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Native American Society

Native American Medicine Bag

Native American Medicine Bag

A Medicine Bag is a traditional North American Indian vessel containing various items that its owner believed held supernatural power. The medicine man or shaman of a tribe would certainly carry one.

It usually held many kinds of herbs, stones and other items used for his healing rituals. A personal medicine bag, carried by most Native American men, was not for healing others but it was used to maintain personal harmony with the physical, spiritual, and supernatural. A youth might have a small medicine bag, but as he added life experiences, he also added objects to his bag over the years. In time, he often needed to replace the bag with a larger one.

There were two very basic styles of American Indian bags: soft pouches, made of tanned animal hides (usually deerskin or elkskin), and parfleche, made of stiff rawhide.

As something that holds supernatural items, the medicine bag must also have some power of its own. Things that were added would typically include items related to a vision quest such as stones, fetishes, sweet grass, sage, bones, hair or fur, roots, leaves or feathers. Each of the items had a special significance in the life of the owner of the bag. The vision quest is a Native American ceremony that includes personal sacrifice: fasting and prayer over several days in a location isolated from the rest of the tribe. The purpose is to make contact with natural spiritual forces that help or guide people to reach their potential. The spirits would aid the individual to gather magical items to help increase knowledge and aid personal growth.

Typical powers ascribed to medicine bags and their items might include increasing hunting abilities and fighting skills, healing oneself and allies, hindering enemies and even altering the weather to more favorable conditions.

Today, non Native Americans also use Medicine Bags. They are symbols connected to personal protection and power. Some wear a small medicine bag around the neck or under the clothing, or they might hang it on a belt or saddle or carry it in a purse, pocket, knapsack or briefcase. Some people choose to sleep with their medicine bags under their pillows.

What the bag contains is considered sacred and good medicine for that person and that person alone. It can be traditional items or anything else important to the owner. Traditionally a medicine bag contains something from the plant, animal and mineral kingdoms and from the life of man. Examples:

Plant Kingdom

Sage and Sweetgrass
Corn, Bean, and Squash Seeds

Animal Kingdom
Lock of hair, mane or tail
Bone or Tooth
Claw or Nail

Mineral Kingdom
Stone fetish
Piece of stone such as turquoise or lapis

Man's World

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