When the candidate’s application for reception into the
Midē´wiwin has been received by one of the officiating priests, he
calls upon the three assisting Midē´, inviting them to visit him at
his own wig´iwam at a specified time. When the conference takes
place, tobacco, which has been previously furnished by the
candidate, is distributed and a smoke offering made to Ki´tshi
Man´idō, to propitiate his favor in the deliberations about to be
undertaken. The host then explains the object of the meeting, and
presents to his auditors an account of the candidate’s previous
life; he recounts the circumstances of his fast and dreams, and if
the candidate is to take the place of a lately deceased son who had
been prepared to receive the degree, the fact is mentioned, as under
such circumstances the forms would be different from the ordinary
method of reception into the society. The subject of presents and
gifts to the individual members of the society, as well as those
intended to be given as a fee to the officiating priests, is also
discussed; and lastly, if all things are favorable to the applicant,
the selection of an instructor or preceptor is made, this person
being usually appointed from among these four priests.
When the conference is ended the favorable decision is announced to
the applicant, who acknowledges his pleasure by remitting to each of
the four priests gifts of tobacco. He is told what instructor would
be most acceptable to them, when he repairs to the wig´iwam of the
person designated and informs him of his wish and the decision of
the Midē´ council.
The designated preceptor arranges with his pupil to have certain
days upon which the latter is to call and receive instruction and
acquire information. The question of remuneration being settled,
tobacco is furnished at each sitting, as the Midē´ never begins his
lecture until after having made a smoke-offering, which is done by
taking a whiff and pointing the stem to the east; then a whiff,
directing the stem to the south; another whiff, directing the stem
to the west; then a whiff and a similar gesture with the stem to the
north; another whiff is taken slowly and with an expression of
reverence, when the stem is pointed forward and upward as an
offering to Ki´tshi Man´idō; and finally, after taking a similar
whiff, the stem is pointed forward and downward toward the earth as
an offering to Noko´mis, the grandmother of the universe, and to
those who have passed before. After these preliminaries, the
candidate receives at each meeting only a small amount of
information, because the longer the instruction is continued daring
the season before the meeting at which it is hoped the candidate may
be admitted the greater will be the fees; and also, in order that
the instruction may be looked upon with awe and reverence, most of
the information imparted is frequently a mere repetition, the ideas
being clothed in ambiguous phraseology. The Midē´ drum (Fig. 12 a)
differs from the drum commonly used in dances (Fig. 12 b) in the
fact that it is cylindrical, consisting of an elongated kettle or
wooden vessel, or perhaps a section of the hollow trunk of a tree
about 10 inches in diameter and from 18 to 20 inches in length, over
both ends of which rawhide is stretched while wet, so that upon
drying the membrane becomes hard and tense, producing, when beaten,
a very hard, loud tone, which may be heard at a great distance.
Frequently, however, water is put into the bottom of the drum and
the drum-head stretched across the top in a wet state, which appears
to intensify the sound very considerably.
The peculiar and special properties of the drum are described to the
applicant; that it was at first the gift of Ki´tshi Man´idō, who
gave it through the intercession of Mi´nabo´zho; that it is used to
invoke the presence of the Midē´ Man´idōs, or sacred spirits, when
seeking direction as to information desired, success, etc.; that it
is to be employed at the side of the sick to assist in the expulsion
or exorcism of evil Man´idōs who may possess the body of the
sufferer; and that it is to be used in the. Midē´wigân during the
initiation of new members or the advancement of a Midē´ from a
degree to a higher one.
|The properties of the rattle
are next enumerated and recounted, its origin is related,
and its uses explained. It is used at the side of a patient
and has even more power in the expulsion of evil demons than
the drum. The rattle is also employed in some of the sacred
songs as an accompaniment, to accentuate certain notes and
words. There are two forms used, one consisting of a
cylindrical tin box filled with grains of corn or other
seeds (Fig. 13), the other being a hollow gourd also filled
with seed (Fig. 14). In both of these the handle passes
entirely through the rattle case.
In a similar manner the
remaining gifts of Mi´nabo´zho are instanced and their
Fig. 13.— Midē´ rattle.
