Tuesday, November 25, 2008

The History of Native American Bone Chokers

The History of Native American Bone Chokers: What they were used for – How they were made – What they were made of by Paula Bidwell Native Talisman Art E-Bay store owner, artist and indigenous healer.

Bone chokers originally were made from bird legs. They were seldom used as just ornamentation. They were used as physical protection for the throat from a possible knife attack. The jugular vein is in the neck and is lethal if cut. They were also used in conjunction with physical protection as a spiritual protection for the voice. Because most birds are noted for the sounds they make or for their singing quality. The spirit of the bird could be invoked to protect the person’s voice from ailments, jealousy or fatigue. There is also a cultural saying for men – “You become a man when you can speak your heart to the people - clearly and without fear - honor, bravery and victory are yours.”

The bird was not always killed to make the chokers. Most often they were found after a preditory animal had already killed them or they had died a natural death. This was considered a good sign when found. Not only for the people who needed the chokers but for the bird, so it’s life would be of honor, value and service. In all instances every part of every animal was used. Nothing was thrown away. This is done out of respect for the sacrifice the animal made and to honor it’s life.

In some cases, the leg bone of a specific bird was needed. Prayers were made to the bird (usually an eagle, hawk or owl). The hunter would fast and pray sometimes for days on end. He would wait until the bird came to him. A typical story of this sort of thing, is the bird came to the hunter and landed right in from of him and sat without moving until the hunter took it’s life. They say that while the bird sits in front of the hunter. They converse with their hearts. The bird has to willingly and happily give it’s life for the purpose needed or the hunter will not kill it. Among the people, giving of life so that others may live is the ultimate ending to our existance on the earth.

Bone chokers made from the bones of bird’s legs were practical. They already had a hole through the center where the marrow was. They were already cylindrical and only a little smoothing and shaping was needed. The leg bones were cleaned and smoothed and shaped by boiling them until softened. Flint was used to trim any irregularities and a smooth stone was used to shine and smooth the surface. Beads were smaller bones which had been sliced or cut. These bones were sometimes colored with a variety of minerals, most common was red earth (vermillion). The red earth was mixed with fat and then rubbed repeatedly over the bone while the bone was still soft from boiling. To preserve the color they were regularly rubbed with fat to create a shiny coating. This also kept the bones from becoming brittle.

Real sinew from the leg of a deer or buffalo was used to thread the bones and beads. Deer or buffalo sinew was chosen because the strips of sinew were longer than other animals. Before needles a bone awl was used to punch holes in the hide spacers for threading the sinew.

Each bone choker had very special and personal meaning for the wearer. Many times they were dreamed prior to their making. It was seldom that the wearer would make their own choker. There were specific people in the tribe that did this. Many times they were assistants to a medicine person or a medicine person themselves. On the occasion that the wearer made their own choker it was usually because they dreamed it this way. Although, much help and assitance was given to the dreamer while making the choker.

Today it is much the same. You can see all kinds of chokers with symbols and specific colors for the wearer. Wolf, bear and eagle are very common. Purchasing a choker from isn’t any different from the traditional way of compensation. Which would be supply the maker with a blanket, a horse, food, etc. Any thing that is necessary to maintain life was appropriate payment. So, today we have money.

As a person who makes these chokers, I consider it a great honor when someone purchases mine. Prays are made before I even touch one of the materials that go into a choker. Then songs are sung and more prayers are made for the well-being of the wearer as the choker is assembled. Choices in color and symbols come from deep prayer. As if I already know the soon to be owner. Interestingly, as soon as I finish one, an inquiry comes or a purchase occurs.

Please visit my E-Bay store at http://www.stores.ebay.com/native-talisman-art to see all my products – authentic medicine bags, spiritually inspired art with the stories of the vision or dream, and more.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

What's a Native American Medicine Bag?

A Native American medicine bag is a small leather bag or pouch that contains various healing objects. They are often painted or beaded with designs specific for the wearer. This is done to entice or invoke the spirit of the animal, figure or symbol.

What's inside is another story. A medicine bag can contain innumerable objects. These objects are as unique as the person wearing it. Many people add their own "medicine" or healing objects. Although, most often a medicine person or indigenous healer will make the bag and add the contents. Common medicine bag objects are stones, ash from a ceremony fire, roots and barks, herbs, feathers, dirt from a ceremonial ground, or wood from a tree struck by lightening.

Many people like their medicine bags very ornate and fancy, but in reality the bag should be downplayed. This is especially true when a medicine bag is made for protection, for instance, protection from jealousy, enemies, negativity, bad spirits, illness and the list goes on and on. A medicne bag is kind of like an "ace up your sleeve". Or maybe like a spray can of mace or another self defense weapon. You keep it handy, but you don't wave it around or threaten folks with it.

Medicine bags or pouches last a long time. They are made of leather and are extremely durable. But there comes a time when the medicine bag just wears out. The neck cord has broken so often it may look like a string of knots. The leather has worn down and looks like it's been left out in the rain too long. What do you do with it at this stage? You take the bag and it's contents to a remote location. Somewhere that people seldom go to. Then hang the medicine bag or pouch in a tree where it's barely visible. The helping birds such as ravens, crows, eagles, or hawks and the "invisible beings"such as angels or guardians will disassemble the bag and remove all traces of it. Some people have been known to bury their bags. But this isn't recommended. In the earth the bag will continue to exist and the special medicine belonging to it could be dug up and innocently or not so innocently misused. There are stories of ancient medicine pouches that were found, taken home or put in a museum and then all sorts of terrible things began to happen. Anyway, it is much better to let the angelic beings and our helper birds take care of something as precious as a medicine bag.

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