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Bear Spirit

 Native American Nations | The Midē Wiwin or Grand Medicine Society                   

Nos. 59 and 60 are two of the four Panther Spirits who are the special guardians of the third degree lodge.

To enter the fourth and highest degree of the society requires a greater number of feasts than before, and the candidate, who continues to personate the Bear Spirit, again uses his sacred drum, as he is shown sitting before it in No. 78, and chants more prayers to Dzhe Man´idō for his favor. This degree is guarded by the greatest number and the most powerful of malevolent spirits, who make a last effort to prevent a candidate’s entrance at the door (No. 79) of the fourth degree structure (No. 80). The chief opponents to be overcome, through the assistance of Dzhe Man´idō, are two Panther Spirits (Nos. 81 and 82) at the eastern entrance, and two Bear Spirits (Nos. 83 and 84) at the western exit. Other bad spirits are about the structure, who frequently gain possession and are then enabled to make strong and prolonged resistance to the candidate’s entrance. The chiefs of this group of malevolent beings are Bears (Nos. 88 and 96), the Panther (No. 91), the Lynx (No. 97), and many others whose names they have forgotten, their positions being indicated at Nos. 85, 86, 87, 89, 90, 92, 93, 94, and 95, all but the last resembling characters ordinarily employed to designate serpents.

The power with which it is possible to become endowed after passing through the fourth degree is expressed by the outline of a human figure (No. 98), upon which are a number of spots indicating that the body is covered with the mī´gis or sacred shells, symbolical of the Midē´wiwin. These spots designate the places where the Midē´ priests, during the initiation, shot into his body the mī´gis and the lines connecting them in order that all the functions of the several corresponding parts or organs of the body may be exercised.

The ideal fourth degree Midē´ is presumed to be in a position to accomplish the greatest feats in necromancy and magic. He is not only endowed with the power of reading the thoughts and intentions of others, as is pictorially indicated by the mī´gis spot upon the top of the head, but to call forth the shadow (soul) and retain it within his grasp at pleasure. At this stage of his pretensions, he is encroaching upon the prerogatives of the Jes´sakkid´, and is then recognized as one, as he usually performs within the Jes´sakkân or Jes´sakkid´ lodge, commonly designated “the Jugglery.”

The ten small circular objects upon the upper part of the record may have been some personal marks of the original owner; their import was not known to my informants and they do not refer to any portion of the history or ceremonies or the Midē´wiwin.

Extending toward the left from the end of the fourth degree inclosure is an angular pathway (No. 99), which represents the course to be followed by the Midē´ after he has attained this high distinction. On account of his position his path is often beset with dangers, as indicated by the right angles, and temptations which may lead him astray; the points at which he may possibly deviate from the true course of propriety are designated by projections branching off obliquely toward the right and left (No. 100). The ovoid figure (No. 101) at the end of this path is termed Wai-ek´-ma-yok´—End of the road—and is alluded to in the ritual, as will be observed hereafter, as the end of the world, i.e., the end of the individual’s existence. The number of vertical strokes (No. 102) within the ovoid figure signify the original owner to have been a fourth degree Midē´ for a period of 14 years.

The outline of the Midē´wigân (No. 103) not only denotes that the same individual was a member of the Midē´wiwin, but the thirteen vertical strokes shown in Nos. 104 and 105 indicate that he was chief Midē´ priest of the society for that number of years.

The outline of a Midē´wigân as shown at No. 106, with the place upon the interior designating the location of the sacred post (No. 107) and the stone (No. 108) against which the sick are placed during the time of treatment, signifies the owner to have practiced his calling of the exorcism of demons. But that he also visited the sick beyond the acknowledged jurisdiction of the society in which he resided, is indicated by the path (No. 109) leading around the sacred inclosure.

Upon that portion of the chart immediately above the fourth degree lodge is shown the outline of a Midē´wiwin (No. 110), with a path (No. 114), leading toward the west to a circle (No. 111), within which is another similar structure (No. 112) whose longest diameter is at right angles to the path, signifying that it is built so that its entrance is at the north. This is the Dzhibai´ Midē´wigân or Ghost Lodge.

Around the interior of the circle are small V-shaped characters denoting the places occupied by the spirits of the departed, who are presided over by the Dzhibai´ Midē´, literally Shadow Midē´.

No. 113 represents the Ko´-kó-ko-o´ (Owl) passing from the Midē´wigân to the Land of the Setting Sun, the place of the dead, upon the road of the dead, indicated by the pathway at No. 114. This Man´idō is personated by a candidate for the first degree of the Midē´wiwin when giving a feast to the dead in honor of the shadow of him who had been dedicated to the Midē´wiwin and whose place is now to be taken by the giver of the feast.

Upon the back of the Midē´ record, above described, is the personal record of the original owner, as shown in Pl. III B. Nos. 1, 2, 3, and 4 represent the four degrees of the society into which he has been initiated, or, to use the phraseology of an Ojibwa, “through which he has gone.” This “passing through” is further illustrated by the bear tracks, he having personated the Makwa´ Man´idō or Bear Spirit, considered to be the highest and most powerful of the guardian spirits of the fourth degree wigwam.

The illustration presented in Pl. III C represents the outlines of a birch-bark record (reduced to one-third) found among the effects of a lately deceased Midē´ from Leech Lake, Minnesota. This record, together with a number of other curious articles, composed the outfit of the Midē´, but the Rev. James A. Gilfillan of White Earth, through whose courtesy I was permitted to examine the objects, could give me no information concerning their use. Since that time, however, I have had an opportunity of consulting with one of the chief priests of the Leech Lake Society, through whom I have obtained some interesting data concerning them.

