Standing Witness
Devils Tower National Monument: A History
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Appendix A
Four Directions, Four Colors

MANY OF THE TRIBES WHO CONSIDER THE TOWER A SACRED place believe in the strength and power of the four directions, represented by four colors (black, red, yellow, and white). These colors are often used for prayer cloths seen at the Tower. The Lakota story of White Buffalo Calf Woman tells the origins of the four colors, the Sacred Pipe, and the Seven Sacred Rites. The following is adapted from an account by Chief Arvol Looking Horse, Keeper of the Pipe.

Not long after the Flood, the buffalo disappeared. The People were starving and crying. Scouts looked for game but always returned empty-handed.

One day two scouts were sent out, and saw not even a rabbit. As the scouts returned, a woman, carrying a bundle, came over a hill dressed in a beautiful white buckskin dress. As the scouts talked, she came closer and pointed to the scout with bad thoughts. He went towards her, thinking to take her.

The other scout tried to stop him. "She's sent by the Great Spirit. She's the answer to the People's prayer for help—a Spirit-woman."

The lustful scout refused to listen. As he reached for the woman a swirling cloud suddenly enveloped him. When the cloud lifted, his skeleton lay at her feet. Spirit-woman said, "Go; tell your People what you have seen. I will come tomorrow from where the sun sets. I have a great gift in this Sacred Bundle."

The next day she returned carrying the Bundle. She sang a beautiful song that we still sing today. She walked clockwise around the altar prepared by the Buffalo People, then set the Sacred Bundle on the altar. She opened it to reveal the sacred C'anupa, the Pipe of Pipes.

"This is the Sacred Pipe," she said. "By smoking this C'anupa, you make personal contact with Wakan Tankan (the Great Mystery). Following the way of this Pipe, you will walk in a sacred way.

"The red stone of the C'anupa's bowl represents the blood of the People. The wooden stem represents the Tree of Life, the root of our ancestors. As this Tree grows, so does the spirit of the People.

"The Sacred Pipe is put together in prayer, connecting the worlds above and below. Present your prayers to all four Sacred Directions, then pray to the Great Spirit above and Mother Earth below. Sing your songs and pray for life, peace, harmony, and happiness."

She warned, "You must have a good heart and mind. Honor the Sacred Places, Sacred Ceremonies, and Sacred Sites. Each Site is an altar to the Great Spirit. Gather there often and pray and sing as I have taught you."

She left in a clockwise motion, returning to where the sun sets. On top of the hill, she looked back, rolled over and became a black buffalo. She rolled over a second time, becoming a red buffalo, the third time becoming a yellow buffalo, and the fourth time a white buffalo. Then she walked over the hill and out of sight. There she received her name, White Buffalo Calf Woman, and we received the four colors used in our ceremonies.

The Seven Sacred Rites that sustain our People yet today are: Purification ceremony; Sun Dance; Vision Quest; Making of a relative (an adoption ceremony); Throwing of the sacred ball (a children's ceremony); Womanhood ceremony; and Keeping of the Spirit.

The Sacred Pipe is a Spirit. When the Sacred Pipe is filled, our spirit should be pure. Prayers are for health, protection, guidance, and wisdom; nothing more. A thank you ceremony always follows a healing ceremony. That is why we return to the Sacred Black Hills, to give thanks to the "Heart of Everything That Is."

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Last Updated: 23-Jan-2009