Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Sacred Tobacco

The first time I met a Wild Tobacco plant, I was leading a vision quest in winter near Virgin Springs, Death Valley. Nikki came back from her solo, carrying a bundle of full-grown Wild Tobacco plants she had picked in a rocky high-walled side canyon. They were beautiful plants, large-leafed and 3 feet tall. Nikki is an herbalist and intended to dry them and use them medicinally. I was shocked that anything other than creosote, barrel cactus, and desert holly could grow in that barren landscape.

A year or so later, I was hiking with Nikki and 2 other women in the Chihuahuan desert south of Silver City, New Mexico.
The land was Apache country in the old days...hunting and gathering country. Nikki was sure we'd find Wild Tobacco out there.
As I walked around a large outcropping of red sandstone, a lone Wild Tobacco plant glowed at me in the distance. I felt profoundly connected to that plant, for some mysterious reason. It seemed to have a golden aura around it. There were no other plants of any kind nearby.

I had a hunch, which I quickly dismissed, that Wild Tobacco was some sort of "ally plant" for me. At that time, I had little knowledge of traditional uses of tobacco as a sacred and medicinal plant.

In the summer of 2007 I was invited to support a Sun Dance on the Cheyenne River Lakota Reservation in South Dakota.
The Sun Dance Chief made traditional "Chanupas" (ceremonial pipes) for the support dancers, the bowls carved from beautiful red pipestone. He taught us the proper ways to the fill the pipe with tobacco and other herbs, and pray with it. Feeling awkward with the ceremony, I put the Pipe aside for awhile.

Sometime later, I was visiting a friend who was housesitting in Taos. For some reason, I had decided that morning to take my Pipe and some tobacco with me. As I stepped into the house, I felt assaulted by an extremely heavy energy in the living room.
I asked my friend if she noticed it, and she said she had, and that it was so strong she avoided going into that part of the house. I went out to the car, got my Chanupa, and asked her to pray with me in the living room where the energy was so bad. We both felt like someone had been injured or killed there. Not remembering the protocol, I filled the pipe anyway and we began our prayers. As we smoked the Chanupa, we asked Spirit to remove the energies from the house, and to transmute the negativity. Within 10 minutes the living room in which we sat felt completely different. My friend and I were stunned at how suddenly it had shifted from heavy to light energy. A few days later, she reported that the room continued to feel clear.

It was at that moment that I began to appreciate the tremendous transformational power of the Chanupa, and the sacred tobacco plant.

The Spirit of the plant has been badly misused by modern people. Addiction to tobacco is rampant. Large companies have made fortunes, while people die daily from lung cancer. Yet even with commercial cigarettes, it is possible to forge a
completely different relationship with tobacco, simply by lighting the cigarette and making a prayer for someone or for Mother Earth. In the instant of making a prayer, the energy of addiction and illness begins to shift into a blessing. Tobacco has been sacred for thousands of years. . We need to remember our ancient relationship with this plant, and return it to its proper place - that of ally and healer.

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