In the Indigenous culture, there are four sacred medicines: tobacco, cedar, sage, and sweetgrass. Of these, tobacco is the most widely known, but despite the broad usage of commercial-tobacco products, the general public knows very little about tobacco’s traditional uses and its importance to the Indigenous culture.
Indigenous peoples from around the world have used tobacco for hundreds of years as a means of connecting with the Creator, Mother Earth, the Spirits, and one another. Here, you’re going to learn everything you need to know to start having informed conversations on tobacco, including its traditional uses in ceremonies and for sacred rituals.
The Most Sacred Medicine
Tobacco is considered the most sacred of the Indigenous sacred medicines, used in virtually every ceremony as a means of connecting directly to the Creator. Tobacco is also thought to be the first plant given to the Indigenous people by the Creator. Because of this, tobacco is most frequently used as an offering, either in order to give thanks, to make a request for wisdom or protection, or as a means of cleansing.
Keeping Tobacco Sacred
Commercial tobacco products are not the same thing as traditional sacred tobacco. Commercial tobacco is laden with chemicals and additives that not only make it highly addictive, but also extremely harmful to human health. Commercial tobacco is chock full of carcinogens and synthetic chemicals that can be lethal, and completely destroy the integrity of the sacred medicine.
The movement to Keep Tobacco Sacred is one that aims to educate the public on the traditional Indigenous uses of tobacco, and to demonstrate the disrespect done to Indigenous communities as a result of commercial tobacco use. Commercial tobacco is never used in ceremonies or for offerings, and many Indigenous elders maintain that the use of commercial tobacco is disrespectful to its spiritual and sacred value altogether.
Traditional Ways to Use Tobacco Sacred Medicine
There are many traditional uses for tobacco, and Indigenous communities around the world each have their own unique uses for the sacred medicine. Some common ways the Indigenous people of Canada and North America use tobacco as a sacred medicine include:
1. Pipe Ceremonies
The Pipe Ceremony is typically held at the beginning of a large gathering, event, or even negotiation, and is an important ritual for building communal/interpersonal strength. Most Pipe Ceremonies include an offering of the pipe smoke to all four directions, to the sky, and to the Earth in acknowledgment of the four elements.
Each person in attendance takes their turn to either blow smoke from the sacred pipe, or waft it around their body in order to ask for guidance and protection. Importantly, tobacco smoke is typically not inhaled during the Pipe Ceremony.
2. Non-Smoke Offerings
Traditional dried tobacco leaves are commonly offered to the Creator in dry, unaltered form. Tobacco leaves may be placed on the ground, sprinkled near water, or placed on a rock as a way of expressing gratitude. The offering of dry tobacco leaves is also common in sacred places and is often accompanied by a prayer.
3. Smoke Rituals
The most common traditional use of tobacco sacred medicine is in smoke rituals, but that doesn’t always have to include a sacred pipe. Tobacco can be sprinkled over a fire or placed on hot coals. The smoke produced is said to be a direct connection to the Creator, and can also be used as a means of cleansing people and objects.
4. Gifting to An Elder
Another common traditional use of sacred tobacco is as a gift or offering in thanks to an elder, spiritual leader, or person of medicine. Tobacco is offered in exchange for knowledge, wisdom, guidance, or even in exchange for other medicines or healing. In the Indigenous culture, the offering and acceptance of tobacco is considered a binding contract.
5. In Thanks for Sacred Medicines
Along with tobacco, there are three other sacred medicines, all of which were gifted to us by the Creator and by Mother Earth. When harvesting sacred medicines, Indigenous people will often leave small piles or sprinklings of tobacco as an offering of thanks to the Creator and Mother Earth for the cedar, sage, and sweetgrass.
Are you interested in learning more about Indigenous culture, tobacco, and sacred medicines? Visit Tribal Trade Co. online to explore our range of Native gifts and products, and be sure to visit our blog for more information.