Smoking and Pipes

When the colonial settlers came to North America they were introduced to (Wdam8w8gan) "smoking." The use of burning plant material for medical and ceremonial purposes was done by our people for generations.

To facilitate the medical use of plants a medicine lodge could be used like a sweat-lodge. The hot rocks would be used to volatilize the plants into smoke (Begeda).

The most common method of smoking was done with pipes (Wdam8gan). The pipes bowls were usually carved from red pipe stone (Wdam8ganisen) or soap stone.

Some pipes were one piece in an "elbow" or animal effigy shape. The stone was carved using flint and knives. Molded clay pipes were also used.

Some bone or wooden pipes were also carved. "Tomahawk" pipes were also made by the Europeans for trade pieces.

These were steel or brass tomahawk heads that had a pipe bowl cast on top. The wooden handles were drilled through their length and the head was attached so that the pipe part could be smoked through the handle (Peace pipe and weapon in one).

Pipe stems (Wdam8ganakwam) were made of wood or woody reeds. Various methods were used to make the pipe stem hole. Many of ours used soft pith centered branches that could be burned or pushed through.

Some tribal groups used rolled leaves like cigar or cigarette types of smoking methods.

Smoke and smoking was an important part of the Native American Indians' daily lives.

Fires were continually going for cooking, warmth and habitation. Specific types of wood and plant materials were burned for the curing of foods, water-proofing leather, fragrances to bathe the body, and medical healing.

The materials used for inhaled smoking came from a wide variety of dried wild herbs, barks, and plants, including (Wdam8) native tobacco (Nicotiana rustica or tobacum).

Compared to modern chemically treated and flavored tobacco, the smoking mixtures of the past were much lower in nicotine and more medicinal in character.

Smoking Herbs & Plants

To go along with the history of smoking we are listing several herbs, barks and plants that were used for smoking.

The native word Kinnikinnick was used to describe Bearberry, but more accurately this was meant for a blend of herbs that included it. Kinnikinnick was typically a mixture of sumac bark (or red willow bark), native tobacco, spicebush, and bearberry.

Our tribal council makes a ceremonial smoking mixture each year. The mixture and amount of each type of plant material vary from year to year depending on availability and other factors. The plants marked with * have been used in the various amounts in past mixtures.

Angelica (Angelica atropurpurea)
*Bearberry, Kinnikinnick, Mealberry, Upland Cranberry (Arctostaphylos uva-uri) (leaves)
*Birch - Gray (Betulaceae spp.) (bark)
Bristly Crowfoot (Ranunculus pensylvanicus)
Butterweed or Horse-Weed (Erigeron canadensis)
Coltsfoot (Tussilago farfara)
Corn - Corn silk (Zea mays)
Dittany (Cunila origanoides)
Goldenrod (Solidago spp.)
Licorice (Glycrrhiza glabra)
Life Everlasting (Gnaphalium polycephalum)
Lobelia "Indian Tobacco" (Lobelia inflata)
Meadowsweet (Spiraea alba)
*Mint (Mentha spp.) (leaves)
*Mullein (Verbascum thapsus) (leaves)
*New England Aster (Aster novae-angliae) (flowers)
Panicled Dogwood (Cornus racemosa) (bark)
Pearly Everlasting (Anaphalis margaritacea)
Partridgeberry - Squaw Vine (Mitchella repens)
Pussytoes (Antennaria neglecta)
*Red Raspberry (Rubus spp.) (leaves)
*Red Osier Dogwood (Cornus stolonifera) (bark)
*Sage (Salvia officnalis, spp.) (ground leaves)
Sassafras (Sassafras albidum) (bark)
*Smooth Sumac (Rhus glabra) (leaves & berries)
Spicebush (Lindera benzoin) (leaves & bark)
*Staghorn Sumac (Rhus typhina) (leaves & berries)
Sunflower (Helianthus spp.) (leaves)
*Sweet Clover (Meliltos spp.) (flowers)
*Sweet Grass (chopped stems)
*Tobacco (Nicotiana spp.) (leaves)
Wild Lettuce (Lactuca virosa)
*Willow (Salix, Salicaceae spp.) (bark)
*Wintergreen (Chimaphila maculata/umbellata) (leaves)
*Yarrow (Achillea spp.) (leaves)

The Pipe -

The act of smoking is an old tradition - some say that it was reserved for sacred activities and prayers - and yet many now smoke for social or personal pleasure. It is more appropriate to consider the pipe and smoking as a sacred matter - a pathway for your prayers.

Anyone can make or buy a pipe, but traditionally it would have been more appropriate if you were gifted a pipe or the materials to make it. It is also a good thing to give your first made pipe away to another person before you make one for yourself.

Within our Band there is no "sacred pipe-maker" - to make a pipe comes from within and with great respect for the pipe you create. You are making a living thing that will grow with your life experiences - at first it will be your baby and if used properly it will grow with you.

If possible the pipe and stem should be made by your own hands, using flint, knives, cutting bits, files, and sand/sand paper. Preferably you will work without power tools.

For your first pipe, start simple. A smooth round bowl and straight stem are best. In time and patience you will learn how to work with the stone and wood. Those that have tried to start by carving elaborate animal effigy bowls are often disappointed. The heart, mind, and spirit have to be right whenever you work on a pipe.

