A few days ago, I went to Lake Ontario’s shore with my friend, the poet, songwriter and Buddhist Honey Novick. A cold wind was blowing. Freezing rain pelted us like tiny missals on. But we felt elated and invigorated. I could smell the lake. Its water. The ice and snow. The water was gray and disappeared into a dark mist. Mallards crowded the shore, bobbing on the waves and attentive. A pair of swans glided near a giant ice sculptor created by the waves of the lake crashing on shore.
Honey had brought some tobacco with which to pray.
She placed a small clump of tobacco into my left hand, because it is closest to the heart. We each held our tobacco close to the heart to help us think and speak kind thoughts during our prayer. We then passed the tobacco to our right hand and released it into the water. “The age-old Shamanic way to pray,” writes Molly Larkin, “is to hold a pinch of tobacco between the first three fingers of your hand, say your prayer, then open your fingers and let the tobacco fall to the ground. Don’t toss it, let it fall. The nature spirits will then work on fulfilling that prayer.” We did this in the four directions. Here is how Honey explains it:
A Water Prayer by Honey Novick
Water, that which cleanses and slakes thirst and speaks to me, pulls me a like a magnet.
Ever since I was a little girl, I have played in rain puddles, plastic swimming pools, community swimming pools, rivers, lakes and oceans.
When I bought a car, and being so close in proximity to Niagara Falls, that is where I would go.
Drive a few hours, go to the water, pray, muse, think and refresh. Even for 20 minutes and then come home.
In the last several years, I discovered a mating place of swans. It is a small park on Lake Ontario.
If I have a few hours, I will drive to my oasis, park, fetch my sacred tobacco and head to the shore.
My sister/friend, Cree Elder Grandmother Pauline Shirt gifted me with sacred tobacco. It is used only near water. I respectfully follow her teachings to the best of my ability and understanding.
It is the women who are water-carers.
Tobacco is placed as close to the water as possible.
The left hand, closest to the heart receives a very little bit of untreated tobacco.
These little bits of shredded leaves are transferred to my dominant hand, my right hand.
I honour the 4 directions of east, south, west and north.
I honour the 2 directions of up and down.
I gaze at the horizon.
Gently I bow close to the water and place a few strands of tobacco facing east. The sun rises in the east. That which I no longer need, I acknowledge and let go.
I rise and face south. South is now. I recognize that which I experience, place a few strands of tobacco down.
I rise and face west. In this direction, I ask what I need. I place some tobacco close to the water.
I turn northward, honour the vast sky, the firmament, eternal time, bend and place tobacco on the ground with a pledge. Because I have asked the universe for something, in turn, I will offer something, some task or project or promise to make the world better (as I see it).
As a practising Nichiren Buddhist, I end my time of communing with nature and the vast universe by the invocation of Nam Myoho Renge Kyo 3 times.
This is my water prayer.
“White people misused tobacco, the sacred medicine of the native people, and it made them sick. When native people misused white peoples’ medicine, the sacred wine of the mass, it became their undoing.”—Sun Bear
Tobacco is an herb with the ability to absorb. When made into a poultice, tobacco can absorb toxins out of a rash or bug bite. “When you pray with it, it absorbs your prayers. And when smoked, the smoke carries your prayers up to the Creator,” writes Molly Larkin in her article on the sacredness of tobacco.
“It is traditional for someone asking for help or teaching from a native healer or elder to offer them tobacco. This is not payment for their services. The tobacco holds some of the energy of the patient who held it, helping the healer to connect with them. It also acts as an energetic protection for the healer so they don’t take on any of what the patient releases.”—Molly Larkin, author of The Wind is My Mother
Sacred Tobacco … Sacred Water
Traditional tobacco is a medicine, which can be used in a prescribed way to promote physical, spiritual, emotional, and community well-being. It may be used as an offering to the Creator or to another person, place, or being. A gift of traditional tobacco is a sign of respect and may be offered when asking for help, guidance, or protection. Traditional tobacco is sometimes used directly for healing in traditional medicine. It may be burned in a fire or smoked in a pipe, yet the smoke is generally not inhaled.
In many teachings, the smoke from burned tobacco has a purpose of carrying thoughts and prayers to the spirit world or to the Creator. When used appropriately, traditional tobacco is not associated with addiction and adverse health impacts.
Water is the gift of life. Water is sacred. Water is alive and guided by spirits. Water is the transporter of other energies. Sing to the water to resonate vibrational healing. Give thanks to the water in ceremony. Water assists us in power. Give offerings to the water spirits. Give tobacco ties for water ceremony. Do a water ceremony around the New Moon. Water spirit is feminine. Water ceremony is fluid.—Gladyce Wahlendyasa, Ojibwa elder of Sault Ste Marie Chippewa Tribe
Nina Munteanu is an ecologist, limnologist and internationally published author of award-nominated speculative novels, short stories and non-fiction. She is co-editor of Europa SF and currently teaches writing courses at George Brown College and the University of Toronto. Visit www.ninamunteanu.ca for the latest on her books.