My Personal Pipe Practice

Throughout this class I have been exposed to many beautiful spiritual practices that have moved me. Pipe ceremony, in particular, was a ceremony that brought me both clarity and connection to those around me. As a form of council, pipe ceremony is a beautiful way to speak openly and listen earnestly. In this format, I feel like I am able to speak spontaneously, yet say what I’d like to with few words. I pray, evaluate what is important to me, and set intentions. I would like to incorporate these exercises into my own spiritual practice, but I am hesitant.

Maybe it’s because I am utterly turned off to new-age spirituality after seeing footage of the drum-circle at the Wintu holy spring, but I worry that it may be inappropriate for me to take something so sacred to someone else and make it my own. As a white male living in the United States, I wonder how I can borrow from another culture without appropriating. Surely doing my own pipe ceremony is different than making homemade curry. Both American Indians and Indian Indians suffer from the living legacy of white colonialism, but borrowing a culture’s spice kit is very different than borrowing their holy ceremony.

If my participation in this type of ceremony offends others, should I not do it? This could be resolved by a simple cost-benefit analysis; if the benefit of my doing the ceremony outweighs the harm of offense done to others, than my participation in the ceremony is okay. Maybe. Many harmful acts can benefit others, but it can also be said that harmful acts should be avoided at all costs. In this case, there also seems to be issues of ownership at play. Pipe ceremony belongs to those who received from White Buffalo Woman. It does not belong to me.

Even so, I wonder if anybody would actually be offended if I did pipe ceremony in the privacy of my home. It is likely that I would do the ceremony ‘incorrectly’. I supposed could take part of the ceremony that I like and make an entirely new ceremony. For example, I could bring the practice of council to a ceremony where a bowl of tea is passed around instead of a pipe.

I really appreciated what Isaac said about the difference between cultural appropriation and acculturation: Appropriation is a luxury the colonizer has to take bits of culture from others without understanding their significance or meaning, while acculturation, requires an individual to deliberately adopt a practice as their own, while giving thought to the full weight and gravity of this move.I know very little about the mythology and theology of pipe ceremony. I am unaware of anny communication with spirits when I smoke the pipe. I am sure there are also many micro-rituals in the actual performance of the ceremony that I am unaware of. If I do pipe understanding, it would be with a shallow understanding of what the ceremony actually is.

My hypothetical tea bowl ceremony could achieve much of what I gain from Pipe ceremony without appropriating from anybody. Maybe I will do tea ceremony. But I also love the taste of the smoking herb blend. Being able to identify and forage native plants for my own horticultural uses is empowering. It connects me to land, deepening my relationship with the local ecology.

Spiritual practice is a form of knowledge, just as agrarian or culinary practices are. Even though these forms of knowledge have different significance, it is strange to imagine having knowledge but not using it. Ultimately, I think I will continue doing pipe ceremony with my friends. It seems appropriate to utilize the ancient knowledge of those who lived here before us. In the privacy of my home, I will conduct this ceremony as a homage to Lakota tradition, without trying to disguise it as anything other than what it is: a borrowed imitation.

I will forage, pray, smoke, and council with care.

I hope you’re not offended.

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