The power of Native song

Sept 09 054The power of Native song is felt not only in how it is sung but most importantly in it’s origins. Hearing someone sing Amazing Grace can be riveting and moving experience.  The reasons for this are found in the circumstance in which that song was composed like many old church hymns, Amazing Grace was written under conditions of great duress and emotional intensity.  When one hears such songs it actually invokes the spirits involved and the flavor of the moment that imbues the song with real magic. This can be seen as evident in a very pragmatic and scientific way.

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  A song of any kind represents a connecting link to a time and place of  it’s origins.  This takes place the way that electricity follows the current of a long copper wire.  It is simple to determine if a song carries power, what feelings does it evoke?  In our numb domestic culture it has become increasingly hard for people to sense the spiritual beings because they come as feelings.  In a domesticated world where most people aren’t even in touch with their own feelings, sensing the feelings in the wind like a wild animal does is quite unlikely.  Every so often you may sense a spirit without knowing what’s really happening.

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  Let’s say you’re going through some old boxes and you handle an old hairbrush.  You look at it’s color or design and put it somewhere else thinking nothing of it.  Later around dusk you get a peculiar sensation reminding you of the smell of soap that was in your grandmother’s bathroom during your childhood.  This scenario represents the visitation of a spirit.  As humans we may link the sensation we had of spirits in our grandmother’s bathroom with the smell of her soap.  This is one reason why aromatic smudge herbs are used in any ritual in any culture.


Most people would think nothing of these kinds of feelings and would call them “memories”.  In a similar way one could get feelings handling a personal item that belonged to someone else’s family.  One may get an odd sensation or deja vu without realizing that they are sensing a spirit’s presence.  One too may assume, from the explanation, that the spirits sensed are ghosts, like the sensation of the grandmother.  What these sensations are, are elemental beings that follow an ancestral lineage like the water spirits sensed by the child in the grandmother’s bathroom.  Using this story as an analogy one may say that the smell of the soap or the handling of the hairbrush are like the songs in the act of calling the spirits.  Singing Amazing Grace in an all night Tipi Meeting you can feel the energy, or the flavor of the moment, dramatically shift.  Although the song is still within spiritual content it is still totally different in it’s origins and the mood from which it was born.

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In the sweat lodge when someone sings a European based pseudo Indian camp song it feels like the generated momentum of the lodge is all of a sudden  flushed away leaving the strange barbaric feeling of Spanish Conquistadors or the lineages of other early settlers. The spirits in this case follow the families, the languages and other European influences, as well as the line of the song.  What I mean by the line of the song is it’s history.  Like an electric wire this line has the means of transmission.


There’s another aspects of songs where the concept of the “line of the spirits” is concerned.  Let’s say you made up a song with the intention of attracting a spirit.  Within the “flavor of the moment” that characterizes the spirits presence, you sing your song, and with it calling attention to yourself with this song.  You then have created a direct line to that specific spirit.  (Although this works do not assume that the spirits will behave the way you want or expect).  One could use a fragrance in the same way there is a connection between memory of smells with emotions.  In invoking spirits we are invoking memories, feelings.  The spirits are these feelings directly.  When you have a certain feeling of any kind you are actually embodying a spirit.  So by all this one can see that for a domestic human to summon the spirits of the wild, without a direct spiritual line of connection, is nearly impossible.  That is another one of our reasons for protecting and sharing these sacred ancient songs.  They can be of immeasurable aid to the future population of nerds that our culture is creating.  At a time when intelligence eclipses intuition altogether there can still be the hope of the spirits possible intervention.

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Taking a close analytical analysis of primordial spiritual songs we can find some very interesting points.  First of all, ancient spiritual traditions of the world use what is known as the pentatonic scale.  It is based upon the number five and it predates the harmonic scale.  Pentatonic scale is used exclusively for spiritual applications even in cultures predominated by the harmonic scales.  The pentatonic scale flourishes in American culture through Blues and Gospel music which have African roots.  In all indigenous cultures when invoking the spirits, a falsetto is employed.  This clearly illustrates an emotional relationship between man and spirit and it shows that some spirits are attuned to crying.

