Tobacco Prayer Ties
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.
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.
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.
- 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
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.
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:
Learn more about prayer ties by taking our 13th Moon Online Course