Authors: Frank Christopher Busch
he warriors of the Wolf clan woke up early the day of the ceremony and made their way to the sacred sweat lodge grounds. They set to work building the ceremonial fire, laying out logs in a bed, and stacking the forty-five grandfather rocks in a pyramid on top. They surrounded the rocks with twigs and small branches, then with larger logs. When the rocks were completely covered with wood so that none could be seen, they sprinkled tobacco on top of the pile while the senior Wolf warrior prayed. The younger warriors tended the fire, adding new logs when the old ones were consumed and the grandfather rocks became visible.
With the fire roaring, the people of
began to gather, walking around the fire so as not to be in the way of its keepers, but close enough to stay warm.
The sons of the Crane clan wore their finest shirts and charms around their necks and their hair braided with leather ties and bright white crane feathers. They warmed their hand drums around the fire, checking often that they were in tune. People prayed to the fire using a large wooden bowl placed on a small stone altar for that purpose. Some left gifts of tobacco, tea, or arrows at the foot of the altar for the firekeepers.
Painted Turtle Man arrived, by his side, four young men carrying his medicines and charms in various pouches, bags, and boxes. Those gathered greeted Painted Turtle Man warmly, presenting him with gifts of fur, polished stones, cut porcupine quills, and tobacco. The senior warriors shook his hand and called him
. Grandfather. Not so long ago they had looked at him as something of a nuisance, with scorn even, but not now.
A large warrior from the Deer clan called Many Fish approached Painted Turtle Man with a pouch of tobacco and asked to speak privately.
,” he said nervously. “I have a problem and I would like for you to pray for me in the ceremony today.”
“What is the nature of this problem?”
“It is very serious.”
“What is it?”
“I am having problemsâ¦with my wife.” Many Fish swallowed and looked away.
“That is very serious,” said Painted Turtle Man. “How can I help you?”
“I am afraid she is getting tired of me. Every time I come home I worry she will put my belongings outside the lodge. Sometimes, I don't even want to leave the lodge because of this.”
“That is not good,” said Painted Turtle Man shaking his head. “You live in the Crane lodge?”
“Your wife is Drifting Butterfly Woman?”
“Were those your children who came to the Bear lodge with a bag of wild rice?”
.” Many Fish straightened up a little.
“Well, that explains it, nephew. When a woman becomes a mother, her thoughts become occupied with her children. This can make us men feel as though we are being ignored.”
Many Fish looked down and nodded.
“I will pray for you today,” said Painted Turtle Man, holding out his hand to receive the tobacco. “But I don't think you need to be worried. Drifting Butterfly Woman needs you now more than ever. While she may be occupied with her children, she is counting on you to find food. This is the reason she chose you for her husband: you are a good provider.”
Many Fish shivered, though not from the cold. He handed Painted Turtle Man the pouch of tobacco, then hugged him quickly. “
,” he said.
,” replied Painted Turtle Man, patting the big man's back.
Young warriors pulling the clan matriarchs on toboggans began to arrive. Normally, they would have travelled by dog sled, but dogs were not allowed on ceremony grounds, which had to be kept clean. The young women arrived next, some pulled on toboggan by warriors trying to make a good impression. The Turtle clan arrived, and young men rushed over to help the women carrying water for the ceremony. One of the boys from the Deer clan offered assistance and was rejected by a particularly beautiful, older girl. Though his friends teased him, he showed no shame. Perhaps he would to try again another day, if she had still not chosen a husband.
Soaring Star Woman, matriarch of the Eagle clan and leader of the Circle of Clan Mothers, arrived, accompanied by the Eagle twins and Walking Moon Woman, matriarch of the Bear clan. Elevated by the Grey-Eyed magic, the four women glided rather than walked, landing just before the Holy Ground. Walking Moon Woman was not accustomed to flying in this manner, though she laughed easily as she set down clumsily beside the more practiced twins.
When all assembled had offered their tobacco to the fire, Brown Shield Man approached the matriarchs. “The grandfathers are almost ready,” he said.
“Give our thanks to the warriors of the Wolf clan,” answered Walking Moon Woman. “Here comes my grandson now.”
Blue Elk Man, his leg fully healed, pulled a toboggan carrying his wife and her sister, who held the baby in her arms. Brown Shield Man handed the large shoulder bone he had been using to tend the fire to one of his younger Wolf clan brothers and went to assist his wife and nephew. White Willow Woman, still moving slowly, was wearing a new dress and coat made from the gifted deer hides. The people of
cleared a narrow path for the Bear clan but tried to catch a glimpse of the new baby, who was sleeping peacefully.
The preparations had been made and all of the people of
had gathered. The sweat lodge ceremony to find the name of the newborn child was about to begin. As Painted Turtle Man took one last look around, the memory of the strung-up owl rushed to his mind. When he had informed Soaring Star Woman of what the Martens had found, she assured him the village would be safe. Not wanting his own doubts and fears to affect the proceedings, he forced the image away. The Red-Eye were not present in body. It would not be him who would invite them in, in spirit.
he grandfathers are almost ready,” announced Brown Shield Man.