The chart represents the owner to have been a Midē´ of the second degree, as indicated by the two outlines of the respective structures at Nos. 1 and 2, the place of the sacred posts being marked at Nos. 3 and 4. Nos. 5, 6, 7, and 8 are Midē´ priests holding their Midē´ bags as in the ceremony of initiation. The disks represented at Nos. 9, 10, 11, 12, and 13 denote the sacred drum, which may be used by him during his initiation, while Nos. 14, 15, 16, and 17 denote that he was one of the four officiating priests of the Midē´wigân at his place of residence. Each of these figures is represented as holding their sacred bags as during the ceremonies. No. 18 denotes the path he has been pursuing since he became a Midē´, while at Nos. 19 and 20 diverging lines signify that his course is beset with temptations and enemies, as referred to in the description of the Red Lake chart, Pl. III A.

The remaining objects found among the effects of the Midē´ referred to will be described and figured hereafter.

Plate IV. Sikas´sigĕ’s Record.
Larger Plate

The diagram represented on Pl. IV is a reduced copy of a record made by Sikas´sigĕ, a Mille Lacs Ojibwa Midē´ of the second degree, now resident at White Earth.

The chart illustrating pictorially the general plan of the several degrees is a copy of a record in the possession of the chief Midē´ at Mille Lacs in 1830, at which time Sikas´sigĕ, at the age of 10 years, received his first degree. For a number of years thereafter Sikas´sigĕ received continued instruction from his father Baie´dzhek, and although he never publicly received advancement beyond the second degree of the society, his wife became a fourth degree priestess, at whose initiation he was permitted to be present.

Plate V. Origin of Âni´shinâ´beg.
Larger Plate

Since his residence at White Earth Sikas´sigĕ has become one of the officiating priests of the society at that place. One version given by him of the origin of the Indians is presented in the following tradition, a pictorial representation having also been prepared of which Pl. V is a reduced copy:

  In the beginning, Dzhe Man´idō (No. 1), made the Midē´ Man´idōs. He first created two men (Nos. 2 and 3), and two women (Nos. 4 and 5); but they had no power of thought or reason. Then Dzhe Man´idō (No. 1) made them rational beings. He took them in his hands so that they should multiply; he paired them, and from this sprung the Indians. When there were people he placed them upon the earth, but he soon observed that they were subject to sickness, misery, and death, and that unless he provided them with the Sacred Medicine they would soon become extinct.

Between the position occupied by Dzhe Man´idō and the earth were four lesser spirits (Nos. 6, 7, 8, and 9) with whom Dzhe Man´idō decided to commune, and to impart to them the mysteries by which the Indians could be benefited. So he first spoke to a spirit at No. 6, and told him all he had to say, who in turn communicated the same information to No. 7, and he in turn to No. 8, who also communed with No. 9. They all met in council, and determined to call in the four wind gods at Nos. 10, 11, 12, and 13. After consulting as to what would be best for the comfort and welfare of the Indians, these spirits agreed to ask Dzhe Man´idō to communicate the Mystery of the Sacred Medicine to the people.

Dzhe Man´idō then went to the Sun Spirit (No. 14) and asked him to go to the earth and instruct the people as had been decided upon by the council. The Sun Spirit, in the form of a little boy, went to the earth and lived with a woman (No. 15) who had a little boy of her own.

This family went away in the autum to hunt, and during the winter this woman’s son died. The parents were so much distressed that they decided to return to the village and bury the body there; so they made preparations to return, and as they traveled along, they would each evening erect several poles upon which the body was placed to prevent the wild beasts from devouring it. When the dead boy was thus hanging upon the poles, the adopted child—who was the Sun Spirit—would play about the camp and amuse himself, and finally told his adopted father he pitied him, and his mother, for their sorrow. The adopted son said he could bring his dead brother to life, whereupon the parents expressed great surprise and desired to know how that could be accomplished.

The adopted boy then had the party hasten to the village, when he said, “Get the women to make a wig´iwam of bark (No. 16), put the dead boy in a covering of birch bark and place the body on the ground in the middle of the wig´iwam.” On the next morning after this had been done, the family and friends went into this lodge and seated themselves around the corpse.

When they had all been sitting quietly for some time, they saw through the doorway the approach of a bear (No. 17) which gradually came towards the wig´iwam, entered it, and placed itself before the dead body and said hu, hu, hu, hu, when he passed around it towards the left side, with a trembling motion, and as he did so, the body began quivering, and the quivering increased as the bear continued until he had passed around four times, when the body came to life again and stood up. Then the bear called to the father, who was sitting in the distant right-hand corner of the wig´iwam, and addressed to him the following words:
Nōs ka-wī´-na ni´-shi-na´-bi wis-sī´ a´-ya-wī´-an man´-i-dō nin-gī´-sis.
My father
is not an Indian not you are a spirit son.
  Be-mai´-a-mī´-nik ni´-dzhĭ man´-i-dō mī-a-zhĭ´-gwa tshí-gi-a´-we-ân´.  
  Insomuch my fellow spirit now as you are.


a-zhĭ´-gwa a-sē´-ma tshi´-a-tō´-yēk. A´-mi-kun´-dem

My father

now tobacco you shall put. He speaks of
mi-ē´-ta ã´-wi-dink´ dzhi-gŏsh´-kwi-tō wen´-dzhi-bi-mâ´-di-zid´-o-ma´
only once to be able to do it why he shall live here
a-gâ´-wa bi-mâ-dĭ-zĭd´-mi-o-ma´; ni-dzhĭ man´-i-dō mí-a-zhĭ´-gwa tshí-gĭ-wĕ´-ân.
now that he scarcely lives; my fellow spirit
now I shall go home.

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The Midē Wiwin or Grand Medicine Society, 1891

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