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Prayer Ties – Sacred Wisdom Circle Institute

Prayer Ties

 In Teachings

Tobacco Prayer Ties


Why tobacco?

As you noticed, the title is not just “prayer ties” but rather “tobacco prayer ties”. Why do we use tobacco? Well first off, tobacco is a medicine. Just like sage, sweetgrass or cedar. For the Eastern or Plains Nations such as Cherokee, Lakota or Cree, tobacco is considered one of the most sacred medicines. It is a most cherished medicine. Therefore, it is not to be abused or sold for profit. I have been told the same thing by both a Cherokee Elder and a Lakota Medicine man, that tobacco is not to be abused. It is to be used within ceremonies. Thus, tobacco is used as an offering to the person conducting the ceremony or as an offering to the Creator. I have in the past given tobacco to an Elder who was giving me smudge. It’s just the native way of doing things, if you receive something you also give something.

So what are prayer ties and what do they represent?
My teachings in this regard comes from Seminole and Lakota Elders, as tobacco is not used as much by the Western nations such as Coast Salish people. What you have been taught might be slightly different. Just be mindful that the information I am giving you is not the ultimate truth but rather a version of it. I also want to be respectful of the teachings that were given to me, as not too long ago they were not shared in the English language.

Tobacco ties are basically prayer ties. They are to be thought of as a physical manifestation of a prayer. If/when we burn them, just as with smoking the chanunpa (sacred pipe), our prayers that are put into the offering (kinnikinnick) rises to great spirit and infuses all that it touches with those prayers.

Why different colors of cloth?
Each color represents something. Depending on the nation, different colors might be used. Within the Lakota and Seminole cultures, a yellow cloth is used for a prayer for healing, a white or black cloth is used for our ancestors and a red cloth is used for giving thanks. Blue and green cloth can also be used for Father Sky and Mother Earth respectively.
Here is a list of the four directions colors and what they represent in Lakota traditions:
  • East, red – Newness, beginnings, new awareness, dawn
  • South, yellow – Healing, growing, vigor, youth
  • West, black – Inner vision, reflection, soul-searching, endings
  • North, white – Wisdom of ancestors, Higher Power, guidance
  • Blue, sky – Father/Grandfather Sky, Wakȟáŋ Tȟáŋka, Tȟuŋkášila
  • Green, earth – Mother/Grandmother Earth, Uŋčí Makȟá

Making a prayer tie:
When you make a prayer tie, be mindful of your hands as they will be touching medicine. Begin being aware of them before (you will sometimes see some people shaking their hands before). It is sacred medicine and should be handled as such. Take a pinch of tobacco and pray to the directions – East, South, West, North, Above, Below, Within. Place the tobacco at the center of a square piece of cloth – Red, Yellow, Black, White, Blue, Green and a color of your choice.. Fold it in half length-wise twice as you make your prayer “capturing it” within the bundle, with the tobacco at the head and the cloth at the bottom like a tail (looks something like a ghost). Then tie the bundle with a piece of string or thin cloth. Don’t knot the string, instead use the hitch method and loop the string twice around the neck of the tie once in one direction and then the opposite direction.
Normally prayer ties are completed in sequence in sets/multiples of either 4 or 7. If you do sets of 4 you would use Red, Yellow, Black and White cloth. If you do sets of 4 you would use Red, Yellow, Black, White, Blue, Green and then a color of your choice.
Prayer tie chains are often, 4, 7, 16, 28 ties in length, but can be much longer and include hundreds of individual ties. I have made prayer ties that were up to 28′ in length and included many hundreds of prayer ties and was made over many months time.

Sometimes prayer tie chains are made so that all of the red ties are tied together for 6-8′, then the same length of yellow, then black then white. These are then laid out so that the length of red ties (often 48 or so in a row) are laid in the East, the length of yellow in the South, black in the West and white in the north. This is how some people create a sacred prayer barrier around their sacred altar while completing Vision Quest. They would then have a prayer bundle or flag on their altar inside their sacred space.

What to do with completed prayer ties?:
After completing prayer ties, bring them to ceremony and give them to the medicine man as an offering so your prayers will be answered. Normally most medicine people will have you add your ties to a sacred fire so that your prayers can be released to creator.
You can also make them at home and offer them to the Creator as you pray or smudge. During a ceremony, the medicine man will often make an altar and tie the or place the prayer ties all around.

Prayer ties can be worn around your neck or placed in the crook of willows in a sweat lodge (Inipi) or can be used to surround your sacred altar during Vision Quest, or can be placed on sticks and used as flags surrounding a Sun Dance or other ceremonial arbor. Larger prayer flags with abalone shell and a spirit feather can also hang from an altar or place in the home.

Watch this video which shows how to make prayer ties:

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GpAhgE16jRU&t=3s]

Learn more about prayer ties by taking our 13th Moon Online Course

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