White Buffalo Calf Woman
"Buffalo Maiden" by David Penfound © 2004
The birth of the White Buffalo
Miracle, the White Buffalo calf born August 20th, 1994
News of the calf spread quickly through the Native American community because its birth fulfilled a 2,000-year-old prophecy of northern Plains Indians. Joseph Chasing Horse, traditional leader of the Lakota nation, explains that 2,000 years ago a young woman who first appeared in the shape of a white buffalo gave the Lakota's ancestors a sacred pipe and sacred ceremonies and made them guardians of the Black Hills. Before leaving, she also prophesized that one day she would return to purify the world, bringing back spiritual balance and harmony; the birth of a white buffalo calf would be a sign that her return was at hand.
WHITE BUFFALO CALF WOMAN
Brings The First Pipe
As told by: Joseph Chasing Horse
We Lakota people have a prophecy about the white buffalo calf. How that prophecy originated was that we have a sacred bundle, a sacred peace pipe, that was brought to us about 2,000 years ago by what we know as the White Buffalo Calf Woman.
The story goes that she appeared to two warriors at that time. These two warriors were out hunting buffalo, hunting for food in the sacred Black Hills of South Dakota, and they saw a big body coming toward them. And they saw that it was a white buffalo calf. As it came closer to them, it turned into a beautiful young Indian girl.
That time one of the warriors thought bad in his mind, and so the young girl told him to step forward. And when he did step forward, a black cloud came over his body, and when the black cloud disappeared, the warrior who had bad thoughts was left with no flesh or blood on his bones. The other warrior kneeled and began to pray.
And when he prayed, the white buffalo calf who was now an Indian girl told him to go back to his people and warn them that in four days she was going to bring a sacred bundle.
So the warrior did as he was told. He went back to his people and he gathered all the elders and all the leaders and all the people in a circle and told them what she had instructed him to do. And sure enough, just as she said she would, on the fourth day she came.
They say a cloud came down from the sky, and off of the cloud stepped the white buffalo calf. As it rolled onto the earth, the calf stood up and became this beautiful young woman who was carrying the sacred bundle in her hand.
As she entered into the circle of the nation, she sang a sacred song and took the sacred bundle to the people who were there to take of her. She spent four days among our people and taught them about the sacred bundle, the meaning of it.
She taught them seven sacred ceremonies.
One of them was the sweat lodge, or the purification ceremony. One of them was the naming ceremony, child naming. The third was the healing ceremony. The fourth one was the making of relatives or the adoption ceremony. The fifth one was the marriage ceremony. The sixth was the vision quest. And the seventh was the sundance ceremony, the people's ceremony for all of the nation.
She brought us these seven sacred ceremonies and taught our people the songs and the traditional ways. And she instructed our people that as long as we performed these ceremonies we would always remain caretakers and guardians of sacred land. She told us that as long as we took care of it and respected it that our people would never die and would always live.
When she was done teaching all our people, she left the way she came. She went out of the circle, and as she was leaving she turned and told our people that she would return one day for the sacred bundle. And she left the sacred bundle, which we still have to this very day.
The sacred bundle is known as the White Buffalo Calf Pipe because it was brought by the White Buffalo Calf Woman. It is kept in a sacred place (Green Grass) on the Cheyenne River Indian reservation in South Dakota. it's kept by a man who is known as the keeper of the White Buffalo Calf Pipe, Arvol Looking Horse.
When White Buffalo Calf Woman promised to return again, she made some prophecies at that time
One of those prophesies was that the birth of a white buffalo calf would be a sign that it would be near the time when she would return again to purify the world. What she meant by that was that she would bring back harmony again and balance, spiritually.
No matter what happens to Miracle in the coming months and years, Joseph Chasing Horse says the birth is a sign from the Great Spirit and the ensuing age of harmony and balance it represents cannot be revoked. That doesn't mean, of course, that the severe trials Native Americans have endured since the arrival of Europeans on these shores are over. Indeed, the Lakota nation mounted the longest court case in U.S. history in an unsuccessful effort to regain control of the Black Hills, the sacred land on which the White Buffalo Calf Woman appeared 2,000 years ago.
