Anishinaabe Mashkiki: The Four Sacred Medicines

Treaty 2 Territory- Since time immemorial, First Nations peoples have used plants as medicines to promote healthy living, to treat illnesses and for ceremonies.  The most common sacred medicines are tobacco, sage, sweetgrass and cedar.  These sacred plants thrive in natural outlying areas in Manitoba, in areas such as wetland marshes, along the edges of lakes and rivers, and in uncultivated meadows and pastures.  It is important to follow traditional protocol that pays respect to Mother Earth when harvesting sacred plants.  Indiscriminate picking of these plants is disrespectful so picking should be guided by local Elders, Knowledge Keepers or Cultural Advisor to ensure that protocol is followed. 

The Four Sacred Medicines

Tobacco (Semaa) is situated in the east.  It is known as a sacred plant by First Nations peoples across Turtle Island. It was the first plant that Creator gave us. We are taught that the tobacco smoke is a direct link to our ancestors and the Spirit world. We communicate through tobacco; it takes our prayers and carries them to the spirit world. A request from Elders and knowledge keepers should be accompanied by an offer of tobacco; when the tobacco is accepted, the promise must be honoured. Tobacco can also be used to thank the Creator for his gifts: if you pick medicines, you should leave some tobacco on the ground, and say thank you for the gift. Tobacco sits at the Eastern door of the medicine wheel and is the beginning of every ceremony, every song, every prayer, every story told, and every promise made. It’s also used in pipe ceremonies. Tobacco is the gift of spiritual health.

Sage (Mshkodewashk) Sage sits in the south andis a women’s medicine, representing strength, wisdom, and clarity of purpose. It is a powerful, purifying medicine that drives away negative energies. Sage can be found tied in bundles and hung in people’s homes, often tied with a ribbon in one of the 4 colours of the medicine wheel. First Nations people use sage when feeling anxious, when dealing with pain, when they have an important decision to make, or have shared a space with someone who made them feel unsafe. Its soft and sweet smoke rises to the Creator, taking away our worries, carrying our gratitude and good intentions. Sage will wash away the negativity of the outside world before you step closer to the Creator and the spirit world. Using sage to smudge is recommended because all people can smudge with sage at any time.  This is particularly important for women when they are on their moon time.  During this time, women can only use sage to smudge. 

Sweetgrass (Wiingashk) Sweetgrass, found in the west,is used by First Nation peoples across North America.  Known as Mother Earth’s (Mother Aki) hair. it has a soft fragrance that teaches us about kindness: to be gentle, loving, respectful and kind to each other. A single strand is not as strong as when braided together – so it is braided in 3 groups of 7 strands, each strand representing the 7 teachings, 7 pipes, 7 lodges and the 3 groups honours the teachings of interconnection between the mind, body, and spirit. When Sweetgrass is walked on, it bends but does not break. Because of this, it has been connected to the teaching that injustices can be returned to kindness, by bending, not breaking. 

Cedar (Giizhig) Cedar, found in the north,is used for purification, to attract positive energy, feelings, emotions and for balance. Long ago, its vitamin C content helped prevent scurvy when fruits and vegetables were unavailable during the winter months.  It is plentiful and reminds us that sometimes the things we need the most are right in front of us.  Cedar crackles when burned, the crackle is seen as its voice – it uses its voice to call attention to our ancestors so that they can see us and hear our words. Its restorative medicines are always used when fasting or sweating and it’s always used in Sundance and Sweatlodge ceremonies. In our ceremonies, we are reaching out to connect with the Spirit World, so cedar’s job is to help us be heard and comforted. It can also be consumed as a healing tea or for used for bathing. A cedar bath provides healing from past traumas, grief, negativity, fear, and toxins. Cedar humbles us back to birth.  She is the bed that Creator entered so that we can rest. 

Submitted by Renée McGurry, Earth Lodge Development Helper