by RavenHawk



    As I begin this discussion about Pipes, I would like to acknowledge as I have before, the fact that there is a lot of controversy out there about who is qualified to have a pipe, who is qualified to make a pipe, on how to consecrate a pipe and what a pipe ceremony is. I won't go into detail of all this negative controversy. I can only suggest that you follow your heart and feelings about what is best for you. And don't let anyone intimidate you! You, and only you know what is right for you and what you need to do! There are many ways and I can honestly say that there is no one right way. I can only share with you, that which I have learned. There are many other ways, each as valid as the other. Words on paper are a wonderful teaching tool, however, they are no substitute for learning from someone with whom you can have personal contact. It would be good if you could find such a person and learn from them. All I can do is open the door, I cannot be responsible for what you do, it is up to you to pass through that door. You alone must be responsible for your physical and psychological well being.

    I have been making pipes for about 12 years and have been a pipe carrier for just as many. My venture into the world of pipe making and stone carving began under the influence of Lloyd Carl Owle, a very spiritual man and one of the most talented and well known stone carvers among the Eastern Cherokee. Lloyd is known for his very imaginative, multidimensional carvings that blend Cherokee legend and tradition into stone, art and wisdom in sheer simplicity.

    Before I go too much further here, I feel I need to say a little about the creation of a pipe. The real thing for me to learn about pipe making was the ways of the stone and I'm still learning. Lloyd often said that the stone has it's own ways. You have to learn to feel it and work with it. It becomes what it wants to become, no matter what you may want it to be.

    Pipe making can be a very spiritual thing or a very commercial thing, depending on how you want to feel about it. Personally, I could never look at stone carving as merely a method to make money, but there are those who do. I'm not saying this is right or wrong, I'm just saying there are those who do so. I believe that everything has a spirit, and even stone needs to be looked upon as having wisdom to offer to those who are willing to listen. There is stone that is not willing to be carved into something other than what it already is. And you have to respect that. No matter how expert the hands, no matter how great the gift of the maker, it just won't happen. That stone is already what it is supposed to be. It will ask for nothing less and you can expect nothing more. Respect must be given to the stone and it must be willing before you can successfully work with it. Thanks should be given for the stone's willingness to work with you. I'm not saying there has to be an elaborate ceremony before a pipe is started and after it is finished. Any ceremony is up to the maker. But the maker's heart must be good, because what is in the heart is what matters most, not the outward mechanics of ceremonial action. Ceremony without feeling, good intent and sincerity is meaningless.

    There are some people who have a real problem about what a traditional pipe really is. Along with visions of the ever popular Plains style T and Elbow shape, most fail to realize that pipe makers of centuries ago were just as imaginative as they are now, with maybe the limitation of lack of effective tools for carving them.

    There are many types of stone that pipes can be made of. To list a few of the most common: 1. Catlinite, or Red Minnesota Pipestone, 2. Steatite, which ranges from green to gray, 3. various colors of alabaster, 4. soapstone 5. various other carvable stones. It should be realized that a pipe's effectiveness is not governed by the type of material it's made of. The power of the pipe is comprised of several constituents, including the beginning intent, respect, honor, love and care of the maker, to the intent, respect, honor, love and use in a sacred manner of the one who carries it. Whatever manner of ceremony one attaches to it depends entirely upon the tradition being followed. There are many traditions and even variations of traditions even within single tribes.

    Let's begin with obtaining a pipe. A pipe is bought, traded for, or given as a gift. But don't expect a maker to give too many away. The stone has to be purchased with either money, trade items or the sweat of digging it or hunting it out. It is not wrong for the maker to be compensated for these things, not to mention the hours of work that went into making it. But beware of paying a tourist price for it. When you see a pipe that feels right to you, whether you get it from a store, from the maker or by mail, the pipe should look good and be in proportion. The quality should be obvious. There should be no visible cracks or suspicious lines through the stone. Sometimes there are lines running through the stone that are not cracks or indications of a crack. If the maker is reputable, that person would not even consider parting with a questionable pipe. Does the stem and bowl have a good fit? This applies to those that are not glued. If it doesn't have a good fit, remember that humidity causes wood to swell and dry climate will cause it to shrink. A pipe made in Florida should have a good fit, but if it is sent to Arizona, for example, the stem fit will be loose because the wood will dry out. The opposite is also true. A pipe made in Arizona where it is dry will have the stem swell if sent back east. So take this into consideration.

