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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  1. […] regular tobacco offerings when you find something in nature that inspires […]

  2. […] Some metaphysical book stores sell small bags of cedar, but it’s much more gratifying and traditional to pick it in a sacred manner yourself, by first making an offering of tobacco. […]

  3. […] new moon, make a prayer of gratitude with a pinch of tobacco and place it at the point where water enters your home. You could even put an altar there if […]

  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!

  12. Heather Middaugh

    I have a family member creating havoc in our lives and I pray for him to go back where that havoc enjoys his company. Please pray for us!!! A year ago All was Fantastic!!!!! Perfect asEVER!!!! I want to go back to that!!!!! Please pray for us!!!!

    • Molly Larkin

      Prayers have been sent! Good luck!

  13. I have smoked tobacco for too many years. A friend spoke to me yesterday about tobacco as a sacred herb, so I googled this site. Thankyou for sharing your knowledge; I hope I can use it as an aid to stopping. Any tips ?

    • Molly Larkin

      Thank you for your question. Since tobacco is used for prayer, every time you light a cigarette, take a moment to ask the tobacco to take away your addiction and lead you to using tobacco for prayer. Good luck.

  14. T

    It seems like you redirect a lot of your questions to google.. That doesn’t seem right to me… If you have knowledge then you should share it. Not send people to possibly unreliable information. Shamans are healers and truth finders. Share the truth.

    • Molly Larkin

      Thank you for your comment, and you make an interesting point, however…..

      First, I am not a shaman.

      Second, in my five years of blogging, I have received literally hundreds of comments and questions. I do my best to answer what I can. If I don’t have an answer at my fingertips, and would have to do a google search myself to find the answer, then I suggest the person search for themselves. Out of those hundreds of questions and replies, I don’t think I’ve referred the reader to google more than five times.

      In any event, we all need to use discernment, whether we’re asking a blogger, or doing an internet search. Nothing wrong with Google if you use discretion. Cheers, Molly

  15. Andrew

    I’m quite astounded by the questions and answers! A dissertation on how native american shamans use tabacco as prayer and how to respectfully pick herbs and commune with nature… what a lovely article that has the ability to help all not accustomed to the practice of respect… respect of nature and thus our own bodies. I would think that would be enough (thank you!). But now i see that you have wisdom, so please figure out all my problems… i fart too much, can you pray for that? You seem like an expert, so i must ask!!! I must apologize, your response to negativity was more kind as i’m poking fun. Anywho, please keep sharing, thank you, wonderfully succinct and written and very kind response to some of these responses. Keep doing what you do – it’s awesome!

    • Molly Larkin

      Thank you so much for your comment, Andrew. I appreciate your appreciation.

  16. Stacy

    Hi Molly, I had a few questions, we just purchased a home that was once very heavily populated by the Seminole Indians many years ago. I plan on putting in a garden and landscape as currently there is none. I am moving part of my current garage which is in containers I have salvia and Texas Sage among these things. I know I will be encountering many Native American Spirits here. Should I try and plant tobacco in my vegetable garden as an offering? Will it be disrespectful to white sage my home before moving in? My Angel Guardian has led me to this page about giving offerings to the Native Spirits… also wind chimes?? any thoughts on those? Thank you.

    • Molly Larkin

      Good questions, Stacy, which show your deep respect. When you think about it, all land everywhere in the Americas was previously occupied by Native Americans. Plant what speaks to you. You don’t have to plant tobacco, but could make tobacco offerings instead. Introduce yourself to the Spirits of the land and explain that you will try to be the best caretaker of the land that you can be. Yes, sage your home before moving in, because you want to clear the energy of the people who used to live there. Wind chimes are fine; the sound clears energy, too. Enjoy your new home!

  17. Angela Pippin

    I was told that I have the ability of a healer/Shaman. I was also told I have some Native Indian spirits on the property we live on. They was curious about me and liked me because I showed the land love and respect. I was instructed to make contact with them by offering tobacco. I was to ask for help and guidance. My family is in great turmoil I fear of losing my family. I was told that they was eager to help. I would ask for some advice on how to approach these spirits with respect and not dishonor them.

    • Molly Larkin

      Follow the instructions in my article on how to pray with tobacco. You can’t do it wrong. Good luck.

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