Thunderstorms rumble across the plains indicating winter’s end and the onset of spring. The People, as the Blackfoot refer to themselves, use this as the signal to gather for the Thunder Pipe Ceremony, a celebration of spring rains, renewed life and good health.
This sacred pipe, according to legend, was a gift to the People from the spirit of Thunder, who the Blackfeet believed was one of the mightiest manifestations of the All Powerful One. This gift was passed down through a succession of keepers.
When a date for the opening of a pipe bundle is announced, four drummers are notified and a shaman is appointed. Arrangements are made for the feast and the sacred berry soup. The ceremony is held in two lodges placed face to face. The ceremony, likened to the fertility rites of other ancient peoples, is highly structured and the ritual is split between participants and spectators. The pipe bundle is unwrapped only after a morning of prayers and song. After a great feast, the ceremony continues for those who are authorized to dance with the pipe in order to receive its power.
At the ceremony’s end, spectators were allowed to come forward and receive individual blessings from the medicine man, bestowed with four sacred streaks of red pigment, placed on the forehead, each cheek and chin. While these markings seem representative of the four directions, the certainty of their meaning lies with the medicine man.