Those who would be entering the lodge began to undress. The men stood around the fire wearing only a short wrap around their middles. They shivered now and then but would say nothing of the cold. The women wore plain doe hide dresses covering their bodies from just under their arms to just above their knees.
The small dome-shaped building was ready; the floor was covered with pine boughs for insulation and those were covered with soft, tanned hides. Inside, coloured strips of hide hung from the willow frame ribs, marking the four cardinal directions: red in the east, yellow in the south, black in the west, white in the north, and blue, the colour of spirit, in the centre. A shallow pit had been dug in the centre to hold the rocks.
“Have you filled the pipe?” Painted Turtle Man asked Soaring Spear Man.
,” the helper replied. This task should have been done by now, but Painted Turtle Man knew his helpers were still learning.
“It is time,” said Painted Turtle Man. After some frantic searching and fidgeting with the ropes, Soaring Spear Man dropped to his knees and assembled the pipe.
Painted Turtle Man joined him, placing a hand on his shoulder. “You are doing well. Don't be nervous.”
“Pray as you fill the pipe,” instructed Painted Turtle Man. “Offer thanks to the four directions as you place the tobacco. Try not to pack it too tight, or it will be hard to smoke.”
Satisfied everything was in order, Painted Turtle Man nodded to Soaring Star Woman. As the ceremony sponsor, she crawled into the sweat lodge first. Her achy joints rebelled as she maneuvered herself into the sweat lodge on all fours. Walking Moon Woman entered next.
Singing Doe moved toward the sweat lodge door, but the Eagle twins made to enter first, creating an awkward moment. But Singing Doe would not submit to the twins' subtle bullying. “It's your turn, little one,” she said to the babe in her arms. All of the
knew that children, especially infants, were first in all things. The clan matriarchs had entered before the baby only to prepare the way. Singing Doe and the baby entered, taking their place in the west side between the two matriarchs.
The Eagle twins entered next, taking a lot of time to get settled, moving hides around and fussing. The rest of the women who followed had to adjust themselves around them to take up their places. When all the women were seated and comfortable, Soaring Star Woman said, “Painted Turtle Man, we are ready for the men now.”
Painted Turtle Man crawled all the way around the sweat lodge, passing between the women and the centre pit. The other men took their places as assigned or sat on the northern hemisphere, as was customary. Brown Shield Man was the last to enter, taking his place between the main entrance and the pit. He tried to put forward a brave face, managing only an awkward smile. His mind was aware of the responsibility before him.
When everyone was settled, the helpers began to distribute the sacred objects, handing them in so they could be passed from person to person until reaching their owner. First, the Eagle fan for Soaring Star Woman. Next, the Crane clan singers' four drums. Then a small pair of four-point deer antlers for Brown Shield Man. Finally, more rattles, some made of buffalo horn, some of rawhide with moonstone, as well as deer hoof chimes. Singing Doe used the turtle shell rattle on behalf of her infant nephew.
“Pipe!” said Soaring Spear Man, holding the red stone pipe carved with a bear cub hugging the bowl. As each person took the pipe, they touched it to each shoulder and whispered their prayers before passing it to the person on their left. When it finally reached Painted Turtle Man, he performed the same motion and set the pipe on a small hide laid out in front of him next to a braid of sweetgrass and an assortment of medicine pouches.
Painted Turtle Man looked up at Soaring Star Woman, who nodded her approval to him.
“Bring in the grandfathers!” Painted Turtle Man ordered and the firekeepers snapped to their duty, starting the sweat lodge ceremony. The Wolf clan warriors used long sticks to separate the wood from the rocks and roll the rocks out one by one. One of the older Wolf clan warriors began to pick up one of the red-hot rocks with deer antlers. As he held the grandfathers with the antlers, he looked to his younger brother holding a pine bough.
“You have to brush them quickly so the branch won't catch fire,” the older warrior whispered.
The first grandfather rock was brought to the main doorway and set down in front of Brown Shield Man, who picked it up with his antlers and set it in the centre of the pit.
The participants greeted the red-hot rock as they would every grandfather brought in. “
! Welcome, grandfathers!”
Walking Moon Woman took a pinch of ground cedar from a pouch and sprinkled it on the rock. The red-hot rock sparkled, and the sweat lodge filled with the sweet smell of burning cedar.
“Place the next four grandfathers in the four directions,” said Painted Turtle Man.
When Brown Shield Man placed the next four in position, Painted Turtle Man sprinkled tobacco over them and then touched the end of his braid of sweetgrass to one of the red-hot rocks. It began to smoke and the smell of burning sweetgrass mingled with the smell of cedar and tobacco.
“I will now light the pipe,” announced Painted Turtle Man. As he touched the smouldering ember at the end of the sweetgrass braid to the bowl of his pipe, the Crane clan singers raised their drums and sang the pipe song. The others shook their rattles in time with the beat, while Walking Moon Woman continued to sprinkle bits of cedar on the new grandfather rocks as they were brought in. The bits of cedar crackled and danced into flame. As she acknowledged the grandfathers, a calm and comforting energy filled the sweat lodge.
