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  Seeing God everywhere—the sanctity of nature Back to the List of Slideshows
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Joseph Epes Brown talks of the interconnectedness of all living beings and the vital importance and symbolism of sacred rites:
In the Plains area, to give an example, one of the most profound rites is that of the smoking of the pipe. In this ritual smoking of the pipe, all who participate are joined in a communal ritual, and when it is finished, everybody who has shared in the smoking of the pipe recites the phrase, in Lakota in this case, “mitakuye oyasin”—“we are all relatives.” We are all related, because in this rite we have all become one within a mystery that is greater than any of its parts.…

All spiritually effective rites must accomplish three cumulative possibilities which may be termed purification, expansion in wholeness or virtue, and identity. A ritual means which embodies these possibilities may be found in the sacred nature and use of the Plains Indian tobacco pipe, the smoking of which constitutes a communion. The shape of the pipe with its stem, bowl or “heart,” and foot, is identified with the human person. In purifying the pipe before a ritual smoking there is an analogy to man’s own purification; for in concentrating on the hollow of the straight stem leading to the bowl comes the understanding that one’s mind should be this straight and pure. In filling the bowl of the pipe a prayer is said for each grain of tobacco in such a manner that everything in the world is mentioned. The filled bowl or the heart of man, in thus containing all possibilities, is then the universe. Finally, the fire which is put to the tobacco is the Presence of the ultimate all-inclusive Principle, Wakan Tanka, the “Great Mysterious.” In smoking the pipe, through the aid of breath the totality of all creation is absorbed within this ultimate Principle. And since in the pipe there is a grain of tobacco identified with the one who smokes, there is here enacted a sacrificial communion of identity. With this understanding, the phrase “we are all related,” recited by the individual or group after the smoking, takes on the deepest possible meaning.
a Sioux man with a sacred pipe, praying
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