Fig. 14.— Midē´ rattle.
|The mi´gis, a small white shell (Cypræa
moneta L.) is next extracted from the Midē´ sack, or
pinji´gusân´. This is explained as being the sacred emblem
of the Midē´wiwin, the reason therefor being given in the
account of the several traditions presented in connection
with Pls. III, IV, and VIII. This information is submitted
in parts, so that the narrative of the history connected
with either of the records is extended over a period of time
to suit the preceptor’s plans and purposes. The ceremony of
shooting the mi´gis (see Fig. 15) is explained on page 215.
Fig. 15.—Shooting the mī´gis.
As time progresses the preceptor instructs his pupil in Midē´
songs, i.e., he sings to him songs which form a part of his stock in
trade, and which are alleged to be of service on special occasions,
as when searching for medicinal plants, hunting, etc. The pupil thus
acquires a comprehension of the method of preparing and reciting
songs, which information is by him subsequently put to practical use
in the composition and preparation of his own songs, the mnemonic
characters employed being often rude copies of those observed upon
the charts of his preceptor, but the arrangement thereof being
It is for this reason that a Midē´ is seldom, if ever, able to
recite correctly any songs but his own, although he may be fully
aware of the character of the record and the particular class of
service in which it may be employed. In support of this assertion
several songs obtained at Red Lake and imperfectly explained by
“Little Frenchman” and “Leading Feather,” are reproduced in Pl.
XXII, A B, page 292.
From among the various songs given by my preceptor are selected and
presented herewith those recognized by him as being part of the
ritual. The greater number of songs are mere repetitions of short
phrases, and frequently but single words, to which are added
meaningless sounds or syllables to aid in prolonging the musical
tones, and repeated ad libitum in direct proportion to the degree of
inspiration in which the singer imagines himself to have attained.
These frequent outbursts of singing are not based upon connected
mnemonic songs preserved upon birch bark, but they consist of
fragments or selections of songs which have been memorized, the
selections relating to the subject upon which the preceptor has been
discoursing, and which undoubtedly prompts a rythmic vocal
equivalent. These songs are reproduced on Pl. IX, A, B, C. The
initial mnemonic characters pertaining to each word or phrase of the
original text are repeated below in regular order with translations
in English, together with supplemental notes explanatory of the
characters employed. The musical notation is not presented, as the
singing consists of a monotonous repetition of four or five notes in
a minor key; furthermore, a sufficiently clear idea of this may be
formed by comparing some of the Midē´ songs presented in connection
with the ritual of initiation and preparation of medicines. The
first of the songs given herewith (Pl. IX, A) pertains to a request
to Ki´tshi Man´idō that clear weather may be had for the day of
ceremonial, and also an affirmation to the candidate that the
singer’s words are a faithful rendering of his creed.
Each of the phrases is repeated before advancing to the next, as
often as the singer desires and in proportion to the amount of
reverence and awe with which he wishes to impress his hearer. There
is usually a brief interval between each of the phrases, and a
longer one at the appearance of a vertical line, denoting a rest, or
pause. One song may occupy, therefore, from fifteen minutes to half
I rock you, you that are a spirit.
[A Midē’s head, the lines denoting voice or speech—i.e.,
singing of sacred things, as the loops or circles at the
ends of each line indicate.]
The sky I tell you.
[The otter skin medicine sack, and arm reaching to procure
Who is it, who?
The mi´gis shell; the sacred emblem of the Midē´wiwin.
The man helping me.
A man walking, the Midē´
Man´idō or Sacred Spirit.
Have I told the truth to my son?
The bear going to the Midē´wigan and takes with him life to
My heart, I am there (in the fullness of my heart).
My heart; knows all Midē´
secrets, sensible one.
I follow with my arms.
Arms extended to take up “medicine” or Midē´
Knowledge comes from the heart, the heart reaches to
“medicine” in the earth.
[A Midē´ whose heart’s desires and knowledge extend to the
secrets of the earth. The lines diverging toward the earth
From whence comes the rain?
The power of making a clear sky, i.e., weather.
The sky, nevertheless, may be clear, Good Spirit.
