Tobacco: Do you know how sacred it is?

tobaccoTobacco is an herb that has become a pariah in our society, yet is sacred to many native peoples.  It wasn’t meant to be used and smoked the way we use it in our society.

My first teacher, Sun Bear, had a wonderful saying:

“White people misused tobacco, the sacred medicine of the native people, and it made them sick.  When native people misused white peoples’ medicine, the sacred wine of the mass, it became their undoing.”

We must respect one another’s medicines.

 The unknown spiritual life of tobacco

Tobacco has the quality of being able to absorb.  When made into a poultice, it can absorb toxins out of a rash or bug bite.  When you pray with it, it absorbs your prayers. And when smoked, the smoke carries your prayers up to the Creator.

Bear Heart taught that the age-old Shamanic way of praying is to hold a pinch of tobacco between the first three fingers of your hand, say your prayer, then open your fingers and let the tobacco fall to the ground.  Don’t toss it, let it fall.  The nature spirits will then work on fulfilling that prayer.

It is traditional for someone asking for help or teaching from a native healer or elder to offer them tobacco.  This is not payment for their services.  The tobacco holds some of the energy of the patient who held it, helping the healer to connect with them.

It also acts as an energetic protection for the healer so they don’t take on any of what the patient releases.  You can read more about this in chapter 6 of The Wind Is My Mother.

Why casual use of tobacco can make us sick

Think about the circumstances under which you smoke: when stressed, or in bars surrounded by all sorts of different people with all sorts of different energies and intentions.  Remember that tobacco is absorbant, so it absorbs all the surrounding stress.  When you inhale the smoke in that circumstance you’re magnifying the stress in your body.  And 70-75% of illness is caused by stress!

I believe that one of the reasons we smoke when stressed is that it changes our breathing; we breath deeper to inhale the smoke and deep breathing reduces stress.  It would be better to just do breathing exercises for relaxation, which I will be addressing in future posts.

 A token of respect and exchange

Indigenous people teach that everything, every rock, every blade of grass, has a name and a song.  Their consciousness may not function as ours does, but that doesn’t mean they don’t have any.

Sometimes we go for a walk in the woods and see a pretty rock we want to take home.  But do we ever think that perhaps that rock has relatives in that area and may not want to leave?

Some may think that’s an odd concept, but those who know that everything is alive and we are all related will understand.

If you take something from the earth [rock, plant, feather, etc.] leave tobacco as an offering.  It’s a token of respect, and an exchange.  Ask permission first and pray for abundance and protection for that element/kingdom.

There are many, many stories of people who have taken sacred artifacts from indigenous peoples and lands without permission and been followed by bad luck until they were returned.  Respect – it’s the key to a good life.

 How to pick herbs

One of the first ways to communicate and show respect to Mother Earth is through is the proper use of herbs: in how we pick them and how we use them.

Tobacco is used when going out to pick other herbs.  If you’re going out to pick sage or cedar, or even something from your garden, try to choose an area where it’s plentiful.  Designate one plant as the grandmother plant and offer tobacco to her and ask permission to gather, and include prayers for the continued protection and abundance of the green kingdom.   Then do your picking. When gathering wild herbs, pick just a little from each plant so that you don’t decimate an area.

Southwest and Mexican tribes often used cornmeal for offerings.  If you have no tobacco or cornmeal, you can even use a strand of your hair, or saliva, as an exchange. The Huichol Indians of Mexico use chocolate.  A very fine offering, indeed.

Always be ready to pray

I always carry tobacco with me, and I keep some in my car.  That way I’m always ready to pray.  Not that regular prayer doesn’t work, but the more you do to help yourself focus, and call upon the good spirits for help, the more assistance you have.

Sun Bear also taught that the earth is covered with nature spirits and they don’t get much business any more.  So when you make tobacco offerings, they are eager to assist and acknowledge you in return.

As you communicate with the earth in this age-old indigenous tradition, you will find your life changing in beautiful ways.

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Molly Larkin is the co-author of the international best-seller "The Wind Is My Mother; The Life and Teachings of a Native American Shaman.” She is passionate about helping people live life to their fullest potential through her classes and blog at
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  4. […] old growth and dead leaves in your garden and ceremonial areas. Bless your gardens with cornmeal or tobacco or a simple […]

  5. […] Make tobacco offerings to those things that inspire you. […]

  6. […] first, I prayed with tobacco and asked them to leave.  “Please leave so I don’t have to hurt […]

  7. […] and ask permission of the ancestral spirits for help in releasing what is bothering you. Put down tobacco as part of your prayer for […]

  8. […] In 2002, a friend put up a community purification lodge on his property in Malibu, California. It was built in the traditional way, with prayer and respect and offerings of tobacco. […]

  9. Tracy Cunningham

    I know spirit lead me to your page. How do I get natural tobacco?

    • Molly Larkin

      Thank you, Tracy. I don’t have an answer for you as to how to get natural tobacco. As an elder, people always give me tobacco so I never need to buy it! I would suggest googling the question; I’m sure you’ll find it. Good luck! [American Spirit is a brand of tobacco that is natural and organic].

  10. Scott

    Hey, I wanna be a shaman. How did you find a mentor?

  11. Ashley

    This is a beautiful post. I’ve made the decision to resign from corporate 9-5 grind and live with Intention and Purpose and selecting where and with whom I invest my energy. I’ve taken the leap and put in my two weeks with the intention of getting back to the Land and this post was of great use for me. I let tobacco fall from the fingers as you had said and it was very obvious that I was graced with a Presence. Thank you and do you have any suggestions in regards to overcoming fear and self-doubt and distrust?

    • Molly Larkin

      Thank you, Ashley. I wish you success in your transition. What a big question you ask! To me, overcoming these things is really part of life’s journey and there are no easy answers. My nutshell answer: read personal development books, get counseling and healing, take personal growth workshops, pray to know your spirit guides/angels and ask for their help. Google “overcoming…..” and you might find some helpful articles. Good luck!

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