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Awareness Magazine
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The Sacred Ceremonial Pipe

By Stan E. Hughes, aka Ha-Gue-A-Dees-Sas

(As published in Medicine Seeker, Northern Lights Press, Spring 2010)


Medicine Grizzly Bear Lake, Karuk shaman from northern California, found out through a frantic phone call from his wife that his young son, Wind Wolf, was deathly ill. Only six years old, yet this frail child’s fever was so high that he was convulsing and drifting back and forth into periods of unconsciousness.

The emergency room personnel at the local hospital could not determine the reason and worked frantically to keep his temperature in check while waiting for a specialist doctor to fly in from Seattle, Washington to diagnose the illness. They were gently packing him in and among mountains of ice bags.

The Medicine Man was in great fear for the life of his son. He prayed unceasingly and had a frightening vision of sorcerers and witch doctors digging up family burial grounds to burn human bones in a cave. He was convinced that this was a direct assault by evil spirits on the lineage of his wife, a traditional tribal leader and Indian doctor from the Yurok Tribe, also from northern California.

In times like these he needed the strength of a ‘high place’ and stronger power, so entreated me to drive him to the foothills of California’s Mt. Shasta. This massive monolith dominates the eastern horizon and is considered a ‘power center’ and an object of reverence and devotion to the local Native tribes. I honored his request without question.

We let his wife know our plan and headed into the moonlight. Bear wandered into the forest singing and chanting ancient sacred healing songs. I felt a deep stirring in my heart as the words and music wove themselves among the stones and trees. All of this was of the Earth.

He broke off his sonata and asked me in desperation, “Did you bring your pipe? The ‘spirits’ are telling me that I have to make smoke!”

“It’s in my medicine bag.” A Holy Man had given me an old and precious medicine pipe. It was just a grey stone bowl without a stem, but was deeply tobacco stained from ages of use in sacred ceremonies. I kept it wrapped in white deerskin and carried it in a rough hand spun wool purse Thomas Banyaca, the keeper of the Hopi prophecies, had given me some time earlier.

He loaded my pipe with tobacco, then resuming his song, walked back into the forest. I followed at a respectful distance and saw him as he climbed over a small rock ledge and scrambled down the adjacent hillside. Out of sight, I heard the most painful and heart-wrenching moan. In fear for his safety, I ran to the rocks and peered down into the moonlit depression. He was on his knees in the dry earth, hands apart, looking skyward in total anguish.

“Are you okay? What happened?”

“I broke your pipe in two!”

He held up a piece in each hand, tears streaming down his cheeks. “This is a terrible, terrible sign...”

I tried to console him: I could repair the pipe... I never used it anyway... It would be okay... It was an accident... A little Super Glue, and all would be just fine. My words fell on deaf ears as he held the shards against his chest and was lost in prayer.

“What?” Do you know what you’re saying?”

“The mountain said that she would accept the pipe and send her power to help Wind Wolf.”

I was flooded with mixed feelings. I did not deny the sincerity of his statement... but it was my pipe! More than that, it was a special gift from a very exalted person. Even if it was broken, it still had value to me as a precious artifact and collectible. Something to keep in the family.

“We have got to dig a hole and bury it...”

The ground was as hard as concrete. Years of northern California drought did not make the earth easy to work with... and a person does not necessarily have a pick and shovel in his vehicle. Thoughts raced through my mind: Would a jack handle work?

He began to kick at larger stones and the hard ground. “Find something to dig with!”

Despite misgivings, I turned in compliance.

“Wait! We’re okay. Look!”

Beneath a stone he had kicked over was a small opening; possibly a former tunnel entrance for a ground squirrel or an old unused snake hole. The pieces of my medicine pipe fit easily into the gap and could be pushed well below the level of the ground.

He covered the opening with dry earth, sprinkled tobacco on it as an offering, and then replaced the rock. He then stood up facing the Holy Mountain, lit the end of a piece of Icnish (Grizzly Bear root or Angelica), and sang his Mt. Shasta prayer song.

Within minutes, large dark clouds shaped like bears began to gather over the crest of the snow covered peak. Then lightning and thunder roared and seemed to be moving rapidly northward. Unsure of what exactly was going on, I felt regret knowing I would never have a pipe again and wondering what this had to do with the illness of his son anyway.

While we were on our prayer vigil, Wind Wolf’s fever broke and he was recovering in his hospital bed. Later, we found out from his mother that his fever broke the same instant my pipe was buried; and strangely, lightning and thunder and a driving hail storm raged for over an hour — but only over the area around the hospital!