Giving life to the sick; Dzhe Man´idō handing it to the Midē´.
Very seldom I make this request of you.
The Good Spirit filling the body of the supplicant with
knowledge of secrets of the earth.
In the following song (Pl. IX, B), the singer relates to the
candidate the gratitude which he experiences for the favors derived
from the Good Spirit; he has been blessed with knowledge of plants
and other sacred objects taken from the ground, which knowledge has
been derived by his having himself become a member of the Midē´wiwin,
and hence urges upon the candidate the great need of his also
continuing in the course which he has thus far pursued.
Plate IX.b. Mnemonic Song.
||Na-witsh´-tshi na-kǔm´-i-en a-na´-pi-an´?
When I am out of hearing, where am I?
The lines extending from the ears denote hearing; the arms directed
toward the right and left, being the gesture of negation, usually
made by throwing the hands outward and away from the front of the
In my house, I see.
Sight is indicated by the lines extending from the eyes; the horns
denote superiority of the singer.
When I rise it gives me life, and I take it.
The arm reaches into the sky to receive the gifts which are handed
down by the Good Spirit. The short transverse line across the
forearm indicates the arch of the sky, this line being an
abbreviation of the curve usually employed to designate the same
The reason why I am happy.
Asking the Spirit for life, which is granted. The singer’s body is
filled with the heart enlarged, i.e., fullness of heart, the lines
from the mouth denoting abundance of voice or grateful
The Spirit says there is plenty of “medicine” in the Midē´ wig´iwam.
[Two superior spirits, Ki´tshi Man´idō and Dzhe Man´idō, whose
bodies are surrounded by “lines of sacredness,” tell the Midē´ where
the mysterious remedies are to be found. The vertical waving lines
are the lines indicating these communications; the horizontal line,
at the bottom, is the earth’s surface.]
The Spirit placed medicine in the ground, let us take it.
The arm of Ki´tshi Man´idō put into the ground sacred plants, etc.,
indicated by the spots at different horizons in the earth. The short
vertical and waving lines denote sacredness of the objects.
I am holding this that I bring to you.
The singer sits in the Midē´wiwin, and offers the privilege of
entrance, by initiation, to the hearer.
||Midē´ nĭ-ka´-năk kish´-o-wĕ´-ni-mĭ-ko´.
I have found favor in the eyes of my Midē´ friends.
The Good Spirit has put life into the body of the singer, as
indicated by the two mysterious arms reaching towards his body,
i.e., the heart, the seat of life.
In the following song (Pl. IX, C), the preceptor appears to feel
satisfied that the candidate is prepared to receive the initiation,
and therefore tells him that the Midē´ Man´idō announces to him the
assurance. The preceptor therefore encourages his pupil with
promises of the fulfillment of his highest desires.
Plate IX.c. Mnemonic Song.
||Ba´-dzhĭ-ke´-o gi´-mand ma-bis´-in-dâ´-ă.
I hear the spirit speaking to us.
The Midē´ singer is of superior power, as designated by the horns
and apex upon his head. The lines from the ears indicate hearing.
||Kwa-yăk´-in dī´-sha in-dâ´-yan.
I am going into the medicine lodge.
The Midē´wigân is shown with a line through it to signify that he is
going through it, as in the initiation.
I am taking (gathering) medicine to make me live.
The discs indicate sacred objects within reach of the speaker.
||O´-wi-yo´-in en´-do-ma mâk´-kwin-ĕn´-do-ma´.
I give you medicine, and a lodge, also.
The Midē´, as the personator of Makwa´ Man´idō,
is empowered to offer this privilege to the candidate.
I am flying into my lodge.
Represents the Thunder-Bird, a deity flying into the arch of the
sky. The short lines denote the (so-called spirit lines) abode of
spirits or Man´idōs.
The Spirit has dropped medicine from the sky where we can get it.
The line from the sky, diverging to various points, indicates that
the sacred objects occur in scattered places.
I have the medicine in my heart.
The singer’s body—i.e., heart—is filled with knowledge relating to
sacred medicines from the earth.
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The Midē Wiwin or Grand Medicine Society, 1891
The Midē Wiwin or Grand Medicine Society