White Buffalo Calf Woman, Original artwork above by Rogue Guirey Simpson, 1992, now available as greeting cards in Native shops.
The white buffalo calf holds special significance to American Indians- especially the Oceti Sakowin (The People of the Seven Council Fires, also known as the Lakota, Dakota and Nakota, or the ‘Sioux’). As it is a crucial part of the teachings and prophecy of White Buffalo Calf Woman, the white buffalo calf is considered a sacred omen of change.
According to legend, the White Buffalo Calf Woman was a holy entity that visited the Oceti Sakowin over a four-day period about 2000 years ago. White Buffalo Woman, or PtesanWi, as she is called in the Lakota language, taught them sacred ceremonies, songs, and dances. She gifted the people with a sacred bundle containing the White Buffalo Calf Pipe, which still exists to this day and is kept by Chief Arvol Looking Horse of the Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe.
There are several iterations of the story, but in essence, they all match except for a few details.
The oral tradition says she first appeared to them in the form of a wakan (holy) woman who “floated” above the ground. She stayed among them for a period of time and taught them how to use the buffalo to sustain them, and gave them instruction in seven sacred rites they were to incorporate into their daily lives and preserve and pass down to future generations.
One version of the story from John Lame Deer in 1967 tells us that two young men went out to hunt. Along the way, the two men met a beautiful young woman dressed in white who floated as she walked. One man had bad desires for the woman and tried to touch her, but was consumed by a cloud and turned into a pile of bones.
The woman spoke to the second young man and said, “Return to your people and tell them I am coming.” This holy woman brought a wrapped bundle to the people. She unwrapped the bundle giving to the people a sacred pipe and teaching them how to use it to pray. “With this holy pipe, you will walk like a living prayer,” she said. The holy woman told the Sioux about the value of the buffalo, the women and the children. “You are from Mother Earth,” she told the women, “What you are doing is as great as the warriors do.”
Before she left, she told the people she would return. As she walked away, she rolled over four times, turning into a white female buffalo calf. It is said after that day the Lakota honored their pipe, and buffalo were plentiful. (From John Lame Deer’s telling in 1967).
A slightly different variant says that when White Buffalo Woman left the Lakota people, the people saw her walking off in the same direction from which she had come, outlined against the setting sun. As she went, she stopped and rolled over four times. The first time, she turned into a black buffalo; the second into a brown one; the third into a red one; and finally, the fourth time she rolled over, she turned into a white female buffalo calf before disappearing.
White Buffalo Woman promised to return to restore the Earth to harmony if the necessary preparations were made.
She said she would send a sign her return was near in the form of four unusual buffalo, which would be born white, then during their lifetime, they would cycle through the four colors of the medicine wheel which, among other things, represent the races of the world: red, yellow, black, and white. Some people say the prophesy said they would do this in reverse order from the way she took her leave from the Earth as she traced her way back to our spiritual realm.
White Buffalo Woman warned that several other white buffalo would be born around this time, who would not live to complete the full color change cycle, before the true sacred buffalo were all born. She said when all four sacred white buffalo had returned, the people would be at a crossroads and if they took the right path, there would be a renewal of the Earth. If they chose the wrong path, the Earth would be destroyed, and there would be no hope of restoring harmony beyond that point.
If these sacred white buffalo signs were recognized and heeded, a period of peace and harmony in the world would be restored before her return, when the Mother Earth would heal herself and men would live in harmony with each other, nature, and the natural world, but only if the right choices were chosen. If the wrong choices were made in these days, and man chose to ignore these signs, the Earth would be destroyed.
Several white buffalo have been born, documented from 1833. You can see an extensive list here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/White_buffalo
Many have undergone color changes, including the calf, Miracle, born in Janesville, Wisconsin in 1994. Miracle was believed by many to be the prophesied Sacred White Buffalo. Miracle died in 2004 but not before giving birth to other white buffalo calves.
You can visit Miracle’s webpage here. http://whitebuffalomiracle.homestead.com/
The Heider family who owned Miracle and own the farm where she, and other white buffalo born since, have lived, have always been very careful not to allow commercialization of Miracle or the other calves. They opened their farm for visitors free of charge for years, and now people visit Miracle’s grave as they visited her in life.