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Descriptive Notes

 Native American Nations | The Midē Wiwin or Grand Medicine Society                    

Although the mī´gis shell of the several degrees is generally of the same species, some of the older Midē´ priests claim that there were formerly specific shells, each being characteristic and pertaining specially to each individual grade. The objects claimed by Sika´s-sigĕ as referring to the third degree are, in addition to the Cypræa monata, L., a piece of purple wampum, and one shell of elongated form, both shown on Pl. XI, Nos. 3 and 5, respectively.

The fact of a Midē´ having been subjected to “mī´gis shooting” for the third time is an all-sufficient reason to the Indian why his powers are in a corresponding manner augmented. His powers of exorcism and incantation are greater; his knowledge and use of magic medicines more extended and certain of effect; and his ability to do harm, as in the capacity of a Wâbĕnō´, is more and more lauded and feared. He becomes possessed of a greater power in prophecy and prevision, and in this state enters the class of personages known as the Jĕs´sakkīd´, or jugglers. His power over darkness and obscurity is indicated on Pl. III, A, No. 77, upon which the head, chest, and arms are represented as being covered with lines to designate obscurity, the extended arms with outstretched hands denoting ability to grasp and control that which is hidden to the eye.

The Jĕs´sakkīd´ and his manner of performing have already been mentioned. This class of sorcerers were met with by the Jesuit Fathers early in the seventeenth century, and referred to under various designations, such as jongleur, magicien, consulteur du manitou, etc. Their influence in the tribe was recognized, and formed one of the greatest obstacles encountered in the Christianization of the Indians. Although the Jĕs´sakkīd´ may be a seer and prophet as well as a practitioner of exorcism without becoming a 252 member of the Midē´wiwin, it is only when a Midē´ attains the rank of the third degree that he begins to give evidence of, or pretends to exhibit with any degree of confidence, the powers accredited to the former. The

Fig. 26.—Jes´sakkân´ or juggler’s lodge.

structure erected and occupied by the Jĕs´sakkīd´ for the performance of his powers as prophet or oracle has before been described as cylindrical, being made by planting four or more poles and wrapping about them sheets of birch bark, blankets, or similar material that will serve as a covering. This form of structure is generally represented in pictographic records, as shown in Fig. 26.


Fig. 27.—Jes´sakkân´, or juggler’s lodge.

 Fig. 28.—Jes´sakkân´, or juggler’s lodge.


Fig. 29.—Jes´sakkân´, juggler’s lodge.

The accompanying illustrations, Figs. 27, 28, and 29, reproduced from birch-bark etchings, were the property of Jĕs´sakkīd´, who were also Midē´ of the third and fourth degrees. It will be noticed that the structure used by them is in the form of the ordinary wig´iwam, as their profession of medical magic is apparently held in higher esteem than the art of prophecy; their status and claims as Jĕs´sakkīd´ being indicated by the great number of ma´nidos which they have the power of invoking. These man´idōs, or spirits, are indicated by the outline of their material forms, the heart being indicated and connected with the interior of the structure to show the power of the Jĕs´sakkīd´ over the life of the respective spirits. The Thunder-bird usually occupies the highest position in his estimation, and for this reason is drawn directly over the wig´iwam. The Turtle is claimed to be the man´idō who acts as intermediary
between the Jĕs´sakkīd´ and the other man´idōs, and is therefore not found among the characters on the outside of the wig´iwam, but his presence is indicated within, either at the spot marking the convergence of the “life lines,” or immediately below it.

Fig. 30 is a reproducton of an etching made by a Jĕs´sakkīd´ at White Earth, Minnesota. The two curved lines above the Jes´sakkan´ represent the sky, from which magic power is derived, as shown by the waving line extending downward. The small spots within the structure are “magic spots,” i.e., the presence of man´idōs. The juggler is shown upon the left side near the base. When a prophet is so fortunate as to

Fig. 30.— Jes´sakkân´ or juggler’s lodge.

be able to claim one of these man´idōs as his own tutelary daimon, his advantage in invoking the others is comparatively greater. Before proceeding to the Jes´sakkân´—or the “Jugglery,” as the Jĕs´sakkīd´ wig´iwam is commonly designated, a prophet will prepare himself by smoking and making an offering to his man´idō, and by singing a chant, of which an example is presented on Pl. XIV, D. It is a reproduction of one made by a Jĕs´sakkīd´ who was also a Midē´ of the third degree. Each line is chanted as often as may be desired, or according to the effect which it may be desirable to produce or the inspired state of the singer.

