Thunder Being Items


   This grizzly-attacking spear holds feathers, a partial grizzly hide and one blue bead for the Thunder Being.  Everything is colored with red ochre, mixed with grizzly liver, to adhere the pigment and serve as "medicine" for killing the grizzly.  The Mandan Indians   reported that when ten warriors attacked a grizzly, only six men usually survived.    

   The bravest act was to kill a grizzly using this ceremonial spear.  When a grizzly rose to fight, a warrior holding this spear above his head, would thrust the long point toward the bear's heart.  If a warrior killed four grizzly, he could make a grizzly claw necklace with the front claws attached to an otter skin.  It was said that it was easier to kill a Pawnee Indian and steal his claw necklace than to try to kill four grizzlies.

   During the Lewis and Clark expedition, grizzlies attacked numerous times.  Lewis wrote in his journal that he would rather fight two Indians than one grizzly.  During one grizzly attack, a bear was shot eight times in vital places, but continued its charge.

This bear skull with an imbedded stone arrow point was found near an old Indian camp.

This bear skull with an imbedded stone arrow point was found near an old Indian camp.

   Pictured to the right is a Blackfoot Bear Knife Bundle, which was later owned by a Lakota Sioux.  It contains a beaver-tail knife, twelve feathers with bells plus one blue bead for Thunder Beings, a twisted buffalo hair chord and bear jaws.  All the items are rubbed with red ochre, representing Lightning 

   The Bear Knife ritual is very old and few bundles exist.  When sold, the transfer ceremony was so dangerous and painful that few accepted to go through the initiation.  Those willing to purchase a Bear Knife Bundle needed the fierce disposition of a grizzly to endure the pain to transfer ownership, even if its power was believed so great that arrows could not kill the owner.  The recipient of the bundle was required to catch the beaver tail knife thrown violently at him, then be cast naked upon thorns and held while being painted and beaten with the flat of the knife.  After many sweats and memorizing the accompanying songs, the jaws of a bear were presented to the buyer along with the bundle.  The jaws were from a black bear, considered more dangerous than a grizzly because the black bear is more quick to attack than a grizzly. 

   During the summer, the knife was kept unwrapped and fastened to one of the tipi poles  near the owner's seat to be ready when needed.  In warfare, the bundle owner was never to retreat and, using only his beaver tail knife in a battle, grab an enemy by the hair and stab him.  It was believed that the sight of a Blackfeet warrior brandishing the sacred Bear Knife would cause an enemy to collapse in fear and his companions to flee in terror.

   Late in the fall, the knife was taken down and placed in its bundle until spring, thus imitating the bear.  During this time, the bundle was suspended each morning on a tripod behind the tipi and smudged three times.

   The Blackfeet, Artists of the Northern Plains by Bob Scriver devotes pages 240-245 to the Bear Knife Bundle, which is similar to the one pictured above.  

   The whistle shown below was carved into the likeness of an avocet, a shore-bird, with added brass eyes.  There are two bells, a porcupine-quilled collar, and the scalp of an enemy.  This whistle was believed to call a Thunder Being, when blown.  The sound of the whistle is "wheek," thought to call the power of the deity to bring needed rainfall.  If blown often, the Thunder Being would come on a rage to attack Under Water creatures, bringing torrents of rain with hail, thunder, and violent winds.


   The braided, gray hair is beaded in a circle with red and blue colors to represent red as lightning, blue as thunder.  The sound of tinkling bells was thought to call Thunder Beings; brass bells and eyes represented hail.  When the owner of this flute sold it in the 1930s, he tightly-packed the air hole with sage so it could not be used, for fear someone would blow this whistle too often and irritate Thunder Beings, causing severe storms.