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Another marked difference in primordial spiritual music is the beat.  Domestic music uses a beat that is to the time of the song that is how children in industrialized cultures are taught to clap hands in school.  Native American music, like African and other aboriginal societies, utilizes the opposite.  Professional drummers from modernized cultures have to unlearn the tendency to clap to time, finding the heartbeat in the background of the song.singing andrea and Chris

In all Lakota spiritual songs and Native American spiritual music the songs start out high and end up low following the natural laws of gravity.  In hearing song birds in nature even when a bird’s song goes high it is always followed by a radical plummet back down again.  Even when the Catholic Church banned the pentatonic scale they still used it along with falsetto  and the high to low intonations for Latin prayer recitations._LAN9309

It is obvious that the difference in native dance music and others is that the volume is louder and the range is further breaking through the yodel all the way to the other side.  Anyone can do this with practice by building the muscles of the larynx and learning how to relax other muscles at the same time.  Lakota song, like it’s language, are toned from the center of the head rather than from the soft palate   This gives it a resonant nasal quality.  This is lacking in English where all the sounds are projected out of the mouth with the front of the mouth, unlike primordial languages.  In domestic society we have found changes in human language, our thoughts as well as our habits. An interesting change that has occurred is that the male alto voice types are becoming rarer.  This may be due to hormonal changes related to domestication.


The most important difference in aboriginal music are the origins of the songs.  A song is a gift from the spirits.  A person receives a vision with a gift of the song for the people.  Most all of the native songs have come about in this way and not from regular composition.  This is illustrated by the lyrics which are in first person from the spirit’s standpoint.  This is a very important point to remember because it too defines authentic aboriginal song and is totally absent in industrialized cultures.  A Lot of people find our blog site looking for English sweat lodge songs.  There is no such thing as an English sweat lodge song nor is there such a thing as a Spanish sweat lodge song.  None of the Spanish and English so called Indian songs were gifted by the spirits, these songs were all composed.  None of these contemporary songs are in first person from the spirits point of view.  None of them use falsetto, pentatonic scale, have a back beat or go from high to low.  So if you hear someone singing a song claim to have been a Native American spiritual song yet it is in a harmonic scale do not take them serious.summer 11 151

To recognize a fraudulent song, as you can see, is very simple.  But there are other things that define domestic compositions.  “We all fly like eagles,  high above the earth, circling the universe, with wings of pure light”.  The example begins not only with a fantasy statement but also completely untrue in every way.  It expresses the need to be greater out of a low self esteem which is a distinct character trait of this modern culture.  It is common in the Lakota songs to hear this statement “I am a common man” or “a common man is saying this”.  The most prevalent phrase in Lakota songs is“pity me” (have compassion).  Secondly is “help me” as well as ”God I am suffering”.   This is reflected by most spiritual songs of any traditions regardless of age or culture.02907292013_1242

The purpose in making distinctions in spiritual and non spiritual songs is to defend true spirituality without allowing fraudulent mystics to damage the authentic power.  Even if it is done innocently and inadvertently, measures need to be taken to safe keep the ancient traditions of the earth.  In the same way there should never be a drive thru or email confessionals in the church, there should never be bogus Indian songs as part of any sweat lodge.  the reason for this preservation is not to stop the evolution of a native path but to stop the domestication of it.  That de-claws it making it an obedient pet rather than a fierce panther that inspires reverence and change.  It controls the spirit by denying it access to the people, it transforms the medicine power into a badge of honor rather than as a spiritual gift.

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        We believe in the night sing, the power of inyan, the stone, the miraculous healing power of the ancestors and the sacred songs.  We believe in the Wiwila, little people, animal spirits, and the various other Tunkasila (spirits). We believe in the emptiness of the Medicine Man as a hollow bone for the spirits’ work.

The Night Sing, or Lowanpi, is probably the most fascinating rite in the western hemisphere. Anthropologists believe that it has its origins in Siberia and that it spread from there to many places throughout the world. It is believed to have been practiced in Nepal and northern China thousands of years ago.  There are ancient traces of it among the Laplanders’, The Mongols, The Icelandic peoples’ and in Amazonia.


In the 1950′s it is said to have died out in Siberia but it has made a recent come back from North America. Versions of the Yuwipi/Lowanpi have long been practiced by tribes of the Northern and Eastern United states. The Tent Shaking rite among the Ojibwa were well documented in the 1800s, as well as the various plains tribes.                      

When the Medicine Man is tied and bound it is known as a Yuwipi rather than Lowanpi. It is this act of tying, untying, the frame drum, as well as the general events of the ceremony are what allowed Anthropologists to trace the yuwipi to Siberia and beyond. The Canli Pahta, or prayer ties are a purely Lakota element in this beautiful practice.