Painted Turtle Man smoked the pipe, offering it to the four directions and then to Father Sky, Mother Earth, and the Spirit Within. When the last of the grandfather rocks was brought in, the helpers prepared the water vesselâa hollowed log tied with a hide drooped on the inside and tied off around the middle. The helpers poured water from the hide bags brought by the Turtle clan women into the vessel and placed a carved wooden ladle inside. When the song was complete and Painted Turtle Man finished smoking the peace pipe, he handed it back to Soaring Spear Man with an approving nod. The youth tried not to smile as he ran off to clean it.
“Bring the water!” said Painted Turtle Man. He set the prepared water vessel before the pit. “
,” he said casually. “Close the door.”
The helpers outside pulled down the hides to cover the lodge completely and then stomped around the edges to ensure no light could get in. The lodge was dark except for the red glow of the grandfather rocks.
“Love us, Loving Spirit,” prayed Painted Turtle Man as he sprinkled a mixture of ground herbs over the rocks. They sparkled brightly as though in answer to the medicine carrier's words. The people inside the lodge could feel a vibration in the air as the Grey-Eye magic began to add its power to the ancient ceremony.
“I will offer water-medicine to the grandfathers four times,” said Painted Turtle Man. He splashed the water on the rocks and a searing hiss came from the centre pit. The red glow of the rocks diminished as the water cooled them slightly. The steam rose suddenly and followed the dome-shaped lodge down over the participants.
“Love us, Loving Spirit!” they chanted every time the water was poured.
When Painted Turtle Man had finished, the sound of the water bubbling and hissing could be heard from the base of the pit.
,” Painted Turtle Man began, “the name you have honoured me with is Painted Turtle Man and I am of the Bear clan.”
As he spoke a horizontal disk of smoky blue light began to glow and hover above the grandfather rocks. A small painted turtle flew out of the light and circled the lodge. A bear's roar sounded and a large shadow passed around the back of the lodge. Everyone felt hot breath snuffling the air behind their necks.
“We, the people of
, seek your guidance,” Painted Turtle Man added. There was a flash of white light and the small turtle disappeared.
“Calling-in song,” he announced. The singers began the drum beat and sang the welcome song, inviting the ancestral spirits to join the ceremony. One by one the seven sacred animals appeared and made themselves known.
Painted Turtle Man poured water over the hot rocks, once for each animal as it entered, and the lodge filled with hot steam. The participants struggled to keep their eyes open against the searing hot steam. When the song ended, the sacred animals dissipated into the blue mist.
“The spirits are with us,” said Painted Turtle Man and the others murmured their acknowledgement.
“Burn tobacco!” one of the young women yelled.
!” came the acknowledgement from outside. The firekeepers threw a pinch of tobacco into the fire to acknowledge special prayers, visions, or suffering occurring within the sweat lodge.
of the eastern doorway,” Painted Turtle Man prayed. “We seek your guidance and blessing. We give thanks and praise for the gifts you have given us. We acknowledge the blessing of new life you have bestowed upon the people of
“Burn tobacco!” a man's voice called.
!” came a muffled voice from outside.
Painted Turtle Man invited someone from the eastern doorway to speak. Soaring Star Woman's great-grandson, Laughing Cloud Boy, thanked the
for giving him life as the blue haze flashed.
“Burn tobacco!” his mother shouted when he was finished.
Painted Turtle Man took over, thanking the young warrior and inviting the
to acknowledge the young brave.
Something began to stir in the smoky blue disk in the centre of the lodge. A large bird's head began to protrude beak first and the disk became a swirling cloud that flashed with lightning. It looked like a very large eagle, but when it had fully emerged it turned out to be a small Thunderbird. It screeched with crackling thunder and erupted with brilliant flashes of white light.
“Thunderbird song!” yelled Painted Turtle Man, barely audible over the thunder.
The deep boom of an elk hide drum echoed as one of the older Crane clan singers took up the song. The Thunderbird jerked and twitched its head curiously at the sound of the song. It was a powerful omen and Painted Turtle Man splashed the grandfather rocks continuously in a steady and gentle rhythm in perfect time with the drums.
As the song neared its end, the little Thunderbird began to retract its head into the cloud and the thunder and lightning subsided. The cloud became a smoky blue disk again.
“All my relations!
, open the door!” yelled Painted Turtle Man.
The firekeepers pulled up the hides covering the main doorway and steam poured out of the lodge.
The participants' heads and bodies gave off wisps of steam as they chattered excitedly about the first round of the ceremony and what they thought the omen meant. Brown Shield Man moved the rocks around with his antlers, occasionally splashing hot water here and there. He gathered them into a round, flat bed as he had seen others do at previous ceremonies. When the pit was ready, fourteen more red-hot grandfather rocks were brought in.
, close the door,” said Painted Turtle Man. Again, the firekeepers lowered the hides and stomped them flat from the outside.