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Article: The Spirit World

As described by First Boy - James Larpenteur Long, Fort Peck Assiniboine-Sioux, in The Assiniboine: From Accounts of the Old Ones Told to First Boy (James Larpenteur Long), edited by Michael Stephen Kennedy , University of Oklahoma Press, 1961, p 168-170 (originally published as Land of the Nakoda by the Montana Writer Program in 1942)

The Assiniboines believed that the spirits of the dead journeyed towards the east. There were medicine men who claimed! they had power to bring them back. So when a sick person was in a coma, a medicine man was called in and a sacrifice made, after which he made medicine.

The medicine man painted his whole body with white clay to resemble a ghost and wore only his clout and moccasins. In each hand, he carried a rattle. He sang several songs; then, while the drummers kept time, he ran towards the east for some distance. He returned and, if successful, explained that he had headed off the spirit. If the patient came out of the coma, the spirit was surely brought back.

The grandfather of Pointing Down, himself now an old man, told him of his experience in the spirit world. He had smallpox when he was young. Whole families died in their lodges. Other people came and folded up the smoke flaps and barricaded the entrances. That served as their burial.

“In the lodge where my grandfather lay ill with the disease, two other members of the family were dead and their bodies were left where they died. Many families fled to other parts of the country.

Grandfather was so near death that the surroundings did not matter a great deal. He said, "I was very ill, but I noticed that a person looked in and perhaps thought the three of us were
dead. He secured the doorway, piled objects against it, and closed up the smoke hole.

"Some time after that, I seemed to fall asleep, and the next thing I knew, I was outside, walking toward where the sun rises. I traveled along a narrow path that seemed to be on an up-grade. After going in that direction for some time, I came to where a man sat with his back to me. When he turned around, I recognized him as a person who had died some time before.

"The man said: `Perhaps you want to know where your folks live. I will tell you. There is a large encampment over that hill; and the lodge painted blue belongs to your parents.' When I entered the lodge, I saw my father and mother there. My father was busy with some wood he was shaving. My mother, too, was busy at some task.

"With a smile, I said to them: `I had no trouble to find your lodge.' My mother did not seem to hear me, but my father looked up and stared at me without any sign that he recognized me. I became uneasy, and hesitated to take my usual place in their lodge. After a time I went out and looked around for some-one to whom I could talk. I recognized several persons and attempted to talk to them, but each time I was not answered.

"I finally retraced my steps and knew I was on the right path, because I came back to the place where the man sat. He spoke: `You did not stay long, my friend; perhaps someone has come to take you back.' I do not remember if I made any answer.

"I hurried back along the trail and arrived at our lodge. The entrance was barred and I said to myself: `How can I go in through the smoke hole, the poles are too close together there.' Then a voice awakened me; it was my sister's. She said: `My brother, you are alive, your eyes are open. She told me how they decided to flee to some other part, as did the others, and she had said to them: `For the last time I want to see the body of my brother.'

"That was how she found me, and through her help I recovered."