The medicine man was a central figure for Plains Indian tribes. He was in effect a combination doctor and minister or priest, a healer both of the body and of the spirit. Not only did he know about the proper use of native plants that had medicinal properties-some of them employed in perhaps more sophisticated form by the medical profession today-but he knew ceremonies, chants, and songs supposed to wield magical powers for the benefit of individuals or the whole band. In the ceremony for painting the Blackfeet sacred medicine bundle, for example, the medicine man was expected to sing four hundred lengthy chants without missing a word or getting a stanza out of place. To miss might have brought evil consequences.
Man of the Cheyenne
Cowboy Artists of America 1983 - Oil painting, gold medal award
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In this piece the artist reflects the fact that a Cheyenne medicine man usually had a woman helper, who might be his wife. Here he shakes a magic rattle over an ailing man while his helper drops sweetgrass and herbs into the fire as incense. Hanging from the medicine man's shoulder is his sacred medicine bundle, containing articles which he perceives to have spiritual powers.
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