Teachings of the Eagle Feather, Part 5
Odemiini-giizis (Strawberry Moon) June 28, 2019
Another eagle feather teaching story - told by Zhaawano Giizhik and conceived in a spirit of romance...
Welcome back in My Storyteller Lodge...
Boozhoo! Biindigamig miinawaa nindaadizooke-wigamigonaan; enji-zaagi'iding miinawaa gikendaasong.
Hello! Welcome back in My Storytelling Lodge, a place of Love and Knowing.
Today I am happy to introduce part 5 of a blog series, connecting my eagle feather jewelry designs (as well as stunning artwork by other artists) with the Seven Grandfather teachings of the Anishinaabe Peoples.
Wedding rings: 14K white gold, 2.5x2.5 mm VVS Princess-cut white diamond set in 14K palladium white gold bezel, 6x3 mm marquise-cut red ruby set in a 14K yellow gold bezel.
The late Carl Ray (1943-1978), a Canadian Woodland artist from Sandy Lake Reserve in Ontario and a first generation Medicine Painter of Anishinini-Woodland Cree descent, is definitely one of the greatest Medicine Painters of our time. His unique and unparalleled work depicted Cree and Anishinaabe ceremonies and beliefs that continued, through legend and storytelling, to maintain a strong hold on his community.
Norval Morrisseau (1932-2007) was an Ojibwe Anishinaabe artist from Northern Ontario, Canada, who is alternally labelled as "father of the Woodland Art" and "Picasso of the North." His true name (spirit name) is Miskwaabik Animikii, which means "Copper Thunderbird" in the language of his People. Miskwaabik Animikii, a first generation Medicine Painter, was the first to defy cultural restrictions by taking the oral traditions and sacred pictography of the Ojibwe-Midewiwin belief system outside Native communities in Canada. Miskwaabik Animikii was the trailblazer of the Native Woodland Art School as we know it today.
Our Traditional Ways of Life
The story I'm about to tell today is a story of a sacred, healing nature, yet provided within a romantic context - my friendship with someone from the Land Where the Spirit Sits (Manitoba) and with whom I feel a special connection; the moment we started talking I instinctively knew that this person is a "dreamer" like me.
Loosely based on an age-old ceremony called Sky Dreaming, the story finds its expression in this handcrafted set of wedding rings featuring eagle feathers of white gold; one ring is mounted with a Princess-cut white diamond while the other shows an elegant, faceted red ruby cut in a marquise variation. The rings’ eagle feathers and the precious stones hold a meaning that draws on the age-old spiritual belief system of our ancestors, the Anishinaabeg of the northern Great Lakes.
As a jewelry designer and a writer, I consider myself to be a contemporary artist inspired by the past. I look to traditional Anishinaabe symbols as a foundation of my jewelry designs, digital art, and writings. By using "spirit memory," the remembrance of ancestral knowledge, I seek to re-introduce through my work the ancient world view of my Anishinaabe ancestors and channel it into the contemporary consciousness.
As a result, I seek to find ways within my art and writings to render the ways of my ancestors into a contemporary imagery, to translate it into the language of today.
The design of these rings, therefore, seeks to be contemporary, or modern if you will, yet with a symbolic meaning reflecting an all-embracing, quintessentially Anishinaabe, concept.
This concept, which has been kept safely for many hundreds, if not thousands of years in the caches of the MIDEWIWIN, is called ANISHINAABE IZHITWAAWIN. It roughly translates as "our tradition," or "our ways of life."
Eight guiding principles
As I see it, the concept of Anishinaabe Izhitwaawin implies a set of eight important interconnected ideas and guiding principles that make up the framework of Anishinaabe izhinamowin (worldview) and ensure the continuation of Anishinaabe bimaadiziwin (way of life):
- mino-bimaadiziwin = learning how to live a good and honest life by following niizhwaaswi gagiikwewinan, the teachings of the Seven Grandfathers;
- minjimendaamowinon = remembering our doodem (clan) relations;
- zaagi'idiwin idash binzibiiwin = love/intimacy and companionship;
- besho-enawemad = literally: closely related; I use this expression to denote a reciprical connectedness with our environment, a continuous social interaction with all living beings within the wholeness of a place;
- wiidookodaadiwin = literally: mutual association, the acknowledgment of a moral responsibility for the well-being of all of our all relatives;
- ashkaakamigokwe-gikendaasowin = acknowledging the need to know the earth/the land/ecological knowledge;
- Anishinaabemowin-gikendaasowin = acknowledging in the Ojibwe language the importance of our relationship with the earth and with all other relatives; and
- manidoo-waabiwin = seeing in a spiritual way; a dream vision.
