Star Stories, part 2: "The Power of Dreaming"
Binaakwii-giizis (October 1), 2016
“No man begins to be until he has seen his vision.” (Anishinaabe motto )*
“A very great vision is needed and the man who has it must follow it as the eagle seeks the deepest blue of the sky.”
- Tashunka Witko (Crazy Horse)
“I see you dancing
one with time endless
bright lights in the sky
what a beautiful sight.
To sit here with you
if only for a while
not touching but knowing
we are one with the stars...”
- Two verses from the poem 'The Fire Within' by Simone McLeod.
Sky Dreamers: A sacred love story of human and celestial connections
Boozhoo! Hello! Biindigen, welcome to our new blog story!
I am Zhaawano Giizhik. By way of a blog series called "STAR STORIES," accompanied by my jewelry designs and works of art by kindred artists, I pay hommage to the ancient star knowledge of my Anishinaabe ancestors. Today's story is the second in the series.
It’s a collection of metaphorical stories written and provided with jewelry images and illustrations of paintings and drawings by my hands and by those of kindred artists. These stories, which have multiple subtexts generating and unfolding multiple layers of meanings, are based on anang aadizookaanan (traditional star stories) of our People, the Ojibweg/Anishinaabeg of gaa-zaaga'iganikaag, the land of many lakes - the Great Lakes area of Mikinaakominis (Turtle Island; North America). The narratives are of a sacred, healing nature and told within a romantic context, their allegorical themes often provided with a personal touch.
The following tale is basically a love story that has embedded in it some autobiographical elements. As such, I could as well have presented the narrative as part of my blog series "Love Stories From the Land of Many Lakes" but I chose to publish it as a Star Story because it is two of our People's most beloved stars that play a prominent role, if not the central theme, in it.
Today's tale is narrated in the form of, what I would call, an iganaak dibaajimowin (frame story): in this case an aadizookaan, or metaphoric tale of a traditional, sacred nature placed within a larger story (dibaajimowin) about the meaning of dreams and visions accompanied by some of our works of art. This aadizookaan embedded in the main story is composed of elements borrowed from several different aadizookaanan that have been passed on by many generations of storytellers of our People as well as of the Waabanakiig (our elder brothers to the East, the Abenaki) and the Ayaaj-ininiwag - our cousins from the high plains in the West (the Niitsitapi Blackfoot Nation).
The story within a story that I will relate today is – again - about the deep love that a young man feels for a girl and whom he – this time – meets in a star lodge high up in the skies. The protagonist of the story acknowledges and understands that the Grandfathers made it possible for them to meet in a sacred place that is blessed twice a night - each nightfall and the following dawn - by the magic light of giizhig-anang, the Day Star - called Venus by most non-aboriginal people -, which is why he, when he loses track of her in the sky world and once returned to earth, literally moves heaven and earth to find her again.
The tale I relate today, therefore, not only becomes a teaching story, told from the perspective of the male narrator, about two people/artists who meet after following their dream and letting their spirits fly, but also about the necessity to continuously tend, and invest prudently in, the friendship that they found in the star world and that lay at the base of their mutual love on earth...
Enh geget, the story I share with you today is a sacred story of human and celestial connections, about love, courage, hope, and purity of heart. At the same time I am aware that, tragically, the star knowledge of the Old Ones is disappearing fast as our Elders pass.
Fortunately, however, there will always be Love Stories...
Four canvases and two jewelry sets
Today's blog post, the second in the series, features a set of bicolor gold eagle feather rings and a gold and silver set consisting of a bolo tie and a matching ring. The designs, colors, as well as subject matter of these pieces that I crafted some time ago are inspired by four beautiful acrylic paintings titled Sky Dreamers, Respect and Love, and Storykeepers, which my artistic partner Simone McLeod painted in, respectively, 2013 and 2015; the third painting, Storykeepers, is an acrylic painting that Simone started in 2015 and to which I added some elements through digital manipulation; the fourth painting, a beautiful purple acrylic on water color paper created the same year depicting a love couple, is titled Dream Love.