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Recently, people say things like “these ceremonies came about when our people had to hide their spiritual practices”. These views are inconsistent with Anthropological and Archaeological facts as the Yuwipi is thought of as the Neanderthal’s primary religion. There is no question that the Yuwipi/Lowanpi was never one of the Seven Sacred Rites of the White Buffalo Calf Woman. This suggests that the Prayer Ties and the use of the Sacred Pipe were, at some point, added to the Yuwipi. Similarly  songs as well as other elements have come from the Yuwipi/Lowanpi and entered into the Sundance.

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 These ways may have come from Siberia ,but the reverse may be the case just as well, especially in the case with mastodon hunters who followed the herds. It is believed that the yuwipi, the ceremony that truly defines Shamanism, moved with the migration of the mastodon. The Lakota primarily hunted Mastodon before the buffalo, as did various other tribes.

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The healing that occurs in these ceremonies  may not be accompanied by any tactile sensations. This does not affect the power of the healing.  The most difficult manifestation seems to be for the spirits to make sound. Auditory experiences seem to occur less (the singing or speaking of spirits) than tactile ones. There are no real generalizations though, it is up to the Spirits alone, next it is up to the Medicine Man’s relationship with those beings and last but not least the faith of the participants. It is strange to see the (new-age) shamanic drumming sessions that are so popular now. This practice is directly mimicking the ancient ways without any of the outward manifestations (or initiation  that are usual to these ceremonies. It is Interesting to note that certain individuals are born with, or acquire the ability to create situations characteristic to Yuwipi.


Daniel Dunglas Home and Carlos Mirabelli are two individuals known to have brought about such situations. first thing one could experience in a Yuwipi or Lowanpi is levitation and movement the rattles and various other objects. Next would be flickering lights, rain, hail, wind and other similar sensations. The third type of manifestation one could expect is the touch of a spirit’s hand, the touch of an animal, Little person, or other such being’s touch.


The Yuwipi ritual may be held for very specific purposes.  Among them are healings, finding lost or stolen objects, and finding solutions to problems.   It is part of a trinity of rights, Yuwipi, Sweat lodge and Vision Quest.  After performing a sweat lodge the right begins in a room in which all lights can be extinguished.  The leader or Yuwipi man is bound within a quilt and laid face down in the center of the room, (Yuwipi means they tie him up).  The room is plunged into total darkness as the lead singer begins to drum and sing with great enthusiasm.  In the darkness the spirits play the rattles and untie the leader.  The lights are turned on and the Yuwipi man narrates the events of the ceremony and the sacred Canupa is passed round.  This all takes about four to six hours and is an evening event.  Yuwipi is followed by a  potluck. The Yuwipi is an important Ceremonial that we are excited to have in our community as well as visitors from all over.


Singing for Yuwipi / Lowanpi is a very serious matter. The lead singer and the accompaniment should not take it lightly. It is of utmost importance for the singer to be able to sense the man in the middle within the cover of total darkness as well as the coming and going of the various spirits that may be present. To get started the sacred Canupa will be filled with Cancasa with the accompaniment of the Pipe filling song or Opagipi Olowan. Sometimes two other pipe songs may be sung with it. Then for the tying this song can be sung although it is not necessary.


It is important that this all happens swiftly and without delay (tying). As soon as the man is in the center face down the lights are extinguished and the directional song (Tatetopakiya Olowan) is sung. There are some very important things to know about this song. This song is received by the medicine man during vision quest and is his personal song. It is sometimes known as an altar song or as Wicakicopi Olowan (they call them song). This type of song can only be learned in person Unless a regular directional song is being used. A good example of this would be the directional song of the sweat lodge. Other spirits are called in now with the calling songs, the Deer, Mole, Bat and stone spirits’ (Yuwipi Wasicunwould take precedence for us. The calling songs can vary greatly with circumstance and the Yuwipi Bundle itself.

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A prayer song is sung signaling the time of prayer. This can happen in a number of ways depending on the situation. Basically this is when the spirits are asked for healing or the whereabouts of someone or something. The spirits may go look to check something out or retrieve an object or Ghost.  Healing songs would now be sung as the spirits get to work on the sponsor and whomever stands to receive a healing. This usually happens either by the sponsor, select individuals or by everyone.

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The spirits’ may perform tasks in answer of the prayers during the healing round but may continue working into the next set of songs. Depending on the medicine man a wide variety of songs can be sung at this point. Now it is common to hear Kettle songs, Ceh’ohomni Olowan. These are better known as Heyoka songs or Thunder being songs.