Still, despite their ongoing struggles, Native Americans are heartened by the appearance of a white buffalo in Janesville, and have hope for a harmonious and prosperous future.
"Mention that we are praying, many of the medicine people, the spiritual leaders, the elders, are praying for the world," says Joseph Chasing Horse. "We are praying that mankind does wake up and think about the future, for we haven't just inherited this earth from our ancestors, but we are borrowing it from our unborn children."
White Buffalo Calf Woman
John Fire Lame Deer
John Fire Lame Deer was a Lakota Holy man, and perhaps a Heyoka. His book Lame Deer, Seeker of Visions, written with Richard Erdoes in 1972 . He died several years later on the Roeebud Lakota reservation in South Dakota; his son Archie carries on his spiritual work. This version of the Buffalo Calf Woman's brining of the first sacred Pipe is from American Indian Myths and Legends, 1980, by Erdoes and Alfonso Ortiz.
The Sioux are a warrior tribe, and one of their proverbs says, "Woman shall not walk before man." Yet White Buffalo Woman is the dominant figure of their most important legend. The medicine man Crow Dog explains, "This holy woman brought the sacred buffalo calf pipe to the Sioux. There could be no Indians without it. Before she came, people didnt know how to live. They knew nothing. The Buffalo Woman put her sacred mind into their minds." At the ritual of the sun dance one woman, usally a mature and universally respected member of the tribe, is given the honor of respresenting Buffalo Woman. Though she first appeared to the Sioux in human form, White Buffalo Woman was also a buffalo---the Indians' brother, who gave its flesh so that the people might live. Albino buffalo were sacred to all Plains tribes; a white buffalo hide was a sacred talisman, a possession beyond price. One summer so long ago that nobody knows how long, the Oceti-Shakowin, the seven sacred council fires of the Lakota Oyate, the nation, came together and camped. The sun shone all the time, but there was no game and the people were starving. Every day they sent scouts to look for game, but the scouts found nothing. Among the bands assembled were the Itazipcho, the Without-Bows, who had their own camp circle under their chief, Standing Hollow Horn. Early one morning the chief sent two of his young men to hunt for game. They went on foot, because at that time the Sioux didnt yet have horses. They searched everywhere but could find nothing. Seeing a high hill, they decided to climb it in order to look over the whole country. Halfway up, they saw something coming toward them from far off, but the figure was floating instead of walking. From this they knew that the person was waken, holy. At first they could make out only a small moving speck and had to squint to see that it was a human form. But as it came nearer, they realized that it was a beautiful young woman, more beautiful than any they had ever seen, with two round, red dots of face paint on her cheeks. She wore a wonderful white buckskin outfit, tanned until it shone a long way in the sun. It was embroidered with sacred and marvellous designs of porcupine quill, in radiant colors no ordinary woman could have made. This wakan stranger was Ptesan-Wi, White Buffalo Woman. In her hands she carried a large bundle and a fan of sage leaves. She wore her blue-black hair loose except for a strand at the left side, which was tied up with buffalo fur. Her eyes shone dark and sparkling, with great power in them. The two young men looked at her open-mouthed. One was overawed, but the other desired her body and stretched his hand out to touch her. This woman was lila wakan, very sacred, and could not be treated with disrespect. Lightning instantly struck the brash young man and burned him up, so that only a small heap of blackened bones was left. Or as some say that he was suddenly covered by a cloud, and within it he was eaten up by snakes that left only his skeleton, just as a man can be eaten up by lust. To the other scout who had behaved rightly, the White Buffalo Woman said: "Good things I am brining, something holy to your nation. A message I carry for your people from the buffalo nation. Go back to the camp and tell the people to prepare for my arrival. Tell your chief to put up a medicine lodge with twenty-four poles. Let it be made holy for my coming." This young hunter returned to the camp. He told the chief, he told the people, what the sacred woman had commanded. The chief told the eyapaha, the crier, and the crier went through the camp circle calling: "Someone sacred is coming. A holy woman approaches. Make all things ready for her." So the people put up the big medicine tipi and waited. After four days they saw the White Buffalo Woman approaching, carrying her bundle before her. Her wonderful white buckskin dress shone from afar. The chief, Standing Hollow Horn, invited her to enter the medicine lodge. She went in and