Also, other canvases come into in mind that are in perfect synch with the subject matter of this blog story, painted by some of our all-time favorite artists: one by the late Daphne Odjig, an Anishinaabe artist from Wikwemikong Manitoulin Island Unceded Reserve, the driving force behind the Indian Group of Seven and often called the grandmother of the Native Woodland Art - and whom we honor today because she went on her last journey a few weeks ago -; one acrylic canvas painted by Wikwemikong's master painter Bebaninojmat (Leland Bell); and, last but not least, two canvases painted by our dear friend for life, Thunder Bay-based Anishinaabe Medicine painter Moses Amik, who grew up on the fly-in reserve of Niibinamikong, Ontario. Images of four paintings done by these outstanding artist were included in the blog story.
Now, before we get into the topic of Simone’s paintings and the jewelry sets that I created and what they represent, let us first tell you something about the cultural background of Simone’s canvases, Sky Dreamers, Respect and Love, Dream Love and Storykeepers, whose themes cannot be viewed separately from the meaning of dreams and vision-seeking in the greater spiritual Anishinaabe tradition that Simone is a part of. As human beings and artists, she and I come from a tradition that tells us that it is through dreaming and seeking visions, and through expressing our dreams and visions through our art and telling stories, that we find direction and purpose and meaning and fulfillment as we walk our life paths.
To be able to understand the subject matter of Simone’s paintings and my jewelry, it is crucial to realize that Anishinaabe spirituality, contrary to the great world religions, has a strict individual character. This notion is expressed in Anishinaabe izhinawomin, the traditional worldview of the Anishinaabeg peoples. This worldview reflects the notion that the natural world is both complex and interdependent and that all peoples - the plants, trees, rocks, a myriad of other natural phenomena (celestial bodies, lakes, rivers, the winds, thunderstorms, and so on), the animals, the birds, the fish, and the spirits included -, are an integral part of it. An Anishinaabe person will find protection in the course of his life by following Anishinaabe mino-miikana, the Good Native Road, through the sacred songs and medicinal formulas of the Midewiwin and the Waabanoowiwin or through personal objects such as amulets and medicine bundles – as well as through dreams and seeking visions that evoke special spiritual powers.
The Midewiwin and its counterpart, the Waabanoowiwin, are Medicine Lodges in which only those who have good hearts and exceptional spirit powers coupled with a high moral code reside.
A dream-conscious People
It is no secret that the Anishinaabeg have always been a dream-conscious People. In the old days of pre-contact, our children were not taught the subjects of reading, writing, arithmetic, science, and religion; instead, they went to school in stories and dreams. The power of dreams and life-guiding visions and sacred stories has always been evident in ordinary waking experiences as well as in the daily actions of the Anishinaabe, whether they are ogimaag (chiefs), mashkikiikewik-wewag and mashkikiiwininiwag (medicine women and men), Mideg/Waabanoog (members of one of both Medicine Lodges), gaayosedjig (hunters), ogichidaag (warriors), or just ordinary persons from all different walks of life. A good health and success in life and the ability to help others were not deemed achievable without dreams and the help and the cooperation and the blessings of the ancestors and the Aadizookaanag, the powerful Spirit Grandfathers who were also the protagonists of the sacred stories. Dreams and sacred stories – which were, usually in a ritual fashion, told by Elders in the winter evenings – have always been causally interconnected; the same Grandfathers who played a role in the sacred stories would, in the form of personal guardian spirits, appear in dreams at night – or, as we will see in the below story about the vision of the boy named Star Sinks In The Waters -, in the daytime, to those who sought a lige-guiding vision in remote places. Even today, Giizhig-inaabandamowinan (Sky dreaming) or seeking Waasayaabindamiwin (a Vision) are considered to be the primary means by which a healer (or an artist!) can enter into direct social interaction with the world of the ancestors and the spirits/grandfathers.
In the above context, it is not surprising that, since the persons or entities that appear during sleep present themselves in spirit, the essential self so to speak, bawaajiganan, or inaabandamowin (dreams received in sleep) are considered to have a higher degree of debwewin (truth) than things or persons or phenomena seen with the waking eye. These bawaaganag or dream visitors, as they are generally called, often appear in animal form. They are regarded as patrons, spiritual helpers if you will, who personally provide the dreamer with special blessings enabling him or her to exercise exceptional powers of various kinds. To be more precise, they bestow upon the dreamer or vision seeker control over some area of human experience that is of assistance to him/her in the daily round of life. Examples that spring to mind are the healing of ailments, or predicting the future, or encouraging the young to develop individuality and self-growth, or exercising good leadership, or being a good mother, or keeping family and community amply supplied with food and materials, or making beautiful or powerful works of art - or whatever special social skill is needed to help keeping intact the framework and well-being of Anishinaabe society.
