Lakota Rites - Nagi Gluhapi

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Lakota Rites

Nagi Gluhapi
(The Keeping of the Soul)


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It is through this rite that we purify the souls of our dead, and that love for one another is increased.  By keeping a soul according to the proper rites, as given to us by the White Buffalo Maiden, one so purifies it that it and the Spirit become one, and it is thus able to return to the "place" where it was born Wakan Tanka and need not wander about the earth as is the case with the souls of bad people. Further, the keeping of a soul helps us to remember death and also Wakan Tanka, who is above all dying.

Whenever a soul is kept, many of the nation go to its tipi to pray, and on the day that the soul is released all the people gather and send their voices to Wakan Tanka through the soul which is to travel upon His sacred path.

A lock of hair from a departed person is taken.

"O Wakan Tanka, behold us! We will keep the soul of this person so that our Mother Earth will bear fruit and so that our children will walk the path of life in a sacred manner."

The lock is held over the smoke of burning sweetgrass to purify it.

"Behold, o soul! Where you dwell upon this earth will be a sacred place. This center will cause the people to be as wakan as you are. Our grandchildren will now walk the path of life with pure hearts and firm steps!

My relatives, we shall gain great knowledge from this soul which has been purified. Be good to it and love it, for it is wakan. May this help us to remember that all the fruits of the wingeds, the two-leggeds, and the four-leggeds, are really the gifts of Wakan Tanka. They are all wakan and should be treated as such!"

After purifying the lock of hair in the smoke, it is wrapped in a piece of sacred buckskin, and this bundle is kept at a special place in the tipi. The Sacred Pipe is then lighted and smoked, and is passed sun-wise around the circle. 

"Remember this, my relatives: that the power of this pure soul will be with you as you walk, for it too is the fruit of Mother Earth. It is a seed, planted in your center, which in time will grow in your hearts, and cause our generations to walk in a wakan manner.

Help us, o Wakan Tanka, to walk the red path with firm steps. May we who are Your people, stand in a wakan manner, pleasing to You! Give us the strength which comes from an understanding of Your powers! Because You have made Your will known to us, we will walk the path of life in holiness, bearing the love and knowledge of You in our hearts! For this and for everything we give thanks!"

He who keeps the soul of a person should never fight, or even use a knife, no matter for what purpose. He must be in prayer all the time, and must be an example to his people in everything. The people should love and honor this holy man, frequently bringing him food and gifts, and the keeper of the soul should in turn offer his pipe very often to Wakan Tanka for the good of the nation.

"Keeper of the Soul, your hands are wakan; treat them as such! And your eyes are wakan; when you see your relatives and all things, see them in a sacred manner! Your mouth is wakan, and every word you say should reflect this holy state in which you are now living. You should raise your head often, looking up into the heavens. Look after this soul all the time, for through this you will always remember Wakan Tanka. From this day on you will be wakan, and as I have taught you, so you too will now be able to teach others. It is indeed so. Hechetu welo!"

The soul is thus kept usually about one year. When the day to release the soul arrives, the helpers make a large ceremonial lodge and cover the earth with sacred sage. Kinnikinnik is smoked. The wife of the keeper of the soul then goes to her tipi, crying as she walks, picks up the sacred bundle, and returns to the lodge, where she stands in front of the keeper of the sacred pipe, placing the bundle in his hands.

"You, o Soul, were with your people, but soon you will leave. Today is your day, and it is wakan. Today your Father, Wakan Tanka, is bending down to see you. All your people have arrived to be with you. All your relatives love you, and have taken good care of you. Behold! This is the sacred day! The time has now come!

There will be four virgins who will always carry with them the power of these rites. This is your day. It is one of joy, for much Light has come to our people. All that has been with you in the past is here with you today. Hechetu welo!"

A round circle is scraped on the ground to represent a buffalo wallow, and on this the sacred bundle is placed. Another round place is then made from the earth taken from the wallow, upon which a cross is drawn from west to east and from north to south. The pipe is placed upon this cross, with its stem to the west and the bowl to the east. Then the sacred bundle is placed beside the pipe, at the bottom of the good red road, for this is the place to which the soul will soon journey.

The sacred pipe is then smoked once more, and passed around sun-wise. After this, the keeper begins to cry, and soon all the people are crying. A willow post as high as a man, has been set up. Around the top of it a piece of buckskin is tied, upon which a face has been painted. On top of this face there is a war bonnet, and around the post there has been placed a buffalo robe. This figure represents the soul, and leaning against him are all his possessions. Food is brought into the lodge. A small hole is dug at the foot of the soul post, and in it part of the food is placed.

"O Soul, your relatives have brought you this food which you will soon eat, and by this act, goodness will spread among the people."

The hole is then covered over with dirt, for the soul has finished its last meal. The four virgins then eat and drink the rest of the food. The keeper of the pipe then walks to the south, and picking up the soul bundle, says to it:

"Grandchild, you are about to leave on a great journey. All your relatives have loved you. Soon they will be happy."

The keeper of the soul then embraces the sacred bundle, after which the keeper of the pipe says to him:

"You loved your relative, and you have kept him at the center of our people's hoop. As you have been good to this your loved one, so be good to all other people! The sacred influence of you loved one's soul will be upon the people. It is a tree that will always bloom."

He then walks around to the north, and as he touches each virgin with the sacred bundle, he says:

"The tree which was selected to be at the center of your sacred hoop is this! May it always flourish and bloom in a wakan manner!"

Then, holding the bundle up towards the heavens as he walks towards the door of the lodge, he cries four times:

"Always look back upon your people, that they may walk the sacred path with firm steps!"

The moment the bundle passes out of the lodge, the soul is released. It has departed on the spirit trail leading to Wakan Tanka. Once the soul has left the bundle containing the lock of hair it is no longer wakan, but it may be kept by the family, if they wish.

With this the rite is finished, and then the people all over the camp are happy and rejoice, and they rush up to touch the four virgins who are lila wakan, and who will always bear with them this great influence, bringing great strength to the people. Gifts are given out to the poor and unfortunate ones, and everywhere there is feasting and rejoicing. It is indeed a good day. Hechetu welo!

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


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

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