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The Lakota Ways Pages: 1 | 2

Seven Sacred Rites of the Lakota Sioux

The Keeping of the Soul: Nagi Gluhapi Na Nagi Gluxkapi
In order to reconcile the death of a loved one, this ritual permits the resolution of things left undone, the healing of the Spirit and growth for the greater community. It allows the transition of the deceased into the Spirit World.

The Rite of Purification (Sweat Lodge): Inipi
In this ritual, the smoke from the pipe, the heat and steam from the fire in the sweat lodge, and ancient rituals release guilt, burdens and evil from the participant, bringing him closer to Wakan Tanka (the Great Spirit).

Crying for a Vision (Vision Quest): Hanblecheyapi
The Vision Quest gives the participant responsibility for setting and honoring limits. After a period of fasting, the participant focuses on prayer in order to hear "the voice of the Sacred."

The Sun Dance: Wiwanyag Wachipi
In a ceremony that involves abstaining from food and water and dancing for four days, participants endure suffering - formerly shedding their own blood - so that others will not suffer. The suffering can be symbolic, spiritual or, as in the past, very real.

The Making of Relatives: Hunkapi
Through prayer to Wakan Tanka (the Great Spirit), the exchange of sacramental food and smoking from the sacred pipe, an enduring bond of community is formed between people.

Preparing a Girl for Womanhood (Puberty Rite): Ishna Ta Awi Cha Lowan
This puberty ceremony purifies a girl who has her first menstrual perdiod, preparing her for womanhood and childbirth. In a tipi built by the girl's family, a holy man conducts the ritual with the proper sacred objects, including a buffalo skull painted red.

Throwing of the Ball: Tapa Wanka Yap
This former rite, performed only by women, used a ball filled with buffalo hair covered with a red-and-blue painted buffalo, which represented the material and spiritual aspects of the universe. In order to receive a great blessing, participants must choose to reach for the ball, while acknowledging that not everyone will catch it.

A Contemporary Rite Yuwipi
Used for healing, divining, and for finding lost persons or objects, this nighttime ceremony involves a holy man whose hands are tied behind his back and whose body is wrapped in a blanket and tied with ropes. The lights are extinguished while the holy man prays audibly and the spectators sit holding hands in a circle. When the lights are turned back on, the holy man is free from his bindings, released by the spirits.



"In an eagle there is all the wisdom of the world."
- Lame Deer, Miniconjou Lakota

bald eagle
Eagle image belongs to all Indigenous Peoples (compiled by Glenn Welker)

Lakota religion is polytheistic, that is, believing in many gods or spirits. Nature and cosmology play an important role: before the creation of the earth, the gods lived in a celestial realm and humans in a subterranean world without culture. On earth, spirits reside in every part of the natural world. Among the gods are Something That Moves (Takushkanshkan); Sun (Wi); Moon, who is married to Sun; and their daughter Falling Star (Wohpe). Other spirits include Spider (Inktomi), Old Man and Old Woman, and their daughter Face (Ite), who is married to Wind and has four sons, the Four Winds.

Reflecting the elements earth, fire, air and water and the seasons winter, spring, summer and fall, the number four is an essential symbol of Lakota spirituality. It also represents the directions north, south, east and west and the four races: red, black, white and yellow. Another important symbol is the circle, the foundation for the traditional house, the tipi. In the Lakota way, everything is circular in the journey of life and death. Time passes slowly in the full observation of life. Man and nature live in concert with one another, rather than in a struggle for domination.

From the legend of the White Buffalo Calf Woman came the tradition of the seven sacred rites and the smoking of the sacred pipe. The seven rites are the Keeping of the Soul, Sweat Lodge, Vision Quest, Sun Dance, Making Relatives, Puberty Ceremony and Throwing of the Ball. All but the latter have survived among contemporary Lakota people, despite being periodically outlawed by the U.S. government. When the White Buffalo Calf Woman appeared to the people, she told them that in a time of need, they should smoke from the pipe adorned with eagle feathers, and the smoke would carry their prayers upward to the gods.

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