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White Buffalo Calf Woman
Original artwork by
Rogue Guirey Simpson, 1992
Image courtesy of
White Buffalo Calf Woman is also referred to in some legends as White Buffalo Woman.
The legend of White Buffalo Calf Woman is the central myth of the Lakota Sioux. It is she who brought to them the Sacred Peace Pipe and the Seven Sacred Rituals.
White Buffalo Calf Woman's legend is about 2,000 years old. This legend is central to the religions of many Native American peoples. Several similar versions of the legend of White Buffalo Calf Woman are told.
The version of the legend presented below is based primarily on the story from several web pages as told by Joseph Chasing Horse, who is the Traditional Leader of the Lakota Sioux Nation.
There are many versions of White Buffalo Calf Woman's legend.
I have chosen to include the version found at this link:
Two handsome young warriors were out hunting buffalo when a white buffalo calf appeared. As the calf approached she changed into a beautiful young woman. This is how she came to be known as the White Buffalo Calf Woman. One of the young warriors desired her because of her beauty and offended her with his lustful thoughts. White Buffalo Calf Woman asked him to approach her, and as he did so, a fog covered him. When the fog went away all, that was left was the bones of the warrior. White Buffalo Calf Woman told the other warrior to go to his people, telling them she would return, bringing a sacred bundle with her.
She returned as she had promised, again appearing as a white buffalo calf, this time descending on a cloud. Stepping down, she rolled over on the ground, changing from white to black, then yellow, then red, representing all the peoples of the world. When she finished rolling and stood she was once again the beautiful woman, carrying a bundle. White Buffalo Calf Woman remained with the people for four days and during that time she taught them sacred songs and dances and ceremonies, including the first of the Seven Sacred Rites.
She charged the people to be responsible for the Earth Mother and to take care of her, and also to ever keep in mind that the children are the future.
When White Buffalo Calf Woman left, she did so in the same manner she had arrived. She left with the people the sacred bundle, containing the White Buffalo Calf pipe. She said that one day she would return for the sacred pipe, and she would bring peace to the world.
White Buffalo Calf Woman Brings the Peace Pipe
“It was told that the next time there is chaos and disparity, she would return again. She said she would return as a White Buffalo Calf. Some believe she already has.”
Words of Chief Arvol Looking Horse,
19th Generation Keeper of the
Sacred White Buffalo Calf Pipe
of the Lakota Nation
A sacred white buffalo calf was born on August 20, 1994. This was not an albino but a white buffalo, and was the first white buffalo known to be born since 1933. The calf was named Miracle. The Sioux consider the birth of this white buffalo an omen that White Buffalo Calf Woman is soon to return. Source for this information is http://whitebuffalomiracle.homestead.com/.
Image Courtesy Of
According to Priestess Brandi Auset in The Goddess Guide: Exploring the Attributes and Correspondences of the Divine Feminine, White Buffalo Calf Woman is the Mother Goddess of the Native American peoples. She is known by many Native Americans, not just the Lakota Sioux. She brought to the people the knowledge of agriculture and how to survive, as well as the sacred rituals that would enrich their lives. [Page 78].
White Buffalo Calf Woman is the origin source of the Sioux Peace Pipe, according to Margo Edmonds and Ella E. Clark, in Voices of the Winds - Native American Legends [pages 216 - 218]. In a longer version of the legend found in these pages, we learn that Bull Walking Upright is the Chief who received the Sacred Bundle containing the Peace Pipe from White Buffalo Calf Woman. When Bull Walking Upright got old and feeble, he passed the Sacred Bundle and the wisdom of White Buffalo Calf Woman on to a man named Sunrise, and in a similar way the Sacred Bundle has been passed from generation to generation and is still done so by the present day Sioux. White Buffalo Calf Woman had told Bull Walking Upright, "As long as the pipe is used, your people will live and will be happy. As soon as it is forgotten, your people will perish."
