The Inipi or sweat lodge is just one of the sacred ceremonies of the Lakota people. Another of their sacred ceremonies is the Keeping of the Soul. This ceremony was given to the people to help them deal with the deep feelings of loss and grief experienced at the death of a loved one. It provided a structure for understanding and supporting the transition from this life to the next. It taught that even the death of a loved one can serve a life-giving purpose.
The ceremony is long and complex, so this description is just a thumbnail sketch. A lock of the departed loved one’s hair is purified and stored in a buckskin bundle. In this way, the spirit of the lost person is able to remain with her loved ones. This bundle is kept in the home of a specially selected person, usually a family member. The bundle is prayed to daily for a full year and offered gifts and food. At the end of this year all of the spirit’s loved one’s gather together to honor the spirit of their lost loved one and release that spirit to the next life.
Here is an excerpt from Black Elk’s description of the original Keeping of the Soul ceremony for a family that had lost a son:
“Behold O soul! Where you dwell upon this earth will be a sacred place; this center will cause the people to be as wakan as you are. Our grandchildren will now walk the path of life with pure hearts, and with firm step!” And to the parents: “We shall gain great knowledge from this soul which has here been purified. Be good to it and love it, for it is wakan.
“You are now keeping the soul of your own son, who is not dead, but is with you. From now on you must live in a sacred manner, for your son will be in this tipi until his soul is released. You should remember that the habits which you establish during this period will remain with you always. You must take great care that no bad person enters the lodge where you keep the soul, and that there be no arguments or dissensions; there should always be harmony in your lodge, for all these things have an influence on the soul which is being purified there.
Your hands are wakan; treat them as such! And your eyes are wakan; when you see your relatives and all things, see them in a sacred manner! … Every day and night your son will be with you; look after his soul all the time, for through this you will always remember Wakan-Tanka [the Great Spirit]. From this day on you will be wakan, and as I have taught you, so you too will now be able to teach others.”
This ceremony is occurring right now for Florine Dubray, matriarch of the Dubray family and the First Circle Sun Dance. Her family and the many people she touched in life are keeping and honoring her spirit in this sacred way. We have been asked and are honored to assist in helping with this ceremony. Funds are being raised now to create the head stone for her grave beside her husband James. The family hopes to put this stone in its place next June at the anniversary of her passing and as part of the releasing of her spirit. We are inviting you to particpate in this ceremony. Please send your prayers for Florine and her family and consider making a financial offering to help them complete the memorial. You can send your tax deductable gift to us care of:
Follow the Buffalo
9429 Marsh Rd.
Plainwell, MI 49080
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