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Preparation of Candidate

 Native American Nations | The Midē Wiwin or Grand Medicine Society                  

A Midē´ of the first degree is aware of the course to be pursued by him when he contemplates advancement into the next higher grade. Before making known to the other members his determination, he is compelled to procure, either by purchase or otherwise, such a quantity of blankets, robes, peltries, and other articles of apparel or ornament as will amount in value to twice the sum at which were estimated the gifts presented at his first initiation. A year or more usually elapses before this can be accomplished, as but one hunting season intervenes before the next annual meeting of the society, when furs are in their prime; and fruits and maple sugar can be gathered but once during the season, and these may be converted into money with which to purchase presents not always found at the Indian traders´ stores. Friends may be called upon to advance goods to effect the accomplishment of his desire, but such loans must be returned in kind later on, unless otherwise agreed. When a candidate feels convinced that he has gathered sufficient material to pay for his advancement, he announces to those members of the society who are of a higher grade than the first degree that he wishes to present himself at the proper time for initiation. This communication is made to eight of the highest or officiating priests, in his own wig´iwam, to which they have been specially invited. A feast is prepared and partaken of, after which he presents to each some tobacco, and smoking is indulged in for the purpose of making proper offerings, as already described. The candidate then informs his auditors of his desire and enumerates the various goods and presents which he has procured to offer at the proper time. The Midē´ priests sit in silence and meditate; but as they have already been informally aware of the applicant’s wish, they are prepared as to the answer they will give, and are governed according to the estimated value of the gifts. Should the decision of the Midē´ priests be favorable, the candidate procures the services of one of those present to assume the office of instructor or preceptor, to whom, as well as to the officiating priests, he displays his ability in his adopted specialties in medical magic, etc. He seeks, furthermore, to acquire additional information upon the preparation of certain secret remedies, and to this end he selects a preceptor who has the reputation of possessing it.

For acting in the capacity of instructor, a Midē´ priest receives blankets, horses, and whatever may be mutually agreed upon between himself and his pupil. The meetings take place at the instructor’s wig´iwam at intervals of a week or two; and sometimes during the autumn months, preceding the summer in which the initiation is to be conferred, the candidate is compelled to resort to a sudatory and take a vapor bath, as a means of purgation preparatory to his serious consideration of the sacred rites and teachings with which his mind “and heart” must henceforth be occupied, to the exclusion of everything that might tend to divert his thoughts.

What the special peculiarities and ceremonials of initiation into the second degree may have been in former times, it is impossible to ascertain at this late day. The only special claims for benefits to be derived through this advancement, as well as into the third and fourth degrees, are, that a Midē´ upon his admission into a new degree receives the protection of that Man´idō alleged and believed to be the special guardian of such degree, and that the repetition of initiation adds to the magic powers previously received by the initiate. In the first degree the sacred migis was “shot” into the two sides, the heart, and head of the candidate, whereas in the second degree this sacred, or magic, influence, is directed by the priests toward the candidate’s joints, in accordance with a belief entertained by some priests and referred to in connection with the Red Lake chart presented on Pl. III. The second, third, and fourth degrees are practically mere repetitions of the first, and the slight differences between them are noted under their respective captions.

In addition to a recapitulation of the secrets pertaining to the therapeutics of the Midē´, a few additional magic remedies are taught the candidate in his preparatory instruction. The chief of these are described below.

Ma-kwa´ wī´-i-sŏp, “Bear’s Gall,” and Pi´-zhi-ki wī´-i-sŏp, “Ox Gall,” are both taken
               from the freshly killed animal and hung up to dry. It is powdered as required, and
               a small pinch of it is dissolved in water, a few drops of which are dropped into
               the ear of a patient suffering from earache.

Gō´-gi-mish (gen. et sp.?).—A plant, described by the preceptor as being about 2 feet in
               height, having black bark and clusters of small red flowers.

