Often people ask us about ritual protocol. Why are things done a certain way? What color prayer flags (robes) go in which direction? There are very specific reasons for these details but most importantly know that the rules vary from one medicine person to another. In addition to this each root family or tiospaye has specific rules. An altar design from Fools Crow would differ from that of Henry Crowdog. The directional colors vary as well as some of the songs that are used. Each Medicine Man or Woman receives from the Universe a vision. The vision usually instructs the changes that should occur in the altar design. although the changes maybe slight they are powerful symbols to the spirits that they call. So that’s one reason why an altar design is different from another, they call different spirits. Such a vision (of an altar) comes with a song. That is why the Yuwipi or Lowampi ceremony have different altar songs.
So when attending a different sweat lodge don’t expect that the songs you are used to will be sung. One word may be changed, there may not be a drum or there might be a rattle ( wagmuha). The sweat lodge door may face a different direction. Generally, as with the Sundance, it faces west to call the Wakinyan or Thunder Spirits ( Lakota ).
If you are encountering difficulty or any problematic situations you can most likely look no further than the altar to find the solution. An altar cluttered with crystals and unnecessary items is usually the root cause of strife in any ceremonial event. Do not allow participants to place unrelated objects upon the altar. What we want here is a flow directed by the spirits themselves, so without proper instruction, having nothing upon the altar would be far better than clutter!
Oftentimes we will sponsor a sweat lodge with other Pipe carriers and or medicine people. We will have to ask them, what color prayer flags (robes) do you want and in what direction? Do you want a buffalo skull on the altar and which direction should it face, toward the lodge or the fire? Should we make prayer ties and what color? After we find out which way everything goes, you can find out the reasons why things are the way they are. The leader should know all the answers to the directional colors their presiding animals, spirits, the altar design, the meanings of the songs as well as when and why they are sung.
An All Night Tipi Meeting may vary profoundly from one Roadman to another. This is especially so because The native American Church is an inter-tribal religion. There are two branches in general the Half Moon and the Cross Fire. Each Roadman / Roadwoman facilitates the ceremony differently. Usually it is understood that at a different fireplace or altar the form of the ritual will be different in a lot of ways, yet basically structurally the same. Even the symbolism can have different explanations.