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Lakota Sioux Sacred Rites

Updated on June 12, 2013

How the Sacred Rites came to be

For the Lakota Sioux, there are seven Sacred Rites which are observed. These rites stem from generations of legend and tradition. Each is a beautiful tribute to the people and the tribe.

Each of the Sacred Ceremonies involves the Peace Pipe, which was given to them by the White Buffalo Calf Woman. When she presented the pipe, and a small stone to the people, she taught them the first rite, The Keeping of the Soul, and told them the other six rituals would be revealed to them

Please remember that these ceremonies are Sacred to the Lakota. My Article is meant in respect to these Rites. Spirituality of Native Americans cannot be bought and Sold, just as Christianity, or any other Sacred Sect cannot be bought and sold. Symbols of the Ceremonies are, in my opinion, similar to symbols of any religion, but the sacred rites themselves, cannot be bought.

Keeping of the Soul Lakota Sacred Rite

The one which was taught by the White Buffalo Calf Woman

White Buffalo Woman taught the first Sacred Rite to the Lakota. She told the people that when they die, they must be purified so they can be reunited with the Great Spirit.

The Sacred Rite begins with a lock of hair from the deceased was cut off and held over burning sweetgrass. The hair was placed into a piece of sacred buckskin (called the Soul Bundle), and the peace pipe was smoked.

The Soul Bundle would be kept in the tipi of a relative who was called the Soul's Keeper. The Soul's Keeper vowed to live a harmonious life until the soul was released. (The Bundle was usually kept for about a year)

The Ceremony to release the soul began with a buffalo hunt. A special lodge would be built and Sacred Tobacco would be smoked in the peace pipe. They would then bury special food in the ground as an offering to the Earth.

The Bundle carrying the soul was then brought outside. As soon as it touched the air, it was released. It is believed the spirit traveled along the Spirit Path (which is the Milky Way) until it reached the Woman who judged the souls. She was called Maya Owichapaha. If the soul was judged worthy, it was sent to the right, to join the Wakan Tanka. If the soul was judged unworthy, it was sent to the left until it could become purified and join the Great Spirit.

Get this beautiful piece of artwork by clicking on it!

Inipi: The Rite of Purification

Second Sacred Lakota Rite (The Sweatlodge)

Inipi means "To Live Again" and is the Rite of Purification. This rite was done before any significant undertaking to cleanse the mind and the spirit. The Inipi Rite was done to help the Vision Seeker enter into a state of humility, and thus undergo a spiritual Rebirth.

The Inipi involved the Sweat Lodge which is a dome constructed of 16 young willow trees placed in a circle, traditionally covered with hides, so no light could penetrate inside. Outside the entrance to the sweat lodge was a mound, facing east, and a firepit containing stones. Around the fire pit would be a semi circle of dirt. This represented the Cosmos (or the "outer world"), and the Sweat lodge represented the inner world.

As the Sweat Lodge is constructed, prayers are said. Burning coal is brought in and sweetgrass is placed on it. This is to purify the Sweat Lodge. Afterward, the pipe is carried out to the mound of dirt.

Other participants enter the inipi and sit in a circle on sacred sage. The Pipe is again brought in then returned to the mound. During the Ceremony, the door to the lodge is opened 4 times, to correspond to the four ages spoken of by the White Buffalo Calf Woman. When the participants leave the Sweat lodge, they are said to be purified, and whatever was impure is left inside the lodge.

**A NOTE ABOUT THIS CEREMONY: This ceremony has been done for centuries by Native Americans. Some non-Natives have tried to exploit this practice for personal and/or business gain. My studies of Black Elk suggest that he believed there would come a day when white people would want to know more about Native ways, and learn from them. It also suggests that Black Elk wanted white people to better understand and learn those ways. HOWEVER, non-Natives who wish to understand the sacred ceremonies of the Natives should learn them FROM the Native Americans. Just recently, I had the opportunity to view a sweat lodge (from afar). Out of respect and understanding of the ways of the Sioux (and other Native Americans), I did NOT come close, or approach the sweat lodge. I cannot understand people who pay money to disrespect sacred ways. Please, do NOT pay anyone to take part in a sacred ceremony. Would you want Native Americans (or anyone else) making money by letting other people mimic your sacred ceremonies? I think not. The first lesson in learning the ways of the Sioux, is to learn and understand RESPECT.

To buy this lovely Print, Called "Vision Quest, just click on it

Black Elk on the Sacred Rites

The Great Chief Black Elk spoke of the Seven Sacred Rites of the Lakota and his words were recorded, now available in book form. If you have never read the words of Black Elk, I assure you, you will be touched, and amazed by this man's wisdom.

