Friday, April 07, 2006

Scholar's Paper Example: Steve Thorp


By Steve Thorp

It is my understanding, the Plenuerethic society requires a bibliography for information gathered. These teachings here have come to me from the experience of many nights inside a teepee, listening to the wisdom of my elders and the teachings shared from other relatives walking this “Red Road”. I am, for the better part repeating what has been shared with me. This is not a philosophy or doctrine. It is a discipline, a way of life to walk on this “Red Road”.

Dr. Richard Bangs Collier wrote in depth about the brain, the nervous system, and the body that protects it, as a complete system. It is my belief his conclusions were incomplete. He left out the most important part of each beings individual system, the fourth element or spirit. Everyone has a spirit. The indigenous people of this continent knew this from the beginning. It’s the belief of many of the nations of the North American continent every natural thing has a spirit, Earth, water, fire, air and so on The basis of this paper will address this issue, using the model of the medicine wheel.

The medicine wheel is divided into four equal parts, mental, physical, emotional and spiritual. The colors of the wheel are black, yellow, red and white. The colors of the wheel represent the four directions, the four stages of life, the four winds and the colors of the four nations. There are only four tribes on Mother Earth, red, black, yellow and white. (It’s my belief, there are really only two races, male and female.). This was the belief of the indigenous people’s great-grandfathers and their great-grandfathers and so on.

Throughout this writing, you will read of the circle of life, the sacred hoop or medicine wheel. However, at times these terms might have different connotations. For the purpose of this paper, they will all be used in reference to the circle of life, and maintaining the balance each of us needs in our own individual lives. The people then knew the circle has been and is a true sign of balance. It’s the way we keep in balance with the Creator, Mother Earth and ourselves. Whatever you may, happen to call, feel, or sense to be that force behind life, it is also the indigenous way to respect all belief systems. This way a Buddhist can sit in the same circle as Gentile, Jew or Muslim and be in harmony, not only with those around them, but in harmony with themselves as well. With this kind of mutual respect, there is no space for fundamentalist dogma. In a circle, there are no corners to hide. The circle allows us to keep a clean table between, creation, others and ourselves.

I spoke earlier of many nights sitting around a fire; it’s known as The Native American Church (NAC). The prayer services are usually held in a teepee, but during the wintertime, in the mid-west, and even here, when it’s cold, there are house meetings. After all, Lakota for home is teepee. I understand in the desert southwest open-air services are held; yet bound by strict protocol as if held in-doors or in a teepee,

The door to the teepee faces east, to greet the morning sun. On the west, side of the fireplace is a carefully fashioned, semi-circle mound of earth. At the apex of the two sided mound is engraved a fine line the full length of the semi-circle. This represents the road of life. At the western most point, or center of the half-moon lays a bed of sage on which the chief medicine sits. In reality, this half moon still represents a full-circle. The first quarter (southeast) of the moon (circle) is un-seen. It represents the time when we are still in the spirit nation. Our spirit has not been called up. Our feet have not yet touched Mother Earth. The second quarter (southwest) of the moon represents the time of our lives from birth to the present. The third quarter (northwest) represents the future, until it’s time to go back to the spirit nation, the fourth quarter (northeast).

At the end of the night, close to sunrise, women bring in the spiritual food. The colors of the wheel also represent the four sacred foods used in the NAC ceremony. The white is for the water spirit. Water is the happiest spirit of all four. It can fall from miles in the sky, and when it finally hits the ground, it dances. Water is vital to our survival. Our bodies are 90% water. We call it the water of life with respect, because we know water can also be the taker of life.

The color yellow is for corn, or the spirit(s) of the plants we eat. It represents the mind. Red represents berries, or the emotions. After a prayer service, the left over berries are usually the first thing the children go for. It’s no wonder they’re always jumping around laughing and happy.

The color black represents the meat, or the physical body. We give thanks to the spirit of the animal that gave its life that we can survive. After all our own body is the vehicle by which our mind, spirit and emotions get around. That is how we pray for one another, body, mind, spirit and soul, or mentally, physically, emotionally and spiritually, always remembering to take care of these parts of our lives.

I only spoke of the significance of the full circle of the moon, and the color of the foods and their significance in the Native American Church. In reality the service is many ceremonies combined, put together by the elders long ago. The way it was set up so long ago was meant that no one adds or takes anything from the ceremony it’s what ‘s called a generational fireplace. The ceremony is the same now as it was for great grand fathers’, great grandfather, and with following strict tradition, it will be that way for our great grandsons’, great grandsons and so on. This is what is meant when indigenous peoples refer to the traditional ways. Tradition brings repetition, repetition brings a constant, and a constant brings balance. After all, deep down that’s what any of us wants and needs in our lives-balance.


I will write about the sweat lodge ceremony, often referred to as the womb of Mother Earth. I will explain how the Lakota conduct a sweat. The door faces west to honor the sun-dancers. As with the teepee, one enters the door and turns left, always moving in a clock-wise direction. As with most everything native, there are four rounds. In the first round, the four elements are honored Fire, Water, Wind and Earth. We thank them for creation as it is, because without any one of these elements life would not be, as we know it. We heat 29 stones by fire, and use seven stones (Stone People, Elders or Ancient Ones) per round. The one remaining stone is left in the fireplace to honor the oldest of the four elements, fire.