    You can tell if it was originally made with quality workmanship. Another question is whether the maker will guarantee the pipe and the quality of the stone. Not all makers and suppliers will guarantee the stone or finished product. I can't blame those who don't. Stone is chancy at best. A maker will usually finish only one out of every two or three started due to unseen faults in the stone. If you find a maker or supplier who will guarantee it, all the better!

    The purpose for which the pipe was made is also important. This correlates with intent. I'm not saying that one not made for ceremonial use is not as good, as one that is, but the intent is important. The price is also important. Is it priced fairly or does it have a tourist price? It is up to you on how much you are willing to give for it or how much is it worth to you? The only matter is that I have my own definition of rape when it comes to such things! You also need to use your intuition. Is this the correct pipe for you? From this point it's up to you. Once you've obtained your pipe, most consider it asleep until consecrated. In other words, it's only wood and stone until it is awakened. There are many versions of how to consecrate a sacred object and I won't get into the right or wrong of it. If you know of a person qualified to do so, take a tobacco offering to them and make your request. They will be able to properly instruct you and/or guide you on the consecration and pipe ceremony.

    Store your pipe in a safe and respectful place until you get all you need to go with it! There are several things you'll need to go with your pipe. First of all, a piece of cloth large enough to roll your pipe stem into to protect it. (or complete pipe if the stem and bowl are glued) It should be new and once you've wrapped your stem inside, you need to be able to tie it on each end and perhaps the middle. The same can also be done for the bowl, although I recommend a small buckskin bag for its protection. Get or make one with a drawstring or some way to tie it so it'll never have the chance to fall out. Now you need a pipe bag of appropriate size to keep your stem, bowl, tamper, tobacco, and matches in. This should be large enough to accommodate these things and not any larger. Make sure it has a drawstring top or that you can tie it.

    Another thing you need for the stem is a piece of wire to insert into the stem while it is not in use. This serves a dual purpose. The wire prevents anything from entering the stem when not in use and it also serves to keep the stem cleared of and obstructions such as any tobacco that may be sucked into it during use. Usually a wire clothes hanger is of appropriate size for this. Straighten it out as straight as possible and slide it into the hole of the stem from the end where the bowl joins, (Never force anything into the bowl or stem. If the wire you chose is too large, find another that will fit. It should slide in easily.) bowl end first until it just peeks out a quarter of an inch or less out the mouth end. (For pipes which the stem and bowl are glued, measure the wire so that it lacks about a quarter of an inch coming through the stem) Mark the length and take it out. Cut your wire about two inches longer than you marked it. Bend the end beyond the mark you made into a loop so you can easily grasp it to insert it or to take it out.

    Also you will need a small rug, piece of leather or buckskin to serve as a pipe rug. This is the rug you will lay your sacred items out on when you do ceremony. It also serves to catch the tobacco or smudging materials that may be dropped while you are in ceremony and to protect your items. I suggest using a light color for the rug in order to easily see any items you have placed on it or anything dropped on it. It should measure somewhere in the vicinity of 16"x22" or a bit larger. You don't want anything too bulky.

    A pipe tamper is also a useful item in loading the pipe and keeping it lit. It should be of some sort of hardwood and about the diameter of a pencil, blunt on one end and thin and somewhat sharp on the other. Use hardwood because it will not readily char or burn.

    Of course you will need tobacco. A good natural tobacco with no additives is the type many prefer such as "Our Pride" or "Natural American Spirit". But in reality, any quality tobacco will suffice. When the above type cannot be obtained, my recommendation would be "Prince Albert" or "Half and Half". Stay away from those that have syrups or flavorings in them if possible. (Keep your tamper, matches and tobacco in your pipe bag along with the pipe itself.)

