The Gift of the Pipe

Black Elk and Elk
Black Elk and Elk, while touring with the Buffalo Bill Wild West Show, 1887

Public Domain/Courtesy National Anthropological Archives, Smithsonian Institution

Black Elk, an Oglala Lakota visionary and healer, committed many traditional stories to print. His contributions are invaluable to anyone who wishes to learn more about the traditions of his people. As recorded and edited by Joseph Epes Brown in The Sacred Pipe: Black Elk's Account of the Seven Rites of the Oglala Sioux, Black Elk told the story of the gift of the pipe from White Buffalo Calf Woman, a wakan woman, who presents the people with a pipe before leaving the village and morphing into a white buffalo calf, saying:

"'Behold this and always love it! It is Lela Wakan [very sacred], and you must treat it as such. No impure man should ever be allowed to see it, for within this bundle there is a sacred pipe. With this you will, during the winters to come, send your voices to Wakan-Tanka, your Father and Grandfather.'

After the mysterious woman said this, she took from the bundle a pipe, and also a small round stone which she placed upon the ground. Holding the pipe up with its stem to the heavens, she said: '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 who live upon your Mother.

The stem of the pipe is 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 peoples, 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.'"

Pipestone National Monument

Last updated: August 29, 2020