules and customs observed within the sacred lodge.—Ceremonial of consecrating the tongues.—Methods of Medicine Men for impressing their supernatural power upon the tribe.—Sudden death of Good Hunter, sacred woman at a former Sun-dance.
IN former days, when the Blackfeet were constantly hunting the buffalo, the man and his wife giving the Sun-dance would begin to collect tongues for the sacred food in the early spring, and continued gathering them until the sarvis berries were ripe (midsummer). They went on the buffalo hunts, but took no part in the killing. They sat upon a robe, watching from a distance the hunters run the buffalo, praying that there might be no accident.
When Mad Wolf and his wife began their preparations for the Sun-dance, she became the "sacred woman." In her tipi the ceremonials would take place. The fire burned day and night. It must not be allowed to die out, nor the door to remain open. A sarvis berry stick or buffalo chip 1 must be used to light the pipes. No other fire was allowed within. Gives-to-the-Sun and Mad Wolf remained in fixed places, with heads bowed and blankets drawn closely around them, praying to the Sun by day and the Moon by night:
"Great Spirit! have pity on me and my people. Help me to be pure and to lead a straight life. Grant that I may be kind-hearted to all my people, and may our children and relatives live to be old."
They seldom spoke to each other, and did not go outside, while the sun was above the horizon. Before sunrise and after sunset, a relative came in to assist them to rise. Before they left the tipi, they chanted a sacred song. Mad Wolf filled a pipe, and with Gives-to-the-Sun carrying many presents, they went together to the home of O-mis-tai-po-kah, the lodge maker of the year before, and presented the pipe to him. It was a custom of the Blackfeet that the lodge maker and his wife be instructed by those who had given the ceremonial the year before. The sacred bonnet, to be worn by the woman, was purchased from them and they were paid for their assistance. O-mis-tai-po-kah,
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THE SACRED WOMAN.
they were assembled, O-mis-tai-po-kah (as father or instructor) produced two buffalo chips, a bag of red paint and dried sweet grass. Placing the sweet grass upon a hot coal he started a chant. As the smoke arose, Natokema (the mother) took Gives-to-the-Sun s hand and held it in the sacred smoke for purification. She then gave her the red paint, which Gives-to-the-Sun rubbed over the buffalo chips. Natokema took a
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“THEY PRAYED CONTINUALLY WITH HEADS BOWED AND BLANKETS DRAWN CLOSELY AROUND THEM.”
tongue, which, during the ceremony that followed, was called "chief of tongues." Holding the end towards her, she painted the north side red and the south black, and handed it with a knife to Gives-to-the-Sun, who arose and prayed, holding the tongue before her. After placing the knife in the smoke of the sweet grass, she cut the tongue into thin strips for boiling. Tongues were then distributed to the other women, who arose in turn, and, after making confession, also cut them into
thin strips. If a woman made a mistake, or cut herself, while preparing the tongues, the rest suspected that she was not pure. Two women were selected to go to the river for water. They carried a bucket painted with red and black bands, forming a cross on either side. While dipping the water with small shells they avoided careless splashes, which might bring on a sudden storm, and on the way back to the tipi stopped four times to pray. If a storm came, the people believed it was caused by an error in some part of the ceremonial. The women sang in unison while they placed the tongues in the bucket and hung it over the fire. When it boiled, Gives-to-the-Sun chanted
and threw in sweet grass that the meat might have a pleasant fragrance. The ceremonial of preparing the tongues was finished, when Natokema held the bucket in the fragrant smoke. The priests and their wives again assembled to place the sacred meat in parfleches. At this ceremony a feast was given, but before eating, a blessing was asked upon the food, not so simple in form as our Christian custom of giving thanks, but very devout and expressive as a symbolic act. Each broke from his portion a small piece, holding it up as an offering to the sun, all praying in unison to the Spirit for long life; then, after planting it in the ground, they supplicated Mother Earth for an abundance to eat. The sacred meat was then placed in parfleches in readiness for the Sun-dance, all the men and women chanting in unison
The same ceremony was repeated for every lot of tongues secured, until a sufficient quantity had been
prepared. Formerly about three hundred buffalo tongues were gathered for a Sun-dance. They now seldom secure more than thirty beef tongues. An occurrence at another Sun-dance, during the ceremony of preparing the tongues, illustrates the methods employed by medicine men to impress upon the people their supernatural powers and the importance of implicit compliance with their directions. An Indian from Canada named Big Swan, with his wife, Good Hunter, were giving the Sun-dance. Big Swan selected as his adviser for the ceremonies, Spotted Eagle, and invited, to assist him, Red Wing, Wolf Eagle and Big Moon, with their wives Strikes-on-top, Feather Woman and Calls Back. They camped together on Two Medicine River, and were preparing the tongues. Big Swan interrupted the services by going to Willow Creek. 'There he met Spotted Eagle, telling him that additional tongues had been secured and the ceremonial would be continued that evening. For a moment Spotted Eagle made no reply, but gazed intently at the distant Rocky Mountains where his trained powers of observation detected signs of a storm. He said to Big Swan: "When you return to your tipi, do nothing further with the tongues to-night, put them away." No more was said. Big Swan returned to Two Medicine River and told the waiting men and women of Spotted Eagle's warning. Thinking they had insufficient reason for delay, they continued the service. In the midst of the ceremonial, a violent storm from the Rockies moved eastwardly over their camp. A bolt of lightning struck the lodge, prostrating the three women, Good Hunter, Strikes-on-top and Feather Woman. The last two recovered, but Good Hunter, the sacred woman, was killed. Big Swan discontinued the service, and, after placing the body of his
wife upon a high cliff, overlooking the river, returned to Canada. In telling me of the event Spotted Eagle said: "It cast a deep gloom over the entire Sun-dance. If Big Swan had followed my directions it would not have happened. I saw signs of a storm over the mountains at the head of Two Medicine Canyon. They were bad medicine, so I warned him." Some of the Indians, however, believed the Sun God had stricken down Good Hunter because she had falsely declared in her prayer that she was a pure woman.
178:1 Dried buffalo dung.