ACTS that are purely matter-of-fact with us are often matters of ceremony with the Indian, who may insist on tedious sequences prescribed by ritualistic etiquette, as in the routine for important events on a war party, in doctoring the sick, or even in smoking. It was proper, Gray-bull told me, to point a pipe first upward, then to the ground, next to the four quarters of the globe; and in so doing he himself would pray to the winds of the cardinal directions. I once asked Medicine-crow to show me his sacred shield. He consented, but did not at once unwrap it. First he got some live embers and burnt wild-carrot root for incense, allowing the smoke to play on the shield. Then he raised the shield a little, again lowering it. Once more he raised it, a little higher than before; and he thus continued until the fourth time, when he raised the shield high above his head. Only after these preparations he was ready to remove the buckskin coverings.
The use of incense is typical. In 1910 I bought a weaselskin stuffed with buffalo hair; its original owner, a noted brave, had taken it with him on trips against the enemy, unwrapped it, smoked it with incense, and held it toward the hostile camp. So with all manner of sacred objects. The Crow cherished curiously shaped rocks called bacō+″ritsi'tse and ascribed to each its characteristic incense, -- either of sweet grass or wild-carrot. In 1914 Flat-head-woman showed me his sacred Arrow bundle, but not before preparing incense and smoking each end of the package.
Equally characteristic is Medicine-crow's repeated lifting of the shield. Four is the mystic number. In one creation story three birds fail to bring up mud from the depths, finally the helldiver succeeds. Old Man Coyote commends him, saying, "To every undertaking there are always four trials; you have achieved it." In harmony with this principle many rituals are prolonged by a fourfold performance of significant acts; and there are often deliberately three feints or mistrials before execution.