Seen in the above context, the shape of the white gold feathers adorning the rings suggest "movement" and "flight." Within the same context, the feathers symbolize something that could be called ninjichaag bimisewin or "Spirit Flight": the spiritual journeys the human mind is capable of.
Spirit Flight is a special and often elusive dimension in our existence, and in the old days the Anishinaabeg used to put it into practice through a variety of ritual means.
One of these means was the ceremony of GIIZHIG-INAABANDAMOWIN or "sky dreaming."
A Spirit of Romance
At this point, since I am in love with someone who recently crossed my path, and since a set of wedding rings was chosen to convey the idea of Spirit Flight, I take the artistic liberty to explain the ceremony of Sky Dreaming in the spirit of romance.
Thus, by giving the story a slight metaphorical twist, the act of Sky Dreaming, instead of a journey undertaken alone, becomes a journey shared by two individuals, two lovers, their spirits merging as one soul.
The ritualistic concept of Spirit Flight and the concepts of besho-enamewad and wiidookodaadiwin are thus offered in a romantic setting, as if seen through the eyes of two Sky Dreamers; two eagle companions spreading their wings, embarking together on a spiritual journey that will lead them to a place of shared visions and lightness.
Soar like the Eagle
The story of these rings is about two lovers, walking on the road of consciousness and sharing a dream vision of flight.
The stylized tail feathers of Migizi, the bald eagle, transport to the skies the prayers of the couple dreaming and singing together, eagle fan in one hand, tortoise rattle in the other. The eagle feathers and the rhythmic sound of the rattle carry their jichaag (spirit) upward, soaring and circling in a sacred blessing and accompanied by the smoke of asemaa and wafts of cedar, sage, and sweet-grass, upward through space and time, crossing freely from the past to present and moving into the future, upward beyond moon and sun and even beyond the stars of jiibay-miikana (cheepahi meskanaw in Cree), the trail of souls of the deceased and the migrating summer birds - also called binesiwi-miikana, the Thunderbird trail (the Milky Way).
Giiwitaa-giizhigong bimaashiyen dibishkoo migiziwag.
"All Around The Sky We Are Soaring like the Eagles."
Here, into enji-zaagi'iding miinawaa gikendaasong, a place of Love and Knowing inhabited by a myriad of sky spirits living in wiigiwaaman of rainbow and stars, the dreams and prayers of the Sky Dreamers blend together in a harmonic chorus, the spirit of Love and Understanding defining their beings. Here, their voices reconnect with Creation. The Sky Dreamers sing in unison, their voices mingling with the voices of the sky spirits:
Giga gikinoowezhigoog anangoog.
Giga noondagoog anangoog.
Gaagige ninga debidaagooz.
"I can see the other side of the stars,
the stars will guide you.
I can hear the other side of the stars,
the stars will hear you.
Timeless are our voices.” *
In this place high above the sun and the moon and the stars, the two lovers experience the essence of, what we like to call, ajiwekamig bezhigwendamowin: the unity and conformity of universal thoughts and knowledge.
Stones of the Sweat Lodge
The sparkling red ruby, cut in a shape that suggests movement and growth (see the ring shown to the right), symbolizes the fire that heats the madoodoowasiniig (stones of a purification lodge) in which the couple prepare themselves for the ceremony of Sky Dreaming in order to re-purify themselves.
The grandfathers and spirit-helpers are awakened in the stones by heating them in a sacred fire until red-hot.
A madoodiswan or madoodoowigamig (commonly called "sweat lodge") is a domed-shaped and circular structure built low to the ground. Symbolizing the womb of Mother Earth, a madoodoowigamig is a place of purification and refuge and healing but also a sacred place to get answers and guidance by praying to the Aadizookanaag, to the Bawaaganag, to the personal doodem (clan) helpers, to Gichi-manidoo, and to Nimaamaa-aki (Mother Earth herself).
