Here is the story of White Buffalo Calf Woman and her lessons for us, as channeled to Ken Carey, one of many sacred teachings which can be read in The Return of the Bird Tribes
When the people saw White Buffalo Calf Woman approaching them across the prairie, they were amazed. They were expecting one of greater years. Yet she appeared no older than a maiden, as graceful as the grasses that waved around her in the twilight. Her face glowed with a radiance that spoke of wildflowers, watercress and the finest of herbs.
As she walked through the center of the village, many a warrior had first thoughts like those of their fallen brother. But they had heard by now the story of his fate and they practiced a discipline of thought that to some of them was new.
Barefoot, as she walked always upon the earth in her travels, White Buffalo Calf Woman entered the tepee of many skins, her white buckskin dress radiating the presence of her spirit. Without speaking a word she walked slowly in a circle around the fire that burned in the center of the tepee. As each of her sun-browned feet touched the sand, all who watched felt her prayerful reverence for the earth.
Seven times, slowly and in silence, she walked around the fire.
Few could look into her eyes. Those who dared saw pools of perfect blackness. So large were her pupils that those who looked into them could see the mirror of their face and the reflected flickering of the council fire. And they felt that they were looking at themselves, seeing themselves as they truly were – not exaggerating their strengths, nor ignoring their failings, but as they were, naked and revealed. Those who could not with honesty look into the eyes of White Buffalo Calf Woman did not look at all.
Even before she opened her mouth to speak, her bearing and example had given the people of the Lakota the greatest teaching those present had ever received. When she spoke at last, her voice was like the song of waters singing upon the rocks, like the song of prairie birds calling above the meadows. It reminded those who heard it of the wind that whispered around their tepees at night and whistled through the branches of the mountain pines.
“Seven times,” she said, “I have circled this fire in reverence and in silence. This fire symbolizes the love that burns forever in the heart of the Great Spirit. It is the fire that warms the heart of every buffalo, every buffalo calf, every prairie dog, every sage hen, every eagle and every human being. This tepee of many skins is your body. This fire that burns at your center is your love. The fire of your love is at times expressed sexually.”
Here she paused and looked deeply into the eyes of those around her. “There is a creative as well as a destructive way for this to occur. Passion that roars out of control is like a wild grass fire that destroys everything in its path. But tempered with wisdom, that same passion can fuel whole generations; it can warm a thousand lodges through a hundred snowy winters and give its power to your children and to your children’s young.
“Those, like the young man whose bones now lie beneath the prairie moonlight, who think first of the sexual expression of this fire and only second, if they think at all, of the spirit behind it, lock themselves into cycles of suffering and illusion – cycles that were unknown among our people a few short centuries ago, but which now are debilitating your nation, weakening your vitality and draining away your power.
“Creation does not take place where there is a scattering and dissipation of energies. Creation requires a gathering together and focusing of your power within a circle of commitment – like a seed, an egg, a womb or a marriage. If you would create and not destroy, you must remember always the Sacred Hoop. Consider wisely the ways in which you would use your power and then around those ways draw the sacred circle of commitment. In the warm atmosphere of that circle, the power of love builds and builds like a storm above the wet summer prairie until suddenly the circle can hold no more and explodes in the conception of the new.
“This fire is more powerful than any one of you,” White Buffalo Calf Woman said, pointing as she did to the flames dancing in the tepee’s center, “and the seven sacred circles I have walked around it represent the seven worlds that it has created. You here live in all seven of those worlds, but you are conscious only of one, the physical, the external. You have forgotten the inner worlds, the worlds of vision, the world from which I come and in which my kind lives. I am dressed like you people of the plains, but my tribe is not Lakota.” She paused a moment and slowly bent forward to pull a burning branch from the flames.
“My tribe is the Fire Bird,” she stated quietly.
“I am one of the Bird People, whose tribe once covered this Island of the Turtle. Do you remember the Winged Ones of heaven? The Fire Birds? The Thunder Tribes? How long has it been since you called to us in your councils?” She walked once slowly around the fire, holding up the burning branch and looking searchingly into their faces for an answer.
All eyes turned to the storytellers.
The story tellers were silent.
“Your people have forgotten,” White Buffalo Calf Woman continued, “that which is more precious than water. You have forgotten your connection with the Great Spirit. I have come,” she said, holding the burning branch above her, “with a fire from heaven to kindle again your memory of what has been, and to strengthen you for the times to come.”
