Myth & Lore

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White Buffalo Calf Woman

By CinnamonMoon

Encyclopedia of Native American Religions:

(Bronze statue of the White Buffalo Calf Woman, by Lee Leunig and Sherri Treeby)
Located in Mankato, MN, USA

The holy woman who brought the people their most sacred possession, the Buffalo Calf Pipe, and foretold the Seven Sacred Rites of the Lakota. According to belief, White Buffalo Calf Woman first appeared to two young men who were out hunting. As they stopped to scan the area for game, they saw someone approaching in the distance. When the mysterious person drew nearer, they saw a woman of great beauty clothed in white buckskin. One of the young men expressed bad thoughts toward her, but his companion warned him that she was most likely wakan, or sacred. When the mysterious woman reached the hunters, she called to the one with evil intentions. After approaching her, they were both enveloped by a cloud. When it lifted, all that remained of the man were his bones and the snakes that had eaten him. the mysterious woman then told the other hunter to return home and tell his chief, named Standing Hollow Horn in the account given by BlackElk, to prepare for her arrival. Upon reaching the camp, the young man related all that had happened. As instructed, a large tipi was built, and the people gathered together. They then waited for the mysterious person to arrive. Soon some of the people saw the holy woman approaching in the distance. After entering the tipi, she walked in a sunrise (clockwise) direction then stopped before the leader. The holy woman took a bundle from her back, removing a pipe and a round stone.

She then gave the people the sacred teachings. Beginning with the pipe, she explained its meaning and each of its components. She told the people that the pipestone bowl represented the earth, that the wood stem represented all of the earth's growing things, that the buffalo calf carved on the bowl represented all four-legged creatures and that the pipe's 12 feathers, from the spotted eagle, represented all winged creatures. Whoever prayed with it would be joined to all other life in the universe. The holy woman also instructed the people about the stone, explaining that the seven circles on it stood for the seven sacred rites. She presented the first rite, stating that the other six would be revealed in time and that the sacred pipe was to be used n each of them.

After teaching the Ghost-Keeping Ceremony, the first rite, the holy woman walked in a sunwise (clockwise) direction around the tipi, then left. While walking away she stopped and sat down. When she stood up, the people saw that she had been transformed into red and brown buffalo calf. The calf continued on, stopped, lay down and arose as a white buffalo. The white buffalo repeated the same actions, becoming a black buffalo. This buffalo bowed to each quarter of the universe and then vanished from view. There are several published accounts of White Buffalo Calf Woman, some including her other sacred teachings. She is also known as White Buffalo Calf Maiden, White Buffalo Cow Woman, and White Buffalo Woman.

Seven Sacred Rites of the Lakota Sacred ceremonies foretold to the Lakota by White Buffalo Calf Woman, a holy woman who appeared among the people.

They include:
The Sweat Lodge Ceremony (Inikagapi)
The Vision Quest (Hanbleceya, 'crying for a vision')

The Ghost Keeping Ceremony (Wanagi yuhapi)
The Sun Dance (Wi Wanyang wacipi)
The Hunak Ceremony ('the making of relatives)
The Girl's Puberty Rite (Isnati awicalowan)
The Throwing of the Ball Ceremony (Tapa wankayeyapi).

The Lakota people have a rich, diverse array of ceremonies beyond these seven sacred rites, including those that originated in visions.

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