I eventually resigned myself to the fact that one of the most important pieces of my Native American collection was languishing away in a hole somewhere in northern California. Months later I was having lunch with my spiritual advisor and wife of Medicine Grizzly Bear, Tela Starhawk Donohue, in a fast food restaurant.

Two Indian men came in: Tired looking, unkempt, and smelling of diesel fumes. I found out they had been riding a freight train in an effort to get to warm weather before the winter set in. I did feel some compassion for their plight, so when they returned, I struck up a short conversation with them, much to Tela’s discomfort.

As they turned toward the door, I asked if I could give them a ‘donation’ to help them as they continued their journey. They gratefully accepted the money and inquired if there was a mini-market nearby where they could buy some food for the road. The larger man turned back to me, and with soiled hands and dirt-filled nails, made a circular bridge with his fingers, reached over and held them near me, smiled, and said simply, “What goes around... comes around.”

I mulled over his comment, and wondered what that had to do with anything. I soon found out:

Later that year, in of all places a modern hotel room in the Chicago area, I received my pipe. During a conference, I met an Ah-oh-ze’ named Loren Woerpel (part Indian in Dakotah Sioux), and like me from the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. We naturally gravitated toward each other from the first moment. We were soon talking like brothers and sharing Native American justice issues. I did not realize how the loss of my pipe remained with me until that topic emerged as part of the conversation.

He invited me to join him in his room and when we sat on the floor, he unfolded a small buckskin blanket and placed two items wrapped in white leather on top. “I knew these were for you as soon as we chatted about your ceremonial pipe being broken,” he stated.

He motioned me to untie the leather pipe bags. In one was a rose and ivory-colored pipestone bowl, and in the other was a beaded and hand-carved wooden pipe stem. Two turtles facing each were crafted at the bowl end of the stem. It was truly a magnificent work of art.

“I made the pipe,” Loren commented. “In fact, I have three pipes and I knew I had to do something with this one. That’s why I brought it.” The bowl was carved and sanded smoothly and made of stone from the Pipestone National Monument in southwestern Minnesota. The stem was constructed and hollowed-out from a single tree branch, expertly handcrafted in every way. I was deeply touched by his gesture and vowed to honor the pipe for the rest of my life, before passing it on to my son at the appropriate time.

According to tradition, the next step for the pipe would be having it blessed and consecrated to the Creator which is a required and time-honored validation procedure. How could this be arranged? While attending another conference at the Warm Springs Indian Reservation in central Oregon, I was able to contact one of the Confederated Tribe’s Chiefs, Delvis Heath.

Early one morning, facing the rising sun, Chief Heath, a vital and energetic elder with a special spark in his eyes, blessed my pipe and presented it to the Great Spirit in his native language. When he concluded the ceremony, I inquired about what he had been saying.

He explained that if I mistreated or disrespected the pipe or done anything unacceptable out of ignorance, he asked the Creator to punish himself and not me. I was amazed by this statement and learned something very important about leadership that day. A true chief exists to serve his people and also stands first in line to take retribution and punishment for his people.

Not long after Chief Heath consecrated the ceremonial pipe, Medicine Grizzly Bear found out that I now had a new pipe. He displayed great joy after feeling deep regret that I had lost my first one. In ceremony, he made smoke with it for the first time and introduced it to the Sacred Directions, the Earth Mother, and Father Sky. He stared at the beautiful beadwork on the stem, and his eyes widened, “That is your signet! I have seen it in dreams!” I had no idea what that meant.

“Each person has a design unique only to him or her. The color combinations in the beadwork are the ones I have seen that represent you. This pipe was for you... before it was ever made.”

Stan E. Hughes, aka Ha-Gue-A-Dees-Sas (Seneca for “Man Seeking His People”), is a retired public school administrator. Although not enrolled in a federally-recognized tribe, both of his grandmothers were of Native American descent and his father considered himself an Ah-oh-ZE (half-breed) of the Blackfoot Nation.

Hughes was born among the Yakama Indians of Washington and grew up in the Black Hills of South Dakota, considered sacred by the Dakotah Sioux. Trained by traditional Shamans from northern California, he participated in the Rite of Passage to warrior status following a seven-day fast and vision quest in the Big Horn Mountains of Wyoming.

Stan Hughes will be offering presentations, book signings and workshops throughout the So. California area in 2011.

For more information, he may be reached at: Hughes6060@aol.com or through his publisher, Northern Lights Press at sammie@norlightspress.com, or visit: NorlightsPress.com