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Lakota Rites

(Crying for a Vision)


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This way of praying is very important, and indeed it is at the center of our religion, for from it we have received many good things. Every man can cry for a vision, or "lament", and in the old days we all —men and women— "lamented" all the time. What is received through the "lamenting" is determined in part by the character of the person who does this, for only those people who are very qualified receive the great visions, which are interpreted by our holy man, and which give strength and health to our nation.

There are many reasons for going to a lonely mountaintop to "lament". Some men receive a vision when they are very young and when they do not expect it, and they go to "lament" that they might understand it better. We "lament" if we wish to make ourselves brave for a great ordeal. Some people "lament" in order to ask some favor of the Great Spirit, such as curing a sick relative. We also "lament" as an act of thanksgiving for some great gift, which the Great Spirit may have given us. But perhaps the most important reason for "lamenting" is that it helps us to realize our oneness with all things, to know that all things are our relatives.

When a person wishes to "lament", he goes with a filled pipe to a holy man.

"I wish to lament and offer my pipe to Wakan Tanka. I need your help and guidance, and wish you to send a voice for me to the Powers above."

The holy man prays, holding the stem of the pipe to the heavens.

"All the Powers of the world, the heavens and the star peoples, and the red and blue sacred days; all things that move in the universe, in the rivers, the brooks, the springs, all waters, all trees that stand, all the grasses of our Grandmother, all the sacred peoples of the universe. Listen! A sacred relationship with you all will be asked by this young man, that his generations to come will increase and live in a holy manner.

"O You, Winged One, there where the sun goes down, who guards our sacred pipe, help us! Help us to offer this pipe to Wakan Tanka, that He may give a blessing to this young man!"

The old man offers the pipe to the six directions, lights it, and passes it first to the young man who is to "lament". The "lamenter" offers it up with a prayer, and then it is smoked by everybody in the circle.

When the chosen day arrives, the "lamenter" builds an Inipi lodge in which they shall purify themselves, selecting twelve or sixteen small willows. Before cutting them, the "lamenter" takes to them a tobacco offering.

"There are many kinds of trees, but it is you whom I have chosen to help me. I shall take you, but in your place there will be others!"

In a sacred manner, the "lamenter" also gathers the rocks and sage, and makes a bundle of five long sticks and five bundles of twelve small sticks. He also gathers some Ree twist tobacco, kinnikinnik, a tobacco cutting board, buckskin for the tobacco-offering bags, sweet grass, a bag of sacred earth, a knife, and a stone hatchet.

When the purification lodge has been built, the holy man enters the lodge and sits at the west; the "lamenter" enters next, and sits at the north, and then a helper enters and sits to the south of the holy man. The old man burns sweet grass and they purify themselves. The little bag of earth is also purified, which is then carefully spread all around inside the central hole. This is done slowly and reverently, for this earth represents the whole universe. The holy man marks four places around the hole, first at the west, then north, east, and south. Next a cross is made by drawing a line on the ground from west to east, then another from north to south. All this is very sacred, for it establishes the four great Powers of the universe, and also the center which is the dwelling place of Wakan Tanka.

The holy man then holds the pipe over the smoke to purify it. He purifies all the sacred equipment. Then he takes the tobacco cutting board and begins to chop and mix the kinnikinnik. Each time he shaves off a little piece of the tobacco, he offers it to one of the quarters of the world. When the mixing has been finished, he takes up the pipe with his left hand, and holding a pinch of the kinnikinnik with his hand, he prays.

"O Wakan Tanka, my Father and Grandfather, You are first, and have always been! Behold this young man here who wishes to travel upon the sacred path. He will offer this pipe to You. Be merciful to him and help him!

The first to be placed in the pipe is You, O Winged Power of the West. You with Your guards are ancient and sacred. Behold! There is a place for You in the pipe. Help us!"

The holy man places this tobacco in the pipe, then he holds up another pinch towards the north, east, and south, praying to the directions and asking them for their help. Then a fifth pinch of tobacco is held up towards the heavens, to the Spotted Eagle.

"O Wambli Galeshka, who circles in the highest heavens, You see all things in the heavens and upon the earth. This young man is about to offer his pipe to Wakan Tanka, in order that he may gain knowledge. Help him, and all those who send their voices to Wakan Tanka through you. There is a place for you in the pipe. Help us!"

Now a pinch of tobacco is held towards the Earth.

"O Unchi and Ina, our Grandmother and Mother, You are sacred! We know that it is from You that our bodies have come. This young man wishes to become one with all things, and to gain knowledge. For the good of all your peoples, help him!"

Thus the Earth, which is now in the tobacco, is placed in the pipe, and in this manner all the six Powers of the universe have here become one. But in order to make sure that all the peoples of the world are included in the pipe, the holy man offers small grains of tobacco for the sacred King Bird, the meadow lark, the blackbird, the woodpecker, the snowbird, the crow, the magpie, the dove, the hawk, the eagle hawk, and the bald eagle. What is left of the tobacco is offered for the two-legged who is about to "lament".

The pipe is then sealed with tallow, for the "lamenter" will take it with him when he goes to the top of the mountain. There he will offer it to Wakan Tanka, but it will not be smoked until he finishes the "lamenting" and returns to the holy man.

The holy man, the "lamenter" and the helpers then purify themselves with an Inipi ceremony.

Three horses are brought, and upon two of these the bundles of offering sticks and some sacred sage are loaded. The "lamenter" rides on the third horse. All this time he is crying most pitifully and is holding his pipe in front of him.

