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Keeping a Spirit

In traditional Lakotan thought, every person at birth is imbued with a wanaghi, a spirit from a star. Upon death, a person’s wanaghi travels through the space outlined by the four stars of the bowl of the Big Dipper to the Wanaghi Canku, or Spirit Road, then south on that road, eventually returning to its star.

According to Black Elk, High Hollow Horn was the keeper of the Buffalo Calf Pipe when a young boy, who was a great-great-great-grandson of Standing Hollow Horn, died. The boy’s father asked High Hollow Horn to teach him how to conduct the Wanaghi Yuhapi rite so that his son’s wanagi could navigate the long journey south to its home.

A lock of hair was taken from the deceased and wrapped in a buckskin bundle, which was fastened to a tripod and kept in a special tipi. In good weather, the tripod was moved outside. The father of the deceased boy kept the bundle and was to live an exemplary life. The tipi was watched over by Red Day Woman. People brought gifts to the bundle, and in return, received blessings. When the agreed upon period of keeping the spirit was completed, the young boy’s wanaghi was symbolically released to begin its journey. The keeper of the spirit and his family gave away all of the gifts that had been given to the bundle, plus many many more.

Black Elk. The Keeping of the Soul. In The Sacred Pipe: Black Elk’s Account of the Seven Rites of the Oglala Sioux (Brown, Joseph E., ed.), 10-30. Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1953, 1989.