Although the Sioux are a warrior tribe and one of their proverbs states that "Woman shall not walk before man" according to Richard Erdoes and Alfonso Ortiz in American Indian Myths and Legends, the White Buffalo Woman is nonetheless the central figure of their mythology. Medicine Man Crow Dog explains, "This holy woman brought the sacred buffalo calf peace pipe to the Sioux. There could be no Indians without it. Before she came the people didn't know how to live. They knew nothing. The Buffalo Woman put her sacred mind into their minds. [pages 47 and 48]." So White Buffalo Calf Woman is seen by some as a creation myth.
We are given a description of White Buffalo Calf Woman's clothing in Teach Yourself Native American Myths by Steve Eddy. She was wearing shining white buckskins that were "wonderfully decorated with sacred designs in rainbow colored porcupine quills [page 41]." Eddy goes on to say that she carried a bundle on her back and a fan of sage in her hands. Her hair was jet black and loose, except for a single lock tied with buffalo fur. Her eyes, full of power and light, transfixed the young men who were out hunting when they saw her. In this version of the myth, chief Standing Hollow Horn is the Chief that receives the bundle with the peace pipe from White Buffalo Calf Woman. She tells the chief, "With this pipe you will walk on the earth, which is your grandmother and your mother. The earth is sacred and so is every step you take on her [Page 42]."
Copyright Mary Selfridge, Selfridge Gallery
We are given an explanation of the symbolism of the peace pipe on pages 42 and 43. The bowl is made of red stone representing the earth. Carved into it is the buffalo calf which represents all the four-leggeds. The wooden stem stands for all that grows on the earth. The spotted eagle feathers represent all the winged creatures. White Buffalo Calf Woman goes on to tell the chief that all these living things are the children of Mother Earth, that all are joined as one family, and smoking the pipe will remind the people of this. She charges, "Treat this pipe and the earth with respect and your people will increase and prosper [page 43]."
In this version of the myth there is also a small stone in the bundle given to the Chief. There are seven circles carved on the stone that represent the seven sacred rites in which the sacred pipe was to be used. White Buffalo Calf Woman taught them the Keeping of the Soul Rite and told them that they would learn the other six rituals as time went on.
In this version of the myth, when White Buffalo Calf Woman leaves the people, first she walked around the lodge in a sunwise direction. Then she walked a short distance, turned to face the people and sat down upon the earth. When she stood, the people were amazed to see that she had become a young red and brown buffalo calf. The calf walked a little ways, then lay down and rolled over, again looking back at the people. When she stood, she was now a white buffalo. The buffalo calf walked on, and when almost out of sight, lay down and rolled again, and when she stood she was now a black buffalo. This buffalo bowed to the four directions and disappeared over a hill [page 43].
This information is from http://www.squidoo.com/lakota-sacred-rites
Keeping of the Soul
This is the ritual that was taught to the people by White Buffalo Calf Woman. She told the people that when they die they must be purified so that they can be united with the Great Spirit. It begins with a lock of hair from the deceased. This lock of hair was held over burning sweetgrass. It was then placed in a piece of sacred buckskin called the Soul Bundle. This Soul Bundle was kept by a relative of the deceased who vowed to live a harmonious life until the soul was released. It was usually kept for about a year. A buffalo hunt marked the beginning of the ceremony to release the soul. A special teepee was built and Sacred Tobacco was smoked in the Sacred Pipe. Special food was buried as an offering to the earth. The Soul Bundle was brought outside and as soon as it touched the air the soul was released. The soul traveled along the Spirit Path, the Milky Way, until it reached the woman who judged the souls, Maya OwiChapaha. If she pronounced the soul worthy it went to the right to join the Great Spirit. If not, it went to the left until it could become purified.
Inipi: The Rite of Purification
Inipi means "to live again" and is the Rite of Purification. It was done before any important activity to cleanse the spirit and the mind. It was done to help the Vision Seeker enter a state of humility and undergo "rebirth". It involved a sweat lodge which represented the "inner world". When the participants leave the sweat lodge they are said to be purified and impurities are left inside the lodge.
