Origin of the Worm Pipe

There was once a man who was very fond of his wife. After they had been married for some time they had a child, a boy. After that, the woman got sick, and did not get well. The young man did not wish to take a second woman. He loved his wife so much. The woman grew worse and worse. Doctoring did not seem to do her any good. At last she died. The man used to take his baby on his back and travel out, walking over the hills crying. He kept away from the camp. After some time, he said to the little child: “My little boy, you will have to go and live with your grandmother. I am going to try and find your mother, and bring her back.” He took the baby to his mother’s lodge, and asked her to take care of it, and left it with her. Then he started off, not knowing where he was going nor what he was going to do.

He traveled toward the Sand Hills. The fourth night out he had a dream. He dreamed that he went into a little lodge, in which lived an old woman. This old woman said to him, “Why are you here, my son?” He said: “I am mourning day and night, crying all the while. My little son, who is the only one left me, also mourns.”

“Well,” said the old woman, “for whom are you mourning?” He said: “I am mourning for my wife. She died some time ago. I am looking for her.” “Oh!” said the old woman, “I saw her. She passed this way. I myself am not powerful medicine, but over by that far butte lives another old woman. Go to her, and she will give you power to enable you to continue your journey. You could not go there by yourself without help. Beyond the next butte from her lodge, you will find the camp of the ghosts.”

The next morning he awoke and went on to the next butte. It took him a long day to get there, but he found no lodge there, so he lay down and went to sleep. Again he dreamed. In his dream, he saw a little lodge, and an old woman came to the door-way and called him. He went in, and she said to him: “My son, you are very poor. I know why you have come this way. You are seeking your wife, who is now in the ghost country. It is a very hard thing for you to get there. You may not be able to get your wife back, but I have great power, and I will do all I can for you. If you do exactly as I tell you, you may succeed.” She then spoke to him with wise words, telling him what he should do. Also she gave him a bundle of medicine, which would help him on his journey.

Then she said: “You stay here for a while, and I will go over there [to the ghosts’ camp], and try to bring some of your relations; and if I am able to bring them back, you may return with them, but on the way you must shut your eyes. If you should open them and look about you, you would die. Then you would never come back. When you get to the camp, you will pass by a big lodge, and they will say to you, ‘Where are you going, and who told you to come here?’ You will reply, ‘My grandmother, who is standing out here with me, told me to come.’ They will try to scare you. They will make fearful noises, and you will see strange and terrible things; but do not be afraid.”

Then the old woman went away, and after a time came back with one of the man’s relations. He went with this relation to the ghosts’ camp.      When they came to the big lodge, some one called out and asked the man what he was doing, and he answered as the old woman had told him to do. As he passed on through the camp, the ghosts tried to scare him with all kinds of fearful sights and sounds, but he kept up a brave heart.

He came to another lodge, and the man who owned it came out, and asked him where he was going. He said: “I am looking for my dead wife, I mourn for her so much that I cannot rest. My little boy, too, keeps crying for his mother. They have offered to give me other wives, but I do not want them. I want the one for whom I am searching.”

The ghost said to him: “It is a fearful thing that you have come here. It is very likely that you will never go away. There never was a person here before.” The ghost asked him to come into the lodge, and he went.

Now this chief ghost said to him: “You will stay here four nights, and you will see your wife; but you must be very careful or you will never go back. You will die right here.”

Then the chief went outside and called out for a feast, inviting this man’s father-in-law and other relations, who were in the camp, saying, “Your son-in-law invites you to a feast,” as if to say that their son-in-law was dead, and had become a ghost, and had arrived at the ghost camp.

Now when these invited people, the relations and some of the principal men of the camp, had reached the lodge, they did not like to go in. They called out, “There is a person here.” It seems as if there was something about him that they could not bear the smell of. The ghost chief burned sweet pine in the fire, which took away this smell, and the people came in and sat down. Then the host said to them: “Now pity this son-in-law of yours. He is seeking his wife. Neither the great distance nor the fearful sights that he has seen here have weakened his heart. You can see for yourselves he is tender-hearted. He not only mourns for his wife, but mourns because his little boy is now alone with no mother; so pity him and give him back his wife.” The ghosts consulted among themselves, and one said to the person, “Yes, you will stay here four nights; then we will give you a medicine pipe, the Worm Pipe, and we will give you back your wife, and you may return to your home.”

Now, after the third night, the chief ghost called together all the people, and they came, the man’s wife with them. One of them came beating a drum; and following him was another ghost, who carried the Worm Pipe, which they gave to him. Then said the chief ghost: “Now, be very careful. Tomorrow you and your wife will start on your homeward journey. Your wife will carry the medicine pipe, and some of your relations are going along with you for four days. During this time, you must not open your eyes, or you will return here and be a ghost forever. You see that your wife is not now a person; but in the middle of the fourth day you will be told to look, and when you have opened your eyes, you will see that your wife has become a person, and that your ghost relations have disappeared.”

His father-in-law spoke to him before he went away, and said: “When you get near home, you must not go at once into the camp. Let some of your relations know that you have arrived, and ask them to build a sweat house for you. Go into this sweat house and wash your body thoroughly, leaving no part of it, however small, uncleansed; for if you do you will be nothing [will die]. There is something about us ghosts difficult to remove. It is only by a thorough sweat that you can remove it. Take care, now, that you do as I tell you. Do not whip your wife, nor strike her with a knife, nor hit her with fire; for if you do, she will vanish before your eyes and return to the Sand Hills.”

Now they left the ghost country to go home, and on the fourth day, the wife said to her husband, “Open your eyes.” He looked about him and saw that those who had been with them had vanished, but he found that they were standing in front of the old woman’s lodge by the butte. She came out and said: “Here, give me back those mysterious medicines of mine, which enabled you to accomplish your purpose.” He returned them to her, and became then fully a person once more.

Now, when they drew near to the camp, the woman went on ahead, and sat down on a butte. Then some curious persons came out to see who it might be. As they approached, the woman called out to them: “Do not come any nearer. Go tell my mother and my relations to put up a lodge for us, a little way from camp, and to build a sweat house near by it.” When this had been done, the man and his wife went in and took a thorough sweat, and then they went into the lodge, and burned sweet grass and purified their clothing and the Worm Pipe; and then their relations and friends came in to see them. The man told them where he had been, and how he had managed to get back his wife, and that the pipe hanging over the door-way was a medicine pipe, the Worm Pipe, presented to him by his ghost father-in-law. That is how the people came to possess the Worm Pipe. This pipe belongs to that band of the Piegans known as Esk’-sin-i-tup’piks, the Worm People.

Not long after this, in the night, this man told his wife to do something; and when she did not begin at once, he picked up a brand from the fire, not that he intended to strike her with it, but he made as if he would hit her, when all at once she vanished, and was never seen again.

Blackfoot, Legends,

Grinnell, George Bird. Blackfoot Lodge Tales: The Story of a Prairie People. New York: Charles Scribner's Sons. 1892.

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