circled the interior sunwise. The chief addressed her respectfully, saying: "Sister, we are glad you have come to instruct us." She told him what she wanted done. In the center of the tipi they were to put up an owanka wakan, a sacred altar, made of red earth, with a buffalo skull and a three-stick rack for a holy thing she was bringing. They did what she directed, and she traced a design with her finger on the smoothed earth of the altar. She show them how to do all this, then circled the lodge again sunwise. Halting before the chief, she now opened the bundle. the holy thing it contained was the chanunpa, the sacred pipe. She held it out to the people and let them look at it. She was grasping the stem with her right hand and the bowl with her left, and thus the pipe has been held ever since. Again the chief spoke, saying: "Sister, we are glad. We have had no meat for some time. All we can give you is water." They dpped some wacanga, sweet grass, into a skin bag of water and gave it to her, and to this day the people dip sweet grass or an eagle wing in water and sprinkle it on a person to be purified. The White Buffalo Woman showed the people how to use the pipe. She filled it with chan-shasha, red willow-bark tobacco. She walked around the lodge four times after the manner of Anpetu-Wi, the great sun. This represented the circle without end, the sacred hoop, the road of life. The woman placed a dry buffalo chip on the fire and lit the pipe with it. This was peta-owihankeshini, the fire without end, the flame to be passed on from generation to generation. She told them that the smoke rising from the bowl was Tunkashila's breath, the living breath of the great Grandfather Mystery. The White Buffalo Woman showed the people the right way to pray, the right words and the right gestures. She taught them how to sing the pipe-filling song and how to lift the pipe up to the sky, toward Grandfather, and down toward Grandmother Earth, to Unci, and then to the four directions of the universe. "With this holy pipe," she said, "you will walk like a living prayer. With your feet resting upon the earth and the pipestem reaching into the sky, your body froms a living bridge between the Sacred Beneath and the Sacred Above. Wakan Tanka smiles upons us, because now we are as one: earth, sky, all living things, the two-legged, the four-legged, the winged ones, the trees, the grasses. Together with the people, they are all related, one family. The pipe holds them all together." "Look at this bowl," said the White Buffalo Woman. "Its stone represents the buffalo, but also the flesh and blood of the red man. The buffalo represents the universe and the four directions, because he stands on four legs, for the four ages of man. The buffalo was put in the west by Wakan Tanka at the making of the world, to hold back the waters. Every year he loses one hair, and in every one of the four ages he loses a leg. The Sacred Hoop will end when all the hair and legs of the great buffalo are gone, and the water comes back to cover the Earth. The wooden stem of this chanunpa stands for all that grows on the earth. Twelve feathers hanging from where the stem- the backbone- joins the bowl- the skull- are from Wanblee Galeshka, the spotted eagle, the very sacred who is the Great Spirit's messenger and the wisest of all cry out to Tunkashila. Look at the bowl: engraved in it are seven circles of various sizes. They stand for the seven ceremonies you will pratice with this pipe, and for the Ocheti Shakowin, the seven sacred campfires of our Lakota nation." The White Buffalo Woman then spoke to the women, telling them that it was the work of their hands and the fruit of their bodies which kept the people alive. "You are from the mother earth," she told them. "What you are doing is as great as what warriors do." And therefore the sacred pipe is also something that binds men and women together in a circle of love. It is the one holy object in the making of which both men and women have a hand. The men carve the bowl and make the stem; the women decorate it with bands of colored porcupine quills. When a man takes a wife, they both hold the pipe at the same time and red cloth is wound around their hands, thus tying them together for life. The White Buffalo Woman had many things for her Lakota sisters in her sacred womb bag; corn, wasna (pemmican), wild turnip. She taught how to make the hearth fire. She filled a buffalo paunch with cold water and droped a red-hot stone into it. "This way you shall cook the corn and the meat," she told them. The White Buffalo Woman also talked to the children, because they have an understanding beyond their years. She told them that what their fathers and mothers did was for them, that their parents could remember being little once, and that they, the children, would grow up to have little ones of their own. She told them: "You are the coming generation, that's why you are the most important and precious