As the Grandfather stones glow inside the fire pit the midewewe'igan (Sacred Water Drum) sounds and calls forth the Aadizookaanag and the Four Directions. At this point the participants pour water on the stones and keep pouring until he they are told by the spirits to stop, and, in the steaming hot vapor released by the stones, begin their prayers, songs, and chants in petition of purification and guidance.
The white diamond mounted on the eagle feather of the ring shown to the left symbolizes GICHI-MANIDOO: the sum of all Mystery. The brilliance and fire of the stone refer to the glowing splendor of the stars, the celestial bodies of the upper sky, which our ancestors associated with physical and symbolic light, and with enlightenment and wisdom. The transparency of the stone, therefore, represents the deep and all-comprehensive consciousness and sudden understanding that befall on the couple once their spirits have reached that sacred realm behind the stars.
Our ancestors called this phenomenon, this pure consciousness in which human experience and perception are revealed simultaneously in a dimension of timelessness, MAADZEWIN: essence of experience.
A Sacred Place
The purpose of Sky Dreaming as symbolized in the wedding rings is twofold. As if the couple were a pair of soaring eagles, sky dreaming allows their spirits to take flight and reach waaseyaabindamowin (enlightenment and higher levels of consciousness); it also enables them to see from high above the sacred path they walk on earth. It is from this sacred place that gidakiiminaan, the relationship and the moral responsibility they have to the earth and a correlation with other humans and the other beings of the Universe including plants, animals, natural phenomena, and the aadizookaanag, becomes clear through their inendamowin (the mind), wiiyaw (the body), ojijaag (the soul/spirit), and ode'imaan (the heart).
From up above, the Sky Dreamers see themselves and each other and their relatives clearly and the Earth beneath them as sacred and alive. They know that a new life will begin at sunrise. As they travel together they will continue to grow on that long and winding path of self-discovery and establish a lasting relationship with all relatives who dwell on and above and below and beyond the earth, acknowledging their moral responsibility for the well-being of the seven generations to come. On a personal level, they will live with integrity and self-discipline and humbly, without pretense. They will succeed in any goal they set for themselves and overcome life’s obstacles as best as they can.
Before they met they both experienced many hardships and overcame many obstacles in their past lives. Although determined now to find happiness and knowing the Grandfathers are smiling on them, they also realize they face the possibility of more hard days to come, and they will remember that they are Sky Dreamers…
Mii sa ekoozid. Miigwech gibizindaw noongom mii dash gidibaajimotoon wa’aw zaagi’iwewi-aadizookaan. And that is the end of the story. Thank you for listening to me today, for allowing me to relate to you this sacred love story. Giga-waabamin wayiiba, I hope to see you again soon.
Migwechewendan akina gegoo ahaw! Be thankful for everything!
A petition to Gichi-manidoo
Gichi-manido wiidookawishin ji-mashkawiziyaan
Great Mystery help me to be strong
Mii dash bami'idiziyaan
So that I can help myself
Show us all love
Ganoozh ishinaam, bizindaw ishinaam
Talk to us, hear us
That is why I am singing
Nimishoomis wiidookawishinaam ji-aabajitooyaang anishinaabe izhitwaawin
My grandfather help us to use the Native customs/ways
mii-ji-bi-gikendamaan keyaa anishinaabe bimaadiziwin
So that we'll know how to live the Native way (the good life).
The meaning of the purification lodge explained by Ayisini Elder Asin (Vern Harper)
* Source: Ojibway Ceremonies by Basil Johnston, p. 51, First Bison Book printing 1990. University of Nebraska Press.
Artwork: Carl Ray : Thunder Man, acrylic on canvas, date unknown
Norval Morrisseau : The Dreamer, acrylic (1999)
A glossary of Ojibwe words
Aadizookaan (plural: aadizookaanag) = a grandfather of an other-than-human category, a supernatural shape shifter; a muse or metaphysical manifestation of the traditional teachings; a spirit helper that dwells in the Four Corners of the Universe. Traditionally, during the long winter nights, aadizookaanag play the roles of protagonists in the aadizookaanan (sacred stories); each aadizookaan fulfills his unique role in these allegorical stories that are told by the aadizoogewininiwag and aadizoogekwewag (male and female story tellers).
Aadizookaan (plural: aadizookaanan) = a sacred storyor traditional teaching with a strong allegorical dimension. When telling an aadizookaan, the storyteller is assisted by the aadizookanag, the supernatural protagonists of the story.
