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Herbal Prayer Ties, Feathers




Excerpted from
The Medicine Wheel Garden: Creating Sacred Space for Healing, Celebration, and Tranquillity
By E. Barrie Kavasch

Celebrations are enhanced with your prayers when you make these simple offerings. Prayer ties are a great way of weaving herbs from the medicine wheel garden into all your ceremonies. All you need for this is small squares (or circles) of red cloth, red string or thread, and some loose tobacco or other dried herbs. Sometimes I start with a three-foot-long cord and make a dozen prayer ties or more to tic onto it at intervals.

Cut or tear pieces of red cloth about two inches square. Lay out your squares near each other. Take a pinch of tobacco or herbs and hold it to your heart while you make a brief prayer. Then put this in the center of a red square and tic it up into a little bundle with a small piece of red thread. It is just this simple, yet it is also profound.

I make a string of many prayer ties when I am working on problems. The long string loops around each little prayer bundle, tying it on with a slipknot. It helps me stop and work out special details, one by one, letting go of anxieties. I also make a string of prayer ties when I have much to celebrate. I make prayer ties for each member of my family and tic them all together with lots of love.


Native people make prayer ties before going into the sweat lodge, the Sun Dance, or an important ceremonial gathering. This is a patient, meditative way of communicating with the spirits in prayer. Every tribe has its own unique way of fashioning prayer ties.

Each season we make small prayer ties for our drums in the drumming circle. This renews our energies and expresses gratitude for progress. The prayer tics are special blessings for the spirit of the drum.

Herbal Feathered Prayer Sticks

The Indians of the Southwest make prayer sticks to invoke supernatural aid and to convey their prayers to the deities and the Creator. The Navajo refer to prayer sticks as ke-tan, or "place where it is feathered." Each stick serves as an offering and as protection for the one who carries it, and it is a symbolic prayer in itself. We choose special beads, feathers, gemstones, and colors of string, yarn, or cloth to symbolize aspects of our prayers-so the prayer stick becomes a living symbol of the prayer. They are lovely additions to your winter garden or to your indoor garden and altar.

Good friends at Zuni Pueblo, in Zuni, New Mexico, inspired these creations. These should be created in a prayerful, thoughtful manner. You actually visualize a prayer in each step of the activity. This way, when your prayer stick is completed, it is filled with prayers. Focus on renewal and gratitude.

Begin by collecting and saving cast-off bird feathers and special small sticks or branches that you clip in your garden or find in your travels. Clean each item well and smudge it with sage. Keep them in an attractive grouping or display them standing in glass jars or pottery bowls until you are ready to begin using them. It is important to honor their spirits. Save and dry the stoutest plant stems from your medicine wheel garden, especially yarrow, blue flag pods, sumac, and tobacco. Trim them to about twelve to eighteen inches in length.

You will need:

  • one or several small sticks, six to eighteen inches long several feathers for each stick

  • fine red string or thread to tie them onto the stick

  • a tiny bundle of sweetgrass, sage, or cedar for each stick (other herbs are optional)

  • a small bead or piece of turquoise, or other precious object

  • a small capful of white glue (optional)

  • red or colored ribbon, perhaps a foot or two, or leather scraps to cut into leather ties

When you are prepared to begin, assemble the items you will need. Smudge everything, including yourself, with sage, and offer a prayer of gratitude. Think and work in a meditative, prayerful attitude.

Select a small stick. Hold it and decide which end will be the top, where you will fasten the feathers to it.

Brush a small amount of white glue around the top half inch of the stick. Use your fingers or a small brush, or another stick. Place the quills of one or two feathers in this glue at the top of the stick. Take a short length, twelve inches, of red thread and hind these feathers snugly in place. You might tie a small piece of leather around this, too.

Make a tiny smudge stick or bundle of the special herbs you have chosen, and tic this with another short length of red thread to the stick just below the feathers. Add beads if you like.

When you are finished, use the smudge again to express your gratitude, and draw each prayer stick through the smudge to bless it and secure your work.

Prayer Feathers

You can also make prayer feathers using this same plan. If you find long wing feathers of crow, raven, sea gull. Canada goose, pheasant, or wild turkey, dean and smudge them. Cut or tear foot-long strips of red cloth, about one-half inch wide. Dab a small amount of white glue on the base of the quill, wrap it with the folded strip of red cloth, and tic it securely. You may want to attach a small herbal prayer bundle to this also at the base of the quill. I usually keep my prayer feather standing in a large hollow bone so that I can admire it and pick it up readily to use.

I make a new prayer feather every time the wild turkeys bless me with another molted feather. I save these and use them for smudging ceremonies, to draw the smoke around and to wipe the anxieties away from myself and other individuals whom I smudge.

Prayer feathers are beautiful blessings. They honor the spirit of the bird who created each feather. They have a spirit of their own, which they contribute when they become a ceremonial instrument. Prayer feathers make beautiful gifts. I have one friend, Vanessa, who walks with her daughter along a lakeshore that Canada geese frequent, and they pick up the molted feathers. She cleans them in soapy water, dries them, and restores them to make prayer feathers for our circle of friends.



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