     1. The bark is scraped from the stalk, crushed and dried. When it is to be used the
               powder is put into a small bag of cloth and soaked in hot water to extract the
               virtue. It is used to expel evil Man´idōs which cause obstinate coughs, and is also
               administered to consumptives. The quantity of bark derived from eight stems,
               each 10 inches long, makes a large dose. When a Midē´ gives this medicine to a
               patient, he fills his pipe and smokes, and before the tobacco is all consumed the
               patient vomits.

     2. The root of this plant mixed with the following is used to produce paralysis of the
               mouth. In consequence of the power it possesses it is believed to be under the
               special protection of the Midē´ Man´idō, i.e., Ki´tshi Man´idō.

     The compound is employed also to counteract the evil intentions, conjurations, or other
               charms of so-called bad Midē´, Wâbĕnō´, and Jĕs´sakkīd´.

Tzhi-bē´-gŏp—“Ghost Leaf.”

     After the cuticle is removed from the roots the thick under-bark is crushed into a
               powder. It is mixed with Go´gimish.

Dzhi-bai´-ĕ-mŏk´-ke-zĭn´—“Ghost Moccasin;” “Puff-ball.”

     The spore-dust of the ball is carefully reserved to add to the above mixture.

O-kwē´-mish—“Bitter Black Cherry.”

     The inner bark of branches dried and crushed is also added.

Nē´-wĕ—“Rattlesnake” (Crotalus durissus, L.).

     The reptile is crushed and the blood collected, dried, and used in a pulverulent form.
               After partially crushing the body it is hung up and the drippings collected and
               dried. Other snakes may be employed as a substitute.

It is impossible to state the nature of the plants mentioned in the above compound, as they are not indigenous to the vicinity of White Earth, Minnesota, but are procured from Indians living in the eastern extremity of the State and in Wisconsin. Poisonous plants are of rare occurrence in this latitude, and if any actual poisonous properties exist in the mixture they may be introduced by the Indian himself, as strychnia is frequently to be purchased at almost any of the stores, to be used in the extermination of noxious animals. Admitting that crotalus venom may be present, the introduction into the human circulation of this substance would without doubt produce death and not paralysis of the facial muscles, and if taken into the stomach it quickly undergoes chemical change when brought in contact with the gastric juice, as is well known from experiments made by several well known physiologists, and particularly by Dr. Coxe (Dispensatory, 1839), who employed the contents of the venom sack, mixed with bread, for the cure of rheumatism.

I mention this because of my personal knowledge of six cases at White Earth, in which paralysis of one side of the face occurred soon after the Midē´ administered this compound. In nearly all of them the distortion disappeared after a lapse of from six weeks to three months, though one is known to have continued for several years with no signs of recovery. The Catholic missionary at White Earth, with whom conversation was held upon this subject, feels impressed that some of the so-called “bad Midē´” have a knowledge of some substance, possibly procured from the whites, which they attempt to employ in the destruction of enemies, rivals, or others. It may be possible that the instances above referred to were cases in which the dose was not sufficient to kill the victim, but was enough to disable him temporarily. Strychnia is the only substance attainable by them that could produce such symptoms, and then only when given in an exceedingly small dose. It is also alleged by almost every one acquainted with the Ojibwa that they do possess poisons, and that they employ them when occasion demands in the removal of personal enemies or the enemies of those who amply reward the Midē´ for such service.

Plate XII. Invitation Sticks.

When the time of ceremony of initiation approaches, the chief Midē´ priest sends out a courier to deliver to each member an invitation to attend (Pl. XII), while the candidate removes his wig´iwam to the vicinity of the place where the Midē´wigân has been erected. On the fifth day before the celebration he visits the sweat-lodge, where he takes his first vapor bath, followed on the next by another; on the following day he takes the third bath, after which his preceptor visits him. After making an offering to Ki´tshi Man´io the priest sings a song, of which the characters are reproduced in Pl. XIII, A. The Ojibwa words employed in singing are given in the first lines, and are said to be the ancient phraseology as taught for many generations. They are archaic, to a great extent, and have additional meaningless syllables inserted, and used as suffixes which are intoned to prolong notes. The second line of the Ojibwa text consists of the words as they are spoken at the present time, to each of which is added the interpretation. The radical similarity between the two is readily perceived.

