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 Native American Nations | The Midē Wiwin or Grand Medicine Society                  

Initiation into the Midē´wiwin or Midē´ Society is, at this time, performed during the latter part of summer. The ceremonies are performed in public, as the structure in which they are conducted is often loosely constructed of poles with intertwined branches and leaves, leaving the top almost entirely exposed, so that there is no difficulty in observing what may transpire within. Furthermore, the ritual is unintelligible to the uninitiated, and the important part of the necessary information is given to the candidate in a preceptor’s wig´iwam.

To present intelligibly a description of the ceremonial of initiation as it occurred at White Earth, Minnesota, it will be necessary to first describe the structure in which it occurs, as well as the sweat lodge with which the candidate has also to do.

The Midē´wigân, i.e., Midē´wig´iwam, or, as it is generally designated “Grand Medicine Lodge,” is usually built in an open grove or clearing; it is a structure measuring about 80 feet in length by 20 in width, extending east and west with the main entrance toward that point of the compass at which the sun rises. The walls consist of poles and saplings from 8 to 10 feet high, firmly planted in the ground, wattled with short 

Fig. 10.— Diagram of Midē´wigân of the first degree.

branches and twigs with leaves. In the east and west walls are left open spaces, each about 4 feet wide, 188 used as entrances to the inclosure. From each side of the opening the wall-like structure extends at right angles to the end wall, appearing like a short hallway leading to the inclosure, and resembles double doors opened outward. Fig. 10 represents a ground plan of the Midē´wigân, while Fig. 11 shows an interior view. Saplings thrown across the top of the structure serve as rafters, upon which are laid branches with leaves, and pieces of bark, to sufficiently shade the occupants from the rays of the sun. Several saplings extend across the inclosure near the top, while a few are attached to these so as to extend longitudinally, from either side of which presents of blankets, etc., may be suspended. About 10 feet from the main entrance a large flattened stone, measuring more than a foot in diameter, is placed upon the ground. This is used when subjecting to treatment a patient; and at a corresponding distance from the western door is planted the sacred Midē´ post of cedar, that for the first degree being about 7 feet in height and 6 or 8 inches in diameter. It is painted red, with a band of green 4 inches wide around the top. Upon the post is fixed the stuffed body of an owl. Upon that part of the floor midway between the stone and the Midē´ post is spread a blanket, upon which the gifts and presents to the society are afterward deposited. A short distance from each of the outer angles of the structure are planted cedar or pine trees, each about 10 feet in height.

Fig. 11.—Interior of Midē´wigân.

About a hundred yards east of the main entrance is constructed a wig´iwam or sweat lodge, to be used by the candidate, both to take his vapor baths and to receive final instructions from his preceptor.

This wig´iwam is dome-shaped measures about 10 feet in diameter and 6 feet high in the middle, with an opening at the top which can be readily covered with a piece of bark. The framework of the structure consists of saplings stuck into the ground, the tops being bent over to meet others from the opposite side. Other thin saplings are then lashed horizontally to the upright ones so as to appear like hoops, decreasing in size as the summit is reached. They are secured by using strands of basswood bark. The whole is then covered with pieces of birchbark—frequently the bark of the pine is used—leaving a narrow opening on the side facing the Midē´wigân, which may be closed with an adjustable flap of bark or blankets.

The space between the Midē´wigân and the sweat lodge must be kept clear of other temporary shelters, which might be placed there by some of the numerous visitors attending the ceremonies.

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The Midē Wiwin or Grand Medicine Society, 1891

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