    Smudging materials are necessary. You will need an adult abalone shell or clay or crock bowl that ranges from 2 inches to 7 inches in diameter in which to burn your smudge and a feather to fan it with to keep it burning. Fold a piece of cardboard a little larger than your feather in half long ways. Place your feather inside and tie it with string or a buckskin thong. This protects your feather. Keep it there when not in use. Have a separate bag of cloth or buckskin to keep smudging tools in, then keep this inside your bundle. Some of the common herbs burned in smudging are: Desert or white sage, Sweetgrass, Cedar, Juniper and various others, either singularly or in certain combinations. There are many different preferences. Desert Sage and Sweetgrass are perfectly acceptable as many say the Sage drives bad spirits (negativity) away and the Sweetgrass attracts the good spirits. (positive) Only the leaves of the desert sage are used.

    Take a pinch of the leaves about the size of a walnut or so and crush them in your hand. Place them in the bowl and pinch small bits off the braid of sweetgrass and sprinkle in with the sage you have placed in the bowl. Mix these together and form back into a ball and it is ready to light. Use the full size, strike anywhere kitchen matches. These you can strike on a stone or the side of your abalone shell. Don't use a butane lighter or paper matches. Store your matches in a small cloth roll or cotton drawstring sack. You don't need to carry many, maybe 10 or 12.

    All your smudging herbs and tobacco can be kept separately in snack size zip lock bags. You don't have to carry a lot of each. You can replenish as needed. It is also good to keep a small zip lock of plain corn meal along with your smudging materials. Use it as an offering to bless the area in which you do ceremony.

    Another item I would suggest keeping in your bundle, is a folded piece of cardboard or plastic in which to sit upon in case the ground is damp when you decide to do ceremony. Keep it in your bundle and it will always be there if needed. You don't need a wet and cold backside distracting you.

Your next item would, of course, be a bag large enough to accommodate all the items we've mentioned so far. It should have a shoulder strap or handle for carrying. Now you have your bundle ready!





1. Once you consecrate your pipe with a certain ceremony, that particular ceremony is bound to it. You must stay with that ceremony.

2. Don't use the pipe casually.

3. Just pointing a pipe at the directions and smoking it doesn't necessarily constitute a ceremony.

4. You can bind your pipe as a (a.) a personal pipe that only you can use. (b.) a family pipe that can only be shared with family and no one else. (c.) a working pipe that can be shared with all.

5. No one else can do a pipe ceremony with your pipe.

6. Your pipe must be stored in a respectful place in temperatures no more than you would be comfortable in.

7. It is not a display piece. Do not allow anyone else to touch it casually. Use it only reverently.

8. Never step over a pipe.

9. Use your pipe often. Don't let it lay idle.

10. If the cake inside the bowl builds up too much, don't scrape it out. Wash it in warm soapy water and rinse. Let it dry in the sun.

11. You can apply plain petroleum jelly to the bowl and then wipe off and buff. The bowl probably is finished with bee's wax by the maker but this melts off with use. I don't advise anyone but qualified persons re-applying bee's wax as this involves heating the bowl. You could possibly damage it if you don't know what you're doing.

12. If the stem becomes dry, apply a light coat of cooking oil and rub it in good.

13. Never force the stem into the bowl too far, you can break either. Just get it snug.

14. Some pipes have the bowl and stem glued together. If yours is one that is not glued, only join it together when doing ceremony and/or doing maintenance. IT SHOULD BE STORED SEPARATELY!

    Copyright (c) 1995 by RavenHawk. All rights reserved. This article may not be reprinted without prior written permission. This writing is in no way intended to be the whole and complete story. Sincerely try and find someone who is qualified to help and guide you. I hope this has given you a decent overview of pipe care and handling. If you have any questions or feel that any part of this writing needs clarifying, feel free to contact me. I will help as best I can. Good luck! May you walk in a sacred manner!

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