Above illustration: 'The Apprentice,' acrylic on canvas by Moses Amik (2003)
The role of Spirit Flight in healing ceremonies
Spirit flight, alternately called ninjichaak-bimisewin or manidoo-aash, is a proven, powerful method used by jaasakiidjig, spiritual experts who commune with the Spirit World, to assist the process of healing of the sick. It is through spirit flight that one comes into direct communication with the Aadizookaanag, the Spirit Grandfathers and shape shifters who dwell the Skies and the four corners of the earth. The bawaaganag interact with the dreamer, and it is from them that the dreamer receives instructions, revelation, and blessings that will assist him or her in the daily round; or, in case the dreamer is a healer, or a hunter, or a warrior, help them to exercise powers needed to cure physical and/or mental illnesses, to have success in the hunt, or to succesfully defend their People or achieve victory in warfare.
Some jaasakidijig have been known to receive their power from the water, others from the wind or earth. A state of trance is reached where the spirit of the jaasakiid leaves the body, taking flight, and, as it circles in a blessing, no longer wiiyaw but ojichaag, it communes with the Sky Spirit Grandfathers – and, in some instances – as we will see in the below narrarive -, flies forth and explores distant places that lie behind the moon, the sun, yes, even beyond jiibay-miikana, the trail of souls (the Milky Way) where Sky Spirits are said to live in lodges made of stars and rainbows.
When such a jaasakiid, who is often a member of the Midewiwin, invokes the Sky Spirit Grandfathers in order to heal a patient, the success of the healing ritual will largely depend upon the integrity and the thoughts of those who are present at the ritual. If the ceremony is ritually well-prepared and all the conditions are right - and all attendants have good intentions and positive and clean and unselfish thoughts -, the voices of the Spirit Grandfathers that are being summoned will be heard, their presence shown by the shaking of the lodge or the tent in which the healing ritual takes place. The chants that these Shaking Tent Seers sing as they summon their muses and guardian spirits are often known to be heard in a language unintelligible by the attendants - a long forgotten, ritual language that only the Spirit Grandfathers that dwell the Skies are able to understand.
Above illustration: 'The Shaking Tent', acrylic on canvas by the late Daphne Odjig (1969)
Simone's painting 'Sky Dreamers': A story of Stars, Friendship, and Love
Simone’s painting, as will become clear in the below-told tale, depicts two spirits or children who have been companions (perhaps even lovers) for thousands of years and hundreds of new births. Always equal. Always searching upon arrival of each new world for the other. Once finding each other again, running, laughing, playing and learning together again. The painting is also about conflicts, finding balance, and learning acceptance. Acceptance of each new situation. Learning by learning how to find each other and walk whatever path chosen for them this life. It is about assisting them in the transition from one life stage to the next, with encouragement, purpose, and meaning.
The Elder in the painting who sits in the star lodge with his back to the viewer represents an Aadizookaanag, or Spirit Grandfather, a sacred entity who lives in stories and dreams. He is the Women’s Star, the Sky Grandfather who plays a role in the story about Simone’s painting that is introduced below in this blog post.
On both sides of the Elder Simone painted two spirits, in the form of two children who seem to look curiously through the walls of the sky lodge into a world where there is still so much to discover. These children, as we will see in the below story about the painting, are metaphors for artists. The Grandfather, whom Simone depicted as an Elder, has been watching both spirits, or children/artists, for many lifetimes and now this Elder teaches them and guides them to each other before it is too late. In this star lodge, this comfort zone high up in the skies, both children/artists can now sit together, they let their spirits fly. It is here, high up in the sky, where they will share grand tales and dreams, tell stories, and create great art together. These children? They are Simone and me. The idea behind the painting, and the sentiment that Simone put in the scenery of the painting, are to be seen in the context of this letting the spirit fly, colored by a personal dream experience that she had in her early youth – which she describes as follows:
"You were my best friend in the nursery. You were the boy I loved as a child. You are the man I walked beside as a woman. It is your face I will see before I take my last rest in this life and it will be your essence I first sense when I awaken again."
The Story of Gozaabii-anang and Little Morning Star
Wayeshkad (How it all began)
One day in the long ago, there lived in the center of Anishinaabe Aki, the land of the Ojibwe People, in a village at the foot of the rapids, a boy who went by the name of Gozaabii-anang (Star Sinks In The Water). He belonged to waabizheshi doodem, the Marten clan of his People. He had received his name shortly after birth because he was born on a day when, right after sunset, the Evening Star shone with an exceptional brightness just before it sank in the waters of the Great Sea in the west.
