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Initiation of Candidate

 Native American Nations | The Midē Wiwin or Grand Medicine Society                   

The candidate proceeds early on the morning of the day of initiation to take possession of the sweat-lodge, where he awaits the coming of his preceptor and the eight officiating priests. He has an abundance of tobacco with which to supply all the active participants, so that they may appease any feeling of opposition of the man´idōs toward the admission of a new candidate, and to make offerings of tobacco to the guardian spirit of the second degree of the Midē´wiwin. After the usual ceremony of smoking individual songs are indulged in by the Midē´ priests until such time as they may deem it necessary to proceed to the Midē´wigân, where the members of the society have long since gathered and around which is scattered the usual crowd of spectators. The candidate leads the procession from the sweat-lodge to the eastern entrance of the Midē´wigân, carrying an ample supply of tobacco and followed by the priests who chant. When the head of the procession arrives at the door of the sacred inclosure a halt is made, the priests going forward and entering. The drummer, stationed within, begins to drum and sing, while the preceptor and chief officiating priest continue their line of march around the inclosure, going by way of the south or left hand. Eight circuits are made, the last terminating at the main or eastern entrance. The drumming then ceases and the candidate is taken to the inner side of the door, when all the members rise and stand in their places. The officiating priests approach and stand near the middle of the inclosure, facing the candidate, when one of them says to the Midē´ priest beside the latter: O-da´-pin a-sē´-ma—“Take it, the tobacco,” whereupon the Midē´ spoken to relieves the candidate of the tobacco and carries it to the middle of the inclosure, where it is laid upon a blanket spread upon the ground. The preceptor then takes from the cross-poles some of the blankets or robes and gives them to the candidate to hold. One of the malevolent spirits which oppose the entrance of a stranger is still supposed to remain with the Midē´wigân, its body being that of a serpent, like flames of fire, reaching from the earth to the sky. He is called I´-shi-ga-nē´-bĭ-gŏg—“Big-Snake.” To appease his anger the candidate must make a present; so the preceptor says for the candidate:

Do you not see

how he carries the goods?

This being assented to by the Midē´ priests the preceptor takes the blankets and deposits them near the tobacco upon the ground. Slight taps upon the Midē´ drum are heard and the candidate is led toward the left on his march round the interior of the Midē´wigân, the officiating priests following and being followed in succession by all others present. The march continues until the eighth passage round, when the members begin to step back into their respective places, while the officiating Midē´ finally station themselves with their backs toward the westernmost degree post, and face the door at the end of the structure. The candidate continues round to the western end, faces the Midē´ priests, and all sit down. The following song is then sung, which may be the individual production of the candidate (Pl. XIII, C). A song is part of the ritual, though it is not necessary that the candidate should sing it, as the preceptor may do so for him. In the instance under my observation the song was an old one (which had been taught the candidate), as the archaic form of pronunciation indicates. Each of the lines is repeated as often as the singer may desire, the prolongation of the song being governed by his inspired condition. The same peculiarity governs the insertion, between words and at the end of lines, of apparently meaningless vowel sounds, to reproduce and prolong the last notes sounded. This may be done ad libitum, rythmical accentuation being maintained by gently tapping upon the Midē´ drum.