There is ritual in even the way the stones are placed in the fireplace. First, we put down a bed of wood for the stones to rest on. The stones are not to touch the ground; there are seven primary stones. We set the first four down in the four directions starting in the west, again putting each stone down in a clock-wise direction then a stone is placed center, representing the center of the universe. The way the remaining two primary stones are placed determines whether the sweat will be for healing or purification. It all depends on what is requested. The sixth stone represents the chief or eagle, and the seventh stone, the great mystery. These first seven stones also represent the seven sacred directions North, South, East, West, Father Sky, Mother Earth and the Great Mystery. The next seven stones are placed in a fashion to complete the shape of a medicine wheel. Before placing the remaining 15 stones on the pile, a small amount of tobacco is placed on the original seven stones. Once the remaining 15 stones are in place, a ring of tobacco is sprinkled, clock-wise around the whole pile and crossed to form yet another medicine wheel. Split cedar is then placed, starting from the west going clock-wise, in the four directions again. When the stones are brought into the lodge, they are placed in the same order they were set up in the fireplace. The reason behind this is we are asking for help from the seven sacred directions.

The lodge, also called the womb of Mother Earth is a dome structure built with 17 willows, the same number as in a woman’s ribcage. Before the first door, or round, is started, we share water. We also share water before each consecutive round. Once the door is closed four waters are poured on the hot stones to open the round, then it is up to whoever is sitting behind the water to decide how much, or how little water is to be used. As I said before, the first round is to honor the elements. The second round is to honor our young people. The third round is to honor the women folk, and the forth round to honor our elders, and those who have gone on before. After the forth round over it is permitted to go out, but often times, the men will go in for what is called a spirit, or warriors round. Some might even call it the buffalo round. Instead of using a dipper to splash water on the stones, they’ll bring a full bucket and pour the whole thing. Mostly Sundance people go the fifth round, which brings me to the next topic, the Sundance and the pipe, or Chanupah.


Sundance is a rite of summer. The Sundance medicine originated with the Cheyenne and was passed to the Lakota. Each nation that conducts a Sundance has a story of origin of how the dance and the pipe came to the people. I would be willing to say every one of these stories involves The White Buffalo Calf Woman. I will quote verbatim the story, as written by my good friend Joseph Shields Jr. how the Chanupah came to the Lakota people.

“It is said, one summer so long ago nobody knows how long, the sun shone all the time but there was no game and the people starved. The chief of the Lakota sent two young men on foot to hunt. The men climbed a high hill to scan the whole country and there met a beautiful young woman wearing a white buckskin dress who floated as she walked. One man desired the woman and tried to touch her but was consumed by a vicious cloud and reduced to a pile of bones and snakes. The woman then instructed the other man to return to camp and erect a great lodge and assemble the people for her arrival. The other man returned and told the people the holy woman was coming. When she arrived, the woman pulled a sacred pipe from a bundle on her back and taught them how to use it to pray to Wakantanka. “With this holy pipe, you will walk like a living prayer,” she said. She told them that whenever they smoked the pipe they would be joined by all life in the cosmos. Before she left, she told the people she would return; and, as she walked away, she rolled over four times, first turning into a red and brown female buffalo calf, then a white one followed by a black one and then finally she rolled one more final time before disappearing.”

Since that time the Chanupah has been passed to many of the other original Americans, but this is how the pipe came to the Lakota. A person does not own a pipe. They take care of it for the all people, because the pipe belongs to everyone. To be a pipe carrier is a lifetime commitment to sacrifice of your self, that others will not have to suffer needlessly. Without dishonoring the Sundance all I’ll say about this sacred ceremony is; it’s a four-day spiritual fast without food or water, usually held in July or August in the high plains or in the mountains where the temperatures are sure to be well above 100 degrees.

The correlation between the three of these ceremonies is simple. It is about helping your self, and in turn enabling your self to help others. The easiest way to get out of your own junk is to help someone else get out of theirs I know this is counter to the me society we live in, but it sure makes life a lot less confusing in my world.

In conclusion: This is what I’ve come up with, after reading a number of Dr. Bangs essays, I really think he’s missed what I’ve been trying to put across – spirituality. Dr. Bangs has a great knowledge of human anatomy and physiology. He spares no words proving his points, about keeping good health to protect the body that, in turn, protects the brain. The good doctor is very elaborate on those points, almost to the point of analysis paralysis. What I am getting at is Dr. Bangs misses, ignores or purposely omits that part of each one of us that makes us unique – the human spirit. Its ones own personal spiritual health I have been getting at throughout this entire paper. For this reason, I quit writing about my own spirituality, because what works for me, might not work for you. What Dr. Bangs does get across is the power comes from within. We will not get it by polluting our bodies with drink or drugs. The best way I can put it myself is the same way a good friend at the tables told me, “Find something your comfortable with and run with it”.

Cited Works

  • Origins of the Pipe and the White Buffalo Calf Woman: Quoted verbatim from CD Inner cover;

Wahancanka Lakota Pipe and Ceremonial Songs; Performed by Joseph Shields, Jr. (Ihunktowan Dakota/Sicangu Lakota) 1998

Canyon Records Productions

4145 North 16th Street, Suite #6

Phoenix, Arizona 85016.


I’m a 46 year-old broke-down cement finisher, who supported an alcoholic tapeworm that lived the life of Riley for 30 years. I cleaned up four years ago and got into Human Services, with the thought that if I didn’t put my 30-year ordeal/experience to work helping others, then all I was doing was getting loaded and getting old for no reason at all. If, in the long run I’m able to help anyone, it will have been worth it.


Post a Comment

<< Home