Medicine Bag/Sacred Bundle: Home of Spirit - The Deepening: Communing with Spirit

Kindling the Native Spirit: Sacred Practices for Everyday Life - Denise Linn 2015

Medicine Bag/Sacred Bundle: Home of Spirit
The Deepening: Communing with Spirit

Ed McGaa (Eagle Man), an Oglala Sioux, was a Marine Corps fighter pilot major during the Vietnam War. He survived 110 combat missions, received eight air medals and two Crosses of Gallantry, and was recommended for a Distinguished Flying Cross. For protection, he wore a wotai stone (sacred stone) in a small medicine bag around his neck. Prior to Ed’s Vietnam departure, a Sioux medicine man, Chief Fools Crow, held a ceremony for him. He predicted that Ed would see the enemy over a hundred times and the bullets would bounce from his plane, which was exactly what seemed to happen. It could have been a coincidence, but in native cultures it’s believed that one’s medicine bag can offer protection, and Ed certainly seemed to be protected.

A medicine bag (or a sacred bundle) is a pouch or bundle used in native cultures in which objects of power are placed. It is thought to be a home of Spirit. Shamans use them for items that they believe will expand their spiritual powers and deepen their connection to Spirit. The use of medicine bags is indigenous to the human spirit and part of our collective psyche. The first chronicled use of a medicine bag goes back more than 5,000 years. An example is the Frozen Man, estimated to have lived around 3,300 B.C.E., who was found in the Alps in 1991, almost perfectly preserved. Next to him, frozen in the ice, was a medicine bag that contained an assortment of medicinal plants.

Although medicine bags were in the domain of the tribal healers, it wasn’t uncommon for them to also be carried by other tribal members. The objects in the bag often served as focal points for protection and healing, and helped activate intuition. Many believed it contained your power.

A medicine bag isn’t something you purchase already full; instead, you put items in it that are meaningful to you. Since they are so personal, typically, it’s something you keep to yourself and don’t share with others. In traditional cultures, medicine bags are so revered that they are buried with a person when he or she dies. The contents of a bag are as varied as the people who held them: beads, arrowheads, bones, rocks, herbs, tobacco, leaves, bark, hair, and claws are known to have been commonly placed in these sacred sacks. And color has meaning, too, with red often being the most auspicious. In present days, objects such as small photos, keys, coins, and small carvings or statuettes are often found in medicine bags. As an individual goes through various life experiences, mementoes are added. Often the medicine bag is worn around the neck, but they’re also commonly found attached at the waist or kept in an honored location.


Although we most often think of medicine bags as Native American, in fact, in many tribal traditions, it’s a common practice to carry a bag of power objects. In some African communities the shaman carries a gree (also spelled gri gri). In Afro-American traditions, this has been called a mojo bag. In the Caribbean, the bag is called the oanga bag.

A sacred bundle is a kind of medicine bag, but in a different form. Whereas the medicine bag is often worn, the bundle, which is usually made of animal skin folded over several times with the sacred objects inside of it, is placed in an elevated location in the home. The bundle might be allocated to a clan leader, and the objects inside of it were thought to have benefit for the entire clan or tribe. Bundles were rarely opened, except for religious purposes. The size could be about 12 inches long but was sometimes larger. The contents were considered sacred and would never touch the ground.


It’s not necessarily the objects in the bag that have power, but rather it’s the meaning you assign to them. The objects allow you to focus your intent from the deepest crevices of yourself and out into the world. For this reason there’s value in creating a medicine bag. It becomes a concentrated focus for all areas of your life. For example, if you desire more abundance in your life, you might consider adding kernels of corn (traditionally these represent abundance) and a quartz crystal (it acts as a magnifier) to your bag. When you’re in a relaxed state, remove these two items from your bag, place them in your hand, and hold the intent for a more prosperous life. Then put them back. Additionally, the items in your bag can serve to ground you. For example, if you feel connected to oak trees, then an acorn in your bag can strengthen and ground you.

You may choose to wear your medicine bag around your neck to draw on its power throughout the day; however, if that’s not feasible, consider placing it in a pocket or putting it next to your bed. It can be a potent ally when you’re going through a challenging situation. You can also have more than one medicine bag, each one dedicated to a different domain. One might be used as a healing medicine bag and another might be for protection, for example. Or, you could have one for your personal life and one for your blessings and wishes for your children. Usually, no one should touch your medicine bag or observe the contents, unless it feels all right with you. If you choose to wear it, it’s best to keep it under your shirt rather than visibly on display, unless it is for ceremonial purposes.

A medicine bag can deepen your spirituality, but it also can help to clear negativity. You can lay your bag on any part of your body that’s out of sorts to realign your energy centers. It can even be used in the healing of others by placing the bag on that person’s body. Remember to smudge it afterward to reset the energy.


You can use any material you desire to make your medicine bag. Traditionally, they’re made from animal skins; however, fabric can make an excellent medicine bag. (I made a beautiful one out of purple velvet for my daughter, Meadow, when she was a baby. She still has it, and it’s meaningful for her.) Usually medicine bags range from two square inches to twelve square inches (without the fringe), and they can be decorated in any way you choose. Make sure that every design has significance to you and is not haphazard.