When they arrive at the foot of the chosen mountain, the helpers go on ahead with all the equipment in order to prepare the sacred place on the mountaintop. They go directly to the spot which they have chosen to be the center and place all the equipment there. At this center they first make a hole in which they place some kinnikinnik, and then set up a long pole with the offerings tied at the top. One of the helpers then goes about ten stride to the west and in the same manner he sets up a pole here, tying offerings to it. He then goes to the center where he picks up another pole, and this he fixes at the north, again returning to the center. In the same manner he sets up poles at the east and the south.

All this time the other helper has been making a bed of sage at the center, so that when the "lamenter" is tired he may lie with his head against the center and his feet stretching towards the east. The helpers then leave.

The "lamenter" now takes off his moccasins and even his breech cloth, and he walks alone up to the top of the mountain, holding his pipe in front of him, and carrying a buffalo robe which he will use at night. As he walks, he cries continually.

"Wakan Tanka, unshimala ye oyate wani wachin cha!" (Great Spirit, be merciful to me that my people may live!)

Entering the sacred place, the "lamenter" goes directly to the center pole, where he faces west, and holding up his pipe with both hands he continues to cry. Then walking very slowly he goes to the pole at the west, where he offers up the same prayer, and then returns to the center. In the same manner he goes to the poles at the north, east, and south, always returning to the center each time. Then he raises his pipe to the heavens, asking the winged ones and all the things to help him, then pointing the pipe stem to the Earth, asking the aid from all that grows upon our Mother.

The "lamenter" should do it all very slowly and in such a sacred manner that often he may take an hour or two to make one of these rounds. He can move in no other manner than this, which is the form of a cross, although he may linger at any one place as long as he wishes. This form has much power in it, for whenever we return to the center, we know that it is as if we are returning to Wakan Tanka, who is the center of everything. And although we may think that we are going away from Him, sooner or later we and all things must return to Him.

All day long this is what he does, praying constantly, either loud or silently to himself, for the Great Spirit is everywhere, and hears whatever is in our minds and hearts and it is not necessary to speak to Him in a loud voice.

He must be alert to recognize any messenger which the Great Spirit may send to him, for these people often come in the form of an animal, even one as small and as seemingly insignificant as a little ant. The "lamenter" should also notice if one of the little birds should come, or even perhaps a squirrel. At first the animals or winged ones may be wild, but soon they become tame, and the birds will sit on the poles, or even little ants or worms may crawl on the pipe. The most important of all the creatures are the wingeds, for they are nearest to the heavens, and are not bound to the earth as are the four-leggeds or the little crawling people. But all these people are important, for in their own way they are wise and they can teach us two-leggeds much, if we make ourselves humble before them.

In the evening the "lamenter" is very tired, for he may neither eat nor drink during the days that he cries for a vision. He may sleep on the bed of sage, leaning his head against the center pole, for even though he sleeps he is close to Wakan Tanka, and it is very often during sleep that the most powerful visions come to us. They are not merely dreams, for they are much more real and powerful and do not come from ourselves, but from Wakan Tanka.

The Thunder beings may come in the evenings, and although they are very terrifying, they bring much good, and they test our strength and endurance. They too help us to realize how really very small and insignificant we are compared to the great powers of Wakan Tanka.

All this the "lamenter" should do for the three or four days. At the end of this period the helpers come with their horses and take the "lamenter" with his pipe back to the camp, where he immediately enters the Inipi, which has already been made ready for him. The holy man and the other men enter the Inipi.

"You have sent a voice with your pipe to Wakan Tanka. This pipe is now very sacred, for the whole universe has seen it. So tell us the truth, and be sure that you make up nothing! Since you are about to put this pipe to your mouth, you should tell us nothing but the truth. The pipe is wakan and knows all things; you cannot fool it. Hechetu welo!"

The holy man now takes the tallow seal off the bowl of the pipe and lights the pipe. The "lamenter" tells of his experience, and after each time he says something of importance all the men in the lodge cry "Hi ye!" When he finishes his account, the holy man gives him the pipe, which he embraces, and it is then passed around the circle. More rocks are handed into the lodge, the door is closed, and the Inipi begins.

"O Wakan Tanka, You have established a relationship with this young man, and through this relationship he will bring strength to his people. We who are now sitting here represent all the people, and thus we all give thanks to You, O Wakan Tanka. We all raise our hands to You, and we thank You for this understanding and this relationship which You have given to us. Be merciful to us always! May this relationship exist until the very end!"


From The Sacred Pipe. Black Elk's Account of the Seven Rites of the Oglala Sioux,
recorded and edited by Joseph Epes Brown.


Hanblecheya is a time for fasting, praying, and literally crying for a sacred vision that will steer your life and help bring healing to your community. When you go off to do a vision quest, be whole-hearted, open-minded, brave, and very patient. The most important preparation is to be mindful of God's creation. Simply be mindful that this is a sacred creation. Everything has a spirit and everything can talk to you while you're out there all alone.

Gary Holy Bull, Profiles of Healing - Lakota Yuwipi Man



Lakota rites:
Nagi Gluhapi (The Keeping of the Soul)
Inipi (Rite of Purification)
Hanblecheyapi (Crying for a Vision)
Wiwanyag Wachipi (The Sun Dance)
Hunkapi (Making of Relatives)
Ishna Ta Awi Cha Lowan (Preparing for Womanhood)
Tapa Wanka Yap (Throwing of the Ball)

Other ceremonies

In concepts  ||  In natural beings
In dwellings  ||  In tools and objects

Complete list

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