The Sacred White Buffalo Woman told the Lakota when they die; their souls must be purified so they can reunite with Wakáŋ Táŋka – the Great Spirit.
A lock of hair from a departed person was taken and held over a piece of burning sweetgrass to purify it.
Then it was wrapped in a piece of sacred buckskin, and the Sacred Pipe was smoked. The buckskin bundle, called the soul bundle, was kept in a special place in the tipi of the soul’s keeper, usually a relative. The Keeper of the Soul vowed to live a harmonious life until the soul could be released, generally about one year.
The ceremony to release the soul began with a buffalo hunt and the construction of a special lodge. Kinnikinnik – sacred tobacco – was smoked in the pipe, and special food was buried as an offering to the earth. The bundle containing the soul was carried outside and, as soon as it reached the air, the soul was released.
The soul then traveled along the Spirit Path, which is the Milky Way, to reach Maya Owichapaha – the old woman who judges each soul. If she judged it worthy, she sent the soul to the right to Wakáŋ Táŋka. Unworthy souls were sent to the left, where they remained until they finally could become purified and join Wakáŋ Táŋka.
The Sacred Pipe: Black Elk’s Account of the Seven Rites of the Oglala Sioux. Recorded and Edited by Joseph Epes Brown. Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1953.
The Gift of the Sacred Pipe, Based on Black Elk’s Account of the Seven Rites of the Oglala Sioux, recorded and edited by Joseph Epes Brown. Edited and Illustrated by Vera Louise Drysdale.