Hanbleceya - Crying For a Vision

The Third Lakota Sacred Rite

Vision Quests are usually held in an isolated place, away from other people, and can last until the vision has been received. Usually this lasts 3 to 4 days. All People, Men and Women, can cry for a Vision, but only the worthy receive it. The vision can come from an actual vision of the participant, or a visit from an animal.

Vision Quests are done to understand one's own place in the world, in the "One-ness". The participant has a peace pipe and prays and cries for a vision. Once the ritual is over, other members of the tribe return the participant to the sweat lodge, back in the camp, where he tells of his vision, and the Wičasa Wakan interprets it.

Sun Dance

The Sun Dance was a ritual of renewal and probably the most important rite celebrated by the Lakota, as well as most Plain Indians. This ritual involved extreme pain to the warriors who endured it.

This Ceremony is held in June, or July, when the moon is full. The actual Ceremony today involves much symbolism, and less pain. There is a lengthy preparation and observance of the Sun Dance.

Many years ago, the Ceremony involved warriors being pierced through the side, or the back with a bone, and having a buffalo skull attached with buffalo hide. The dancers would either be tethered to the tree that was chosen by the worthiest warrior, or they would dance with the skulls dragging behind them. The idea of the dance was to remove the buffalo skull (and the bone) from their bodies.

Today's ritual still involves the tree, and the sacred lodge, and much dancing. They dance all day, and all night. After the Ceremony, they enter the lodge where they are brought food, and celebrate.

The Sun Dance; A DVD - on the Ritual of Sun Dance

Native Spirit and The Sun Dance Way
Native Spirit and The Sun Dance Way
Explains the ritual of the Sun Dance and piercing

Hunkapi The Making of Relatives

The women's faces are painted red and the men's were painted red with a blue circle around the face and blue lines on the forehead, cheekbones and chin.

Being painted symbolizes change, indicating a person has been reborn and taken on new responsibilities and a new relationship. Past troubles between the new relatives are forgotten.

Today, one can become part of a Tiyóspaye, or extended family, by birth, marriage or hunkápi, but the original ceremoni was first used to make peace between the Lakóta and Ree people. Making the Ree relatives ensured peace between the tribes. This relationship mirrored the relationship of the Lakóta people with Wakan Tanka. The Ceremony took several days and the face painting was toward the end of the Ritual.

Isnati Awicalowanpi; Coming of Age

This Ceremony is held to purify a girl who has become old enough to realize that what is happening to her is a Sacred Thing. The Purification prepares her for becoming a woman, and having children.

Isnati Awicalowanapi is preformed by a Holy Man. Sweet Grass is burned and the ceremonial objects are cleansed by the smoke. The Pipe is smoked and prayers are offered up to the Great spirit. The Girl is given a piece of Buffalo Meat to eat, and Cherries and Water are passed among her family members. Following the ceremony, there is a giveaway (giving away the family's possessions to other members of the tribe) and a great feast and celebration.

Tapa Wankaye ; The Throwing of the Ball

The 7th of the Lakota Sacred Ceremonies

There is a game among the Lakota people that was played with a ball, four teams and four goals that were set up at the four quarters. The game represents the course of a man's life, which should be spent in trying to get the ball, for the ball represents Wakan Tanka, or the universe. It is very difficult to get the ball, for the odds -which represent ignorance- are against you. (*Taken from

The Throwing of the Ball Ritual is done only by the traditionalist Native Americans, if its done at all any longer. The ritual is only one of many rituals being lost to posterity and many young people do not even know of it.

A buffalo skin ball filled with buffalo hair that is first painted all red representing the world. Blue paint (representing the heavens) is used for the four dots that are made at the four quarters. Then two blue circles are made around the ball to make two paths joining the four quarters. This painted buffalo ball represents the material and spiritual aspects of the universe.

The following items are used in the ceremony besides the ball; a pipe, kinnikinnik, sweet grass, a spotted eagle feather, knife, hatchet, sage, bag of earth, red and blue paint, a buffalo skull and a food rack painted blue. Each of these items are used in ceremonial prayers before the players begin the game.

The ritual uses four teams and four goals. Each goal was set on one of the four sacred directions; east, south, west and north.

A very young Sioux girl stands in the center representing Wakan Tanka as eternally youthful and pure with no darkness. She also represents the first stage of the four stages of life and Mother Earth and future generations. She throws the ball to each goal and everyone at the goal scrambles to catch the ball. Only one of those trying to catch the ball will end up with it.

