Wolf Fur, a Turkey Feather, and Some Balls of Dirt

“What’s in that bag you wear around your neck? Can I see it?”

We get that question a lot. As people who follow a traditional tribal spirituality, we keep – and wear frequently – a leather pouch we call a medicine bag. Sometimes we have more than one over our lifetime.

During a recent trip to Washington DC, when entering a government building, I was asked by security to remove my medicine bag and place it on the X-ray conveyor. Ok, no problem. After passing through the metal detector, as I was collecting my other jewelry and things, the same security guard asked me what is “in that bag,” looking mildly suspicious. 

I smiled and told him the contents… 

“Well, let’s see… There’s wolf fur, bear fur, shells, quartz crystals, a tom turkey feather, a dove feather, corn, stones, ceremonial herbs, and many little balls of dirt from the floor of our Great House in Ohio.” 

I imagine much of that was perplexing for him. And I’m quite certain none of that sounded like “medicine” to him. We went on to have a brief conversation about why all those things were in the bag, how I chose them to be there, and in the end, he was fascinated that such a humble looking pouch of leather could have so much significance to the wearer. For me, it is indeed my “medicine.”

Every piece of its content is sacred to me, and has a specific memory attached and reason for being there. 

When I wear the medicine bag, it is similar to Christians wearing a cross, or Jews wearing the Star of David. It is a symbol of my spirituality and a tool for protection as well as connection to what is beyond the physical. 

The wolf fur is to remind me of family. The crystals and the balls of dirt are remembrances from ceremony. Shells, stone, dried kernels of corn, and the dove feather remind me of the elements of water, earth, and air. And the tom turkey feather was found and gifted to me during a walk through a rural forest of Ohio during a spiritual retreat. It is now my symbol for connecting both to the other side of the veil, as well as deep within myself for genetic memory.

When I wear the medicine bag, it is similar to Christians wearing a cross, or Jews wearing the Star of David. It is a symbol of my spirituality and a tool for protection as well as connection to what is beyond the physical.

I have two others as well. One contains the small bundle made for me by my Mide’ at my naming ceremony. The other was found in the pawn section of a store in Scottsdale, Arizona with no clue to the person who owned it or brought it in. It is sewn shut and has a bone hairpipe bracelet attached. I cannot readily explain to you why, but it felt sacred to me the moment I saw it, and it stays with me now during every ceremony and spiritual trek/experience. I’ve never opened it, never will, it has a right to its privacy and history. I am simply the current guardian of it. 

We also have a tradition of keeping a “bundle,” or two or three or more, of our sacred possessions. Our main bundle encompasses everything we would need to perform ceremony for ourselves or others. It is our deepest connection to our spirituality, the core of our being, our “phone line” to the Ancestors, and is shared only with few and select people in our circle. 

Our bundles are kept on our household altar with other objects of spiritual significance… feathers, rocks, furs, bones, smudge sticks, and shells. We believe in the power of earthly and natural objects. 

Every culture, it seems, has a tradition of sacred jewelry, “lucky charms,” or garments which symbolize one’s faith in something greater than themselves and their connection to it. 

As with other belief systems, some of ours is public, and other bits are strictly private. 

However, speaking for us here at the WeWan, we welcome your inquiries about our medicine bags and sacred jewelry. It is an opportunity for us to share part of ourselves with you and to open a dialog about ancient traditions and how they are still represented here in this modern day of the Twenty First Century. Not every Native culture and faith system is necessarily open to inquiries and conversations about sacred items. Always be respectful of that and tread lightly. However, the next time you see me or Jim, please know it is ok to ask us! We’ll be looking forward to sharing with, and also learning from, you!




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View from the Medicine Lodge
The above is an excerpt from, View from the Medicine Lodge ~ A Modern Perspective on Ancient Wisdom. In this collection of essays, stories, and poems, your guides open the Medicine Lodge, and the wisdom found within, recounting their encounters on life’s path – from the beautiful to the mundane. With this insight, you will look to the far horizon of the Turtle Island, and deep within… to the center of your soul. “Since Creator first made two-leggeds, humans have searched for their soul and its relationship with all things. From the sacred confines of the Medicine Lodge you will gain perspective, and learn to Walk in Balance within your center, with all Creator’s Creations.”

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The Keepers

Jim Great Elk (kiji) and Kelly Talking Heron (Ashá) are Wisdom Keepers,
who believe everyone walks their own path on the Circle of Life.

Through the Powaka Experience, you master four basic Stepping Stones to
your center… where you learn to Walk in Balance and discover Your Destiny.