South Central WI Archive
  • Northeast Wisconsin
  • January 2010
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Healthy Harmonized You — The gift blanket, potlatch and the sweat lodge

Throughout America we reserve the end of the year for gratitude and gift-giving traditions, though gifting is common to many cultures. Our holiday for recognizing it is Christmas. It is a revered holiday period acknowledged throughout the world, where on the one hand we remember one of the most important births in history: that of Christ Jesus. On the other hand this season in the US, at least, has been a much commercialized time of the year. The season is the bread and butter of many businesses. It is encouraged here for people to buy local gifts and crafts, and items made in America. We turn now to a sacred aspect inherent in the giving and receiving process expressed in the Gift Blanket Giveaway, a Native American ritual many communities celebrated faithfully dating back centuries. “One of the very common practices of virtually every American Indian nation is some form of what is called otuhan in Lakota and in English “a giveaway.” Ritual is what helps build trust and faith when people get together to gather and share what they have in community celebrations, expressing simply the generosity of one to another.

The gift blanket is where gifts are brought to share with others, and connected with a celebration. These celebrations were, and are, held for a variety of reasons most usually celebrating a wedding or marriage union, a birth or even for a memorial or burial ceremony. A potlatch is often a given/shared in many of these gatherings. The social, religious and economic significance was a major part of this celebration for often combined purposes including a show of wealth, power, competition and peace, and often hosted by those members of the tribe or society with surplus of food and supplies. Often more than one clan would share in the tribal event and share in the giving and receiving of the bounty.

I was first introduced to this gift blanket ritual celebration at a Pow Wow at Madison Area Technical College. Then a potlatch after a sacred sweat lodge ceremony where a prayer ritual was common; in fact, the reason for such a ceremony was often done as a healing ritual for all participating in it or for a specific member of the community needing a special healing, then referred to as a medicine sweat lodge. A potlatch or meal would follow most sweat lodge rituals. In the late 20th century after experiencing many sweats, we included it in a celebration and learning weekend experience called the Mother Earth Festival Gathering. A sweat lodge and gift blanket ceremony became key elements of the event held every Memorial Day weekend.

This historic ritual became very meaningful and important for us as we facilitated many in ritual. For many, it was their first exposure and rite of passage significance. Mother Earth Festival Gathering had as many as four sweat lodge prayer rituals all occurring Saturday evening, beginning at sunset or sometimes a sunrise sweat Sunday morning. Creating the sacred container of the lodge was a learning process built from scratch where the fire pit was created along with an altar and the lodge setup each year. Volunteers would gather, the stone elders (softball or larger sized stones) placed in the pit and they would cook in the fire while the lodge was being constructed, tying the willows, covering with canvas and other breathable material, creating tobacco prayer ties and everyone that wanted to would enter the lodge with the door facing toward the east, representing new beginnings. Many other workshops were offered and vegetarian meals were shared.

The crowning event to close the gathering was the Gift Blanket Giveaway ritual shared by attendees who were encouraged to bring something meaningful to the ritual that had served its purpose from their lives or something purchased for the occasion and they were ready to gift to another. We would gather in sacred circle and sing and share dance movement and settle in around the blanket of gifts — some wrapped, others not. The final song goes like this, “From you I receive to you I give, together we share, from this we live…” and after a moment of reverent silence we would begin the giveaway; each in turn beginning with the youngest would take the rattle and circle the blanket as drumming and singing would continue, then picking a gift off the blanket. The gratitude process was finding the person who placed it there and sharing a gratitude moment, a shared hug and passing the rattle to the giver. This process would continue with a sense of expectation and grace until all were served and special moments were shared. This was a memorable closing ceremony to a terrific transformational and educational weekend experience, followed by a great final meal shared by all.

We often still get together and share the Gift Blanket Ceremony around the winter solstice.


Reference: “From Sacred Giving and Receiving.” Joseph Bruchac.

Ken-Adi Ring

Author Ken-Adi Ring, LMT, CHt, CI: National Guild of Hypnotists (NGH) International Association of Counselors and Therapists (IACT) member, Certified Hypnotherapist and Instructor, Senior Certified Massage-Bodywork Therapist/Instructor and Certified Yoga/Meditation Instructor; Ken-Adi Ring has traveled and taught internationally. A Reiki Master Teacher, he has maintained a thriving professional practice since 1975, trained in multiple disciplines.

Ken-Adi Ring, LMT, CH CI, has practiced and taught yoga, pranayama and meditation since 1974. He celebrates 40 years as a massage therapist and a hypnotherapist for most of 21st century, and can be reached at 608-256-0080, [email protected] or www.wellife.org.

Website: www.wellife.org
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