Ode'imini-giizis (Strawberry Moon; June 16), 2019
Teachings of the Eagle Feather, Part 17
"The Language of Our Hearts"
Grandfather eagle and the teaching of the heart
I quote: "This love (that lives in your spiritual heart) is actually part of you; it is always flowing through you (...) This is your deeper heart, your intuitive heart. It is the place where the higher mind, pure awareness, the subtler emotions, and your soul identity all come together and you connect to the universe, where presence and love are."
Anishinaabeg gete-ayaa'ag, the ancestors - who understood the power of self-Reflection and knew that to find Knowledge is to know Wisdom and that to know Love is to know the Universe -, passed on a similar aanike-gikinoo'amaadiwin (teaching). This aanike-gikinoo'amaadiwin was in turn passed on to them by Gimishoomisinaan Migizi, the white-headed eagle who lives in the East.
The power of unconditional love
Grandfather Migizi teaches us that only if we search deep inside of ourselves for love - which is of a wholly different nature than our usual ego-based love - we are able to truly and unconditionally love the Great Mystery, and love ourselves ... Consequently, it is through breathing and expressing our love for the Great Mystery of Life, and thus for ourselves, that we receive true, unconditional love by someone who happens to speak the same language and lives by the same aanike-gikinoo'amaadiwin - and, who, if we are lucky, crosses our path in the right place and at the right time.
When that happens, when we meet someone who equally understands and speaks and breathes Ode'imin, the Language of the Heart, then zaagi'iwewin, the love that we feel in our heart, turns into zaagi'idiwin (mutual love), and, eventually, in biiniminwenindiwin: love that is completely mutual, pure, and unconditional. This morning, even before I opened my eyes, I realized that may have met this person, only 5 days ago - yet I strongly feel that this biiniminwenindiwin is within reach ...
Illustration: One Body, One Spirit, mixed media by Moses Amik (Najekiaabe) (2002)
The most important language of all languages
Haw sa! If i learned one important akinoo'amaagewin (traditional Teaching) it would be that inde'mowin, the language of our heart, is the most important language of all languages. So let's not disagree with, or criticize, each other for our blood quantum or for not being fluent in the language or for not being knowledgeable in the ceremonial ways and procedures shall we? We all have different backgrounds and we are all unique when it comes to our abilities and limitations and gifts and talents. Let's instead work together to breathe life into gidizhide’wewininaanin, the language of our hearts. Ishkwaaj gakina-awiiya. In the end we are all related. It is like my artist friend Simone McLeod once said, "We are one big family of brothers and sisters and we are all equal like a great kinship. It is not until we become blinded by our own light that we set ourselves apart on an island other than Turtle Island."
The wedding rings and their symbolic meaning
The wedding rings, both featuring a stylized feather, one set with a diamond and the other with an amethyst, have a common theme: the spiritual notion of niibwawiwin (marriage). This, along with the theme of wiidige’iwewin (marriage ceremony), I symbolically linked to the ceremonial meaning of the sacred wampum¹ – called miigis or waa-miigisagoo² by the Anishinaabeg and onekoha by the Kanienkaha Haudenosaunee -, highly esteemed from of old as a sacred gift from the waves of Zhiiwitaagani-gichigami (the Atlantic Ocean).
Miigis and the eagle feather - gifts from Gichi-manidoo
These white gold eagle feather rings, created by hand in my studio, are a unique mixture of modern elegance and harmonic simplicity. The title of the wedding rings is Inde'inaanan Waaseyaawan, which literally means “Our Hearts Are Bright.”
The rings feature stylized feathers mounted with a diamond and an amethyst. The colors, the shape, and the asymmetric placement of the sparkling gems cradled in 14K yellow gold bezels create a touch of refinement and magic wonder; elements that I always seek to incorporate into my ring designs. The feathers are representations of Migizi, the white-headed (bald) eagle in full flight, whose mighty plumes in turn represent manidoo, the sacred spirit that lives in all living things. Migizi brings understanding of Gichi-manidoo, the Great Mystery of Life.
The stylized eagle feathers stand for communication with waawiyekamig (the cosmos) and the aadizookaanag (spirit grandfathers, muses) that inhabit it, and for the search for debwewin (thruth) in all things. The feathers of Migizi are believed to convey human thoughts and feelings and provide persons with an opportunity to speak directly to the spirits with debwe’endamowin (a straight mind) and biinide’ewin (a clean heart).
The brilliant fire of the diamond and the mysterious glow of the amethyst – both stones positioned asymmetrically (mounted off-center) on the eagle feathers of both rings – are references to the shells of miigis: white and purple beads made from North Atlantic coast shells. Revered by the gete-ayaa’ag from the eastern seaboard, and still held in high esteem today, the purple and white shell of the northern quahog clam and the whelk mollusk is a defining cultural, spiritual, and artistical icon for the coastal peoples of Waabanaki, the ancient Dawn Land - particularly in what is now eastern Long Island and southern New England -, from whom the modern-day Gichigami-Anishinaabeg (Great Lakes Anishinaabeg) descend. Wampum was highly sought as a trade good among the Iroquioan and Algonquian Peoples throughout the Eastern Woodlands, including the Anishinaabeg from Gichigamiin (Great Lakes region).
