Medicine Pouch

Mandan Medicine Man with Medicine Pouch on his apron

Medicine Pouch
Definition of Medicine Pouch: What is Medicine Pouch? A Medicine Pouch was a special, sacred container for various objects, or amulets used by a Medicine Man or Shaman, to carry 'medicine' consisting of objects or symbols of animal spirits, good luck, protection and strength in battle. Prayers and rituals invariably accompanied the making and opening of medicine pouches.

The Medicine pouch contained various items of supernatural power used by a Medicine Man to treat sickness and disease by the means of Spiritual Healing. The size of a Medicine Pouch varied and would contain both symbolic and ritual items. The larger type of Medicine pouch was kept by the Medicine Man in his lodge but he always carried a smaller, portable medicine pouch. A Medicine Pouch was made from a variety of materials including the skins of the raccoon, otter, beaver, reptiles or birds.

The Medicine Man and the Medicine Pouch
A medicine pouch was a sacred item and treated with the greatest respect. For a stranger to even touch a medicine pouch was seen as a sacrilegious act. The Medicine Pouch that belonged to a Shaman was either buried with him to decay with his body, or passed on to his successor. The mysterious content of a Medicine pouch was often kept a close secret. The content of a Medicine Pouch is therefore often described in general terms such as containing herbal remedies, pipes, paint and skins and appendages of various animals. However, two such items, the Little Elk Standing Village Bundle or Medicine pouch and the Big Black Meteoritic Bundle were acquired by the the Field Museum of Natural History in Chicago and the complete contents of both the Medicine Pouches were fully cataloged and are described below.

Medicine Man and the Medicine Pouch
The content of each Medicine Pouch provides an amazing insight into the world of the Native American Indian and the role of the Medicine Man. Both pouches contained sweetgrass which was used in Smudging Rituals. The content of each pouch is described a follows:

  • The Little Elk Standing Village Bundle purchased for the Field Museum in 1902 and identified as Pawnee
    The Medicine Pouch consisted of a hide bundle wrapper with pipe stem, arrows, paint bag, two scalp locks, three bundles of braided sweetgrass, sinew, two goose necks, swan neck, loon neck, shell, black pipe and stem, ear of corn, pierced elkhorn scraper and penis bone
  • The Big Black Meteoritic Bundle purchased for the Field Museum in 1902 and identified as Pawnee 
    The Medicine Pouch consisted of a hide bundle wrapper, war club, two pipe stems, pipe and stem, two curved bones, pipe tamper, wooden pole for storing a star chart, including a metal disc, bag and skin container, star chart, three arrow shafts, three birds wrapped in skin, two scalp locks, small mammal skin, legging fragments, bird leg with talon, two feathers, stuffed hawk, two mammal skins, leather pouch, two bundles of braided sweetgrass, piece of leather bound with leather thong, two pouches, bag, piece of string, ear of corn, two birds in pouches, thong for tying bundle, owl skin, rope, and weasel skin.

The Little Elk Medicine Pouch
The content of this Medicine Pouch strongly identified Little Elk with his
Power Animals. The paint bag might seem a curious addition to the Medicine Pouch but its inclusion was because Medicine Men often chose certain mystical markings for specific warriors of the tribe and the powerful magic associated with these symbols were passed on during the application of the War Paint helping the warrior to believe himself to be invincible. The role of the Medicine Man also included the role of the head warrior, or war chief, which made the warlike objects of the arrows and scalp locks another understandable item in the Medicine Pouch. The pipe related objects were used during important ceremonies and rituals. A ceremonial smoking pipe, called a Calumet, was often used to seal a peace treaty, hence the term 'Peace Pipe' but the smoking of tobacco was important to most other ceremonies including those involving Spiritual Healing, the Sweat Lodge rituals and the famous  Vision Quest

The Big Black Medicine Pouch
As can be seen from the list of the mystical and practical contents of the Big Black Meteoritic Bundle the Pawnee Shaman included a Star Chart & Astrology Map in his Medicine Pouch. The Pawnee tribe used the location of stars and constellations in the Star Chart & Astrology maps to signal seasons and important events of the year. Sweetgrass was used in healing, prayer, smudging or purifying rituals and ceremonies and was considered to be a sacred plant. Sweetgrass was sweet smelling and did not produce an open flame when burned. Sweetgrass braids were used in pipe-smoking mixtures clarifying another of the contents of the Medicine Pouch.

Native American Culture
Native Indian Tribes Index

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