Plate XIII.c. Mnemonic Song.
Hĭa´-ni-de hĕn´-da man´-i-dō, hō´,
ni´-sha-bon´-de man´-i-dō´-en-dât.
     Where is the spirit lodge? I go through it.
[The oblong structure represents the Midē´wigân, the arm upon the left indicating the course of the path leading through it, the latter being shown by a zigzag line.]
Nin-gō´-sa mĭ-dē´-kwe ni-ka´ na´-ska-wa´.
     I am afraid of the “grand medicine” woman; I go to her.
A leg is shown to signify locomotion. The singer fears the opposition of a Midē´ priestess and will conciliate her.
Ka-ni-sa´ hi´-a-tshi´-mĭn-dē´ man´-skī-ki´, dē´, hē´, hē´.
     Kinsmen who speak of me, they see the striped sky.
A person of superior power, as designated by the horns attached to the head. The lines from the mouth signify voice or speech, while the horizontal lines denote the stratus clouds, the height above the earth of which illustrates the direction of the abode of the spirit whose conversation, referring to the singer, is observed crossing them as short vertical zigzag lines; i.e., voice lines.
Ke´-na-nan´-do-mē´ ko-nō´-ne-nak
ka-ne-hē´ nin-ko´-tshi nan´-no-me´.
     The cloud looks to me for medicine.
[The speaker has become so endowed with the power of magic influence that he has preference with the superior man´idōs. The magic influence is shown descending to the hand which reaches beyond the cloud indicated by the oblong square upon the forearm.]
Rest, after which dancing begins.
Wa-tshu´-a-nē´ ke´-ba-bing´-e-on´, wa-dzhū.
     Going into the mountains.
The singer’s thoughts go to the summit to commune with Ki´tshi man´idō. He is shown upon the summit.
Hi´-mĕ-de´-wa hen´-dĕ-a he´-na.
     The grand medicine affects me.
In his condition he appeals to Ki´tshi man´idō for aid. The arms represent the act of supplication.
Hai´-an-go ho´-ya o´-gĕ-ma, ha´.
     The chief goes out.
The arms grasp a bear—the Bear man´idō—and the singer intimates that he desires the aid of that powerful spirit, who is one of the guardians of the Midē´wigân.
Nish´-o-wē´ ni-mē´-hi-gō´, hē´, ni-gō´-tshi-mi´-go-we, hē´.
     Have pity on me wherever I have medicine.
The speaker is filled with magic influence, upon the strength of which he asks the Bear to pity and to aid him.
Wi´-so-mi´-ko-wē´ hĕ-a-za-we´-ne-ne-gō´, hō´.
     I am the beaver; have pity on me.
This is said to indicate that the original maker of the mnemonic song was of the Beaver totem or gens.
Hēn´-ta-no-wik´-ko-we´ de-wĕn´-da ĕn-da-â´-dân.
     I wish to know what is the matter with me.
The singer feels peculiarly impressed by his surroundings in the Midē´wigân, because the sacred man´idōs have filled his body with magic powers. These are shown by the zigzag or waving lines descending to the earth.

As each of the preceding lines or verses is sung in such a protracted manner as to appear like a distinct song, the dancers, during the intervals of rest, always retire to their places and sit down. The dancing is not so energetic as many of those commonly indulged in for amusement only. The steps consist of two treading movements made by each foot in succession. Keeping time with the drum-beats, at the same time there is a shuffling movement made by the dancer forward, around and among his companions, but getting back toward his place before the verse is ended. The attitude during these movements consists in bending the body forward, while the knees are bent, giving one the appearance of searching for a lost object. Those who do not sing give utterance to short, deep grunts, in accordance with the alternate heavier strokes upon the drum.

As the dancing ceases, and all are in their proper seats, the preceptor, acting for the candidate, approaches the pile of tobacco and distributes a small quantity to each one present, when smoking is indulged in, preceded by the usual offering to the east, the south, the west, the north, the sky and the earth.

