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Preparatory Instruction

 Native American Nations | The Midē Wiwin or Grand Medicine Society                    

When the candidate’s application for reception into the Midē´wiwin has been received by one of the officiating priests, he calls upon the three assisting Midē´, inviting them to visit him at his own wig´iwam at a specified time. When the conference takes place, tobacco, which has been previously furnished by the candidate, is distributed and a smoke offering made to Ki´tshi Man´idō, to propitiate his favor in the deliberations about to be undertaken. The host then explains the object of the meeting, and presents to his auditors an account of the candidate’s previous life; he recounts the circumstances of his fast and dreams, and if the candidate is to take the place of a lately deceased son who had been prepared to receive the degree, the fact is mentioned, as under such circumstances the forms would be different from the ordinary method of reception into the society. The subject of presents and gifts to the individual members of the society, as well as those intended to be given as a fee to the officiating priests, is also discussed; and lastly, if all things are favorable to the applicant, the selection of an instructor or preceptor is made, this person being usually appointed from among these four priests.

When the conference is ended the favorable decision is announced to the applicant, who acknowledges his pleasure by remitting to each of the four priests gifts of tobacco. He is told what instructor would be most acceptable to them, when he repairs to the wig´iwam of the person designated and informs him of his wish and the decision of the Midē´ council.

The designated preceptor arranges with his pupil to have certain days upon which the latter is to call and receive instruction and acquire information. The question of remuneration being settled, tobacco is furnished at each sitting, as the Midē´ never begins his lecture until after having made a smoke-offering, which is done by taking a whiff and pointing the stem to the east; then a whiff, directing the stem to the south; another whiff, directing the stem to the west; then a whiff and a similar gesture with the stem to the north; another whiff is taken slowly and with an expression of reverence, when the stem is pointed forward and upward as an offering to Ki´tshi Man´idō; and finally, after taking a similar whiff, the stem is pointed forward and downward toward the earth as an offering to Noko´mis, the grandmother of the universe, and to those who have passed before. After these preliminaries, the candidate receives at each meeting only a small amount of information, because the longer the instruction is continued daring the season before the meeting at which it is hoped the candidate may be admitted the greater will be the fees; and also, in order that the instruction may be looked upon with awe and reverence, most of the information imparted is frequently a mere repetition, the ideas being clothed in ambiguous phraseology. The Midē´ drum (Fig. 12 a) differs from the drum commonly used in dances (Fig. 12 b) in the fact that it is cylindrical, consisting of an elongated kettle or wooden vessel, or perhaps a section of the hollow trunk of a tree about 10 inches in diameter and from 18 to 20 inches in length, over both ends of which rawhide is stretched while wet, so that upon drying the membrane becomes hard and tense, producing, when beaten, a very hard, loud tone, which may be heard at a great distance.

Fig. 12.—Ojibwa drums.

Frequently, however, water is put into the bottom of the drum and the drum-head stretched across the top in a wet state, which appears to intensify the sound very considerably.

The peculiar and special properties of the drum are described to the applicant; that it was at first the gift of Ki´tshi Man´idō, who gave it through the intercession of Mi´nabo´zho; that it is used to invoke the presence of the Midē´ Man´idōs, or sacred spirits, when seeking direction as to information desired, success, etc.; that it is to be employed at the side of the sick to assist in the expulsion or exorcism of evil Man´idōs who may possess the body of the sufferer; and that it is to be used in the. Midē´wigân during the initiation of new members or the advancement of a Midē´ from a degree to a higher one.

The properties of the rattle are next enumerated and recounted, its origin is related, and its uses explained. It is used at the side of a patient and has even more power in the expulsion of evil demons than the drum. The rattle is also employed in some of the sacred songs as an accompaniment, to accentuate certain notes and words. There are two forms used, one consisting of a cylindrical tin box filled with grains of corn or other seeds (Fig. 13), the other being a hollow gourd also filled with seed (Fig. 14). In both of these the handle passes entirely through the rattle case.

In a similar manner the remaining gifts of Mi´nabo´zho are instanced and their properties extolled.

Fig. 13.— Midē´ rattle.

Fig. 14.— Midē´ rattle.

The mi´gis, a small white shell (Cypræa moneta L.) is next extracted from the Midē´ sack, or pinji´gusân´. This is explained as being the sacred emblem of the Midē´wiwin, the reason therefor being given in the account of the several traditions presented in connection with Pls. III, IV, and VIII. This information is submitted in parts, so that the narrative of the history connected with either of the records is extended over a period of time to suit the preceptor’s plans and purposes. The ceremony of shooting the mi´gis (see Fig. 15) is explained on page 215.

