IG’s Peace Blog

Peace and its many aspects

Something about Native American peace pipes (calumet)

All of us have probably seen some Hollywood images of “Indians” smoking “peace pipes”, and passing them around in a ritualistic context.  I guess we all know better than to put too much stock in what Hollywood shows us of traditional cultures (Tarzan comes to mind in this regard :-)).    In fact, “peace pipe” may not even be the right name for these ritual objects, and the term of French origin, calumet, is thought by many to be more accurate.

I found an interesting discussion of the calumet here (though I cannot vouch for the accuracy of the account–I’m learning and pretend to no special expertise in this field).  Here are a few passages for reflection:

“The clay pipe represents the clay body of the human (“Adam” means “red earth” in Aramaic), within which is contained the burning ember of life (i.e., the Breath Form or “living soul”). As one smokes, the thoughts and prayers of the communicant are carried heavenward in the smoke. The joint act of sharing the pipe was considered a common bond, or communion, among those who smoked.

In some respects, the use of the pipe is the Indian counterpart to the Christian concept of Holy Communion, wherein one takes the bread or wafer into one’s mouth, and the eating thereof is said to be partaking of the “body of Christ.” Similarly, the Indian takes the smoke into his body as a spiritual aid. The wafting, rising smoke of the pipe”

The author also describes the mythic origin of the pipe among the Sioux:

“According to Sioux ontology, the sacred pipe was brought to the Sioux Nation by White Buffalo Woman. She appeared upon the prairie and instructed two young men she met to return to their tribe and tell of her coming. When she arrived at the tribal encampment, she met with the elders and ceremoniously presented to them the sacred calumet (as the pipe is more properly known). She explained to them the meaning and use of the calumet, saying:

With this sacred pipe you will walk upon the Earth; for the Earth is your Grandmother and Mother, and She is sacred. Every step that is taken upon Her should be as a prayer. The bowl of this pipe is of red stone; it is the Earth. Carved in the stone and facing the center is this buffalo calf who represents all the four-leggeds (the animals) who live upon your Mother. The stem of the pipe is of wood, and this represents all that grows upon the Earth. And these twelve feathers which hang here where the stem fits into the bowl are from Wanbli Galeshka, the Spotted Eagle, and they represent the eagle and all the wingeds of the air. All these people, and all the things of the Universe, are joined to you who smoke the pipe – all send their voices to Wakan-Tanka, the Great Spirit. When you pray with this pipe, you pray for and with everything.”

The elders listened intently and followed her instructions, and as she left the tipi, the mysterious woman exclaimed: “Behold this pipe! Always remember how sacred it is, and treat it as such, for it will take you to the end. Remember, in me there are four ages. I am leaving now, but I shall look back upon your people in every age, and at the end I shall return.”” As she walked away, across the prairie, she turned into a buffalo, and, bowing to each of the four quarters of the universe, disappeared.”

The peace pipe/calumet, is a powerful symbol of reconciliation:  reconciliation among humans, between humans and the elements and between humans and that which transcends them.  There is much here that should be preserved since it speaks to the enduring need to see the fundamental unity in apparently discordant forces.


May 24, 2009 - Posted by | Uncategorized | , , ,

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