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S.D. medicine man performs Native American ceremonies

April 16, 2006|By CANDICE BOSELY

SHEPHERDSTOWN, W.Va.

On a peaceful patch of earth outside of Shepherdstown Saturday afternoon, two ceremonies were performed that some believe could date to when all of the continents were one.

A sweat lodge (Inipi) ceremony and a Yuwipi ceremony, both conducted by South Dakota medicine man Bill Stover, or Standing Cloud, were held on the property of David Levine along the Potomac River.

Both of the Native American spiritual ceremonies began by offering a pipe filled with tobacco, red willow bark and sage to Stover.

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"If he accepts it, he will do the ceremony," Levine said beforehand, as he sat at his kitchen table folding small red prayer ties for the Yuwipi ceremony.

Later, when the pipe was offered to Stover before the sweat lodge ceremony, he sat in a chair and puffed on it for a couple of minutes. Around 20 people stood in silence around him, awaiting his response.

"We're ready to begin the ceremony," he finally said.

To build a fire near the sweat lodge, Levine began by placing seven lava rocks atop pieces of cordwood and paper. Each person who planned to enter the lodge also placed a rock and piece of wood on the pile, and was told to say a prayer.

The rocks and wood then were set ablaze.

Each person also was told to place an item on an alter just outside of the lodge. Items gently placed there included bags of tobacco, framed photographs and small leather pouches.

The alter was a mound of earth - the same earth used to create a pit in the center of the lodge. Once the ceremony began, firekeeper and rock bearer Micah Fisher carried the rocks into the lodge and Stover poured water over them.

Because the rocks had been on fire, steam rose from them - causing the temperature inside the lodge to rise.

"It can get extremely hot, but sometimes it's very gentle," Levine said before the ceremony began.

Inside, each direction had a corresponding time frame and characteristics of one's life. East is considered to be the time of birth, illumination and enlightenment; south is the place of youth, wonder and joy; west represents midlife and is a time of transformation; and north is associated with the wisdom of old age, Levine said.

Colorful prayer flags, each wrapped around a clump of tobacco, were placed inside the lodge.

A few rules existed. Participants should have refrained from drinking alcohol in the 24 hours before the ceremony, Stover encouraged people to remove their jewelry, and women who were menstruating - "on their moon-time" - were precluded from participating.

The visions that might occur inside a sweat lodge set Native American spirituality apart from other religions, Levine said.

"They teach you things you can't deny because it's (happening to) you personally," Levine said.

If more people were able to have such experiences, Levine believes problems such as pollution, war and hunger could be alleviated.

Levine, who created the nonprofit organization Medicine Journey, said he will hold additional ceremonies as needed.

Medicine Journey's purpose it to help take people to Native American reservations and help medicine men travel to where they are needed. Since medicine men do not accept money for performing traditional ceremonies, Medicine Journey also can help provide them with items they need at home, Levine said.

Waiting for the sweat lodge ceremony to begin, Robin Johnson, of Martinsburg, W.Va., said she was a little nervous. It was the first time she had participated in such an event.

"To see if anything spoke to me," she gave as her reason for taking part. "I practice yoga and meditate, so I thought this would be a good complement."

and Thomas Alvarez, singer for the ceremony.

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