Fig. 15.—Shooting the mī´gis.

As time progresses the preceptor instructs his pupil in Midē´ songs, i.e., he sings to him songs which form a part of his stock in trade, and which are alleged to be of service on special occasions, as when searching for medicinal plants, hunting, etc. The pupil thus acquires a comprehension of the method of preparing and reciting songs, which information is by him subsequently put to practical use in the composition and preparation of his own songs, the mnemonic characters employed being often rude copies of those observed upon the charts of his preceptor, but the arrangement thereof being original.

It is for this reason that a Midē´ is seldom, if ever, able to recite correctly any songs but his own, although he may be fully aware of the character of the record and the particular class of service in which it may be employed. In support of this assertion several songs obtained at Red Lake and imperfectly explained by “Little Frenchman” and “Leading Feather,” are reproduced in Pl. XXII, A B, page 292.

From among the various songs given by my preceptor are selected and presented herewith those recognized by him as being part of the ritual. The greater number of songs are mere repetitions of short phrases, and frequently but single words, to which are added meaningless sounds or syllables to aid in prolonging the musical tones, and repeated ad libitum in direct proportion to the degree of inspiration in which the singer imagines himself to have attained. These frequent outbursts of singing are not based upon connected mnemonic songs preserved upon birch bark, but they consist of fragments or selections of songs which have been memorized, the selections relating to the subject upon which the preceptor has been discoursing, and which undoubtedly prompts a rythmic vocal equivalent. These songs are reproduced on Pl. IX, A, B, C. The initial mnemonic characters pertaining to each word or phrase of the original text are repeated below in regular order with translations in English, together with supplemental notes explanatory of the characters employed. The musical notation is not presented, as the singing consists of a monotonous repetition of four or five notes in a minor key; furthermore, a sufficiently clear idea of this may be formed by comparing some of the Midē´ songs presented in connection with the ritual of initiation and preparation of medicines. The first of the songs given herewith (Pl. IX, A) pertains to a request to Ki´tshi Man´idō that clear weather may be had for the day of ceremonial, and also an affirmation to the candidate that the singer’s words are a faithful rendering of his creed.

Each of the phrases is repeated before advancing to the next, as often as the singer desires and in proportion to the amount of reverence and awe with which he wishes to impress his hearer. There is usually a brief interval between each of the phrases, and a longer one at the appearance of a vertical line, denoting a rest, or pause. One song may occupy, therefore, from fifteen minutes to half an hour.

Plate IX.a. Mnemonic Song.

Ki-ne´-na-wi´-´in mani´-i-dō´-ye-win.
     I rock you, you that are a spirit.
[A Midē’s head, the lines denoting voice or speech—i.e., singing of sacred things, as the loops or circles at the ends of each line indicate.]
     The sky I tell you.
[The otter skin medicine sack, and arm reaching to procure something therefrom.]
O-we-nen´; hwīn´.
     Who is it, who?
The mi´gis shell; the sacred emblem of the Midē´wiwin.
     The man helping me.
A man walking, the Midē´ Man´idō or Sacred Spirit.
Nu-wan´-ni-ma´na nin-guĭs´?
     Have I told the truth to my son?
The bear going to the Midē´wigan and takes with him life to the Ani´shinâ´beg.
Ni´-nīn-dē´, ĕ´, ō´, ya´.
     My heart, I am there (in the fullness of my heart).
My heart; knows all Midē´ secrets, sensible one.
A´-ni-na´-nĕsh-mi´-ĭ-an ni´-na´-wĭ-tō´.
     I follow with my arms.
Arms extended to take up “medicine” or Midē´ secrets.
Man´-i-dō´-wi-an´ nĭ-me´-shine´-mi´-an.
     Knowledge comes from the heart, the heart reaches to sources of
     “medicine” in the earth.
[A Midē´ whose heart’s desires and knowledge extend to the secrets of the earth. The lines diverging toward the earth denote direction.]
We´-gi-kwō´ Kĕ-mī´-nĭ-nan´?
     From whence comes the rain?
The power of making a clear sky, i.e., weather.
Mi-shŏk´ kwōt´, dzhe-man´-i-dō´-yan.
     The sky, nevertheless, may be clear, Good Spirit.
Giving life to the sick; Dzhe Man´idō handing it to the Midē´.
     Very seldom I make this request of you.
The Good Spirit filling the body of the supplicant with knowledge of secrets of the earth.