She then placed the branch back into the fire and took from her side the skin pouch she carried. Many only now noticed this pouch for the first time. They were amazed at the beautiful beadwork and porcupine quill designs on its surface.
“In this pouch,” she said, “is a pipe. This pipe is sacred. I give it to you to help you remember the teachings that I bring. Always treat this pipe with respect. Carry it and the others you may make after its fashion only in bags of the finest skin, decorated by only the most reverent of hands.”
Not yet opening the skin pouch that contained the pipe, but placing it reverently near the fire and occasionally gesturing toward it, White Buffalo Calf Woman explained the use of the pipe.
“Fill this pipe with a sacred tobacco grown especially for the purpose. Draw your first breath of smoke from this pipe as a breath of gratitude to the Great Spirit, from whose breath you were first given life. Use the smoke of this pipe to represent your thoughts, prayers and aspirations. Send them upward with your exhalations to the Great One, Wakan Tanka, Grandfather of all. Each time you do this, pass the pipe slowly and reverently among those who may be gathered with you while each offers his first inhalation to the Great One above this world.
“Then with your second breath of the sacred tobacco, let your thoughts be of love and gratitude to your Mother, the earth. Give thanks for the grasses that clothe her breasts in prairies of flowing grain. Give thanks for the canopy of blue sky that she holds for you as a world in which to live. Give thanks to the storm clouds that bring rain to the prairies, filling creeks, water holes, springs and ponds. With reverence pass the pipe around the circle while each one takes a second breath of the sacred smoke and does the same.
“Let your third breath be for the four-footed and the feathered ones, for the buffalo and the prairie chickens, for the fishes in your rivers and for all the creatures of this good earth.
“And let your fourth breath be for the Ongwhehonwhe (The people true to reality, the real people, a term primarily used by the Iroguois but technically pertaining to all people in whom spirit is fully incarnate and in whom spirit/ego integration has occurred. The Original Beings. The Original Creators of Life). Let your prayer be that your tribe will always remain among them, and that one day the people who remain true to reality will include all the nations of the world.”
All this time she had not yet opened the pouch in which she held the pipe. Now, she slowly untied the leather thongs that bound it and lifting a corner, reached within to pull from the white skin pouch a pipe of red stone. The manner in which she raised this pipe for all to see spoke of such reverence that all within the great tepee grew still. Many in that moment found their hearts full. Tears glistened in many eyes.
“This sacred pipe,” spoke White Buffalo Calf Woman, “and every breath of sacred smoke you breathe through its stem will help you remember that every breath you take is sacred. The bowl of the pipe is made of red stone. It is in the shape of a circle. It symbolizes the Sacred Hoop, the sacred circle of giving and receiving, of in-breathing and out-breathing, in which all living things come to life through the power of the Great One.”
Asking for some tobacco, White Buffalo Calf Woman filled the pipe saying, “This tobacco I know was grown in your most fertile soil and given your most special care. It symbolizes the plant world, the moss upon the stones, the flowers, the herbs, the leaves of grass that cover the hillsides lest your mother lie naked in the sun. You, my people of the Lakota, are here to care for the earth. Your life is lit from the same fire that burns in the heart of the Great Spirit, Wakan Tanka.” So saying, she stuck a small twig into the fire until it burned brightly.
“Just as I light this individual twig from the great fire that burns in the center of this tepee, so each individual human being is a flame taken from the eternal fire of God’s love.”
Slowly she moved the flaming twig away from the central fire and held it up for all to see.
“This, your individual human life, like the single flame that burns upon this twig, is sufficient to light a great fire. As long as the love that burns within you is turned toward self-centered pursuits, it will remain tiny like this flame. Remaining tiny, it will bring you no joy. Eventually, in the swirling winds of spirit, it will be extinguished.
“But when you live in harmony with the Great Spirit, your flame of love is fanned by those same spirit winds. You are in love with the very purpose of Life! You light the fire of love in all you meet. You know the purpose of your walk through this world and you know why the Great One gave you a life flame: not so that you could keep your tiny flame to yourself, loving what you need alone, but so that you could give it away, and with the fire of your love bring consciousness to the earth.”
