THE MEDICINE BAG



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By
Dorthea Horton Calverley


In 1991, high in the mountains hikers found a man frozen to death in the snow. It turned out the man was prehistoric, frozen over 5000 years ago, sometime between 3350-3140 BC, nearly intact and almost perfectly preserved. Because of his appearance and certain objects he carried it was suggested the dead man had possibly been a Medicine Man or Shaman, dying of exposure when caught out in the open during a mystical retreat. Several associated facts presented themselves for such speculation. The body was tattooed; his weapons resembled dummy weapons found in many tribal cultures; he carried a Medicine Bag or pouch with various medicinal plants and ritual objects, a copper headed axe, and a net, an object that is used to trap spirits in rituals and seen in various forms as a Dream Catcher and such. All of this may not be unusual except for the fact the frozen man was five thousand years old and had a Medicine Bag, tatoos, dummy weapons, and a dream-catcher-like net. Five thousands years old and a Medicine Bag! (source)

Traditionly most Native American men had a "medicine bag", much as a white woman has a purse. Like the purse, the medicine bag -- which might be three or four feet long -- contained objects and substances which had a meaning for the owner. Mementos of events which occurred during his vision quest as a young lad would certainly be there. As years went by "souvenirs" were added. Suppose the young man found a swan’s feather (the swan being the bird that symbolized Yogasete, the creator) it could acquire an air of magic and go into the bag. Roots like calamus would be kept there. A braid of sweetgrass, where it grew, or in the north a piece of a bracket fungus which gave off a sweetish smell when placed on red coals provided incense when the man wanted to pray in a special way. A stone, a root, or other object with a marked or fancied resemblance to an animal became a fetish--supposedly endowed with magical powers.

The "bundle" of the Native American healer, the medicine man or woman, and Shamans of any culture as well, generally held many more articles--as many as fifty. Often it was contained in the skin of an animal, sometimes that of an unborn buffalo calf.

Their bag might contain almost anything! A typical bundle might contain an elaborate headdress made from the skull or head-skin of a "sacred" animal or from fur or swan’s down. There might be a headband and certainly a rattle made from the skulls or bones of any small animal. A well-stocked bundle would also contain braids of scented grass, a long pipe, tobacco and a tamper for loading the bowl. The pipe might be three feet long, the stem decorated with the fur of small animals. There might be beads and bits of cloth or any stone with a hole in it, or a stone shaped even remotely like a buffalo or a beaver and various herbal medicines wrapped up in little bundles. There might even be a drum in a bundle. Anything to which the healer could attach any magical meaning could go in. It was an elaborate collection of "charms" and an essential part of his working equipment.

In many ways the sacred bundle was a nuisance to the spiritual healer and his family. It must be hung on a tripod in the sun in fine weather and be carried in when a storm threatened. Nobody might pass behind it and women not initiated, seldom if touched it. Every time it was moved the right prayers must be said or it would lose its magic. Whenever it was opened a special prayer must be said for every article in it.

If a man wished to rid himself of the responsibility of caring for it he must find somebody else able and willing to pay a great price for it. Besides, the new owner must learn all of the prayers and songs by heart, without a single mistake or all the magic was "washed out, like so much blood from a wound." In other words, the healer chose his successor, choosing some young man who had had a vision, and who was intelligent enough to master all of the ritual of chants, incantations, songs, dances and motions that accompanied the article’s use. Nevertheless, it was such a great honor to the man’s family that we might compare it to a modern boy’s preparation to go into the priesthood.


SEE:
MIDEWIWIN: SECRET OJIBWA MEDICINE SOCIETY






OANGA BAG
Graphic copyright © 1995-2002
LUCKY MOJO


As you can see by the reference regarding the Ice Man in the opening paragraph at the top of the page, medicine bags reach back, and thus then by inference, prior to, the beginning of man's recorded history. Many cultures and societies, both past and present, use and have similar bag-like items for ritual and personal use. Some of their use replicates the use of the Native American, some not. The African-American culture has a history of a bag called a "gris-gris" which sounds very much like a French word that translates into "grey-grey" (encompassing then both black and white magic). However, more likely it is an "Afro-French" version of the Central African word, gree-gree (sometimes spelled gri-gri). The meaning of gree-gree is "fetish" or "charm," thus a gris-gris or gree-gree bag is a charm bag. It is also refered to in some circles as a mojo bag. Most typically the bags are made of flannel or silk in a variety of single colors, each having a distinct power or meaning, red being the most notable. The bags are sometimes constructed of "cat parts" as well. In the Caribbean, a bag of nearly identical African derivative is called a Wanga Bag or Oanga Bag, from the African word wanga, which also means "charm," but more closely translates as "spell." For those of you who may have come across the experience of the Wanderling with the man of spells called an Obeah high in the mountains of Jamaica, where he was cured of Dengue Fever through the Obeahman's use of the shaman's circle as well as divination, then the term and use of an Oanga Bag would not be totally unfamiliar. (source)


