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Descriptive Notes

 Native American Nations | The Midē Wiwin or Grand Medicine Society                    

The mī´gis shell employed in the second degree initiation is of the same species as those before mentioned. At White Earth, however, some of the priests claim an additional shell as characteristic of this advanced degree, and insist that this should be as nearly round as possible, having a perforation through it by which it may be secured with a strand or sinew. In the absence of a rounded white shell a bead may be used as a substitute. On Pl. XI, No. 4, is presented an illustration of the bead (the second-degree mī´gis) presented to me on the occasion of my initiation.

With reference to the style of facial decoration resorted to in this degree nearly all of the members now paint the face according to their own individual tastes, though a few old men still adhere to the traditional method previously described (pp. 180, 181). The candidate usually adopts the style practiced by his preceptor, to which he is officially entitled; but if the preceptor employed in the preparatory instruction for the second degree be not the same individual whose services were retained for the first time, then the candidate has the privilege of painting his face according to the style of the preceding degree. If he follow his last preceptor it is regarded as an exceptional token of respect, and the student is not expected to follow the method in his further advancement.

A Midē´ of the second degree is also governed by his tutelary daimon; e.g., if during the first fast and vision he saw a bear, he now prepares a necklace of bear-claws, which is worn about the neck and crosses the middle of the breast. He now has the power of changing his form into that of a bear; and during that term of his disguise he wreaks vengeance upon his detractors and upon victims for whose destruction he has been liberally rewarded. Immediately upon the accomplishment of such an act he resumes his human form and thus escapes identification and detection. Such persons are termed by many “bad medicine men,” and the practice of thus debasing the sacred teachings of the Midē´wiwin is discountenanced by members of the society generally. Such pretensions are firmly believed in and acknowledged by the credulous and are practiced by that class of Shamans here designated as the Wâbeno´.

In his history1 Rev. Mr. Jones says:

  As the powwows always unite witchcraft with the application of their medicines I shall here give a short account of this curious art. Witches and wizards are persons supposed to possess the agency of familiar spirits from whom they receive power to inflict diseases on their enemies, prevent good luck of the hunter and the success of the warrior. They are believed to fly invisibly at pleasure from place to place; to turn themselves into bears, wolves, foxes, owls, bats, and snakes. Such metamorphoses they pretend to accomplish by putting on the skins of these animals, at the same time crying and howling in imitation of the creature they wish to represent. Several of our people have informed me that they have seen and heard witches in the shape of these animals, especially the bear and the fox. They say that when a witch in the shape of a bear is being chased all at once she will run round a tree or a hill, so as to be lost sight of for a time by her pursuers, and then, instead of seeing a bear they behold an old woman walking quietly along or digging up roots, and looking as innocent as a lamb. The fox witches are known by the flame of fire which proceeds out of their mouths every time they bark.

Many receive the name of witches without making any pretensions to the art, merely because they are deformed or ill-looking. Persons esteemed witches or wizards are generally eccentric characters, remarkably wicked, of a ragged appearance and forbidding countenance. The way in which they are made is either by direct communication with the familiar spirit during the days of their fasting, or by being instructed by those skilled in the art.

 A Midē´ of the second degree has the reputation of superior powers on account of having had the mī´gis placed upon all of his joints, and especially because his heart is filled with magic power, as is shown in Pl. III, No. 48. In this drawing the disk upon the breast denotes where the mī´gis has been “shot” into the figure, the enlarged size of the circle signifying “greater abundance,” in contradistinction to the common designation of a mī´gis shown only by a simple spot or small point. One of this class is enabled to hear and see what is transpiring at a remote distance, the lines from the hands indicating that he is enabled to grasp objects which are beyond the reach of a common person, and the lines extending from the feet signifying that he can traverse space and transport himself to the most distant points. Therefore he is sought after by hunters for aid in the discovery and capture of game, for success in war, and for the destruction of enemies, however remote may be their residence.

When an enemy or a rival is to be dealt with a course is pursued similar to that followed when preparing hunting charts, though more powerful magic medicines are used. In the following description of a pictograph recording such an occurrence the Midē´, or rather the Wâbeno´, was of the fourth degree of the Midē´wiwin. The indication of the grade of the operator is not a necessary part of the record, but in this instance appears to have been prompted from motives of vanity. The original sketch, of which Fig. 24 is a reproduction, was drawn upon birch-bark by a Midē´, in 1884, and the ceremony detailed actually occurred at White Earth, Minnesota. By a strange coincidence the person against whom vengeance was aimed died of pneumonia the following spring, the disease having resulted from cold contracted during the preceding winter. The victim resided at a camp more than a hundred miles east of the locality above named, and his death was attributed to the Midē´’s power, a reputation naturally procuring for him many new adherents and disciples. The following is the explanation as furnished by a Midē´ familiar with the circumstances:

Fig. 24.—Midē´ destroying an enemy.

