Four Directions Song
by Myron Ford

I'm singing the Four Directions song, which is usually the song we sing to begin our ceremonies. The song honors the four sacred directions-really seven directions: the four cardinal directions, and also the sacred place where the Great Spirit resides, Mother Earth below, and also all the grandfathers-a term of endearment we use for the spirits who have passed on, from all the nations, the animal nations, the plant nations, all nations.

The words of the song begin by saying, "Grandfather, look at me." This is not prayer as in Western terms, not kneeling down and looking above, but a relationship of equals. Grandfather is something greater, but we're all a part of the same thing, we're all equal, all the animal nations.

Then we start by looking and singing to the west, where the thunder beings live, where clouds come and go, where the Thunderbird lives. We're related to that Thunderbird.

Then we turn and sing to the north, the direction of the buffalo, tatonka. The buffalo is strong. When the cold north winds come, the buffalo will face north, unlike many other animals who turn away from the cold wind. This makes the buffalo stronger; it builds stamina. They're not afraid. So we honor the buffalo.

Next we turn to the east, which is the direction of exceptional knowledge, the direction from which the sun rises. The east represents the new day, and a new start for each day, when we can choose. The Lakota honor the elk because that's where they reside.

And then we turn and sing to the south and recognize all the animals. In our tribe, we recognize the south as being the pathway to the spirit world, the pathway of the Milky Way. When the spirit has learned all it can from this life and the physical form goes into Mother Earth, our spirit stays around for a year. During that time the spirit will travel around to all the relatives who are still alive, through dreams, through ceremonies. And then the spirit travels to its relatives.

That's why we start our ceremonies with this song, to acknowledge all our relatives and invite them to the ceremony.

Myron Ford, the singer you hear on this website, is enrolled at Haskell Indian Nations University in Lawrence, Kansas, where he is a student in the Environmental Science and American Indian Studies programs. He is a member of the Yankton Nakota Tribe and the Lower Brule Lakota Tribe.

    Click HERE for detailed explanation of the Four Directions Song.

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©2002 Institute for Tribal Environmental Professionals & Northern Arizona University
Last updated: October 14, 2009