In the eighth book of the series by Carlos Castaneda titled Power of Silence (1988), Don Juan Matus, the Yaqui Indian shaman-sorcerer Castaneda apprenticed under, speaking of HIS teacher, Julian Osorio, makes Osorio out to be fairly healthy young man. However, some years before when Osorio met his own teacher, Elias Ulloa, for the very first time, it wasn't quite like that. Ulloa came across Osorio laying face down in a field bleeding to death through his mouth, so much so that he thought he was not going to survive. Osorio told Ulloa he didn't want to die, that he was too young. Using herbs Castaneda says Ulloa was carrying in a Medicine Bag or pouch, Ulloa was able to stop the bleeding. He then told Osorio he would never be able to repair the damage inflicted on his body, but he could --- no doubt, using the Power of the Shaman with directly aimed impulses toward conditions [1] --- deviate his karma infected approach toward the cliffs of death. Ulloa took him to the mountains, taught him the ancient secrets, and with time Osorio became one of the most respected of shaman-sorceres in his lineage. Although he was never cured of his tuberculosis he still lived to the age of 107.



NOTE:

A very common misunderstanding is the belief that the term 'Shaman' is somehow indigenous to Native American culture, usually assumed to be North American. This leads to confusing 'shamanism' with the various religious practices of the North American Indian tribes. Some indigenous Americans do incorporate shamanism, but many do not. Subsequently their healing methodologies are very different than those utilized by a Shaman, thus then any need, use, or reason for the Medicine Bag could and does vary. (source)




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SEE ALSO:

ZEN, THE BUDDHA, AND SHAMANISM

SHAMANIC TRANCE STATES

SHAMANISM

OBEAH



E-MAIL
THE WANDERLING

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WE DO NOT HAVE SHAMANS
The Case Against "Shamans" In the
North American Indigenous Cultures


SHAMANISM WEB CIRCLE


TECHNIQUES FOR EVALUATING AMERICAN INDIAN WEB SITES


MEDITATION
ALONG

METEOR CRATER
RIM



Information in this paper is intended for research purposes only.
Any other use may violate one or more copyrights
which rest with the original authors



OANGA BAG RESEARCH WITH THANKS TO:
LUCKY MOJO


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[1] POWER OF THE SHAMAN: CONDITIONS

The word conditions is an english word used in context from the Sutras for the Sanskrit word Pratyaya which means (roughly): "the pre-existing conditions that allow primary causes to function." Which basically means if the conditions are absent, then the causes are prevented.

Conditions are the milieu, stage set, or playing field where acts or impulses unfold. They can be increased by other conditions, decreased by other conditions, or replaced by other conditions to accelerate or postpone results in the stream of events. Which means that conditions can, but not necessarily DO modify. They arise primarily on a broader scale from causes in the distant past. When conditions do manifest themselves they are for the most part not defined, that is, they are undefined or spent, meaning they cannot create or impact figuratively further downstream responses. However, even though they are spent, they are still extremely powerful in how they impose themselves on the immediate circumstances in which they are operating. To wit:

Any shift in any fashion in the conditions up or down or across the stream relative to the cause will impact the resultant outcome of that cause.


On the scientifc side of things, no matter how complex any system may be or appear to be AND, even though it may not be able to be determined or known, they rely upon an underlying order. To that extent very simple or small systems and events can cause very complex behaviors or events. This latter idea is known as Sensitive Dependence On Initial Conditions, a circumstance discovered in the early 1960s by Edward Lorenz the scientist usually credited with the discovery of the Butterfly Effect --- making reference to the fact that small, almost imperceptible happenstances or events, over time, can have huge and momentous consequences.

It is in those areas of conditions that the Shaman operates, where small yet powerful well aimed Shaman directed impluses ever so slightly nudge the conditions which inturn modify the outcome.(source)