Keeping of the Soul - Nagi Gluhapi

This is the first one of the seven sacred rites of the Lakota Sioux people and lasts about one year.


The physical body of a deceased Sioux was placed in trees or on wooden (scaffold) platforms high enough to protect the body from animals and wrapped in hides and allowed to decay until nothing of the body was left. Well known leaders were buried in secret places, unknown places, if the family or friends were able to do that for the individual. Today, they are buried in cemeteries as is done in other cultures. Many Native American cemeteries are in hard to find, isolated places.

Grieving is a natural process with those who lose a loved one, whether it be a family member or friend or someone known or admired. There is no set time to finish this rite because it depends on where the closest mourners to the dead person are in their personal grieving process. When they have come to a point where they are ready, that is when the ceremony for releasing the soul is held.

Some tribes practices for mourning included those close to the deceased painting their faces black, cutting their long hair short, and cutting of their arms and legs to show their grief. Sometimes a relative would remain at the burial site and keen for several days. The dead person would have been dressed in their best clothing and prized items were wrapped in the animal robes encasing the body.

This sacred rite helps the transition of mourning the loss to it becoming less painful and takes much time to do. It resolves an unfinished life, helps the healing process and recovery by those left behind as well as helping the soul to reach Wakan Tanka. It provides a way to comfort and heal the hearts and souls of the people.

White Buffalo Cow (or Calf) Woman told the people that when they die their souls needed to be purified to be with the Great Mystery or Great Spirit, Wakan Tanka. She gave them a Sacred Pipe and a small round stone to conduct the Keeping of the Soul rite.

The Sacred Pipe bowl is made from red stone (pipe stone) and represents Earth. A buffalo carved on the pipe bowl represents all animals that have four legs. The wooden stem represents all growing things. The eagle feathers hanging from the pipe represent the winged nation.

The rounded stone made of  pipestone has seven circles carved on it to represent the seven sacred rituals that White Buffalo Cow Woman told the people they are given to help them be good people and walk the Red Road to be with the Great Spirit or Great Mystery when their soul leaves this world.

To free or release the soul, a special tipi is constructed and sacred tobacco (kinnikinnik) is smoked with the sacred pipe so the smoke sends thoughts, voices and special prayers to Wakan Tanka. Some foods are offered to Mother Earth by burying them. Black Elk says that the first ceremony was for a young boy and relates the special prayers and songs for this ceremony.

Sacred tobacco (kinnikinnik) is made from the dried inner bark of the Red Alder or the Red Dogwood, mixed with an equal part of Ree Twist Tobacco and a smaller portion of a fragrant herb or root. Sweet Ann root is often used.

A lock of hair is taken from the dead person and purified using smoke from sweet grass.

The lock of hair is then carefully wrapped in a piece of sacred buckskin to make up the Soul Bundle and hung up inside the special tipi. The body itself is wrapped and taken away and placed in a tree or on a scaffold platform if no trees are near by. In this way the body is given back to the elements from which it came, winds, rains, the birds and the Earth itself all gain from absorbing the body.

The Soul Bundle is kept by a family member or other volunteer who agrees to live a "harmonious" life until the soul can be freed. This can be longer than a year if the keeper of the Soul Bundle feels it is necessary. The Soul Bundle Keeper must not allow any bad people within the tipi, they can not argue or fight with others and need to always keep the dead person's soul in their minds. All words must be good around and from the Bundle Keeper for the duration of the ceremony. They must not ever use a knife for any purpose while in this position of protection.

A special buffalo hunt was held and a cow buffalo portioned off and butchered to give to the the Bundle Keeper for the ceremony. The meat was dried and mixed with cherries and tallow and saved for the release of the soul ceremony.  The hide is specially tanned and used to cover the bundle. The family of the deceased member give a part of their food to the earth each meal. If others bring gifts they are specially wrapped and saved to be later given away to others who are poor or needy.

The Soul Bundle is then carried out of the tipi to a new special tipi for a short ceremony where meat and berry juice is used. The Soul Bundle Keeper tells the family that if they live good lives the memory of their loved one will remain in others memories. Four young girls chosen for their purity take part in this ceremony. He speaks to the Soul Bundle asking the soul to remember those left behind and to help them all walk the Red road, sacred path. Then, the Soul Bundle is taken outside and  immediately opened to release the dead person's soul.

The family may keep the lock of hair if they chose. Some tribes burn it along with personal objects owned by the deceased person.

The Lakota believe that the soul rises up to the Milky Way (Ghost Road) and finds their way to Maya Owichapaha, translated as "The old woman who judges each soul." If the old woman finds the soul worthy of joining Wakan Tanka, she sends the soul to the right.

Souls sent to the left remained there until they could become worthy  to join Wakan Tanka.

After the ceremony concludes, feasting and give-aways occur. Gifts like the well-known Lakota Star Quilt, other kinds of quilts and blankets are an important part of the give away held after the burial ceremony.

Wake for an Indian Warrior by Jim Sheeler

Wake for an Indian Warrior Part II by Jim Sheeler


The Sacred Pipe, Black Elk's Account of the Seven Rites of the Oglala Sioux. recorded and edited by Joseph Epes Brown. University of Oklahoma Press,1953,1989

A modern day Lakota Lutheran Perspective on Death by Mary Minton

This site has some good pictures showing how the Sioux and other Native Americans buried their dead. There is a language barrier as this person who made this website is not a English speaker but the good will intent shows in his text. I recommend your seeing the rest of his site simply because it has excellent pictures of other ceremonies on it too.

Images of the mass burial done by the US Army at Wounded Knee. These are very disturbing and graphic. They are included because these people did not have the proper burial ceremonies done for their souls and their memory remains very strong among the Sioux people.

Paha Sapa.. The Black Hills, a sacred burial place

Even after burial, Native American remains were not safe

Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Reading Room, Images of Indians of North America

Photo of tipi poles and bodies on burial platforms at top of page is from Historical Native American Collection - Other Photographs - Image 42 of 2222, CD 2 of 3