From his earliest youth Gozaabii-anang was observed to be introverted and pensive. He was well-known for his artistic nature and qualities and it escaped no one’s attention that he spent much time in solitude and fasting. Whenever he could leave his parents' wiigiwaam he would venture off - sometimes at night - to remote glades in the dense woods south from the rapids and falls, or sit upon some high bluff overlooking Baawaating (present-day St. Mary's River at Sault Ste. Marie). It was in such places that he seeked meaning and self-discovery by addressing the spirits of the Universe and by regularly invoking his bawaagan, or guardian spirit. More often than not he would feel the urge to use red ochre to paint in the presence of the spirits his dreams and visions on the rocks and cliff walls thar bordered the river.
One day in spring Gozaabii-anang undertook a makadekewin (vision quest) during which he fasted in solitude in the middle of the forest. Surrounded by tall cedar and spruce tree spirits he fasted until after four days and three nights he received his first life-guiding dream. Just after sunset on the fourth day - the sky was already covered by the blanket of dusk - the boy's spirit, which was still alive and vibrant even after the hardships of dehydration and food and sleep deprivation, perceived the tallest giizhikaandag (northern white cedar) he had ever seen that burst right out of the earth in front of him, and in front of his eyes it became a living ladder whose branches reached all the way into the sky-world. A big thundering whisper resonated in the air, Ishpiming inaabin Gozaabii-anang, “Look up into the Sky, Star Sinks In The Water!” Before Gozaabii-anang knew it his spirit lifted him up and made him climb high, guiding him even past the sun and the moon, past the Milky Way, and as his spirit was travelling a path that resembled the Milky Way the boy sang a magic song:
Nin debaab aazhawi-anangoong,
N’ga gikinoowezhigoog anangoog.
Nin debidan aazhawi-anangoong,
N’ga noondagoog anangoo,
Gaagige n’ga debitaagooz.
"I can see beyond the stars
The stars will guide me.
I can hear beyond the stars,
The stars will hear me,
My voice will sound freely in space.”
Acrylic 'Color of Sound' by Leland Bell
The boy, after a climb that could have lasted a few seconds, or minutes, or perhaps even one moon - for such is the immeasurable nature of non-linear time within dreams! -, found at the end of the starry path a beautiful land of sloping hills and vast lakes bathing in a soft pink light. Here, a sky spirit who had the body of a namegos (lake trout) covered with small thin scales that shone brightly like the evening star welcomed him and conducted him to the western end of an immense lake with the clearest and bluest water he had ever seen, and at its shore stood a madoodiswan (purification lodge) made of earth and stardust. The trout spirit with the shining body told him to undress and after having conducted the sweat ceremony and dressed in new clothes of the softest deer skin, his hair braided in long twin ropes that fell about his shoulders, the boy was led to a waaginogaan (domed lodge) that looked as if it were covered by shakes of giizhik (cedar wood) studded with uncountable shining stars. The strange namegos manidoo signaled the boy to enter the star lodge, and as he stepped inside he noticed right by the entrance a drum and set beside it was a midemiigis, a shining cowry shell, which he knew to symbolize the sun and long life and the virtue of selflessness. Then, as he looked farther inside the glittering ginogaawaan, Gozaabii-anang noticed a grandfather sitting in the back with very long hair the color of snow and dressed in a beautiful crimson red blanket. When he looked closer he noticed that the front of the blanket carried magic symbols of turquoise blue lakes and the sun and a big red star and a fire bright with flame. The garment, which was tightly woven with the aid of fine strands of asemaa (tobacco), giizhik (cedar), mashkodewashk (sage), and wiingashk (sweetgrass), along with the smoke from snipped leaves of giizhik, filled the waaginogaan with a sweet-scented, mystic mist the color of turquoise. The grandfather then spoke as follows:
"Aaniin, biindigen noozis (Hello, come in my grandchild). My name is Ikwe-anang, the Women's Star. I was born of the fire of the sun and the foam of the waters of the lakes that flow beneath the sky-world as they color red at sundown; for when I was conceived the west wind blew, and the waves of gichigami (the great lake) quickened into foam, and Giizis (the sun grandfather) and the moon and stars at night shone on the foam and warmed it, and the warmth made life, and that life is I."
