While traveling through the United States, we often thought about the native tribes who wandered freely through the forests and plains, just a few centuries ago. We wondered how they lived, traveled, what they ate and how they maintained their health throughout all of this. Luckily, we met people who could give us an idea about their way of living, their beliefs and their traditions, and thanks to the vast amount of knowledge on the internet, we could explore their traditions even further.
Healing and Balance
According to Native Americans, everything in our world is connected and to maintain well-being, in oneself and the community, it was important to find balance. An imbalance was often considered to be the reason why one was ill. During healing rituals, they sought to regain balance between the spiritual world, the community, the environment and oneself.
Ceremonies were held for various reasons such as birth, death, or the success of a harvest. There were also important healing ceremonies, used to restore balance in the community. During those ceremonies, the community came together to sing and dance, and they were often accompanied by drums and the use of sacred (sometimes psychoactive) plants.
Purifying the body was a part of the healing process, and therefore building a sweat lodge was an important ritual in many tribes. A sweat lodge is a small structure, made of pliable young trees or branches and covered with blankets or tarps (earlier, they used animal skin). A pit inside the lodge was filled with hot stones, and water was poured over them, filling the lodge with steam. It was a ritual to purify and release, to sing, to pray, to connect with the spirit world, and the other participants.
Another tradition in some tribes was the use of a moon lodge, a structure build for the women of the tribe who were in their Moon Time (menstruation). A place for them to rest and regenerate, where they could be alone or together with their sisters of the tribe. Their family obligations were lifted from them, for as long as they retreated inside the lodge, and men were not allowed inside. It was a place for healing, connecting to each other and to the moon and the earth.
These beliefs and traditions vary from tribe to tribe, but a lot of similarities can be found between them. A great deal of these methods are still used today by several tribes, often combined with modern, allopathic medicine.
The Use of Healing Plants
The healers of the tribes combined the healing powers of plants with their connection to the spirit world. Plants were viewed as brothers and sisters and treated with respect. The healers asked permission to use the herb and expressed their gratitude when harvesting and preparing the medicine. These sacred herbs were used as herbal remedies, or as part of ceremonies, where they were smoked or burned.
It is said that Native Americans learned about the medicinal powers of certain herbs by observing animals such as deer or elk. They noticed that these animals ate specific plants when they were ill, and recovered after. The Native Americans understood that the plants must have some sort of medicinal benefits and started experimenting with them. Herbal wisdom was passed on from generation to generation until extensive knowledge was gathered on more than five hundred healing plants!
Balance of body and spirit is something very important in native healing traditions, and often forgot in modern medicine. An illness is seen as just that, and medicine is taken to suppress symptoms as quickly as possible, instead of listening to the body and working together towards healing. But times, they are a-changing! More and more people are interested in the wonders of traditional medicine and are learning to listen to what their body is telling them. After all, our body carries us wherever we need to go, bears the burden that we often put upon it and supports us throughout our lives, and it is something wonderful to honor this.
Kathy Weiser – Native American Medicine https://www.legendsofamerica.com/na-medicine/
Mary Koithan and Cynthia Farrell – Indigenous Native American Healing Traditions https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2913884/