Katie followed Crowbear to the central tepee. It was the tallest one and twice as big as the others.
Following divine dictates, the door was on the east with a line drawn from the middle of the door to the western side.
The line followed the path of the sun as it travels from east to west. As in any tepee, the fire logs were set in the center, evenly bisecting the east-west line.
The four-inch high crescent-shaped dirt altar was built perpendicular to the east-west line at a point halfway between the fire and the western edge of the tepee. Three young men extended the packed dirt platform to five feet on each side of the midline with shovels and hands. The altar shape of a crescent moon followed the outline of the tent, its turned down edges signifying the beginning and end of life.
Crowbear would direct the ceremony on the side of the altar nearest the ’s wall. Once the dirt moving was finished Crowbear summoned Tal, who came with René and two others carrying a large wooden box containing things needed to conduct the ceremony.
The men set it down and stood back while Crowbear opened it.
He pulled out a gourd rattle, a wooden prayer stick decorated with colorful beads along its length, two thick rugs, and a kettledrum.
A Prayer Stick is used to make offerings and petitions to the spirit world. The size of the sticks is generally taken from the measurement between the elbow to the tips of the fingers. They are all used to make offerings and petitions to the spirit world. The stick is decorated with colorful signs and symbols and represent or reflect the prayer or message. A feather is added to call to the spirit bird, to carry the message to the heavens. Reserved for prayers needing the most powerful spirits, in funeral rites, healing or cleansing prayers, and blessings.
Out came the peace pipe. Almost sixteen
inches long, it had a decorated hollow pipe with a black bowl made of chiseled obsidian.
Next, he brought out an eagle-feather fan and a whistle. He blew the whistle and a piercing shrill shot through the tepee. “This whistle is the wing bone of an eagle,” he informed Katie.
Finally, he pulled out a tin of Bull Durham tobacco, which reminded him it was time for a break.
Katie walked over to help Tal. He was a thin, handsome Ute six feet tall with dark eyes and a strong jawbone. His black hair was tied in a long ponytail. Pulling two rugs from the chest, he handed one to her. “Put that one inside the door; it is a welcome mat.” He placed the other behind the altar where Crowbear would sit. She followed him outside to other helpers who brought more rugs setting the six-foot long by three-foot wide cloth mats in concentric circles, following the outline of the tepee.
Crowbear returned. Refreshed, he picked up the drum and tapped it. “It doesn’t sound right, you must tighten the skin and add more water. Who can string a water drum?” “Only Tal knows.” Atsaa said. Crowbear admonished the other two helpers. “Atsaa, Xipe stay here and watch Tal restring the drum. It is a step you must be comfortable with. I will go with Katie to collect sage and cedar boughs.” When they returned, the kettledrum sounded sharper and louder as Tal tapped a fast cadence on the taut skin. The sage was divided up among the helpers who strung it together in bundles with tobacco. Handfuls of herbs were hung around the tepee for divine protection. Sage garlands were worn as bracelets and anklets, and some individuals wore crowns of sage. Cedar and tobacco provided additional protection. Crowbear chose his helpers. “Tal will play the drum, Atsaa will be the fireman, and Xipe will be the water man. As the dusky sky, lost color people gathered in small groups outside the tepee. Nodding to Xipe to open the door, Crowbear entered first, carrying both the peyote and a handful of sage. Tal, the drummer followed, then Atsaa the Cedar man. Next the men, then the women and children entered. The guests lined up on the north and south sides of the tepee and sat down cross-legged. It was crowded with twenty-eight people in the tent. Tal started drumming a vigorous and steady cadence, pacing the tapping to approximate that of a racing heartbeat. The drum told everyone the ceremony was beginning.
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