After a thoughtful silence during which he appeared to be looking straight ahead into space, the old man with the snow-white hair took a few draws of his stone pipe and continued, "Inaa! See! I carry with me healing, wisdom, and love. I will give it to you if you will grant my wish and take my wisdom and love back home to your People. The women of your People, who as you know are the keepers of Gichi-Nibi, the sacred Water Circle, will love and honor me well for these gifts of life and water for they will understand that I am their protector and their guiding star into old age. I am but an old spirit but nevertheless swift of mind, and I summoned you in your dream to be nimizhinawe (my messenger) and to make it known to you that from now on I shall abide with you and be your teacher and helper during the long quest that you are about to undertake in search of love and knowledge and the gift of youth."
As soon as the grandfather-spirit who called himself Ikwe-anang had uttered these words the boy noticed a girl with long black curly hair who seemingly had sat in the shadows behind the Women’s Star Grandfather. As she smiled shyly she took her place beside the Grandfather and it was then that he noticed the girl looked at him with an open, inquisitive look in her dark eyes. She wore a blue dress on which he noticed streaks of red, green, and yellow paint. Then she spoke, in a clear voice in the language of his People:
Aaniin, Waabananangoons niin nindizhinikaaz, Anangoog-egwaniizid idash nindigo. Name niin nindoodem. Niin mazinibii’igekwe. Aki nindoonjii. Gi-zaagi’in idash bangii ningotaaj idash wiinge nindagaj noongom. Gaye dash nimino-ayaa aapichi gaye niminwendam eyaawaan omaa noongom.
This means, “hello, Little Morning Star is my name, I am also called by the name Star Blanket. Sturgeon is my clan. Like you, I am an artist and like you, I come from the place called Earth. I love you and I am a little afraid and very shy today. I am also very fine and I am happy to be here today.”
The girl remained still for a moment, then began to sing in a strangely enchanting voice that to the boy sounded as pure and clear as a fast-flowing mountain brook:
"I lay down against the black
waiting to drift into the light
of my deepest and sweetest dreams
My eyes had barely closed
to welcome the bliss of night when
I could feel his hands take mine
How this real world changed
as my lids fell so heavy against my cheeks
that I could hear them shut
As I opened them on the other side
it was like stepping into the universe
being drawn up by Star People
I saw him once before when so small
that my feet could barely take me
more than a few miles at a time
Always just above my real sight
until the darkness came this dream
before I awoke today
We travelled through them so vast
the constellations of stories past
I had been here before?
As my feet walked into this lodge
I closed my eyes and left again
Into the universe not for the first flight
That was taken when just a child
A hand taken to a place of freedom
Where no sounds or feelings could come
Where will I go tonight
When he comes
To take my hands..."**
Two acrylics on water color paper painted in 2015 by Simone McLeod: 'Respect and Love' (left) and 'Dream Love' (right).
Before Gozaabii-anang had a chance to respond he felt the girl’s hand in his, after which the Grandfather began to sound his hand drum and chant to him in a strange language that nevertheless, miraculously, sounded familiar in the ears of the boy whose name was Star Sinking In The Waters, and which in his own language would translate as follows:
Ninagam endazhi endani-dabayaan
Gaagige ninga dabitaagoz
Giizhikaandag gindizhinikaaz giin
Bimaadiziwinaatig giigaa bawaajige
Giigaa waaseyaa-aabindam nebaa'in
Gigaa gawakoshe nebaa'i
E-naabindaman daa izhi-wabad, noozis.
"I sing before you
Timeless is my voice
Your name will be Cedar Tree
The Sky Grandfathers are generous with you
Through the Tree of Life will you dream
Through the Ceremonial Tree will you speak
Your Medicines are potent
Even in sleep will you see
Even in sleep you will hear
You will live in different spheres
You will live a long and prosperous life
What you dream will be, my grandson."
No sooner had the strange song echoed away than Gozaabii-anang found himself standing outside the star waaginogaan. As he desperately looked about him for signs of the curly-haired girl who had shyly introduced herself to him in the star lodge, slowly, the lodges and the rollling hills of lush green grass surrounding the deep blue lakes faded from view, and from the wondrous sky-land where he had met the beautiful Star Blanket with her clear-sounding voice the dreaming boy was transported back to earth by way of the tall Tree of Life that connected the sky-world with the earth beneath...