The goals represent that Wakan Tanka is everywhere, including all of the four directions. Then the young girl throws the ball straight up into the air and all the teams try to get it. This represents the power from Wakan Tanka that descends on the people. When one person finally has possession of the ball it is given back to the young girl. The ones that catch the ball are given a valuable present such as a horse or a buffalo robe. These five winners represent the few people who reach a special closeness with Wakan Tanka even though many seek that closeness.

To receive a great blessing, each of the people participating must choose to reach for the ball, while acknowledging or understanding that not everyone will be able to catch it. After the five catches of the ball, a prayer of thanks and acknowledgment is made and Wakan Tanka is asked to help the people retain its relationship with him and help them walk the sacred path without ignorance. Following the Ceremony there was a great feast.

This is the 7th of the 7 Sacred Ceremonies as described by Black Elk.

Click on Picture to buy print

Paha Ska~Artist, Story Teller, Friend. 1923-2005

Paha Ska~Artist, Story Teller, Friend.  1923-2005
Paha Ska~Artist, Story Teller, Friend. 1923-2005

The Sacred Pipe:

Black Elk's Account of the Seven Rites of the Oglala Sioux

(Civilization of the American Indian Series, Vol. 36)

Please comment on my lens

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    • giovi64 lm profile image

      giovi64 lm 

      7 years ago

      Very nice lens, very informative!

    • profile image


      7 years ago

      Wonderful! Thank you for publishing this lens.

    • VBright profile imageAUTHOR


      7 years ago

      @bofirebear: I realize the practice is becoming more popular once again, but some do not still practice this. Either way, the ceremony is beautiful and spiritual. Thanks for visiting!

    • bofirebear profile image


      7 years ago

      Very good lens. Many of the Sundances still use the buffalo skulls and tying to the tree as part of the ceremony.

    • Millionairemomma profile image


      8 years ago

      Thanks for the great learning experience. I have friends who are Lakota and used to live on 'pine ridge', a reservation in south dakota. Ther culture is very important to them and we should cherish it as well.

    • profile image


      8 years ago

    • profile image


      8 years ago

    • profile image


      8 years ago

      Great lens.

    • bofirebear1 profile image


      8 years ago

      Interesting lens. I liked he way you talked about the ceremonies in general instead of giving details like many try to do.

    • profile image


      8 years ago

      Nice page

    • Ram Ramakrishnan profile image

      Ram Ramakrishnan 

      8 years ago

      Absorbing insight into the ways of a different culture. Great lens.

    • Joyce Mann profile image

      Joyce T. Mann 

      8 years ago from Bucks County, Pennsylvania USA

      Fascinating lens. Thank you. I am part Native American but do not know which tribe. My best guess in the Lenni Lenape of the Delaware River area.

    • David Dove profile image

      David Dove 

      8 years ago

      Informative, thank you

    • TolovajWordsmith profile image

      Tolovaj Publishing House 

      8 years ago from Ljubljana

      Amazing how sophisticated are those old rituals and how much in common have with some religions based in very different parts of the world. Thank you for this lens!

    • profile image


      8 years ago

      Excellent historical data

    • profile image

      guitarelements lm 

      8 years ago

      I am so glad i search and found this lens. We have the honor learn cooking from a few Native American Indian at the Uuni- Cuuni Indian Reservation & Culture Center here in Lake Isabella. We have the honor to cater for the center to celebrate 4th of July weekend charity event in our community. We never cook this kind of food before and it is so cool we have the opportunity to do this. please visit my lens and join us. Have a great 4th of July weekend.

    • profile image


      9 years ago

      Fascinating lens. Thank you for the insight! Blessed by a SquidAngel.

    • CCGAL profile image


      9 years ago

      Excellently and respectfully done. I salute you!

    • profile image


      11 years ago

      I'm so glad I decided to visit here. There is a sense of admiration for those who carry on the traditions of beliefs and ceremonies. A very nice lens once again! :) - Susie

    • profile image


      11 years ago


      I appreciate what you say about the Native Rituals can not and SHOULD NOT be bought and sold.

      I am a pipe carrier and I hate to hear about people charging money for a sweat lodge for example. You have done a great job *****

    • Morgana1 profile image


      11 years ago

      Great lens, I too am pleased to see these traditions being kept alive. Very well presented.

      Thank you for visiting my lens and your kind comments.

    • TonyPayne profile image

      Tony Payne 

      11 years ago from Southampton, UK

      Nice lens, it's good to see these traditions being kept alive, so much history is being lost these days. 5*****

    • beeobrien lm profile image

      beeobrien lm 

      11 years ago

      Thanks for giving us a little glimpse of these beautiful rites.

    • ebay-grandma profile image


      11 years ago

      There is so much to learn! Squidoo helps us learn everyday. Great lens. *****

    • profile image


      11 years ago

      Great job on this lens, I blessed it for you!


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