No. 1 is the author of the chart, a Midē´ who was called upon to take the life of a man living at a distant camp. The line extending from the Midē´ to the figure at No. 9, signifies that his influence will reach to that distance.

No. 2, the applicant for assistance.

Nos. 3, 4, 5, and 6, represent the four degrees of the Midē´wiwin (of which the operator, in this instance, was a member). The degrees are furthermore specifically designated by short vertical strokes.

No. 7 is the Midē´ drum used during the ceremony of preparing the charm.

No. 8 represents the body of the intended victim. The heart is indicated, and upon this spot was rubbed a small quantity of vermilion.

No. 9 is the outline of a lake, where the subject operated upon resided.

War parties are not formed at this time, but mnemonic charts of songs used by priests to encourage war parties, are still extant, and a reproduction of one is given on Pl. XIII, D. This song was used by the Midē´ priest to insure success to the parties. The members who intended participating in the exhibition would meet on the evening preceding their departure, and while listening to the words, some would join in the singing while others would dance. The lines may be repeated ad libitum so as to lengthen the entire series of phrases according to the prevalent enthusiasm and the time at the disposal of the performers. The war drum was used, and there were always five or six drummers so as to produce sufficient noise to accord with the loud and animated singing of a large body of excited men. This drum is, in size, like that employed for dancing. It is made by covering with rawhide an old kettle, or wooden vessel, from 2 to 3 feet in diameter. The drum is then attached to four sticks, or short posts, so as to prevent its touching the ground, thus affording every advantage for producing full and resonant sounds, when struck. The drumsticks are strong withes, at the end of each of which is fastened a ball of buckskin thongs. The following lines are repeated ad libitum:

Plate XIII.d. Mnemonic Song.

Hu´-na-wa´-na ha´-wā, un-do´-dzhe-na´ ha-we´-nĕ.
     I am looking [feeling] for my paint.
[The Midē’s hands are at his medicine sack searching for his war paint.]
Hĭa´-dzhi-mĭn-de´ non´-da-kō´, hō´,
     They hear me speak of legs.
Refers to speed in the expedition. To the left of the leg is the arm of a spirit, which is supposed to infuse magic influence so as to give speed and strength.
Hu´-wa-ke´, na´, ha´,
     He said,
The Turtle man´idō will lend his aid in speed. The turtle was one of the swiftest man´idōs, until through some misconduct, Min´abo´zho deprived him of his speed.
Wa´-tshe, ha´, hwē, wa´-ka-te´, hē´, wa´-tshe, ha´, hwē´.
     Powder, he said.
[The modern form of Wa´-ka-te´, he´, hwa´, is ma´-ka-de´-hwa; other archaic words occur also in other portions of this song. The phrase signifies that the Midē´ man´idō favors good results from the use of powder. His form projects from the top of the Midē´ structure.]
Rest. A smoke is indulged in after which the song is resumed, accompanied with dancing.
Sin-go´-na wa-kī´ na-ha´-ka
     I made him cry.
The figure is that of a turkey buzzard which the speaker shot.
Te-wa´-tshi-me-kwe´-na, ha´, na-ke´-nan.
     They tell of my powers.
The people speak highly of the singer’s magic powers; a charmed arrow is shown which terminates above with feather-web ornament, enlarged to signify its greater power.
He´-wĕ-ne-nis´-sa ma-he´-ka-nĕn´-na.
     What have I killed, it is a wolf.
By aid of his magic influence the speaker has destroyed a bad man´idō which had assumed the form of a wolf.
Sun´-gu-we´-wa, ha´, nīn-dēn´, tshi´-man-da´-kwa ha´na-nĭn-dēn´.
     I am as strong as the bear.
The Midē´ likens his powers to those of the Bear man´idō, one of the most powerful spirits; his figure protrudes from the top of the Midē´wigân while his spirit form is indicated by the short lines upon the back.
Wa´-ka-na´-ni, hē´, wa´-ka-na´-ni.
     I wish to smoke.
The pipe used is that furnished by the promoter or originator of the war party, termed a “partisan.” The Midē´ is in full accord with the work undertaken and desires to join, signifying his wish by desiring to smoke with the braves.
He´-wa-hō´-a hai´-a-nē´
     I even use a wooden image.
Effigies made to represent one who is to be destroyed. The heart is punctured, vermilion or other magic powder is applied, and the death of the victim is encompassed.
Pa-kwa´ ma-ko-nē´ ā´, ō´, hē´,
     The bear goes round angry.
[The Bear man´idō is angry because the braves are dilatory in going to war. The sooner they decide upon this course, the better it will be for the Midē´ as to his fee, and the chances of success are greater while the braves are infused with enthusiasm, than if they should become sluggish and their ardor become subdued.]

1 History of the Ojebway Indians, etc., London (1843?), pp. 145, 146.

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The Midē Wiwin or Grand Medicine Society, 1891

The Midē Wiwin or Grand Medicine Society


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