Manidoo-giizisoons (December 17), 2016
Teachings of the Eagle Feather, Part 12
"Fill our Spirits with Goodness"
The Circle and the Four Directions
"The circle is central to our tradition. The Creator sits in the East. Yellow is the colour for that direction; the sacred herb is tobacco; the animal is the eagle. Red is the colour of the South which is the place of all young life, of the little animals; the sacred plant is cedar. The West is the place of life; its colour is black and the sacred medicine is sage. All the healing powers come from the North; its colour is white; sweetgrass comes from there; and that is where the sacred bear sits.”
- Leland Bell (Bebaminojmat/He Who Goes Around Talking Of Good Things)
Let us weave a sacred story: a special prayer to the North
Migizi, the White-headed Eagle
Today I will, again, share with you a sacred story woven around one of my sets of eagle feather rings. In addition, the story, part 12 in the series already, features images of acrylic canvases by three of my most favorite Anishinaabe Woodland artists. There is my ex partner Simone McLeod/Aki-egwaniizid who always paints with her heart, her colorful and passionate works possessing an unmatched visual and spiritual appeal and – sorry Simone, I know you hate this word – authenticity. Then there is the unequaled painter from Manitoulin Island, Leland Bell/Bebaminojmat, whose iconic canvases, and the stylized, Midewiwin-infused serenity they breathe, I have been admiring for many years. And, of course, my great inspirator to whom I am greatly indebted because he made me decide more than 30 years ago to follow the spiritual path as an artist: the Grandfather of the Native Woodland Art, the late Norval Morrisseau/Miskwaabik Animikii. If you like to know more about Norval, a few years ago I dedicated three blog stories to him and to the art school that he founded; please click here.
Now, let me tell you a little bit about today's blog story. Like many stories that I have been sharing in the past, the story of these rings and the paintings that feature today’s blog story has been told by countless storytellers who came before me. Although the subject matter of my tales is quintessentially “Anishinaabe” (as it is deeply rooted in the collective memory and cultural consciousness of my People), I nevertheless hope that my narratives - as I am an artist and a writer who always tries to touch everyday lives and relationships through his work -, also tell a story that is universally understood to us all, no matter our beliefs or where we come from.
The color and the shape of this particular set of two-tone, white and yellow, gold eagle feather wedding rings that I introduce in this blog story symbolize a special prayer to Giiwedin, the Spirit of the North. I like to think the rings are a living prayer to aya'aabitameg giiwedinoong, the benevolent spirits that dwell in the cold domain of biboon, the winter.
MIGIZI, the white-headed eagle, has always been regarded by the Ojibwe Anishinaabe People as a mediator between Earth and Sky and a living Prayer to the Great Mystery. Migizi, to me, is therefore the ultimate embodiment, and his feathers a powerful reminder, of our responsibility to live in balance with natural law and in cooperation with all life forms.
To live a good and upright way of life
I titled the rings mino-inaadiziwin. Literally meaning “a good, or upright way of life”, this name is inspired on an old ritual invocation of the aadizookaanag (spirits of the Universe) uttered with magical intonation and intent by members of the Midewiwin, the Grand Medicine Lodge of the Anishinaabe Peoples. Rattling their turtle-shell cymbals and chanting the ancient song, the Mide Healers, as they walk four times around the Ceremonial Lodge, request the spirit-grandfathers that dwell in all four corners of the earth to fill their hearts and minds with goodness so that they may lead upright lives; it is a ritual plea for spiritual help, to grant the singers with powers that they use for healing purposes, and, more in general, a passionate appeal to bestow blessings, goodwill, and fortitude on the People as a whole.
"Fill Our Hearts With Goodness
So That We May Live Upright Lives."
Acrylic painting by Leland Bell of grandfathers standing in the snow; title unknown.
Eagle feathers carrying prayers to the North and a special blessing to a married couple
The stylized, yellow gold eagle feathers mounted on ring shanks of white gold symbolize spirit, and prayer. They represent, in particular, a special blessing to two companions travelling the Road Of Life; similar to the blessings that the Sun and the Thunderbirds, two “grandfathers” whose appearances and medicine powers are connected with spring, summer, and the south, bestow on nature during the warm moons of the year.
The eagle feather of the ladies’ ring is provided with a distinct counterpoint: a marquise-cut blue sapphire, placed asymmetrically in the side of the eagle feather. The sparkling gemstone, which protrudes somewhat slantwise from the feather, seems to point at Giiwedin, the north, which, as mentioned before, is the cold domain where wise spirit-grandfathers reside.
The twisted wire adorning the feathers represent braids of Wiingashk (northern sweetgrass), which the Anishinaabeg regard as a sacred plant that symbolizes the hair of Mother Earth and the northern direction; it is traditionally used in prayer and for smudging in purifying ceremonies by all the Original Peoples of Turtle Island.
Giiwedin, the northern direction, being an essential part of Life’s Circle, symbolizes the kind of wisdom that can be found with the Elderly persons, who traditionally are the wisdom keepers and the spiritual and ceremonial backbones of our communities. The North, which is known to give answers through dreams, represents both dibikak the night (particularly giizhigaate, midnight) and biboon the winter - whose nature can be as capricious and unpredictable as dreams.
A place of self-reflection and healing
But Giiwedin is not just a place of cold, sickness and death; good things come from the North too! It is also a place of remembrance and rest, of self-reflection and honoring the gichi-ayaag or Elders, the oshkaabewisag or pipe carriers, the keepers of the Lodges of the Midewiwin and Waabanoowiwin, and, of course, the ayaadizookedjig and debaajimoodjig, the traditional storytellers and chroniclers of our Nations. Giiwedin is a time of looking back and passing on one's life experience onto the younger generations in a good way.
Giiwedin, in short, is not just a place of suffering but also a place of healing, and a time of spirituality and purity…
Giiwenh. So the story goes. Miigwech gibizindaw noongom mii dash gidaadizookoon. Thank you for listening to me today. Giga-waabamin wayiiba, I hope to see you again soon.
*Leland Bell is an Anishinaabe painter from Wikwemikong Unceded First Nation, Manitoulin Island, Ontario.
About the author/artist and his inspiration
Zhaawano Giizhik, an American currently living in the Netherlands, was born in 1959 in North Carolina, USA. Zhaawano has Anishinaabe blood running through his veins; his ancestors were from Baawitigong (Sault Ste. Marie, Upper Michigan) and his doodem is Waabizheshi, Marten. As an artist and a writer and a jewelry designer, Zhaawano draws on the oral and pictorial traditions of the Anishinaabeg. For this he calls on his manidoo-minjimandamowin, or 'Spirit Memory'; which means he tries to remember the knowledge and the lessons of his ancestors. In doing so he sometimes works together with kindred artists.
To Zhaawano's ancestors the MAZINAAJIMOWIN or ‘pictorial spirit writings’ - which are rich with symbolism and have been painted throughout history on rocks and etched on other sacred items such as copper and slate, birch bark and animal hide - were a form of spiritual as well as educational communication that gave structure and meaning to the cosmos that they felt they were an integral part of.
Many of these sacred pictographs or petroforms – some of which are many, many generations old - hide in sacred locations where the manidoog (spirits) reside, particularly in those mystic places near the lake's coastlines where the sky, the earth, the water, the underground and the underwater meet. As Zhaawano understands it, it is in these sacred places invisible to the ordinary, waking eye that his design and storyteller's inspiration originate from.
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