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What's In Those Sacred Bundles?

Martha Ironstar

SASKATCHEWAN INDIAN      FEBRUARY 1993      v22 n02 p11  
Sacred bundles are often a source of people's curiosity. Some people wonder what the contents are when a bundle is carried by an Aboriginal politician, Chief or veteran, or maybe a group with a specific purpose. Bundles are made by people who are chosen to make them and are worn for protection and good purposes. If you see a politician carrying a sacred bundle, it belongs to him, guiding him in his political decisions and giving him physical well-being.

A good example of a story about a sacred bundle comes from the Shawnees. They believed in a deity called " Our Grandmother" who is believed to have created them. She spoke the Shawnee language as well as other languages. But Grandmother also had a secret language which only children could understand until they are four years old.

In 1768, the Shawnee shamans had sacred bundles in which were kept, among other great medicines, feathers of the thunderbirds and a bit of the flesh of the King of the Great Horned Snakes. Women in the time of their moon were not allowed to pass within sight of where the bundles, were kept. The bundles belonged to the Chalagawtha Shawnees and was stored in a small house next to the Shaman's lodge. The bundle hung on a pole, and the ground around the pole was always kept swept and the area clean.

In looking at the bundle, a person can feel a power coming from it, a power that seems to hum like a bee tree or magnetic force. Sometimes people become overwhelmed and begin to see white light or green water even though you are looking at a shapeless brown bundle with feathers to it. Yes, there is still magic being kept by the people, by the old men who know things. But in these times when everything is darkened by the corruption of society, all the old beautiful and terrifying magic that used to visit the people seems to be in hiding. A person can see it only in their dreams or when the old ones tell the stories.

The Shawnees believed that the deity "Our Grandmother" gave a sacred bundle to each sept. In each bundle there is some of the flesh of the Great Homed Serpent, and though that flesh has been there for hundreds of years, it is still fresh, and seeps blood. Anyone who has been present on occasions when the bundles are opened will tell you that it is so, that they witnessed it themselves.

The Shawnees also placed feathers of Thunderbirds in the sacred bundle. Thunderbirds are regarded as terrifying but good forces, that guarded the door of the house of Heaven. Their beating wings made thunder, their flashing eyes made lightning. But the Shawnees knew that the Thunderbirds were good powers, and that is why most traditional First Nation people have no fear of storms.

The sacred bundle also contained an ancient tomahawk, with its head shaped like three leaves. The sacred bundle directed the Shawnee people on how to take care of themselves, how to hunt, how to build houses, how to find spirit helpers, who would teach them how to make sick people well.

Grandmother also taught them how to have ceremonies and dances to entertain her and honor her, and how to be good and worthy. She gave each sept its song to sing, and provided Shawnee codes to living. To most nations, the similar codes to living apply. The plains Cree have a sacred bundle called "Carried on the Back" bundle. It is not endowed by a spirit helper but is a precious family possession. It contains the hair braids of deceased relatives. In early times every family had a sacred bundle and they were inherited along paternal lines.

Sacred bundles are still carried on by some traditional families today.

Politicians wear them sometimes on very important occasions. The link to the past is always protected and hidden in a safe place. This is part of preserving the magic and cultural ties to the past. Sacred bundles provide the direction to future for Aboriginal people.