ones. Some day you will hold this pipe and smoke it. Some day you will pray with it." She spoke once more to all the people: "The pipe is alive; it is a red being showing you a red life and a red road. And this is the first ceremony for which you will use the pipe. You will use it to Wakan Tanka, the Great Mystery Spirit. The day a human dies is always a sacred day. The day when the soul is released to the Great Spirit is another. Four women will become sacred on such a day. They will be the ones to cut the sacred tree, the can-wakan, for the sun dance." She told the Lakota that they were the purest among the tribes, and for that reason Tunkashila had bestowed upon them the holy chanunpa. They had been chosen to take care of it for all the Indian people on this turtle continent. She spoke one last time to Standing Hollow Horn, the chief, saying, "Remember: this pipe is very sacred. Respect it and it will take you to the end of the road. The four ages of creation are in me; I am the four ages. I will come to see you in every generation cycle. I shall come back to you." The sacred woman then took leave of the people, saying: "Toksha ake wacinyanktin ktelo, I shall see you again." The people saw her walking off in the same direction from which she had come, outlined againest the red ball of the setting sun. As she went, she stopped and rolled over four times. The first time, she turned into a black buffalo; the second into a brown one; the third into a red one; and finally, the fouth time she rolled over, she turned into a white female buffalo calf. A white buffalo is the most sacred living thing you could ever encounter. The White Buffalo Woman disappeared over the Horizon. Sometime she might come back. As soon as she had vanished, buffalo in great herds appeared, allowing themselves to be killed so tha the people might survive. And from that day on, our relations, the buffalo, furnished the people with everthing they needed, meat for their food, skins for their clothes and tipis, bones for their many tools. Two very old tribal pipes are kept by the Looking Horse family at Eagle Butte in South Dakota. One of them is the Sacred Pipe brought to the people by White Buffalo Woman.
White Buffalo Calf Woman
by Jeff Stanton
The Buffalo is a sacred animal to many American Indians; the Lakota Indians are one of these peoples. The buffalo plays a very important role in the traditional beliefs of the Lakota. The Lakota regard the buffalo as a brother because he gave his flesh for them so that they would survive. The Lakota, who are also called the Buffalo Nation, tell the legend of the White Buffalo Calf Woman. This legend recounts how the sacred pipe came to the Lakota Indians and describes how their ceremonies and way of life were taught to them over six centuries ago. White Buffalo Calf Woman, hereafter Ptesan Win, is said to have been the human incarnation of the buffalo. She was sent by the Great Spirit to the Lakota in a time of great need.
The legend tells of a time when all the tribes of the Lakota nation had come together for their midsummer celebration. At this time of the year, the plains were covered with green grasses and rich with game. This was a time when all of the tribes could be together and live easily off the bounty of the land. This, however, was not to be the fate of this particular gathering. When all of the tribes were assembled, their warriors were sent out to find game, but there was none to be found. It was not long before all of the tribes were starving for the lack of game. Standing Hollow Horn, Chief of the Itazipcho ("Without Bows") tribe, decided to send out two warriors to scout for buffalo. These two scouts searched far and wide for buffalo in hopes of returning with good news. After going on as far as they possibly could without sighting a buffalo, the scouts were at the point of giving up the search. Just as they were ready to turn for home, one of the warriors spotted a single buffalo on the plain. As the buffalo came closer, the second warrior recognized that it was a woman approaching and not a buffalo after all. As this woman came closer to them, they could see that she was more beautiful than any woman they had ever seen. She wore a white fringed dress made of deerskin, and her hair hung loose about her shoulders. A small piece of buffalo hair was tied into her hair on the left side. Upon seeing the beauty of this maiden and that she was alone, one of the warriors was taken with lust for her and told the other that he intended to lay with her. The other warrior, who was pure in his thoughts, and could see that she was no ordinary maiden, begged him not to do this. The young warrior would not listen, and when he reached out to touch the maiden, a cloud fell upon him, and when it had cleared, all that was left of him was a pile of bones. The remaining warrior was then instructed to return to his tribe with the news of what had happened and of the coming of Ptesan Win.