Plate XIII.a. Mnemonic Song.

Hi´-na-wi´-a-ni-kan. (As sung.)
We´-me-a´ ni-kan      mi´-sha man´-i-dō
   I am crying          my colleague great spirit.
ni-wa´-ma-bi-go´      ma´-wi-yan´.
   He sees me                crying.
[The singer is represented as in close relationship or communion with Ki´tshi Man´idō, the circle denoting union; the short zigzag lines within which, in this instance, represent the tears, i.e., “eye rain,” directed toward the sky.]
Ki-nŭn´-no, hē´, ki-mun´-i-dō´-we, hē´,
esh´-i-ha´-ni. (As sung.)
Gi-nŭn´-dōn       ni-kan´          ē-zhi-an.
  I hear you,     colleague,   what you say to me.
[The singer addresses the Otter Spirit, whose figure is emerging from the Midē´wigân of which he is the chief guardian.]
Tē´-ti-wâ´-tshi-wi-mō´ a-ni´-me-ga´-si. (As sung.)
Tē´-ti-wâ´-tshŏ-tâg´           ni-mī´-gĭ-sĭm.
He will tell you                    [of] my migis.
(—inform you) 
tē´-ti-wa´-tshĭ-mo-ta´ âg.
 He it is who will tell you.
[The reference is to a superior spirit as indicated by the presence of horns, and the zigzag line upon the breast. The words signify that Ki´tshi Man´idō will make known to the candidate the presence within his body of the mi´gis, when the proper time arrives.]
Rest, or pause, in the song.
During this interval another smoke offering is made, in which the Midē´ priest is joined by the candidate.
Hĭu´-a-me´-da-ma´ ki´-a-wēn´-da-mag man´-i-dō´-wĭt hĭu´-a-wen´-da-mag. (As sung.)
Ki-wĭn´-da-mag´-ū-nan man´-i-dō´-wid.
  He tells us he is [one] of the Man´idōs.
[This ma´nido is the same as that referred to in the above-named phrase. This form is different, the four spots denoting the four sacred mi´gis points upon his body, the short radiating lines referring to the abundance of magic powers with which it is filled.]
Wa´-sa-wa´-dī, hē´, wen´-da-na-ma´, mĭ-tē´-win. (As sung.)
      I get it from afar
The “grand medicine.”
[The character represents a leg, with a magic line drawn across the middle, to signify that the distance is accomplished only through the medium of supernatural powers. The place “from afar” refers to the abode of Ki´tshi Man´idō.]
Ki-go´-na-bi-hin ē´-ni-na mi-tē´. (As sung.)
Kin-do´-na-bī-in´ mi-dē´-wi-wĭn-ni-ni´
I place you there “in the grand medicine” (among the “Midē´ people”)
    Half way (in the Midē´wigân).
[The Midē´ priest informs the candidate that the second initiation will advance the candidate half way into the secrets of the Midē´wigân. The candidate is then placed so that his body will have more magic influence and power as indicated by the zigzag lines radiating from it toward the sky.]
Hi´-sha-we-ne´-me-go´, hē´, nē´.
Ni-go´-tshi-mi, hē´. (As sung.)
Ni´-sha-we´-ni-mi-go´ ĕ´-ne-mâ´-bi-dzhĭk.
     They have pity on me those who are sitting here.
[This request is made to the invisible Man´idōs who congregate in the Midē´wigân during the ceremonies, and the statement implies that they approve of the candidate’s advancement.]

Another smoke offering is made upon the completion of this song, after which both individuals retire to their respective habitations. Upon the following day, that being the one immediately preceding the day of ceremony, the candidate again repairs to the sudatory to take a last vapor bath, after the completion of which he awaits the coming of his preceptor for final conversation and communion with Man´idōs respecting the step he is prepared to take upon the morrow.

The preceptor’s visit is merely for the purpose of singing to the candidate, and impressing him with the importance of the rites of the Midē´wigân. After making the usual offering of tobacco smoke the preceptor becomes inspired and sings a song, the following being a reproduction of the one employed by him at this stage of the preparatory instruction. (See Pl. XIII, B.)

