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The Rules of Tobacco
Cosmos & Consciousness by Ronald Thomas West, Bookmark 3


The ancient native world was separated into what I will call the ‘heavy’ (when the women sent their men to learn, to be healed, to war, the hunt, to council and to perform ceremony) and the ‘serene’ (which is supposed to be everything else.) Tobacco is central to the ‘heavy.’

Modern people seem to think they can own a native person of knowledge (get what they want) by giving tobacco when in fact in the old way, the person you give tobacco to, actually owns you. Lets’ do a hypothetical circumstance with healing, learning or ceremony employing the old rules, as I have both witnessed or participated in, many times, here is example of seeking a healer:

In the old way, when approaching a person of knowledge/healer (man or woman, if a woman is the healer you employ a woman’s pipe you will not smoke with her if you are a man, this is set in stone, if a woman recruiting a male, the reverse is generally but not always true), you bring certain gifts, typically ‘smudge’, a blanket, prints (uncut cloth) of specified color(s) and you have to ‘catch’ them. If you can catch them (find them, if they know you are coming, it is perfectly permissible to hide from you), they will sit and you must kneel and plead your case. To initiate the relationship of healing, ceremony or learning, et cetera, the prints are to acknowledge ‘spirit’ and the blanket is about ceremonial respect for the earth, or ‘sitting on the ground.’ This must be acknowledged with gifts. The tobacco itself is communion and the ‘smudge’ (typically sweetgrass, proper cedar or a special pine) is communicating through spirit.

If the healer accepts (they are not required to) the pipe you have pointed at them, wedged into the blanket and prints, they OWN YOUR LIFE. You have already failed in your own knowledge to solve the problem by this time and this is why you seek out the healer. The healer will perhaps give physical remedies (especially if a medicine woman, less typically a man), and look at your life, make some changes and return it to you with a new rule or set of rules (the anthropologists might call these ‘taboos’ but they really don’t have a clue.) And you MUST live this, to honor what you have set out to do. This same ceremonial surrender is required to initiate finding a teacher, a trained ceremonial sponsor or person (for the duration of the ceremony beginning with the ‘acceptance’) and much more.

What you see today, simply handing tobacco to someone, to get what you want, is patent bs.

How this came about is likely mixing up the ‘giving tobacco’ ceremony (utilizing the pipe) with the sincere native ‘thank you’ gift of tobacco to someone you felt grateful to for some reason. All that said, if you had example of someone come in looking for an elder, perhaps to ask advice, you might see something like this: an old woman in a room apart, talking one on one, alone except for the one other person. A new arrival might ask ‘are they smoking’ which is an inquiry into whether they are in deep discussion or ‘council.’ It is a figure of speech alluding to more formal proceeding on a larger scale of ceremony. If the answer is ‘yes’, they will not invade.

Maybe that person only brought tobacco. This would be like ‘thanks in advance’ and is only permissible within extended family or intimate associations with close relationship of longstanding and does not apply to interaction as pertains to formal learning, ceremony and healing.

And there is so much more… things are not as they were and ‘traditional’ in the modern day is a complete misapprehension of reality in too many cases to count. If by chance you know how to submit yourself to women and are culturally in contact with some strict old ladies who are willing to kick your butt until you can get it right, count your blessings… because you might become a real Indian in authentic sense of ‘traditional’

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