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Release Grief, Trauma and Negative Energy: The Lakota Prayer Tie Ceremony

Often we hear that releasing "what no longer serves us" is needed to reduce anxiety, improve our mental health, and restore our physical, mental, or spiritual energy. But how do we do this? One way I have found particularly helpful is to perform a ritual based on the Lakota Prayer Tie ceremony.

Lakota Prayer Ties are used as spiritual symbols to facilitate prayer or meditation, or in this case, to remove emotions or energy that we wish to release. The best way to use the prayer tie is to make it yourself, using each step of the process to set your intention as you gather your items, craft the tie, and then perform the ceremony of either burning the prayer tie with fire or tying it to the branch of a tree.

Making the Prayer Tie

Prayer ties are made by wrapping tobacco in a cotton piece of cloth cut into a square (about 4 inches square), folding tobacco into the cloth creating a pouch, and then tying them together with string. I personally add one more important step. On a piece of paper, write down the situation, issue, worry, trauma, or the object/person for which you are grieving and fold it into a small square - this becomes part of your bundle and an important step in setting your intention to release the negative energy associated with it.

What if you don't have tobacco? The best tobacco to use would be wild tobacco, which is what traditionally was used by the Lakota. I have found this ceremonial tobacco on Etsy, but you could also grow your own, or use organic pipe tobacco. If you don't have access to tobacco, white sage or sweetgrass can also be used. In addition, you might also try cedar bark or branches. In the east, Eastern Red Cedar (Juniperus virginiana) is quite common and found on roadsides, especially in the Coastal Plain (Eastern Virginia, Delaware, New Jersey, Maryland, etc.). Remember that not all tribes had access to these plants, depending on where they lived in North America. Failing all else, rosemary is used for a "fresh start" in life, white pine is well known for clearing and purifying spaces and removing pain from the body, and thyme is used to inspire strength and course and to dispel grief.

Typically, I use prayer ties to release negative energy, so I use red cloth. I buy a red t-shirt from the thrift store, smudge it with sage or palo santo, and cut it into squares. But there are other traditional colors you might use, depending on your intention. Prayer ties can, in this way, be used to set positive intentions

Lakota Medicine Wheel Colors

Red (South)(Summer)- where sacred red rock is found/ where you pray for your struggles (use to release energy or to release one from troubles or anxiety)

Black (West)(fall)- where the Lakota say thunder originates (use for abundance as it represents the harvest)

Yellow (East)(spring)- rising sun (use when the energy of youth or rebirth is desired)

White (North)(winter)- personal power reflection/ knowledge/ freedom/ wisdom (use when asking for Spiritual guidance or greater connection to Spirit)

Other Sacred Colors

Blue- “Grandfather sky”

Green- Grandmother Earth

How to Complete the Ceremony

How you complete the Prayer Tie Ceremony depends on what you have available and the intention or prayer that you have established. The traditional way of using the prayer tie was to either hang it by the string from the branch of a tree, once you have asked permission of the tree spirit to do so, or to burn it in a ceremonial fire. If you are releasing negative thoughts, energy, or trauma, take care to ensure that the tree is far from your home or that the fire in which you burn it is outdoors. Native American beliefs were that the smoke from a fire brings prayer to The Creator. The safest way to ensure that your release of energy escapes away from you is to burn it outdoors. Positive intentions are less problematic, as you can tie these close to home or even in the home (tradition included wearing them, too). Here is a quote that sums this up:

“For instance, if a tie is made and then tied to a tree or left in a sacred place, the intentions and prayers of the maker will be absorbed into its surroundings and act as sort of a blessing for the things it touches and for those who come in contact with it. Sometimes the ties are burned, sending those prayers up to the heavens.”

Traditionally, the Shaman or Medicine Man may also collect prayer ties from those gathered to pray, tie them together, and burn them in a sacred or ceremonial fire. When I do this as part of a class or energy clearing, this is what I offer to participants. Keep in mind that if you choose this ceremony to "release," the prayer ties should not be kept in your home or brought into your home - this is especially true if you have gathered the prayer ties of other people. Always keep those with the intention to release at a distance, which means you don't want to bring others' troubles into your sacred space. Leave them outdoors and finish the ceremony through burning or hanging them in the forest as soon as possible.

I hope that you find this ceremony helpful and that it makes the process of releasing negative energy, trauma, or grief more transparent and also more effective. Personally, I feel great emotional release using the Ceremonial Fire and find the Tree option most helpful for positive intentions.

Wishing you the best!



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