Plate XIII.b. Mnemonic Song.
Man´-i-dō´, hē´, nē, man´-i-dō´, hē´, nē´.
           Spirit,                     spirit,
Ni´-man-i-dō´           win´-da-bi-an´.
  I am a spirit   (is) the reason why I am here.
[The zigzag lines extending downward and outward from the mouth indicate singing. He has reached the power of a Man´idō, and is therefore empowered to sit within the sacred inclosure of the Midē´wigân, to which he alludes.]
Da´-bī-wā-ni´, ha´, hē´, A-nĭn, e-kō´-wē-an´.
           Drifting snow, why do I sing.
[The first line is sung, but no interpretation of the words could be obtained, and it was alleged that the second line contained the idea to be expressed. The horizontal curve denotes the sky, the vertical zigzag lines indicating falling snow—though being exactly like the lines employed to denote rain. The drifting snow is likened to a shower of delicate mi´gis shells or spots, and inquiry is made of it to account for the feeling of inspiration experienced by the singer, as this shower of mi´gis descends from the abode of Ki´tshi Man´idō and is therefore, in this instance, looked upon as sacred.]
Rest, or pause.
Gi-man´-i-dō´-wē, ni´-me-ne´-ki-nan´ wan-da.
Gi´-a-wĭngk, gi-man´-i-dō´-a-ni-min´,
    Your body, I believe it is a spirit.
your body.
[The first line is sung, but the last word could not be satisfactorily explained. The first word, as now pronounced, is Ki´tshi Man´idō, and the song is addressed to him. The curved line, from which the arm protrudes, is the Midē´wigân and the arm itself is that of the speaker in the attitude of adoration: reaching upward in worship and supplication.]
Pi-nē´-si ne´-pi-mi´-a nin´-ge-gē´-kwe-an
The bird as I promise       the falcon
    the reason he is a spirit.
[The second word is of archaic form and no agreement concerning its correct signification could be reached by the Midē´. The meaning of the phrase appears to be that Ki´tshi Man´idō promised to create the Thunder-bird, one of the Man´idōs. The falcon is here taken as a representative of that deity, the entire group of Thunderers being termed a-ni´-mi-ki´.]
Zhīn´-gwe mi´-shi-ma-kwa´
Makes a great noise the bear.
wen´-dzhi-wa-ba-mok-kwēd´ kŭn-net´.
the reason I am of                      flame.
[The character of the bear represents the great bear spirit of the malevolent type, a band about his body indicating his spirit form. By means of his power and influence the singer has become endowed with the ability of changing his form into that of the bear, and in this guise accomplishing good or evil. The reference to flame (fire) denotes the class of conjurers or Shamans to which this power is granted, i.e., the Wâbeno´, and in the second degree this power is reached as will be referred to further on.]
Ni´-a-wen´-din-da-sa´, ha´, sa´, man´-i-dō´-wid.
Gi´-a-wĭngk in´-do-sa man´-i-dō´-wid.
In your body I put it             the spirit.
[The first line is sung, and is not of the modern style of spoken language. The second line signifies that the arm of Ki´tshi Man´idō, through the intermediary of the Midē´ priest, will put the spirit, i.e., the mi´gis, into the body of the candidate.]

The singer accompanies his song either by using a short baton of wood, termed “singing stick” or the Midē´ drum. After the song is completed another present of tobacco is given to the preceptor, and after making an offering of smoke both persons return to their respective wig´iwams. Later in the evening the preceptor calls upon the candidate, when both, with the assistance of friends, carry the presents to the Midē´wigân, where they are suspended from the rafters, to be ready for distribution after the initiation on the following day. Several friends of the candidate, who are Midē´, are stationed at the doors of the Midē´wigân to guard against the intrusion of the uninitiated, or the possible abstraction of the gifts by strangers.

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The Midē Wiwin or Grand Medicine Society, 1891

The Midē Wiwin or Grand Medicine Society


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