There’s not one right way to create a medicine bag. A bag that you’ve made yourself will carry more energy than one that is purchased. It doesn’t need to be elaborate; sometimes humble is best. These instructions are for one kind of bag—though use your creativity to create a bag that speaks to your heart. There are many different possible patterns and shapes available.


1. Material: Your bag can be made of lightweight leather, felt, cotton, linen, velvet, silk, or wool. Every fabric and every color has a different kind of energy, so choose the one that feels best for you.

2. Size: A small bag can be just as potent as a large bag, so think about how you are going to use it and where you are going to keep it to help you decide the correct size. For example, if you are going to wear it around your neck, you might want a smaller one than if you’re going to keep it next to your bed.

3. Cut: Cut two pieces of fabric/leather into rectangles with exactly the same width, but one piece needs to have a longer length by two-thirds. This extra length folds over the top. If the leather is thick, you will need leather-working tools.

4. Stitch: Face the front side of both pieces of leather/ fabric together and sew all the edges, except the top where the opening is. With thin leather you can use a sewing needle or a sturdy sewing machine. Turn inside out, and you have created a simple medicine bag. You can place a button and create a buttonhole on the flap to hold the contents in the medicine bag.

5. Strap: You can add a strap for a fabric pouch with cording or strong ribbon. For a leather bag, consider braiding thin strips of leather together. Make two holes on either side of the flap, put the strap through the holes, and tie knots in the strap to hold the strap firmly in place. Alternatively, you can sew the strap into either side of the bag at the opening.

6. Decorate: You can use beads, shells, paint, or whatever feels “right” to adorn your medicine bag. However, whatever you use, it should have meaning.


1. Take a piece of leather, felt, or fabric and cut it into the desired shape (see illustration).

2. Cut or tap holes into the leather or fabric.

3. Take leather strip or cording, and weave it through the holes.

4. Pull on the cording to create a sack.

5. Add decorative elements on the flap of the bag and tuck it into the cording.



As mentioned, there’s no rule about what you should or shouldn’t put into your medicine bag. Include whatever items are meaningful to you. And know that it’s not necessary to fill your bag right away—add things to it slowly over time. You might also consider gathering items that represent various aspects of nature. Here are some suggestions (these apply to a medicine bundle, too):


· Mother Earth: You might place a stone you found in a mountain stream. Or include a crystal or a polished stone such as agate, bloodstone, citrine, or moonstone that has special significance to you.

· Plant People: Place some kernels of corn, naturally grown tobacco, or bark from a tree in your bag. Some people like to put the “Three Sisters” of corn, bean, and squash seeds together to represent bounty. Cornmeal tied up in a small bundle can also signify abundance in all areas of life. Even dried petals of flowers, herbs, or plants that have meaning for you can be added.

· Animal Kingdom: Put feathers, bones, or fur of an animal into your bag. (For example, if you have a beloved dog, the next time you brush him, you could take some of his fur and tie it in a small bundle.) Carved stones that resemble an animal that is sacred to you are also a great way to honor the animal kingdom.

· Air, Water, Fire, and Earth: You can include objects that represent the elements or even write the words on small pieces of paper.

· Creator/Great Spirit/Great Mystery: You might place a small heart-shaped stone, a small metal Buddha, or a tumbled opal . . . anything that symbolizes the Creator to you will bring potency to your bag.

· Special and Meaningful Objects: Perhaps your grandfather gave you a special coin when you were five years old. This might bring the energy of wisdom of the elders into your bag. If it seems untraditional but feels good to you, include it!

One time in my life I needed extra courage, so I put a tiny plastic Xena Warrior Princess into my bag. It might sound silly, but every time I held my bag, I felt courage course through me, and it helped me navigate through a very difficult situation in my life. If you feel a need for protection, as a suggestion, make a small medicine bag that you can wear around your neck, and place within it whatever represents protection to you. Some people use black tourmaline, juniper berries, or special symbols. (I know a man who keeps the Star of David in his medicine bag for protection.)


1. Lay out the objects that are going into your bag.

2. Take each one into your hands and then to your heart, focusing on the meaning of each item.

3. Hold your bag to your heart and give thanks for it.

4. With sage or sweetgrass, or any other clearing method that you choose, clear and bless the objects and the bag.

5. Lovingly place the items in the bag and express thanks to the Creator. Ask that spiritual energy and power fill your bag.

6. At least for one night, sleep with your medicine bag near you. You can also place it under your pillow to deepen your energy connection with it.

Since you’ll be adding items over time, it’s generally a good idea to smudge each new object before putting it in your medicine bag.


In many ways you are your own medicine bag. As I wrote earlier, on the day that the Creator gifted me my spirit name, I heard the words: You are your own medicine bag. In that moment I realized that in an even deeper way, a medicine bag isn’t just a gathering of objects that represent qualities, abilities, or values. It’s energy, and we can access that energy within ourselves. When you remember that all you need is within you and know that there is a divine, sacred energy available to you at any moment, then you know that, indeed, you are your own medicine bag.