So saying, she held the burning twig until the flame was just above the red bowl of the pipe. To the pipe’s center she touched the fire, inhaling softly through the stem until the tobacco glowed brightly. The first wafts of the sacred smoke drifted through the room. It was as if those present were seeing a pipe lit for the first time.
“Just as the tobacco that burns within this pipe of earth represents the plant kingdom,” continued White Buffalo Calf Woman, “so this buffalo you see carved on the stone bowl of the pipe represents the four-legged creatures that share with you this sacred world, Etenoha.
“These twelve feathers hanging from the stem of the pipe have come from Wambli Galeshka, the spotted eagle. They are to remind you of the feathered races with whom you share the great circle of the sky; but they are also to remind you of your spirit selves, the Bird Tribes, the Winged Ones of heaven. As I now pass this pipe to you and you give thanks to the Great Spirit with your first breath of tobacco, let these feathers remind you of the spirit beings who come from the stars to brighten your human lives. Let these twelve sacred feathers draw your thoughts up and away from the gravity of petty and jealous passions. Let your thoughts fly, like these feathers have once flown on Wambli Galeshka, high above the world of the little self.
“Take this pipe. Give your thanks to the Great Spirit and pass the pipe to the others in our circle. Let your thoughts be lifted up to the Great One who comes now to stir your memories and to open the eyes of your story tellers.
“Every dawn that dawns red in your eastern sky, like the red bowl of this pipe, is the birth of a new and holy day. And just as the rising sun drives out the darkness, so the light that shines in the lives of all those who love, drives out the darkness of self-centeredness and dissolves the shadows that cause misfortune.
“Remember always to treat every creature as a sacred being: the people that live beyond the mountains, the winged ones of the air, the four-footed, the fishes that hide beneath the cool rocks in the silver streams and lakes, all of these are your sisters and your brothers. All are sacred parts in the body of the Great Spirit. Each one is holy.
“The most difficult part of this teaching may be to extend this respect to the people of your neighboring tribes. Remember, like you, they are sacred people, given a specific work to do in the great Being of Wakan Tanka. Their work is not your own, their tasks differ from yours, but the purpose you serve is the same. The sun that shines upon you does not see you as being so very different. In peace you must live side by side with these who are a different shade of the color red.
“For a people are coming soon who do not share the color of your skin, but who are white like the snow that falls in the winter months. With them will also come those of black skin. And those of yellow skin. And those of colors in between.
“Just as the colors blend together in rainbows that arch across the prairie when the storm is passed, so you must tell the white races, the black races and the yellow ones when they come that though you are of red skin, you are first and foremost people of the Great Spirit. Through peaceful blending with your neighboring tribes, be an inspiration to the wandering peoples. Help lead all races into the harmony of the rainbow.”
And then the pipe was passed, and she was silent until all those present had taken their first smoke. A second time the pipe was passed in reverence for the earth, a third for the four-footed and winged. A fourth time the pipe was passed in reverence for the many tribes of humankind, those in the distant past, those living now, and those yet to be. After all gathered in the great tepee had completed their fourth smoke, White Buffalo Calf Woman raised the pipe reverently before her for all to see.
“Carry your pipe with you always. Treat it as a sacred object. Honor all creatures and live your life in harmony with the Sacred Way of Balance of which every tree, every flower and every new day speaks. There will be many seasons when your heart will feel clear and pure as a mountain spring, and you will know the peace and joy of the Great Spirit. But should ever your steps falter, now or in the more troubled times to come, if ever you feel that you have stepped aside from the path of the Sacred Way, if ever your heart should feel heavy within you do not waste time in regret. I will give you a ceremony,” she said, filling the pipe once more and relighting it from the sacred fire, “a ceremony, which each of you can do in company with others, alone in your lodge, or out upon the prairie.
“Stop your activities. Find a rock upon which to sit. Asking for the Great Spirit’s guidance as I have taught you, unwrap your pipe, and let its red bowl remind you of the sacred road, the way of life, the red pathway of the sun. After you have smoked your smokes to the Great Spirit, to the earth, to the animals, and to the people who are true to reality, after you have given your thanks to the four directions, then take a fifth smoke asking for the guidance of the great winged beings of the spirit world.
“Ask the particular winged being of the spirit world that is closest to you to help you see the wisest path to follow. Ask that spirit to help you make the clearest choice, to help you know the steps you are to take upon the path that your deepest knowing would have you travel. In time you will come to know that spirit being as your own true self.
