Cheyenne Medicine Bundles

Cheyenne Medicine Bundles

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Among the Cheyenne there are two sacred medicine bundles: The Sacred Arrows (Maahotse) and the Sacred Buffalo Hat (Esevone). The spiritual power of these bundles could be tapped ceremonially to help the tribe prosper. As long as the ceremonies were performed as taught by the culture heroes, the tribe would be protected and would prosper. Failure to respect the bundles would be followed by misfortune to the tribe.  

The Sacred Arrows:

The Sacred Arrows are living things and are the holiest of the Cheyenne tribal possessions. They were originally given to the prophet Sweet Medicine by Maheo (the Creator) in a holy cave within the sacred mountain (Novavose or Bear Butte). Sweet Medicine’s gift to the Cheyenne was the Sacred Arrows by which the Cheyenne were able to grow in wisdom. It is through the Sacred Arrows that Maheo pours his life into the lives of the Cheyenne people. Through the Sacred Arrows, the Cheyenne people maintain their unity with Maheo. It is only through the Sacred Arrows that the Cheyenne are a tribe in a spiritual sense.

The Massaum Ceremony is an ancient Cheyenne ceremony which was given to the people by Sweet Medicine who first performed it at Bear Butte. The five-day ceremony re-enacts the creation of the world. During this ceremony, the Sacred Arrows are cleansed and all creation is renewed.

The Sacred Arrows are symbols of male power. Women do not look at them when they are exposed to veneration. Even today, women will excuse themselves from the presence of men who are speaking about the Sacred Arrows.

In 1830, White Thunder led the Cheyenne in a raid against the Pawnee in Nebraska. Riding next to him was his wife who carried the Sacred Arrow bundle on her back. Four Cheyenne scouts encountered the Pawnee and were killed. The Cheyenne warriors were now impatient for revenge and pushed for a day and a night toward the Pawnee village. When some Pawnee rode near the Cheyenne, the Cheyenne warriors hastily charged. The charge occurred so swiftly that White Thunder had no opportunity to hold the blinding ceremonies with the Sacred Arrows. The Cheyenne thus rode into battle without the spiritual protection of the Sacred Arrows.

White Thunder quickly tied the Sacred Arrow bundle to the lance of Bull, a warrior-priest. This was done in haste, without separating the four arrows into two pairs.

A sick Pawnee warrior had decided that this was a good day to die and was carried by friends out in the field of battle to die a noble death. He was struck with numerous Cheyenne lances and coup sticks. As Bull rode by the wounded Pawnee warrior, the Pawnee managed to grab the lance with the Sacred Arrows and wrench it free. While the Cheyenne managed to kill the Pawnee warrior, the Sacred Arrows were captured. The Pawnee chief Big Eagle, holding the lance with the Sacred Arrows still attached, charged the Cheyenne and the Cheyenne warriors fled.

In 1835, Cheyenne spiritual leader White Thunder and his wife Old Bark travelled to the Pawnee village of Big Eagle. They begged Big Eagle to return the Sacred Arrows bundle to the Cheyenne. Big Eagle returned one of the four arrows-the Buffalo Arrow. Big Eagle and other Pawnee warriors returned with White Thunder to the Cheyenne camp near Bent’s Fort where the Cheyenne gave them more than 100 horses. Big Eagle, however, did not return any more arrows.

In 1843, Lakota warriors returned home to South Dakota with one of the Cheyenne Sacred Arrows which had been captured by the Pawnee. The Sacred Arrow was then returned to the Cheyenne in exchange for 100 horses.

Two new arrows were eventually made and the bundle continues to be an important part of Cheyenne spiritual life.

Sacred Buffalo Hat:

In historic times the Cheyenne were composed of two tribes: the Cheyenne (Tsistista) and the Sutai. The Sacred Buffalo Hat is generally associated with the Sutai who became incorporated into the Cheyenne in the late 18th century. The second Cheyenne bundle is the Sacred Buffalo Hat (Esevone) which was a gift from Maheo to the Sutai prophet Erect Horns (Tomsivi). The power of the Sacred Buffalo Hat is female. The Sacred Buffalo Hat and the Sacred Arrows together form the two great covenants of the Cheyenne people. Through these two bundles Maheo assures continual life and blessings for the people. The people, however, must venerate and care for the bundles.

When the Sacred Buffalo Hat is renewed, those seeking a blessing stand at the edge of the old lodge cover facing the Sacred Mountain to the east. The keeper of the Hat then prays and offers the pipe to Maheo, the Earth, and the four directions. In single file, those wishing a blessing walk across the old cover to the east.    

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