The meaning of the vision
When Gozaabii-anang woke up he found himself in the glade amid the cedar and spruce trees where he had commenced the vision quest that had led him into the skies and back. The tall giizhikaandag that had served as a ladder into the sky-world was gone! The Elder who had watched over him had already arrived with a tray with some deer meat and dried corn on it and a bowl of water. Although weak, the boy felt refreshed. The Elder took Gozaabii-anang to his uncle, who was the medicine man of his People, for an interpretation of the dream the boy had received during the fast. The medicine man, after hearing Gozaabii-anang's detailed account of the dream confirmed that it was a vision of great power and he addressed the boy as follows:
Ningwiz, my son, listen to what I have to tell you for my lesson is filled with wisdom and direction. Ningad aadizooke! I will tell you now a sacred story! It is the story about the star called Nigaabii-anang, or Star of the West (Evening) by our People.
Wayeshkad, in the beginning of times, GICHI-MANIDOO, the Great Mystery, assigned Nigaabii-anang to the quarter of the world called E-bangishimog (the West) and to the winds and the portion of time that goes with the western direction. Thus the Evening Star was gifted with an important power over life on earth to be exercized with prudence and wisdom so that harmony would be maintained forever. One bad day, however, after many strings of life of perfect harmony between the West, the East, the South, and the North, a struggle arose between Nigaabii-anang and the Spirit of the East.
Although nowadays Waaban-anang, the Morning Star Spirit that governs the East controlls knowledge and medicines equally vast and powerful to that of the Evening Star and the other two quarters of the earth, Gichi-manidoo had initially assigned Nigaabii-anang the task of being Morning Star’s Elder and tutor since the latter was not yet fully accredited as a medicine man; keep in mind ningwiz, that the difference in age between the two stars was about the same as the number of years that stand between you and me!
So, the animosity between the two powerful stars started when the proud and headstrong Waaban-anang, after many years of study under Nigaabii-anang’s tutelage, felt that he was ready to exercize his own medicine without Nigaabii-anang’s supervision and counsel; when the latter told his impetuous and hot-tempered student that his knowledge and skills were not complete since he had not yet reached his level of wisdom and moderation and patience that is needed to conduct the important tasks of teaching healing and prolonging life, Waaban-anang challenged him to a contest, taunting him and challenging him to prove his powers.
The battle that took place between the Morning Star and the Evening Star that day became a metaphor for the lasting human conflict between youth and age, and also between knowledge and wisdom. Although in this day and age neither star is more powerful than the other and although the Morning Star and the Evening Star have made peace a long time ago, Dawn and Evening still continue their duels, thus symbolizing the eternal conflics and dualisms within the human soul, and within human society as a whole.
Giiwenh, thus is the story of the Morning Star and the Evening Star, ningwiz. The tale I just shared with you is a powerful parable about the duality that exists in human nature and, in particular, the conflicts and rivalry and jealousy between life partners; but if you look closely you will see that in essence the tale is about two forces, or beings, or persons, who are like two miinikaanan (seeds) in a pod. The beautiful curly-haired girl with the clear voice and clear mind whom you met in the star lodge in the sky is an artist like you, and as such she inspires, strengthens, and directs you, just as you inspire, strengthen, and direct her. Now you shall undertake a quest in order to reunite with this girl who is your mirror image. One day you will meet her on this earth and when you two are reunited you will hang up your garments together; each night the light of Ojiiganang (the Fisher Star) will shine on the both of you and each nightfall and the following dawn your wiigiwaam will be blessed by the magic light of Giizhig-anang, the Day Star.
Aaniin igo! Gichi-wiiyagaaj ningwiz… But alas my son! As your lives unfold you will notice that you and she, as do the Evening Star and the Morning Star in the narrative, will have many conflicts together. For her, the unconditional love that you harbor for her is tantamount to bondage; to you, her desire for independence will feel like a betrayal of a trust. But no matter how big the conflicts will be and how high the emotions fly, there will also be a deep love and understanding between you two. You will both walk your own path but these paths will be like three rivers that run parallel, one representing ceremony, the other artistry, and the middle one symbolizing the love that you two share. One moment these three streams will converge, the next moment they will diverge, but they will always be running side by side as if propelled by a powerful source of unbound vision, creativity, and love. And in the end, when you both reach old age, the three streams, their waters flowing spiritually, will merge into a single stream and your paths shall be like hair or sweetgrass tightly woven into a three-strand braid.”
