Sand painting for religious ceremonies is something found in many cultures all over the world. In the US, Native American sand painting has an integral role to play in various ceremonies. Often there may be more than one sand painting associated with a single ceremony. The Native American people treat these ceremonial sand paintings with great veneration and respect, as they would living beings. The colors used in the painting are usually a mixture of plain sand, yellow ochre, crushed gypsum, red sandstone, and charcoal. Corn meal, flower pollen, powdered roots and bark are also used for coloring. The desired colors for a Native American sand painting are achieved by mixing the various base colors.
A Native American sand painting is created by the person of the tribe known as the medicine man. He paints on the ceremonial ground or on a buckskin or cloth tarp. Each tribe has their own repertoire of ceremonial sand paintings to draw upon. The paintings are usually drawn as part of a healing process or ritual. While drawing, the medicine man calls upon the spirits of healing to help the patient. When the painting is done, the medicine man must make sure it is accurate. The accuracy of the painting will help enhance the effectiveness of the treatment the patient receives.
The patient is then asked to sit down on the finished Native American sand painting while the healer begins his chanting to invoke the spirits. It is believed that the painting is a portal for the spirits and absorbs some of their powers which are then passed on to the sick person, helping cure him. After the ceremony conclude, the Native American sand painting must be destroyed. This is because the painting is believed to be toxic since the illness is absorbed by it. The whole ceremony including the drawing of the painting, leading up to its destruction must be completed within twelve hours.