Portable Altars – Prayers on Smoke

Ceremonial pipe

The stories of most every nation includes one about the origin of the pipe and how tobacco came to the People. The pipe has been a part of the culture for as long as anyone can remember.

It would be out of my place to expound extensively on the pipe and its proper use. I really only wish to elaborate superficially on the use of the pipe in prayer. I have been taught that our words are carried by the smoke to the ears of the Creator.

This calls to mind the word picture painted in the Old Testament of the altars of burnt sacrifice. The smoke ascended to God and a proper sacrifice was a pleasing aroma in His nostrils. Likewise, the incense provided a pleasing aroma for both God and man and set the atmosphere for convocation between them.

I have written previously regarding my firm belief that there are significant parallels between traditional indigenous spiritual practices and the archaic elements of the Judaeo-Christian religious traditions. It is my opinion that smudging is very similar to the element of incense and that the pipe is similar to the altars of burnt offering in the Old Testament.

There are, traditionally, two ways in which a pipe may be used. One is a pipe that is used publicly, in a gathering of people, where more than one person might share the smoke of the pipe to seal an agreement or make a corporate prayer. In certain cultures, this is called a Peoples’ Pipe and it is kept and used by a pipe carrier. A pipe that might be used in this way is pictured above.

Personal pipe
A personal pipe

The other is as a personal pipe, used by an individual for himself or on behalf of others. In the tradition which I was taught, the personal pipe might be smoked in the morning, to greet the day, and in the evening, to end the day. It is always the vehicle for a conversation with the Creator. It can also be used in healing ceremonies.

In either modality, the smoke carries the words of the participant to the ear of the Creator. This is why the pipe was always smoked as a part of any treaty process; so that the agreements made would be heard by the Creator. And it was believed that no one would knowingly speak an untruth in the hearing of the Creator. Unfortunately, that belief was not shared by the colonizers, although history does suggest that it may have been exploited by them.