My journey on the 5 day Inipi ceremony took an abrupt turn on the second day into the Sweet Everlasting. My intent and prayers on the first day were to deepen my connection to the plant people on this land. After leaving the lodge I started seeing Sweet Everlasting surrounding us…folks who mistook it for a lowly weed were stomping it down.
I didn’t blame them. Few recognize it these days, it looks like a “lowly weed” to most of us. Nor do we find it praised in our herbals. Country folk usually call it rabbit tobacco, or cudweed, or field balsam. Young kids are sometimes encouraged by parents to try it out for a smoke knowing that its likely to end the temptation towards tobacco. Hardly anything to tiptoe around.
Yet, to many tribes, this plant was sacred to the Inipi itself! Sprinkled on heated stones to alter the psychic landscape and carry the people through the veil…a place to actually meet the ancestors. Its smoke was also used to revive the unconscious (even lesson effects of a stroke). Additionally, among tribes who weren’t afraid of it (more on that later), it was added to the herbs smoked in the sacred pipe, the chanupa. These smoking herbs were to include at least three types of herb. One to open the door (tobacco), another to carry one across the threshold into alternate reality, and another to help retain what was learned. Rabbit tobacco served to take one across the boundary. Tribes knew it as a plant “that walks between the living and the dead”. Rabbit tobacco took root in my mind and I resolved to show it to the group the next day and to make it the focal point of my next plunge into the Inipi. Lucky for us, it rained the night before.
Rabbit tobacco (Gnaphalium obtusifolium) has a peculiar trait. Its one of the plants that stands erect throughout the winter after it’s died
Such plants rely on their high mineral content of calcium, magnesium, phosphorus for tensile strength. But this one differs. Its stalk has some “give” to it because its primary minerals include less common ones like copper and manganese. Its dried flowers will give off a beautiful vanilla-like scent when there’s the right amount of moisture in the air. That’s how it came to be known as field balsam. In the old days, folks used to pick these flower heads and bring them into their homes to scent the air… learned from the Indians, so it was called Indian Posy. Medicine men were cautious with it, though. Its scent and life-force lasted for years…so did its psychic powers. Such powers reflect the “vibes” around them. Where there is toxic energy, the plants pick it up and open the door to negative spirits. Therefore, some shamans would leave it outdoors for at least six months before bringing it in, just to be safe. Some wouldn’t take any chances and didn’t allow it in the lodge nor in the chanupa…who could be sure that some evil hadn’t ruined it!
Well, on the second day of the Inipi, after explaining its sacred and medicinal uses and inviting everyone to its fragrance, I gave a branch to Wolf and lost myself in it’s sweetness..on that day the lodge cracked open for me and I met its plant spirit. Fortunately, we don’t have to play with its psychic fires to make good use of it. It was once a valued medicine for tribes and settlers alike. I have no idea why its become so obscure. For example, it has a special way with hard-to-treat asthma, especially that acquired in early childhood and associated with genetics. Its energetic signature marks it for those born with some kind of genetic weakness. You may find recommendations to smoke it for asthma…not so good. Instead, it was stuffed into a pillow that the patient slept on. Over about a year, the asthma slowly cleared up. It wasn’t always a full cure, but a definite improvement could be expected.
The tribes called it rabbit medicine, it grows in areas that rabbits like to hang out in (& it prefers to grow around oaks). It treats “rabbit conditions”, for example: rabbits have a thin skin that’s easily cut…tribes believed that rabbits used it to heal those wounds which carries over to how we can do the same. It also seems to be an herb of choice for people who have thin skin. Rabbits are twitchy creatures. Gnaphalium is good for our own twitchiness, its a mild sedative and pain killer. Have you ever heard the term, “they breed like rabbits”? Another rabbit trait is suggested in its powers as an aphrodisiac.There are many tribal stories about this plant and its associations with rabbits, also with owls.
It shines for treating respiratory conditions, colds and flu. One of the more thorough articles on its medicinal use can be found here. One caution, folks who are allergic to the daisy ought to avoid it. Make sure your plants come from a “good energy” source,too!