A connection with the water and the role of miigis in marriage ceremony
Throughout time, because of its prominence as tender for payment in the period following European contact, “wampum” has become synonymous with currency and trade. As for the major pre-colonial use of the beads, however, it had a deeply spiritual meaning as wampum was considered a sacred gift from Gichi-manidoo, the Great Mystery of Life. Even when wampum was used as a trade item or currency it was done in a ceremonial context; not least because of the association miigisag (seashells) have with nibi (water) and its life-giving properties. The white gold feather symbols of the rings, then – because of the spiritual nature of eagle feathers -, refer to the unique and important role that the purple-and-white shells play since time immemorial with the Eastern Woodland Peoples of Turtle Island.
Above image: a purple/white quahog shell
Rites of passage and marriage ceremony
Strings of miigis beads were used for storytelling, ceremonial gifts, to propose marriage, and recording important treaties and historical events. Plates and bowls and ceremonial regalia were made of miigis and also jewelry, of which the miigisiyesimiig (breastplate of miigis) was the most spectacular example. Some of the miigis jewelry played a role in several physical and social “rites of passage,” denoting that a person had undergone a transformation in their lives – such as reaching adulthood or getting married.
Among the Algonquian speaking Peoples, miigisapiganan (belts) were traditionally offered to the parents of an oshki-ikwezens (virgin) by the family of a potential marriage partner; if accepted, this meant that the parents of the girl found her suitor suitable, and well able to care for their daughter. To mark the ceremony a simple exchange of jewelry, such as bracelets, took place. An Elder would then place the hand of the oshki-ikwezens into that of the waadiged inini (husband), and the marriage was sealed.
Clarity and solemnity
Traditionally, the shells of the pale hue of the waa-miigisagoo are emblematic of clarity and peace, while those of the darker hue represent darkness, solemnity, and, possibly, war. Among the Haudenosaunee, “Onekorha” is central to establishing and renewing peace between clans and families.
Among both Haudenosaunee and Anishinaabeg, the onekorha/waa-miigisagoo is used to lend authority and solemnity to a myriad of spiritual ceremonies. Besides playing an important role in marriage and countless other ceremonies, miigis was used in the mnemonic (memory-aiding) record-keeping of the Midewiwin; these waabamaabeeyag were historical records whose symbols reminded the speaker of everything that was important to the Anishinaabe Peoples: their stories, ideas, beliefs, codes, rituals and the succession of events in their history, and everything that relates to the People's existence on Aki (Earth).
Above image: Friendship belt of Quahog clam shell beads (purple miigis) and whelk shell beads (white miigis) commissioned by the Zhaaganashag (British) and presented to an Ojibwe Anishinaabe ogimaa (chief) in Canada in 1807.
The great love that lives in our hearts...
The sparkling fire of the white diamond featuring the eagle feather ring to the left is symbolic of the white beads of the waa-miigisagoo. The gem’s unrivaled white brilliance represents light and clarity and purity of the heart. It is the ultimate epitome of waanagiwide’ewin, the spirit of peace that permeates the hearts of two life partners who both equally understand and speak and breathe Ode'imin, the Language of the Heart.
The intense violet of the amethyst stone mounted on the ring to the right, which reminds us of the purple beads of the waa-miigisagoo, reflects and emphasizes giikaadiziwin, the dignified and serious nature of niibawiwin (marriage). In addition, the mysterious glow of the purple stone refers to unconditional love for the Great Mystery and epitomizes the fire that, bright like the color of baasibagak (prairie clover), burns simultaneously in the hearts of two wiijiiwaanag (partners for life).
The gemstone is a powerful and solemn reminder of our ability and responsibility to get in touch with Gichi-manidoo and the benevolent aadizookaanag that dwell in the four corners of the universe - and thus with gichi-zaagi’idiwin: the great love that lives within ourselves…
Mii sa ekoozid. Miigwech gibizindaw noongom mii dash gidibaajimotoon wa’aw dibaajimowin. And that is the end. Thank you for listening to me today, for allowing me to relate to you this story. Giga-waabamin wayiiba, I hope to see you again soon.
Aambe mino bimaadizidaa! Let's live well! Migwechiwendandaa akina gegoo ahaw! Let's be thankful for everything!
¹ Wampum, originally wampampeak [wom-puh m-peeg] or wάpαpəyak: a word used by the Wampanoag and Waabanakiig Peoples of the North Atlantic meaning a string of white shell beads.
² Miigis, or waa-miigisagoo: Ojibwe words for wampum/wampampeak.
About the author/artist and his design inspiration
Zhaawano Giizhik, an American currently living in Amsterdam in the Netherlands, was born in 1959 in North Carolina, USA. Zhaawano has Anishinaabe blood running through his veins; the doodem of his ancestors from Baawitigong (Sault Ste. Marie, Upper Michigan) is Waabizheshi, Marten.
As a second- generation Woodland artist who writes stories and creates graphic art and jewelry designs, Zhaawano draws on the oral and pictorial traditions of his ancestors. 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 MAZINAAJIMOWINAN 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.
The way Zhaawano understands it, it is in these sacred places invisible to the ordinary, waking eye that his design and storyteller's inspiration originate from.