Aaniin = hi! (greeting)
Aki = the earth; the land; the world
Anang (plural anangoog, anangwan) = a star
Anishinaabe (plural: Anishinaabeg) = the Native ancestors of the author
Anishinaabemowin = the Ojibwe language
Asemaa = the sacred tobacco
Ashkaakamigokwe gikendaasowin = ecological knowledge
Aazhawi-anangoong = on the other side of the stars
Bawaagan (plural: bawaaganag): a spirit animal acting as a guardian spirit and helper throughout a person's life; a benevolent ancestor/aadizookaan appearing in a dream or during a vision quest helping the dreamer, through dream revelations, to accomplish things he or she could never do without assistance; a pipe for smoking.
Besho-enawemad = closely related
Bezhig wendamowin = unity of thought
Bimaadiziwin = life; conduct for living
Bindigen = welcome!
Binesiwi-miikana = Thunderbird Trail (which is travelled by the spirits of the deceased as well as by migrating summer birds; the Milky Way)
Binzibiiwin = companionship
Doodem (plural: doomemag) = the stem of a word meaning 'totemic clan'; an emblem, symbolized by an animal or an underwater spirit creature, representing one's totemic clan. Indoodem or nindoodem means my totemic clan; gidoodem means your totemic clan; odoodeman mans his/her totemic clan.
Gaagige = timeless, forever
Gichi-manidoo = Great Mystery, the sum of all mystery; Great Source of energy
Gidakiiminaan = our relationship to the earth and all living things
Giiwenh = so the story goes
Giiwitaa-giizhigong = all around the sky
Giizhig- inaabandamowin = Sky Dreaming Ceremony
Idash = and; also
Inendamowin = the mind
Ishinamowin (or izhinamowin = dream; vision; a comprehensive world view
Izhitwaawin = our traditional way of life
Jiibay-miikana = the trail of souls, which is travelled by the spirits of the deceased (the Milky Way)
Maadzewin = the essence of experience
Madoodiswan = a purification lodge (sweat lodge)
Madoodoowigamig = a purification lodge (sweat lodge)
Madoodoowasin (plural: madoodoowasiniig) = a purification lodge grandfather stone
Manidoo = mystery, a being with spiritual power, anything spiritual
Manidoo-waabiwin = a spiritual outlook on life
Midewewe'igan = the sacred grandfather drum of the Midewiwin lodge
Midewiwin = Society of Those Who Are in a Sacred and Unseen State: an age-old animistic-medicinal institution conserving the concept of mino-bimaadiziwn, a set of seven grandfather teachings on human conduct and a spiritual way for living. Its principal focus is recovering and keeping alive the seven mide-wiigwaasan (birch bark scrolls used for ritual purposes) and their gagiikwewinan (teachings). These complex writings also include astronomy, mapping, information about the clan system and family lineage, and up to 1000-year-old migration routes.
Migizi (plural: migiziwag) = the bald eagle, spirit of the bald eagle, doodem (clan) of the bald eagle
Minjimendaamowinon = remembering your doodem (clan) relations
Miigwech = thank you!
Migwechewendan = be grateful!
Mino-bimaadiziwin = good life; conduct for living an honest life
Nimaamaa-aki = our Mother Earth
Ninjichaag bimisewin = my spirit taking flight, spirit flight
Niizhwaaswi gagiikwewinan = seven sacred teachings, a message of values and hope imparted on the Anishinaabeg by Seven Mystery Beings (Grandfathers) in the beginning of times; a set of seven teachings on human conduct and a spiritual way for living.
Ode'imaan = the heart
Odoodeman = see: Doodem
Ojibwe (plural: Ojibweg) = the Native ancestors of the author inhabiting the North American Great Lakes area; also called Anishinaabee, plural Anishinaabeg.
Ojijaag (plural: ojijaagwag) = the soul or the spirit of a living entity
Waaseyaabindamowin = a life guarding vision, a spirit quest
Waawiyekamig = all over the world, the Universe
Wiigiwaam (plural: wiigiwaaman) = wigwam; lodge; house
Wiiyaw = the body
Wiidookodaadiwin = mutual help, partnership
Zaagi'idiwin = (mutual) love
About the author/artist and his design 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; 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 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.
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.
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