Plate XIV.d. Mnemonic Song.
Me-we´-yan, ha´, ha´, ha´,
     I go into the Jes´sakkan´ to see the medicine.
The circle represents the Jĕs´sakkīd´ as viewed from above; the short lines denote the magic character of the structure, and the central ring, or spot, the magic stone used by the prophet who appears entering from the side.
Tschi-nun´-dōn´, he´, he´, he´, he´,
     I was the one who dug up life.
The Otter man´idō emerging from the Midē´wigân; he received it from Ki´tshi Mani´dō.
Ni´ka-nī´ we-do-kon´-a, ha´, ha´,
     The spirit put down medicine on earth to grow.
The sacred or magic lines descending to the earth denote supernatural origin of the mī´gis, which is shown by the four small rings. The short lines at the bottom represent the ascending sprouts of magic plants.
Te-ti-ba´-tshi mŭt´-â-wit´, tē´, hē´, hē´,
     I am the one that dug up the medicine.
The otter shown emerging from the jugglery. The speaker represents himself “like unto the Otter man´idō.”
Ki´wan-win´-da ma´-kwa-nan´, na´, ha´,
     I answer my brother spirit.
The Otter man´idō responds to the invocation of the speaker. The diagonal line across the body signifies the “spirit character” of the animal.
Rest or pause.
Wa´-a-so´-at wĕn´-ti´-na-man, ha´, ha,
     The spirit has put life into my body.
The speaker is represented as being in the Midē´-wigân, where Ki´tshi man´idō placed magic power into his body; the arms denote this act of putting into his sides the mī´gis. The line crossing the body denotes the person to be possessed of supernatural power.
Ki-to´-na-bi´-in, nē´, hē´, hē´,
     This is what the medicine has given us.
The Midē´wigân, showing on the upper line the guardian man´idōs.
Ni´-sha-we´-ni-bĭ-ku´, hū´, hū´, hē´,
     I took with two hands what was thrown down to us.
The speaker grasped life, i.e., the migis´, to secure the mysterious power which he professes.

In addition to the practice of medical magic, the Jĕs´sakkīd´ sometimes resorts to a curious process to extract from the patient’s body the malevolent beings or man´idōs which cause disease. The method of procedure is as follows: The Jĕs´sakkīd´ is provided with four or more tubular bones, consisting of the leg bones of large birds, each of the thickness of a finger and 4 or 5 inches in length. After the priest has fasted and chanted prayers for success, he gets down upon all fours close to the patient and with his mouth near the affected part. After using the rattle and singing most vociferously to cause the evil man´idō to take shelter at some particular spot, so that it may be detected and located by him, he suddenly touches that place with the end of one of the bones and immediately thereafter putting the other end into his mouth, as if it were a cigar, strikes it with the flat hand and sends it apparently down his throat. Then the second bone is treated in the same manner, as also the third and fourth, the last one being permitted to protrude from the mouth, when the end is put against the affected part and sucking is indulged in amid the most violent writhings and contortions in his endeavors to extract the man´idō. As this object is supposed to have been reached and swallowed by the Jĕs´sakkīd´ he crawls away to a short distance from the patient and relieves himself of the demon with violent retchings and apparent suffering. He recovers in a short time, spits out the bones, and, after directing his patient what further medicine to swallow, receives his fee and departs. Further description of this practice will be referred to below and illustrated on Pl. XVIII.

The above manner of disposing of the hollow bones is a clever trick and not readily detected, and it is only by such acts of jugglery and other delusions that he maintains his influence and importance among the credulous.

Fig. 31.—Jĕs´sakkīd´ curing woman.

Fig. 32.—Jĕs´sakkīd´ curing man.

Fig. 31 represents a Jĕs´sakkīd´ curing a sick woman by sucking the demon through a bone tube. The pictograph was drawn upon a piece of birch bark which was carried in the owner’s Midē´ sack, and was intended to record an event of importance.

No. 1 represents the actor, holding a rattle in hand. Around his head is an additional circle,
               denoting quantity (literally, more than an ordinary amount of knowledge), the
               short line projecting to the right indicating the tube used.

No. 2 is the woman operated upon.

Fig. 32 represents an exhibition by a Jĕs´sakkīd´, a resident of White Earth, Minnesota.
               The priest is shown in No. 1 holding his rattle, the line extending from his eye to
               the patient’s abdomen signifying that he has located the demon and is about to
               begin his exorcism. No. 2 is the patient lying before the operator.

This site includes some historical materials that may imply negative stereotypes reflecting the culture or language of a particular period or place. These items are presented as part of the historical record and should not be interpreted to mean that the WebMasters in any way endorse the stereotypes implied.

The Midē Wiwin or Grand Medicine Society, 1891

The Midē Wiwin or Grand Medicine Society


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