Next up, a dear friend suffers from migraines. I was going to send her a long email but decided I ought to post here so others could read it, too. Oh, if you’ve anything to share about Rabbit Tobacco…even your own sad stories about how you tried smoking it as a kid…we’d love to see that in the comments.
Stepping over the threshold into the ancient purification ceremony of Inipi, a circle of 15-30 friends recently joined the Native American teacher, Wolf Martinez, here for four days of crying, laughing, healing and change.
Inipi …which some call “the sweat lodge”… really means the House of Breath. Where man meets fire, water, earth and air on its own terms through the presence of our ancestors. With the quantum understanding that everything is made of consciousness at its core, we can touch the inner spirit of all things to receive guidance and balance. According to the Lakota, “Those that run this sacred rite should be able to communicate with Tun-ca-s’i-la (our Sacred Grandfathers) in their Native Plains tongue. They should also have earned this rite by completing Han-ble-c’i-ya and the four days and four years of the Wi-wanyang wa-c’i-pi” …all of this and more qualifies Wolf to run the Inipi. You can learn more about it here and here.
I’ll admit that I had concerns. In my previous experience with Inipi I haven’t been able to endure the four rounds of scorching heat. I knew that Wolf would be less willing to allow folks to leave the lodge early. Wolf is a Sundancer (there were a couple of other Sundancers in attendance) and there’s little pity for weakness among them. No, in Inipi one must rise to meet their strength, not collapse into their soft spots. Wolf assured us that in his many years of holding Inipi, no one has died and lives have been changed.
On each of the four days we were to clarify our intent for entering the lodge. As we sat around the fire (it took a couple of hours to heat the pile of stones underneath) we brought our gifts of tobacco over to Wolf…one at a time…told him of our intent and listened to his advice about it. My intent was to deepen my relationship to the specific plant intelligences on this land so that they would teach me directly and indicate who would most benefit from them. And, to survive the Inipi rite. He had some rather strong words to say about the latter.
Finally, Wolf and Jim Coyote Song entered the Inipi to prepare the pipes while the rest of us sat around the fire, silently focusing our intent as prayers to the glowing Grandfather stones. Wolf came out offering a prayer, spreading tobacco from the stones to the Inipi door and all around it. Time to enter…down to the ground, head kissing the earth, crawling like children into the Inipi womb. The pit dug in the center is empty. Blankets cover the ground. We’ve all made a necklace of tobacco packets while we prayed and we tuck them up into the sapling frame. As large heated stones are slid in, each is swabbed with a wet cedar bundle to clean off ashes. Pipes are touched to the stones as they settle into the pit. Cedar is dropped onto them filling the lodge with incense. The door is closed and its pitch dark. A hiss as the first water hits the stones, releasing their breath. We’re instructed to do three things: breathe deeply throughout the ceremony, sing the Lakota songs (even if we’ve never heard them before) and pray. If we do that, we’ll make it through all four rounds. If anyone has a problem, they’re told to lower their head to the earth and ask the mother for help. If that doesn’t work, they can cry out as loud as possible “All My Relations” and Wolf will stop everything to help them. I noticed that no mention was made of letting anyone out…not that it couldn’t happen in an extreme case. I sat by the door just in case a wisp of coolness might creep in.
The basic pattern for each of the four rounds is the same. Round one is a call to the four directions and to our ancestors; round two, we offer prayers for ourselves; round three, prayers for others; round four, prayers of gratitude. Each is filled with hypnotic Lakota songs, repeated heat waves as more water hits the stones, a few words about the ceremony, prayers. Then the door is lifted to allow in cool air and more stones. No one goes out. I surprised myself by staying all four rounds. Afterwards, we smoke the chanupa (sacred pipe), have dinner and a talking circle to share our experiences.
As I wandered around after this first session, I noticed a plant growing all around the lodge: Sweet Everlasting! That night the plant seemed to call to me; it was sacred to the Inipi in days gone by, these days — forgotten. And it was being trampled by those who didn’t know what it was. I resolved to show it to everyone the next day…and to make it the center of my intention at the next rite. Why? In the next article I’ll share the amazing secrets of the Sweet Everlasting and what happened when it entered the Inipi with me. For now, here are a few photos (photos of the lodge and alter were prohibited).
To be continued…