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Medicine Women

Plains Indians used various wild berries and herbal plants in ceremonial rites that celebrated the gift of life from Mother Earth and the continuation of its people.

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Women Continued ...

The women gathered herbal plants and stored them for seasoning or flavoring and for medicinal purposes in healing.
The knowledge of herbal medicine was not confined to the women, but generally women seemed to be more familiar with various herbal potions and brews. In some tribes, a woman - usually the wife of a medicine man - learned secrets in healing natural illness with herbs by assisting the medicine man. In other tribal communities women learned the art of doctoring with herbs from their mothers and grandmothers. In general, if a woman inherited the right to become a medicine woman, her powers still had to be validated by a dream in which a spirit, in the form of a human, an animal, or perhaps just a voice, gave her personal knowledge. Women who had the gift for curing spent considerable time wandering around the areas surrounding their encampment, gathering herbs and other natural ingredients to prepare their medicines. In most Plains tribes, a medicine woman was not allowed to practice by herself until she reached middle age and older. The power to heal usually remained with a woman until her death.

Like her male counterpart, a medicine woman was considered by early Plains Indians to have a special connection to the spirit world and that link is what empowered her to heal. Emotional afflictions required supernatural remedies to recapture the soul. Generally all healers called upon the aid of an ally from the spirit world to guide them in curing illness. Plains Indians believed that both physical and emotional illness reflect an imbalance between the natural world and the spirit world. A healer's task was to restore harmony and balance using herbs, poultices or spoken formulas.

In some tribes, women who acquired supernatural abilities became shamans. Shamans were believed to possess the power to influence the good and evil beings in the spirit world. A woman who wished to become a shaman usually sought training from an established shaman in her community. If the old shaman chose her as successor, the younger woman took over the shaman's position when she passed away. The new shaman used the songs and the formulas she inherited, as well as her own creations, to cure disease, predict the future or control the weather. Plains Indian women gained respect and prestige by practicing medicine in their communities. The realm of medicine women in the culture of early Plains Indians was probably one of the women's most powerful roles.

SOURCE: Rev. Stan Maudlin, OSB, “Wambdi Wicasa” Eagle Man,
American Indian Culture Research Center, Blue Cloud Abbey www.bluecloud.org

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