 These clown songs originally are used as part of the Kettle Dance and other Heyoka rites. It is said that the ghosts of the Heyoka Medicine men intervene in the Yuwipi /Lowanpi cerimony to affect a cure, who really knows? These songs may be sung solely to call the Thunder beings as well as other related spirits. Many other songs can be sung, there are the stone songs, spider songs, and all the various animal songs.

The spirits Do the untying with the untying song. This song is known as Wicayujujupi Olowan. Now Spirit dancing songs are sung. This songs known as Waci Olowan are sung in the sweat Lodge as well as the Sun Dance. In the lodge it is used in the most active time for the spirits which is the third door. During Sundance it is sung while the pierced dancers are breaking free or just after that. During Yuwipi this is at the point of untying. Sometimes in a ceremony such as this a version is used calling the stone spirits to dance, it is up to the Yuwipi man. At this point regular Sweat and Sundance songs may be sung for the spirits pleasure, for them to dance.

No matter how the ceremony progresses or how it is preformed or whatever, the Spirits go home song and the closing song are always song. Sometimes a few songs are sung just before this.

28. Closing Song           ( spirits go home song ).                  This is a must know song! For most every ceremony whether its’ for a simple Sweat Lodge or to end a Sun Dance!!!

Hot aninyan kin najin pelo, Hot aninyan kin najin pelo, Tunkasila ta wokonze ca, Lena cicu welo. Hot aninyan kin najin pelo.


As we leave our voices are heard, As we leave our voices are heard, It is Grandfather’s will, That I give you these offerings. As we leave our voices are heard.


Mientras partimos, nuestra voces se eswchan, Mientras partimos,nuestra voces se eswchan, Es la voluntad de el Abuelo, Que te doy estas ofrendas, Mientras partimos, nuestra voces se eswchan, 

 29. Ending Song

Kola, lena cicu welo wayankiyelo, Kola, lena cicu welo wayankiyelo.

Anpetu okihica cicu welo, Kola lena cicu welo wayankiyelo.


My friend, I have given you these. Behold them, My friend, I have given you these. Behold them.

The day has made it possible to give you these offerings, My friend, I have given you these. Behold them.


Mi amigo te e dado esto, recibelo, Mi amigo te e dado esto, recibelo.

El dia ha echo posible poder darte estas ofrendas, Mi amigo te e dado esto, recibelo.

Black Bear

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Rules for singing Ceremonial Songs

Important Details about Ceremonial songs

“Rules for singing Ceremonial Songs”

Click here for songs!

  When singing this style of song, be sure to pay close attention to the drumbeat.  It is usually either a fast steady beat, Like a ruffle, or a slow thunder beat or like a heartbeat. In general there are these two types of drum beat with many different styles and variations, fast and slow. Some of these songs are hard to play without the right beat. Slow songs work best with a fast beat while fast songs seem to fit a slow beat  When singing along and not drumming it is helpful to tap along with the drummers. this will help to learn the correct rhythm.

The easiest mistake in the act of singing Lakota songs is singing to the beat of the drum. We are taught in school to clap to time with a song. In most drumming systems of Indigenous cultures and even our modern culture, we use an off beat. While clapping, most of us use an on beat rather than an off beat. An on beat is the opposite of an off beat.

Usually, when clapping one would start a song with the clap and the clapping would happen at each syllable, that’s the on beat. What you want is the drum beat between each syllable, starting the song after the clap and the syllables of the lyrics occurring between the beats. Lets use an example, the song “Mary had a little lamb”, what you want is to hear the drum beat * between the syllables. Ma*ry* had* a *li*ttle* lamb*. Like that.

A good way to get it right is to practice drumming with a heart beat (thunder beat), that’s a two beat. One two, one two, one two, the “one” being the loud beat and the “two” being the more quiet of the heart beat. Practice starting the song on the “two”. If you were clapping you would start the song when your hands are furthest apart and each syllable would occur when your hands are apart (the off beat).

 Another point of consideration is distinguishing between vocables and lyrics. Vocables are sounds and are not written among the lyrics.  Usually the syllables and melody of the vocables match the lyrical part of the song. Vocables can be compared to the European equivalent: Fa La La La La, La La La La (deck the halls).  Usually songs containing vocables, begin with vocables. Very rarely are the vocables after the lyrics or between the words.

When singing alone or without accompaniment you would sing the songs the way they are written.  When singing with others you would use a call and response.  That is when the song leader calls out the first line of the song; the group would then repeat that line. Ladies would join in on the third line, unless of course there are only two singers, a man and a woman. Some of these recordings have a call and response although they are written without it. As a rule of thumb with the call and response the group joins in just before the leader sings the vocable sound He.  This sound is found at the end of some of the sentences, He.