Also called Hanbleceya, or Crying for a Vision, this is held in an isolated place away from others and lasts until the vision is received, usually three to four days. All can cry for a vision but only the worthy receive one. The vision can be an actual vision of the seeker or a visit from an animal. This is done for the seeker to understand his or her place in the world. A peace pipe is used. Once the vision is received, the people return the seeker to the village where the vision is related to the people in the sweat lodge. It is interpreted by a medicine man.
This is a ritual of renewal and probably the most important of the rituals. It involved extreme pain to the warriors that went through it. It was held in June or July during the full moon. It involved being pierced in the side or the back with a bone, and having tethered to that bone a buffalo skull. The warriors were then tethered to a sacred tree or simply danced without being tethered, until they were successful in dancing the bone and the tethered skull from their bodies. Today's ritual has been modified and does not involve as much pain. There is still a sacred tree and much dancing. They dance all day and all night, after which they enter a sacred lodge where they are fed and they celebrate.
Hunkapi: The Making of Relatives
The women's faces were painted red and the men's faces painted red also with blue encircling the face and blue lines on the forehead. This face painting signified change. It indicated that the person had been reborn and was ready to take on the responsibilities of a new relationship. Past difficulties if any between the new relatives are forgotten. This ceremony mirrors the relationship between the people and the Great Spirit. It took several days.
Isnati Awicalowanpi: Coming of Age
This ceremony was for a young girl approaching puberty who is old enough to realize that what is happening to her, her menses, is a sacred thing. This ceremony prepares her to become a woman and bear children. It is performed by a Holy Man. Sweetgrass is burned. The pipe is smoked and prayers are offered to the Great Spirit. The girl is given buffalo meat to eat and cherries and water are given to her relatives. Following the ceremony family members give away possessions to other members of the tribe, and there is a great feast and celebration.
Tapa Wankaye: The Throwing of the Ball
This is the seventh of the sacred ceremonies and for the most part is no longer practiced today. It is a game with a ball and four goals at the four sacred directions, and four teams. There are ceremonial prayers at the beginning of the game and the peace pipe is used in these prayers. A young girl stands in the middle with the ball, and she throws the ball to each of the directional goals in turn. All those at each goal strive to catch the ball but of course only one can catch it. Then the ball is thrown straight up in the air and all try to catch it and again only one does. The four goals represent that the Great Spirit is everywhere. The ball being thrown up in the air represents power from the Great Spirit descending upon the people. The five people who have caught the ball are given precious gifts. They represent the few people that establish closeness to the Great Spirit although many will seek.
O holy One!
She who gave the Lakota their spiritual life!
Give me the ability
To live spiritually,
To honor the Great Spirit
And to know what is holy.
She who reduced to ashes and bones
He who would dishonor her,
Give me the ability
To live my life with respect for others,
To recognize dishonor and disrespect,
And to know what to do about them.
She who came as a Woman
And left as a White Buffalo Calf,
Give me the ability
To accept change in my life,
To change when I need to,
And to find the form that fits best.
She who gave the Lakota the Peace Pipe
To connect them to all of life,
Give me the ability
To connect to the world around me,
To know the spirits of all things,
And to live my life in peace with them.
She who brought to the Lakota
The Seven Sacred Rituals,
Give me the ability
To know and honor the Sacred in the world!
Original Invocation by Peace Whitehorse, 3-15-2011
Photograph by Peace Whitehorse, 4-17-2011
Teach Yourself Native American Myths, by Steve Eddy
American Indian Myths and Legends, by Richard Erdoes and Alfonso Ortiz
Voices Of The Winds - Native American Legends, by Margo Edmonds and Ella E. Clark
The Goddess Guide: Exploring the Attributes and Correspondences of the Divine Feminine, by Priestess Brandi Auset
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