The ceremonies of the Siksika centered upon complex rituals, transferred to the Blackfoot from the Sky Beings. In Blackfoot mythology ‘Tail Feathers Woman’ was taken to the sky country as a bride of Morning Star. The parents of Morning Star, Sun and Moon taught the intricate ceremonies to their new daughter who would eventually return to earth to teach the ceremonies to the earth people.
Today those same ceremonies brought to us long ago are still thriving despite the ever changing world we live.
Sweet Grass Smudge
Smudging is a cleansing process in which sage and sweet grass are burned. The sage rids a person of negativity, such as anger or ill will, while sweet grass draws positive energy.
The smoke purifies us and lets Ihtsi-pai-tapi-yopa (Essence of All Life; Creator) hear our prayers.
Many Aboriginals in North America use sweetgrass in prayer, smudging or purifying ceremonies and consider it a sacred plant. It is usually braided, dried, and burned. Sweetgrass braids smolder and doesn't produce an open flame when burned. Just as the sweet scent of this natural grass is attractive and pleasing to people, so is it attractive to good spirits. Sweetgrass is often burned at the beginning of a prayer or ceremony to attract positive energies.
Sweetgrass "smudge"; the smoke from burning sweetgrass is fanned on people, objects or areas. Individuals smudge themselves with the smoke, washing the eyes, ears, heart and body.
It is used in pipe-smoking mixtures along will red willow and bearberry, when it is burned, prayers,thoughts and wishes rise with the smoke to the creator who will hear them. Medicine men kept sweet grass in the bag with their medicinal roots and herbs.
Smoking the pipe was considered a sacred ceremony and was an essential key in most of our ceremonies and prayers.
Pipes were often elaboratly decorated. Pipe stems were decorated with cravings or applied porcupine quill work. Blackfoot pipes stems are mostly always round and seldom decorated beyond a very smooth polish.
Pipe smoking was so much a part of traditional Blackfoot life that every family has at least one pipe in it's possession. Pipes were made by skilled men and women who werepaid a riding horse for a good one.
Blackfoot pipes had a distinct appearance though other pipes of other styles were obtained by trade and commomly used for ceremonial use, however, only the blackstone pipes of local make were allowed (and still are) shields.
Sacred Bundles containing items given to the Blackfoot by the spirit beings of their world were used in ceremonies to renew connections with the spirits and to ask for help from the creator. When not in use, these bundles were hung along the west wall of the tipi's above the inhabitants as they sat or slept. The bundles were regarded as living beings that must be cared for as a child. Bundles were taken outside each day and hung on tripods. They were moved throughout the day so they always faced the sun. People avoided the bundles out of respect and were quiet whenever they were near.
These bundles are individually owned and ultimately originated from an encounter with a supernatural spirit. These encounters take the form of dreams or visions, which are sought in a typical plains type of vision quest. A young man, often under the tutelage of an older medicine man, goes out to some lonely place and fasts until he has a vision. Many of these men fail and never have a vision.
Individual bundles acquire great respect, especially those associated with success in war. Some of these are headdresses, shirts, shields, knives, and lances. Painted lodges are considered to be medicine bundles, and there are more than 50 of them among the main Blackfoot Clans.
The most important bundles to the group as a whole were the beaver bundles, the medicine pipe bundles, and the Sun Dance bundle. The Sun Dance bundle was most important of the bundles to the Blackfoot Clans as a whole.
Prairie Chicken Society
The ceremony is held in a long lodge, and begins with a special form of prayer known as the Pipe Ceremony.
Following the ceremony, the man who pledges the dance, begins by singing his songs to the accompaniment of a rattle, while the others follow his lead.
The dance is considered to have a strong spiritual meaning. The sponsor of the ceremony may have received instructions to do so in a dream, or he may have vowed to hold the dance, in exchange for the long life of a sick child.
Throughout the night, other men serve each guest. The men who have never taken part before, are required to give gifts. This is practiced in all social dances to obtain the right to participate, but this is the only vowed ceremony where gifts are given in such a manner.
These gifts are given to elders, who in turn, give prayers for the dancers. An offering to the spirits is also given, and is tied to the poles of the lodge.