Other things to consider in singing these songs

Some of these songs are specific to particular lineages. In that case only one or two words may be different from one Tiospaye (family lineage)  to another. Most of these songs are general and are sung by many groups and at different ceremonies. An animal calling song is for calling in the power of specific animals. A stone song is for calling in the spirits of stones. Be sure you are not calling things unnecessarily.


These songs are very powerful and not to be idly whistled or sung in the shower. Put down a pinch of tobacco as an offering first. This can be placed in a special spot, it can be rubbed or sprinkled upon the drum. A little water is good for the spirit of the drum, but before singing songs always put down tobacco. It is important not to “cry wolf” with the spirits. If these songs are sung idly too much the Spirits may stop responding.

By learning songs from a C.D. or computer they may only attract lesser nearby spirits. They may not have the same impact until they are sung along within a genuine tradition. The more powerful spirits follow an oral line of association that is lost without actual contact with lineage holders. By singing and learning these songs here the spirits may eventually draw you into the ceremonies and traditions that use them.

Kid's songs

Thunder Being songs are for addressing the Thunder Beings who are the law enforcement branch of the Creator.They sung to invoke the healing power of the thunders. Do not sing any thunder being songs at night out of context. Thunder being songs call thunder beings during the day and ghosts at night. Honestly, one should never really sing any kind of song carelessly outside at night. In the event of attracting ghosts sing the sending the spirits home Closing Song and the Ending Song. It is good to know these songs to send spirits back home, especially when it is helpful to them.

Thunder being songs include any Heyoka or “kettle songs”.  Heyoka people, or sacred fools, may sing these songs at other occasions. If you are not initiated as a Heyoka, meaning that if you have not performed a kettle dance successfully, you should avoid singing these songs out of context. Any one can sing most of the Thunder Being songs in the sweat lodge and yuwipi ceremonies provided that they are followed by the proper closing and ending songs.

When Heyoka people sing, since they are contrary to the proper way, they will use an “on beat” with the drum rather than an “off beat”. The dog song should only be sung at the Kettle Dance (Heyoka Initiation). Heyoka people may sing this song out of turn, don’t do this, it is asking for the spirits to “take” a dog as an offering.

Healing songs are for doctoring people. The songs themselves are a healing medicine. They can be sung in sweat lodge, Yuwipi, or on their own as a treatment. Canupa songs (pipe songs) should generally be sung when the pipe is present. If you carry a canupa it is okay to sing those songs whenever but always give a tobacco offering to the drum, especially when rehearsing. Pipe filling songs should only be sung while loading the pipe facing west. Again it is alright in the process of learning to sing the pipe filling songs, having offered tobacco to the drum and ending your lessons with the “Sending the Spirits Home” closing song.

There are various different closing songs when reaching near the end of a ceremony. For instance, in the fourth round of the sweat lodge one might sing a closing offering song. Be sure to check with your leaders about this as they vary from tradition to tradition. Some of our closing songs may not be used by other lineages to close. It all depends on what the spirit helpers of a tradition are used to. When visiting a sweat lodge you know little about it would be safest to not lead any closing songs at all.


There are a handful of songs not available here that are too specific. These are the opening Yuwipi/Lowanpi songs for calling in the directional spirits. They vary from ceremony to ceremony and from one medicine man to another. To get these songs you will have to learn them in ceremony. That is the only time those songs are ever sung.

Always remember the origins of these songs, some of them are 12 thousand years old, some of them are relatively new. The important part is that they came to people through dreams and visions and were not composed in a mundane fashion. A song, then, connects to a spirit, a group of spirits and a person.

In essence it is not essential to know the meaning of a song for it to be effective. It is really good to know the meaning, but the songs are for the spirits. There should not be any element of performance in singing these songs. All these songs are for the sake of the spirits, not for entertainment purposes. Some domestic scholars are under the impression that the drum is used to lull the people into a “trance like state”. The drum is to call the spirits, any “trance like states” should be attributed to the presents of the spirits.

By learning all of these songs on our site we will become a Lowan Wicasa (song man) or a Lowan Winyan (song woman). Although not a prerequisite to being a medicine man or woman in the Lakota tradition you would have to be crazy to even attempt to embark on that path without most of these songs. Singers are integral to these ways, anyone knowing all of these songs are needed and honored regardless of race, creed, or color. If you put yourself out there you could at least get well fed!