The bowl is usually made of red pipe stone "catlinite" or soap stone, talc or "steatite." The catlinite usually is red or mottled red, most of it comes from a Native quarry in Minnesota. It is relatively hard compared to soap stone.

Steatite is available from many quarries worldwide, one of the best black types is from Virginia. Soap stone comes in a wide variety of colors from white to black and green to red-brown to pink. Some pieces that we have used have all these colors including flecks of iron or pyrite "fools gold." Pieces such as this vary greatly in hardness and as a result, additional care is needed when you work with it. The softer material may break or crack when you work with it.

Start with a flat piece of stone 1?? inch thick and 4 by 6 inches, this will give you enough material to work with. With careful cutting you can get two pipes from this size piece. We look for old broken soap stone wash sinks - check with plumbers and antique dealers for a source.

Draw what you want the pipe bowl to look like on paper and mark it on the stone. The bowl hole should be ? inch diameter by about 1? inch deep. The hole should taper slightly at the bottom. A small _ inch diameter hole should be made perpendicular from the stem end to intersect the bottom of the bowl hole.

Once the holes are made the carving and shaping is done until it has the desired shape. After the stem is made the final diameter of the stem and bowl receiving hole can be made to match with a tight fit.

The wooden stem is best made from a small straight (? to 1? inch diameter by 10 to 12 inch long) branch that has a pithy center core. Red sumac, sassafras, walnut, and some willows are acceptable in this way. Many of our stems have also been made using red maple as well.

Start with short and straight pieces of wood at first. The stem hole can be made using a heavy metal wire that is heated red hot. The wire can be pushed through the wooden stem center after many repeated re-heats.

Care must be made to push the wire straight down the center and not through the side. Once the hole is made you can remove the bark, carve, and sand finish.

The labor that you spend on the making of the pipe becomes the special connection that you have between you and the pipe. Pray for guidance as you make it.

The pipe bowl should be heat treated by fire or in a hot oven if need be. Once it is hot, bees wax or sunflower oil is applied. It will darken the stone considerably but it will bring out many of the stone grain details.

This process is done many, many times and the stone is polished each time it cools. If for some reason the stone breaks - it was not meant to be - start again with a new mind and heart.

The wooden stem is coated with sunflower oil as well and it too is smoothed and polished each time. The portion of the stem that goes into the bowl should be given a light coating of bees wax to protect the wood and stone when they go together.

The stem can be wrapped in leather, beaded, or other wise decorated with feathers or other things that are special or sacred to us. Like clothing a child these items can change or be added to over time.

Wrap the bowl and stem in leather or cloth when not in use and store them in a leather or cloth bag to protect your "baby." A special pipe-bag should be made next.

Some people refer to the "first use" of the pipe as the "pipe awakening" ceremony. This act has no basis of ceremonial tradition with our People, it may be more relevant to other tribal groups of the West or Plains.

For us, it is more appropriate to think of the connective relationship of all pipes and their purpose in our culture. If possible you should smoke it the first time with other pipe carriers.

Ask that they share their experiences with you - so that you can collectively bring this new "baby" into the family of pipes.

The best example of this sharing comes from ancient Algonquin ceremonies such as the Pipe Dance ceremonies that are held in mid-May each year by the Blackfeet of Montana.

During this ceremony, the oldest pipe carriers George and Molly Kickingwoman bring out the ancient pipes. Dances and ceremonies celebrate this time. Pipes of others are also smoked together as one in unity.

In this way - all pipes are symbolically connected in time and existence because the bowls come from the rock of Mother Earth and the stems come from the tree and plant beings.

The bowl symbolizes the female side of existence and the stem the male side. When the two are put together there is the unity of existence.

When you put the stem and bowl together you must plan on smoking it - otherwise you do not pay the proper respect to your pipe. Care should be made when joining the two. You should wet the stem end with your lips before you put the two together.

When smoking herbals, Kinnikinnick or tobacco, the material is placed in the bowl one small pinch at a time. Check the draw of the pipe occasionally to make sure that is not packed too tight.

A tamper made of a deer antler point makes a good one. The herbs should be lightly tamped with each pinch and a prayer should be offered with each one.

An appropriate prayer to the Creator, Kchi Niwaskw, Grand-Mother Earth, Nokemes Ki, Grand-Father Sky, Nmahom Asokw, the East, Waji-nahilot or Waji-s8khipozit, the South, S8wanaki, the West, Ali-nkihl8t, the North, Pebonkik, and to thank all of our relations past, present, and future generations N'dal8gom8mek or Wli-do-gonw8gan are recommended.

Once the pipe is lit take four or more puffs to assure that it is going well and tamp it occasionally. Use the smoke to cleanse yourself as you would a smudge.

Once you feel comfortable that you are prepared, start to offer your prayers. Many start by going to the Creator and conclude with a thank-you to all of your relations as you did when you packed the pipe. Other prayers from your heart or mind are appropriate as well - always be respectful in any thing that you do with your pipe.

Remember, there are no right or wrong ways of the pipe or praying - but always do so with respect and honor. We are not bound by rules or written practices on these matters.

Much of our past has been lost, we must search for it in our hearts and through prayers for guidance from our ancestors. N'dal8gom8mek...Wli-do-gonw8gan

Cowasuck Band of the Pennacook - Abenaki People

840 Suncook Valley Road, P.O. Box 52
Alton, New Hampshire 03809-0052
Phone: 603-776-1090
Email: cowasuck@tds.net