Ptesan Win gave the warrior the instructions to erect a tipi with the door facing the direction of the sunset. The floor of this tipi was to be covered with sage. A rack of three sticks, two upright and one across, was to be built inside the tipi, and the skull of a buffalo was to be placed before this. In front of the skull was to be made a square of smoothed earth, and all was to be made holy. The warrior was then told to return home without looking back.
When the warrior came home, he told the Chief all that had happened. Standing Hollow Horn made sure that everything was prepared and then instructed everyone to be in front of the camp at sunrise to welcome Ptesan Win. At sunrise Ptesan Win appeared at the camp, and she was carrying the Ptehinchala Huhu Chanupa (the sacred pipe). The stem of this pipe is made from the leg bone of a buffalo calf. The pipe was made by Wakan Tanka, the creator, and it was the first pipe in all of the world. Ptesan Win then sang a sacred song and entered the tipi that had been prepared for her. She sat down in the place of honor in the tipi and again began to sing. Through her song of prayer she blessed and gave the pipe to the next tribe, but told them that the pipe was for all nations. Over the next four days she instructed the people on proper living and in performing their seven sacred rituals. Once the teachings were completed, she told the tribe to follow her to a near-by hill, and they would no longer be hungry. She then walked east, and as she came to the top of the hill, she transformed into a white buffalo calf. Before she disappeared from their sight, she changed color twice, first to brown and then to a reddish color. As the tribe came to the top of the hill, they found before them a herd of buffalo which ended their starvation. Within the teachings, it is said that Ptesan Win told the people, "I will return again some day, and then it will be for always. Then there will be a new life and a new understanding."
The recent birth of a female white calf has been seen by many as an event of great significance. The calf was born on August 20th on the farm of Valerie and Dave Heider. Attention to this event has come not only from American Indians, but other cultures from around the world as well. To date, over 32,000 visitors have made the journey to see the white buffalo calf. Some of these visitors have come from as far away as Kenya and Japan. The people who come to see the buffalo calf bring offerings of protection and good will such as sage, tobacco and cedar. In September the farm that Miracle (the calf) was born on was consecrated as holy land by Lakota tribal leaders.
Dave Heider, Miracle's owner, has had many offers from prospective buyers, all of which he has turned down. Heider has also declined the opportunity to exploit the calf by charging an admission fee to see her. In fact, anyone inclined to see the calf can do so by simply traveling to the Heider's farm, which is located just outside of Janesville, Wisconsin. The farm was closed to visitors in December due to cold winter months but will re-open in April. The fact that the white calf has started to turn brown is not a bad omen, but rather, it is seen as fulfilling the prophesy of the White Buffalo Calf legend.
The significance of this event is obviously very great indeed. Dr. Arvol Looking Horse, who is also the present guardian of the sacred pipe, tells of the prophet Black Elk. Black Elk said that the sacred hoop was broken at Wounded Knee in 1890. This prophesy also said that the White Buffalo Calf would return. Looking Horse says that now is the time for the healing of the sacred hoop to begin and is also time for the Lakota "to take their rightful place in leading the people toward peace and balance once again."
On June 21st, 1996, there will be a prayer for world peace and the return of holy lands to the Indian nations, which will take place in the sacred Black Hills of South Dakota. What will become of the white buffalo remains to be seen. Only time will tell the extent of the changes that the birth of this calf will inspire. Already, the awareness of the American Indian cultures has expanded to include people who might never have given serious thought to it. Perhaps a new life and understanding did begin with Miracle's birth. The people of the nations can only wait patiently and try to help the understanding spread to include all of the people.