In the following song (Pl. IX, B), the singer relates to the candidate the gratitude which he experiences for the favors derived from the Good Spirit; he has been blessed with knowledge of plants and other sacred objects taken from the ground, which knowledge has been derived by his having himself become a member of the Midē´wiwin, and hence urges upon the candidate the great need of his also continuing in the course which he has thus far pursued.

Plate IX.b. Mnemonic Song.

Na-witsh´-tshi na-kǔm´-i-en a-na´-pi-an´?
     When I am out of hearing, where am I?
The lines extending from the ears denote hearing; the arms directed toward the right and left, being the gesture of negation, usually made by throwing the hands outward and away from the front of the body.
We´-nen-ne´ en´-da-yan.
     In my house, I see.
Sight is indicated by the lines extending from the eyes; the horns denote superiority of the singer.
     When I rise it gives me life, and I take it.
The arm reaches into the sky to receive the gifts which are handed down by the Good Spirit. The short transverse line across the forearm indicates the arch of the sky, this line being an abbreviation of the curve usually employed to designate the same idea.
     The reason why I am happy.
Asking the Spirit for life, which is granted. The singer’s body is filled with the heart enlarged, i.e., fullness of heart, the lines from the mouth denoting abundance of voice or grateful utterances—singing.
Zha´-zha-bui´-ki-bi-nan´ wig´-ĕ-wâm´.
     The Spirit says there is plenty of “medicine” in the Midē´ wig´iwam.
[Two superior spirits, Ki´tshi Man´idō and Dzhe Man´idō, whose bodies are surrounded by “lines of sacredness,” tell the Midē´ where the mysterious remedies are to be found. The vertical waving lines are the lines indicating these communications; the horizontal line, at the bottom, is the earth’s surface.]
     The Spirit placed medicine in the ground, let us take it.
The arm of Ki´tshi Man´idō put into the ground sacred plants, etc., indicated by the spots at different horizons in the earth. The short vertical and waving lines denote sacredness of the objects.
Ní-wo´-we-nī´-nan ki´-bi-do-nan´.
     I am holding this that I bring to you.
The singer sits in the Midē´wiwin, and offers the privilege of entrance, by initiation, to the hearer.
Midē´ nĭ-ka´-năk kish´-o-wĕ´-ni-mĭ-ko´.
     I have found favor in the eyes of my Midē´ friends.
The Good Spirit has put life into the body of the singer, as indicated by the two mysterious arms reaching towards his body, i.e., the heart, the seat of life.

In the following song (Pl. IX, C), the preceptor appears to feel satisfied that the candidate is prepared to receive the initiation, and therefore tells him that the Midē´ Man´idō announces to him the assurance. The preceptor therefore encourages his pupil with promises of the fulfillment of his highest desires.

Plate IX.c. Mnemonic Song.

Ba´-dzhĭ-ke´-o gi´-mand ma-bis´-in-dâ´-ă.
     I hear the spirit speaking to us.
The Midē´ singer is of superior power, as designated by the horns and apex upon his head. The lines from the ears indicate hearing.
Kwa-yăk´-in dī´-sha in-dâ´-yan.
     I am going into the medicine lodge.
The Midē´wigân is shown with a line through it to signify that he is going through it, as in the initiation.
Kwe´-tshĭ-ko-wa´-ya ti´-na-man.
     I am taking (gathering) medicine to make me live.
The discs indicate sacred objects within reach of the speaker.
O´-wi-yo´-in en´-do-ma mâk´-kwin-ĕn´-do-ma´.
     I give you medicine, and a lodge, also.
The Midē´, as the personator of Makwa´ Man´idō, is empowered to offer this privilege to the candidate.
O-wē´-nĕn bĕ-mī´-sĕt.
     I am flying into my lodge.
Represents the Thunder-Bird, a deity flying into the arch of the sky. The short lines denote the (so-called spirit lines) abode of spirits or Man´idōs.
Na-nī-ne kwe-wē´-an.
     The Spirit has dropped medicine from the sky where we can get it.
The line from the sky, diverging to various points, indicates that the sacred objects occur in scattered places.
Hē´-wōg, ē´, ē´.
     I have the medicine in my heart.
The singer’s body—i.e., heart—is filled with knowledge relating to sacred medicines from the earth.

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The Midē Wiwin or Grand Medicine Society, 1891

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