After the completion of this ceremonial an attendant carries the Midē´ drum to the southeast angle of the inclosure, where it is delivered to the drummer; then the officiating priests rise and approach within two or three paces of the candidate as he gets upon his knees. The preceptor and the assistant who is called upon by him take their places immediately behind and to either side of the candidate, and the Midē´ priest lowest in order of precedence begins to utter quick, deep tones, resembling the sound hŏ´, hŏ´, hŏ´, hŏ´, hŏ´, at the same time grasping his Midē´ sack with both hands, as if it were a gun, and moving it in a serpentine and interrupted manner toward one of the large joints of the candidate’s arms or legs. At the last utterance of this sound he produces a quick puff with the breath and thrusts the bag forward as if shooting, which he pretends to do, the missile being supposed to be the invisible sacred mi´gis. The other priests follow in order from the lowest to the highest, each selecting a different joint, during which ordeal the candidate trembles more and more violently until at last he is overcome with the magic influence and falls forward upon the ground unconscious. The Midē´ priests then lay their sacks upon his back, when the candidate begins to recover and spit out the mi´gis shell which he had previously hidden within his mouth. Then the chief Midē´ takes it up between the tips of the forefinger and thumb and goes through the ceremony described in connection with the initiation into the first degree, of holding it toward the east, south, west, north, and the sky, and finally to the mouth of the candidate, when the latter, who has partly recovered from his apparently insensible condition, again relapses into that state. The eight priests then place their sacks to the respective joints at which they previously directed them, which fully infuses the body with the magic influence as desired. Upon this the candidate recovers, takes up the mi´gis shell and, placing it upon his left palm, holds it forward and swings it from side to side, saying he! he! he! he! he! and pretends to swallow it, this time only reeling from its effects. He is now restored to a new life for the second time; and as the priests go to seek seats he is left on the southern side and seats himself. After all those who have been occupied with the initiation have hung up their Midē´ sacks on available projections against the wall or branches, the new member goes forward to the pile of tobacco, blankets, and other gifts and divides them among those present, giving the larger portions to the officiating priests. He then passes around once more, stopping before each one to pass his hands over the sides of the priests´ heads, and says:


ga-shi-tō´-win bi-mâ´-dĭ-si-wĭn,
Thanks for giving to me life,
after which he retreats a step, and clasping his hands and bowing toward the priest, says:
Ni-ka´-ni ni-ka´ni ni-ka´-ni ka-nia´,
fellow Midē´ fellow Midē´ fellow Midē´,

to which each responds hau´, ēn. The word hau´ is a term of approbation, ēn signifying yes, or affirmation, the two thus used together serving to intensify the expression. Those of the Midē´ present who are of the second, or even some higher degree, then indulge in the ceremony of passing around to the eastern part of the inclosure, where they feign coughing and gagging, so as to produce from the mouth the mi´gis shell, as already narrated in connection with the first degree, p. 192.

This manner of thanking the officiating Midē´ for their services in initiating the candidate into a higher degree is extended also to those members of the Midē´wiwin who are of the first degree only, in acknowledgment of the favor of their presence at the ceremony, they being eligible to attend ceremonial rites of any degree higher than the class to which they belong, because such men are neither benefited nor influenced in any way by merely witnessing such initiation, but they must themselves take the principal part in it to receive the favor of a renewed life and to become possessed of higher power and increased magic influence.

Various members of the society indulge in short harangues, recounting personal exploits in the performance of magic and exorcism, to which the auditors respond in terms of gratification and exclamations of approval. During these recitals the ushers, appointed for the purpose, leave the inclosure by the western door to return in a short time with kettles of food prepared for the Midē´ feast. The ushers make four circuits of the interior, giving to each person present a quantity of the contents of the several vessels, so that all receive sufficient to gratify their desires. When the last of the food has been consumed, or removed, the Midē´ drum is heard, and soon a song is started, in which all who desire join. After the first two or three verses of the song are recited, a short interval of rest is taken, but when it is resumed dancing begins and is continued to the end. In this manner they indulge in singing and dancing, interspersed with short speeches, until the approach of sunset, when the members retire to their own wig´iwams, leaving the Midē´-wigân by the western egress.

The ushers, assisted by the chief Midē´, then remove the sacred post from the inclosure and arrange the interior for new initiations, either of a lower or higher class, if candidates have prepared and presented themselves. In case there is no further need of meeting again at once, the members of the society and visitors return upon the following day to their respective homes.

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The Midē Wiwin or Grand Medicine Society, 1891

The Midē Wiwin or Grand Medicine Society


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