Tag Archives: Lakota

Picking and Burning Sage


My informant, from Rosebud, South Dakota, describes the use of sage in Lakota culture: “So sage is a thing that we use in Lakota culture, it’s kind of a thing, to put it in more modern terms, it’s kind of like clorox wipes for Lakota people, because it’s very much a cleansing feeling. Has a lot of different uses. It can be used as a gift between people. And picking it is a thing in of itself. Because you can’t pull it, you have to cut it at the stem, say a prayer, sometimes you leave some tobacco as a “thank you” for getting the sage. A lot of people burn sage in their house to kind of cleanse it almost? Like if they’re feeling a little like, down, depressed or anything, sage helps kinda cleanse that area of the house. And a lot of ceremonies will center around a bowl of burning sage and you’ll kind of like waft yourself with it. It’s used a lot in like, Sundance, Sweat, and everything.”


“I’ve never picked sage myself, I’ve seen it be picked. And burning it, I think just, I don’t know if it’s because of some factor or if it’s just familiar, but every time I smell sage, or like burning sage, it just gives me this sense of like calmness? And serenity. Which nothing else really does. So I guess in a sense it works. I think the sage has always been a part of my life and I haven’t really known anything different. And I think knowing that it’s not as wide of a thing just makes it all the more special to me. I mean, we were hunter-gatherers, back in our day, we used the land to survive, and sage. And I think it’s just a tradition that’s carried on since that.”


The rituals of picking and burning sage seem to represent a connection between the group and their past. The informant emphasizes how important it is to him that this is something that feels unique to his group, and is representative of where they came from and who they used to be, and who they still are now. The sage represents a connection to the earth, picking it carefully and leaving tobacco behind in return suggests values of gratitude and respect for nature. Sage seems to be a versatile object, used in multiple ceremonies and rituals, of various scales. The smell of sage seems to represent to the informant the familiarity of home.

The Whole Image (Soul Stealing and Microphones)

This friend of mine has always been one of the most superstitious people I know. Her childhood was split between two households, each with their own unique beliefs and superstitions. Having been quite close for the past few years, I’ve heard innumerable stories regarding strange folk-beliefs her parents taught her as a little girl. When I asked her about her superstitions and pulled out a microphone, she sealed her lips and wouldn’t explain until I’d turned it off. And first, I was a bit peeved, but by the end of her explanation, it made a lot more sense.

The following was recorded by hand during a group interview with 4 other of our friends in the common area of a 6-person USC Village apartment.

“Okay so the reason I don’t speak into microphones, no actually don’t – no please don’t. I’ll hold it. I’ll explain it to you, it’s completely legitimate! Okay. So… I don’t believe in speaking into a microphone if there’s no image along with it because my personal spiritual beliefs have to do with the reflection and the way that a person is viewed by other people. Kind of like everyone has a projection, so if your projection doesn’t capture the whole picture it’s wrong. I’ll only be in a video if there’s sound and I’ll only speak directly if you can see me doing it. Think about the way people look at Instagram. If I show you Ben’s insta you only get 3% of his personality. As a means of calculating the projections I give off, I don’t get to know people that well, I’m really picky with people I get to know, and I’m picky with how I represent myself, so I’ve deleted my insta, and I don’t like posing for photos. I don’t like artificial projection, because it goes against my spiritual beliefs. Voice overs for movies are different. That’s acting out a character When representing yourself, I only like the whole image. I don’t take pictures.

 “Partly just growing up, a big part of misunderstanding and getting along with people is getting the whole picture. I grew up never getting the whole picture, I feel like it’s important to be as genuine as possible. If you’re allowing someone to see you and know you as a person, and you only give them a partial image, then, intrinsically, you’re setting yourself up to be stereotyped, and like, put into a box.

 “That’s why I hate telling people I’m vegan. It’s like, yeah, I’m fucking vegan, but I like chicken wings sometimes, you know? I hate being put into boxes because no one will ever kno- you don’t even know yourself. No one will ever know anyone. So why make it easier for people to assume that they can? I’m interested in things, but part of my spirituality is just lack of definition. I just think definition is so limiting… And I’ve also tripped on acid a lot, so I’ve felt more things than human existence. I also – I – Identity is complicated. I think people have crossover, but I don’t think – there’s absolutely no way that there’s a carbon copy of me somewhere else. There’s no way that anyone has a carbon copy. I don’t know. Now you get why I don’t like being recorded! I’ve had a lot of problems with this. In high school, I was – me and a couple of people were going to start a band, and then… we didn’t because I wouldn’t record. It was weird.

 “To go back to the question, I am like – I have depersonalization realization. It’s like a mental disorder. Everyone experiences it differently, but I have a separation between myself and what I make. My ankle for example – I just broke it, but I didn’t really process the pain immediately. When I look in the mirror, I don’t see myself, but I see a body that my soul is in. It’s kind of like Freaky Friday. I mean, nobody will ever know you. Your appearance has nothing to do with who you are. I don’t give a shit about my body. I don’t eat. I don’t feel hungry, or like feel anything. I only feel things in my brain. That’s why I live inside my brain. I mean I can feel you, but I’m not – it’s not like I don’t have nerves. I just live inside my brain.”

This superstition is fascinating to me, as it ties together a few more common superstitions and builds upon them while following a strange sort of dream-logic. Perhaps the most famous anecdote regarding soul theft and photography is famed Lakota tribal leader Crazy Horse never having his photograph taken. It’s quite common for many Native American and Australian Aborigines tribes to view photography as a fracturing and subsequent thievery of the soul, as the whole concept of photography is freezing a moment of time. However, my friend puts a whole new spin on this as she adds audio and video recordings to the mix. It’s fascinating to follow her complicated web of spirituality, and it really does make you think about how we define ourselves and those around us.

For more information on soul stealing and photography, check out: http://www.bigbanglife.org/?p=404

For a skeptical view of the same, check out: https://www.csicop.org/sb/show/soul_theft_through_photography

Owls and the Lakota

SI: Way back in the day, I was probably about, uh, 12 or 13 at the time. My momma told me once, that to the Lakota Sioux, my tribe particularly, the Oglala tribe, they see owls as a postive thing, a lot of other cultures see it as an omen of death or destruction or something negative. But the Lakota Sioux view it as a symbol of hope and power and wisdom, of course. Basically it’s a positive sign. I remember because one time we were cruising to the reservation – we used to live on a fish farm. So we were heading back to the fish farm, and we saw an owl overhead. There’s also this connection between the Sioux and owls, it’s a whole Native thing.

Once an owl got caught in a fence at the fish farm, and her (SI’s mother) boyfriend, another caretaker of the farm, was trying to get it out of the fence by hurting him, but it kept going ballistic on him. So my mom went up to it, and she took like a t-shirt and put it around its head, but it was completely calm. The caretaker tried to do the same thing and it went ballistic. My mom still firmly believes that because she’s Sioux and because owls are a good thing for us, that that’s the reason the owl didn’t freak out as much.

That was on a reservation in Arizona, in the desert. I just think it’s interesting that different cultures can see different signs as positive or negative. Like I said, a lot of European countries think, since it’s a nighttime bird, that it’s something negative, like a raven almost. I was told that when we were cruising on the way back to the house.

SI’s mother’s maiden name was Brown. That was not in fact her last name at birth, but her aunt had made her change it so she would not be bullied for it. The name she was born with was Barbara Brown Owl, but only held that name for the first few years of her life.