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How to Make a Native American Solstice Prayer Stick

Each solstice falls upon the ecliptic midway between the equinoxes. Therefore a solstice takes place when the sun reaches that midway point, generally about June 21 and December 21. Winter Solstice on December 21 is the shortest day of the year. After Winter Solstice each day becomes longer until the longest day of the year arrives around June 21st.  The solstices have been observed and celebrated by cultures throughout the world.

Native American Winter Solstice Rites

A central aspect of the winter solstice rites observed by many Native American tribes includes the making and planting of prayer sticks. Prayer sticks are made by everyone in a family for four days before the solstice. On the day named as the solstice, the prayer sticks are planted—at least one by each person—in small holes dug by the head of the household. Each prayer stick is named for an ancestor or deity.

Traditional prayer sticks are usually:

  • Made out of cedar and are forked;
  • Are equivalent to the measurement from the maker's elbow to the tips of their fingers; and
  • Are taken from a tree that the maker feels connected to.
  • Tobacco is offered to the largest tree of the same species in the area and permission is asked to take a part of its relative.
  • The bark can be stripped.
  • The bark can be carved on the stick.
  • One feather should be added to the prayer stick; traditionally this is a wild turkey feather.
  • A bit of tobacco is placed in a red cloth and tied onto one of the forks.
  • Fur or bone from an animal that the maker wishes to honor is tied onto the stick.
  • Metal or stones should not be tied to the stick.
  • It is also customary to say prayers silently as one makes the prayer stick.

More Multi-Cultural Projects


A Beautiful Yule - Winter Solstice (animated)
© Diana Sasse

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