Hand Crafted Ceremonial Pipes
Zoe Bryant

Pipestone Crow Foot Pipe

The Chanunpa , A Pipe Carver's Story

Participating in a Pipe Ceremony for the first time in 1988, an immense connection to The Great Spirit came. Indigenous Americans describe God as Wakan Tanka, or the Creator of All things, or the most Sacred Spirit. As the ceremony progressed, there came a feeling that was hard to describe, as if this part of my life had been unfolding with a greater purpose.

Chanunpa is a Lakota word for Sacred Pipe. As the months and years have passed, great respect for 
the teaching of this Sacred Pipe and the Ceremonies which honor it became a part of my life. The teachings permeate all of the actions taken to produce each pipe. I am respectfully grateful for all who have shared the Wisdom of the Ancients and for the Elders who have accepted this white woman’s purpose.  I am 1/8 Seminole and 1/16 Cherokee, but was not raised in this culture.

About 6 months passed after that first ceremony, in which many dreams occurred. In these dreams, the Elders placed their hands over my own hands guiding the process of carving stone into the Chanunpa. As the Elders shared the teachings, there were no words, only acute visualization and the understanding of the teaching through age acquired thoughts and feelings that seemed to pass through their hands into my own.

Although trained as an artist, there had never been an attempt to carve anything, much less to carve in three dimensional form. The Elder's hands taught how approach the stone, and to become one with the stone. The hands showed how to form the bowl and how to connect the smoke path to make it draw properly.  They taught how to respect the essence and nature of the stone from which 
the Chanunpa was to take form.

As the lessons were completed, there was a knowing that it was time to carve. With great excitement, the search for pipestone began, only to find that it was more difficult to obtain than expected. Alas it seemed unavailable in all the local searches.

Pipestone, or catlinite, is regarded as the blood and the bones of the Lakota people and definitely a Sacred Stone. It can only be found in Pipestone, Minnesota.  After early pillaging by whites, the government finally closed the pipestone quarry. Today only native Indians can take stone from the quarry. 

The first stone that became available was a piece of African soap stone. Gathering tools with which to carve, including exacta knives, drill bits, razor blades, dental picks, and anything else to approach the stone, the project began. The kitchen table proved to be the best 
location for carving the first practice pipe.

Plans were to make a small pipe of a woman's head with flowing hair going back over the bowl. Work began by hand drilling the bowl and then the hole for the stem and connecting the two together with a small drill. The clump of stone would now smoke. 

The next four hours were a blur and very little was remembered from the trance like state of consciousness that ensued. This state had never before happened to me. As normal consciousness seemed to return, it was shocking to find that I was holding a rattlesnake pipe in my hand without remembering having carved it. Shocked and almost terrified at the experience, I called my teacher and explained that I must send it to him. He said absolutely not.

After many attempts to give it to others , I called my teacher again. He laughed at me he said; "Don't you know that it is yours?".  I too can make large mistakes, even while being tutored by the best.  It did become the special pipe that was meant to be mine.  The rattlesnake is still my personal chanunpa today. 

Upon finishing the first pipe, pipestone began to be gifted to me. There had also been Dreamtime instructions that implied there needed to be four additional pipes made and given as gifts. This was done.

I became concerned that so many non-native people were turning to the pipe to pray. Most did not know how to honor and use such an instrument. I wrote a small book to explain these things and help the new comer with proper usage and respect. 

My hunka grandfather said he wanted me to make lots of copies to give to the children in the reservation schools so they could learn about the chanunpa. He didn't like me calling it a "pipe" ... He said it wasn't for plumbing!

I reserve the word "chanunpa" for a sacred pipe made from pipestone. To me, it is not a chanunpa until it has been blessed and becomes an instrument with which to pray. 

The red stone, pipestone, is very sacred. For a beginner with a new chanunpa, I suggest the use of a stone  other than pipestone.  Until one is certain this is the way they want to pray, it allows them time to engage proper respect and usage. 

My only message to one who seeks such an instrument is to be careful for what you ask. You must understand the significance of a chanupa and how to use it. Know who are your teachers. If it is a Medicine person you want, then you will have to look hard. There are not many left.  They will not tell you who they are; there are no shingles outside their door.  They will not charge you to learn of spiritual things or to participate in a ceremony. You will know them by their humbleness and the respect of those around them. As for myself, I am only a craftsperson who I believe has been given a gift by Spirit. The Creator can only judge the truth of this gift and I can make no other claim.

Today when commissioned to make a pipe for someone, I ask the person to send me tobacco and tell me why they want what they seek.  I hold the stone and pray with it. The stone shows me what is inside, it is like the pipe is there, all I have to do is remove the excise stone.  I include a copy of my little book with each commissioned pipe. 

Original Snake Pipe

Pipestone  "T" pipe for males


Pipestone" elbow" pipe for females


Frog pipe

Turtle pipe



Eagle Pipes


If you would like to discuss a personal hand crafted pipe, please feel free to contact me. I do plain and effigy pipes. I prefer only to know the type of effigy and let the stone decide what shape it will take. Contact Zoe Bryant   

  email Zoe



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