For now, just rest in the still place where the deepest knowing makes its lodge. This will put you in touch with what you may have forgotten in the hurry of life. This will allow the fire that burns within you to speak to you in plain and unbroken terms.
With this fifth smoke, the smoke that you offer to the invisible spirit that guides you, you will see that the spirit world is real, inhabited by wise and benevolent beings that watch over your trials and hardships, unable to offer you help or assistance until you ask them. With this smoke, ask the spirit beings that surround you to come into your life. Tell them you want to help them and the Great Spirit in their work and ask them how you can do this. By helping the Great Spirit in his work, you will help yourself far more than if you were merely concerned with your own affairs. Human beings are not fully happy or healthy until they serve the purpose for which God created them.
“Offer your sixth smoke to the six people whom you would most like to see especially blessed. A loved one whose spirit has flown from his body. A young man or woman who will soon be entering adulthood. The leader of a neighboring tribe whom you would like to see deepen in the ways of wisdom. Perhaps your own grandfathers, grandmothers or families. Each time you do this, choose the six people whom you would most like god to smile upon. For them, offer this smoke.”
She then explained how the sixth smoke could be taken in six smaller smokes, one for each of the people involved. While the pipe was being slowly passed, she drew circles in the sand to represent the souls of each of these six people. Then around them all, she drew one great circle to represent the blessing.
When all present had completed their sixth smoke, White Buffalo Calf Woman turned slowly to look at each one in turn. All within the tepee grew very still. Even the outside breezes came to a rest and atop the poles, the tepee flaps hung motionless. The seventh smoke she explained must always be taken in silence; for it was offered to the Great Being from which every being was drawn for that sacred mystery at the source of life, it was better she said to have no words.
After the seventh smoke was completed, such a unity was felt by those present in the great tepee of many skins, it seemed in that moment as if there was but one present. In perfect stillness, the silence spread like warm water, dissolving the last traces of disharmony from the heart of the Lakota.
For many moments White Buffalo Calf Woman was silent. When she spoke again, she compared her teachings to a tree, a tree that would flower in their understanding as they took these things to heart and applied them in their daily living. She told the Lakota how their individual human lives were like the individual leaves of a tree and how no tree has leaves so foolish as to fight among themselves.
“No people true to reality would be so blind,” she said, “as to let the individuals within their tribe contend with one another. Remember, there is no cause that justifies violence against another human being, save only in the last resort to protect yourself or family.
“For a long time,” she continued, “you will live beneath the sacred shade of this Tree of Understanding that I am planting in your consciousness this evening. And in the generations immediately following yours, the people of the Lakota will be united again in the Sacred Circle. Be true to that circle, my women of the buffalo, my braves, my people of the plains. Be true to these ways and hold steadfast in this truth. For a time will come like a dark storm from the east when the prairies shall be overrun with those who speak fast, perceive little and wield much power.
“The sacred Tree of Understanding that you will carry within you during these next few generations will be cut down in that storm. The tree will seem to die. The Sacred Hoop will wither until it is all but forgotten. A few will keep the light of truth burning within their hearts, but the light will grow dim and become, even in those, but a tiny ember.
“But that ember will remain. Quietly, it will remain. All but forgotten, it will hold still a small glow in the hearts of the gentle ones. Even when a strange and hurried nation covers these prairies, even when your Mother Earth is bought and sold and stolen as if she were no more than a handful of beads, even when roaring ships of magic stone fly with people in them across the skies, that ember will hold still its tiny glow. And know this, my people: a great fire can be ignited from a single, glowing ember!
“For when the storm is over, that ember will ignite a dawn brighter than any dawn before. A new tree will grow more glorious than this tree I leave with you now. With that new dawn, I will return. Under the shade of that new tree I will live with you. And with us will be gathered not only the tribes shaded red, but the white tribes from the North and black tribes from the South and the yellow tribes from the East. In harmony, the four races will live beneath the boughs of the new tree. The age that we will see together will be the best that has ever been. All that has been broken will be made whole. The Sacred Hoop will be mended. The game will be plentiful and the spirits of all creatures will rejoice in the harmony of a new and perfect order. The Great Spirit, the very Thunderbird, will be active within the races, living, breathing, creating through the peoples of the earth. Peace will come then to the nations, for the original creators of life, the Winged Ones of heaven will return.”