Tobacco Ties: Honoring Earth the Lakota Way

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Zintkala Waste (pronounced: Wash-tay) was born on a full moon in a tent on the South Dakota Rosebud Reservation in the Upper Cut Meat community. “I grew up spending all my time learning traditional ways with the elders. I was taught about everything Lakota,” he says. With his calm, warm presence, he embodies an archetypal grandfather.

Speaking quietly, he adds that he is a member of the Burnt Thigh Clan of the Rosebud Lakota Tribe, and that one day after he was born, he was given his Indian name, “Zintkala Waste,” meaning “Good Bird” in Lakota.

As a spiritual leader and minister of the Native American Church, he says that one of his duties is to hold sweat lodge ceremonies. “I also teach what I’ve learned over my lifetime. I help people with alcohol and drug problems. Since I will be 76 on May 30, 2018, I am one of the elders of the tribe,” he says.

Giving Thanks to the Earth

In the Lakota tradition, honoring the earth, known as “Maka Iyan,” is a way of life. Generations of Lakota people have made tobacco ties; a traditional offering to the earth, the spirits, and the creator, calledWakan Tanka.” Zintkala summarizes the Lakota people’s indivisible relationship with Maka Iyan in the simplest possible terms, saying,“the earth is first.”

All his life, Zintkala has ceremonially offered the tobacco ties he learned to make as a child. But the traditional plant material used in the midwest and western parts of North America is not the smoking tobacco grown in the southeast — it is what the Lakota call cansasa (chun-sha-sha); the native red willow that grows wild along creeks and rivers. Zintkala says, “It is picked and dried, and has been used as tobacco for generations before white men arrived. We still use it, and there’s still a lot growing locally.”

Zintkala shared instructions about making and using the ties for those who would like to celebrate Earth Day the Lakota way. The act of making ties requires focus and attention, recalling many well-known mindfulness meditation practices.

Q. How do you make tobacco ties?

Cut a square from cloth and put a pinch of tobacco in the center and tie it off (see video). Connect the ties with string to make a long string of them. Or arrange them in groups, according to the prayers and intention. Make ties for each of the four directions; south is red, west is black. north is white, and east is yellow.

Q. When you make the ties, do you hold an intention?

Yes. Definitely. One way is offering the tie to the Great Spirit as you make it — but offer it to whatever name you use for the creator. If you want something done, ask the Great Spirit to help. If you want help, consider the problem and ask the Great Spirit how many ties you should make for each direction. You’ll get an answer if you’re patient.

You can also use ties for protection by making them with that intention then hanging them in your house. You need patience and real focus when you sit and makes ties, because it’s tricky, and it takes a long time. When you offer the ties, you have got to have sincerity and good intention.

Q. How are the ties offered?

Here’s an example. I’m rebuilding my sweat lodge now, and I’ll make 25 tobacco ties for each direction and tie them to the inside walls of the new lodge. The ties will be made with prayers for healing, peace, honoring ourselves, for our loved ones, honoring elders and the tunkasilas (grandmothers and grandfathers), and for the home of the farmer who owns the land where we build the sweat lodge.

They can be tied on a tree branch out in an isolated place that has special meaning or needs prayers. Ties can be made with a pledge attached to them so that you can come back next year and be connected to the place solidly.

They can be put in the home in places where prayers are needed; then taken down later, often four or five days. If we have a special request to Wankan Tanka (Great Spirit), they can be tied to the sides of the sweat.  When we do vision quests, we make enough tobacco ties to encircle the ground we sit on.

When we are finished with the tobacco ties, they might be burned in a sweat lodge fire. You can also get rid of the ties by burning them with sage, which takes the prayers in the smoke to tunkasilas (grandparents).

There are a lot of ways to use tobacco ties, but it has to come from the heart.

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Zintkala Waste in ceremonial garb.



Samhain Rituals - How to Celebrate Samhain

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Samhain is a time-honored tradition followed by witches, Wiccans, ancient druids, and countless other modern pagans across the world, celebrated as October turns to November. Samhain is a festival of the Dead, meaning “Summer’s End,” and though you’re probably tempted to pronounce it “sam-hane,” it’s actually pronounced saah-win or saah-ween.

What is a Samhain Celebration?

Tradition holds that Samhain is a celebration of the end of the harvest and the start of the coldest half of the year, and with this transition, it’s also celebrated as the beginning of the spiritual new year for practitioners, which is also why it’s nicknamed “The Witches’ New Year.”

How to Celebrate Samhain

Samhain is typically celebrated by preparing a dinner to celebrate the harvest. The holiday is meant to be shared with those who have passed on as well as those still with us. Set a place at the table for those in the spiritual plane, providing an offering for them upon every serving throughout the meal. In addition to those who have passed, invite friends and family to enjoy the feast with you. Typical beverages include mulled wine, cider, and mead, and are to be shared with the Dead throughout the meal.

Despite occurring at similar times and containing similar themes, Samhain and Halloween actually are not the same holiday. Halloween, short for All Hallow’s Eve, is celebrated on and around Oct. 31 and tends to be more family-focused. On the other hand, Samhain is more religious in focus, spiritually observed by practitioners.

There are some more light-hearted observances in honor of the dead through Samhain, but the underlying tone of Samhain is one of a serious religious practice rather than a light-hearted make-believe re-enactment. Today’s Pagan Samhain rites are benevolent, and although they are somber and centered on death, they do not involve human or animal sacrifices as some rumors may claim. Another difference between Samhain and Halloween is that most Samhain rituals are held in private rather than in public.

If you want to start honoring this pagan tradition, you might wonder when to start. Well, the timing of contemporary Samhain celebrations varies according to spiritual tradition and geography. Practitioners state to celebrate Samhain over the course of several days and nights, and these extended observances usually include a series of solo rites as well as ceremonies, feasts, and gatherings with family, friends, and spiritual community.

In the northern hemisphere, many Pagans celebrate Samhain from sundown on October 31 through November 1. Others hold Samhain celebrations on the nearest weekend or on the Full or New Moon closest to this time. Some Pagans observe Samhain a bit later, or near November 6, to coincide more closely with the astronomical midpoint between Fall Equinox and Winter Solstice. Most Pagans in the southern hemisphere time their Samhain observances to coincide with the middle of their Autumn in late April and early May, rather than at the traditional European time of the holiday. In the end, it’s really up to you!

Samhain isn’t necessarily a creepy, morbid holiday obsessed with death, as some may conclude. Instead, it reaches for themes deeper than that, tying in with Nature’s rhythms. In many places, Samhain coincides with the end of the growing season. Vegetation dies back by killing frosts, and therefore, literally, death is in the air.

This contributes to the ancient notion that at Samhain, the veil is thin between the world of the living and the realm of the Dead and this facilitates contact and communication. For those who have lost loved ones in the past year, Samhain rituals can be an opportunity to bring closure to grieving and to further adjust to their being in the Otherworld by spiritually communing with them. However, it’s also a way to appreciate life, when you get right down to it.

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