The old man paused for a short while and then continued: “For now, ningwiz, you are expected to return to your old life, to walk your own path, and to start living your vision. Soon, when the sun will take his position at the very height of his westward journey, a naming ceremony will be held in your honor, ratifying the new name you received in your dream. Later on, after you fulfilled your quest which will be five years from now, as soon the summer arrives in the land, there will be a wedding ceremony joining the hands and hearts of you and your new wife Anangoog-egwaniizid whom you found in the star lodge in the sky and whom you will find again in this middle world, this earthmother we walk upon. Ahaaw sa ningwiz, maajaan! Go now my son, be truthful and selfless and walk tall, with your head high and love for the Great Mystery in your heart.”
The story of the 'Turquoise Dream' wedding rings
Besides by the above-told story about the vision quest of Gozaabii-anang that led him to the Star Lodge high up in the sky, these wedding rings, constructed of yellow gold and featuring red gold feathers mounted with a turquoise stone, are also inspired by Simone’s paintings "Sky Dreamers" and "Respect and Love."
Loosely based on the age-old Midewiwin ceremony called Sky Dreaming, the rings breathe a re-awaked spirit of the magic imagery of Simone’s canvases. The beautiful story about the Sky Dreamers and the spirit flight they undertook that brought them together in the sky and the hopes and dreams they share as artists subtly filter through the smooth richness and brilliant blue of the turquoise stones adorning the red gold feathers. The handcut stones symbolize the two Sky Dreamers /lovers/artists in both paintings; the blue color of these magic stones also pertain to the south and to the smoke of giizhik, the northern white cedar that filled the star lodge in the above-told story. Giizhik aniibiish (the cedar leaf) is a sacred, medicinal plant among all Anishinaabemowin-speaking peoples of the northwoods and a harmonizing spirit that represents zhaawanong, the southern direction. When burned, the snipped leaves of giizhik act as a purifier, cleansing the area as well as body and soul of the participants of ceremonies.
Reach For Your Dreams, acrylic by Moses Amik
The eagle feathers, elegantly draped over the yellow gold ring shanks of the rings, symbolize prayer, and the spirit flight that brought the protagonists of Simone’s paintings together. The feathers are like two pairs of hands stretching out unanimously to the four winds, calling upon the benevolent Grandfathers of the Universe. They are metaphors for reaching to a shared future and the the desire to share great stories, the will to follow ideals and visions, and to realize shared aspirations and dreams (see Moses Amik’s painting, "Reaching for your Dreams"). The color red refers to the direction of the west – the Evening Star in the above-stold story - and to mashkodewashk, or sage. The smoke of sage, once burned, drifts upward accompanied by the smoke of asemaa and wafts of cedar and sweet-grass and finds union with the mystic blue prayer mists of the star lodge in which the Sky Dreamers of the story sit and meet.
The twisted wire adorning the feathers, in conclusion, represents the parallel paths that the two artists in Simone's paintings walk, eventually merging into one single stream, like hair of sweetgrass tightly woven into a two-strand braid.
To the Anishinaabeg, sweetgrass, called - depending on the dialect spoken - wiishkobi-maskosi or wiingashk, is a sacred plant that symbolizes the hair of Mother Earth; like sage and cedar it is used in prayer and for smudging in sweats and other purifying ceremonies. Its sweet and calming aroma reminds the Anishinaabeg of the gentleness, love, and kindness Mother Earth has for them and serves to open the soul/spirit before calling upon the Sky Grandfathers and their wisdom and healing powers. Sweetgrass is traditionally woven into a three strand-braid.
The story of the "Vision of the Day Star" set of ring and bolo tie
This set of a bolo tie and matching ladies’ ring is inspired by, respectively, the Evening Star and the Morning Star. In Anishinaabe tradition, Nigaabii-anang, also called Gozaabii-anang (“Star Sinking in Waters”) or Ikwe-anang (Women’s Star), is a powerful Aadizookaan and medicine man who resides in the land of E-bangishimog (the Spirit of the West) and Ningaabii’ani-noodin (the West Wind). Nigaabii-anang, since time immemorial used in navigating at night, is the patron of all women and was once the elder and tutor of Waaban (the Dawn). Representing old age and wisdom, he teaches healing and the need for moderation and patience. He symbolized a force contrary to that of Waaban, and the conflict that resulted from this images the lasting human conflict between knowledge and wisdom, between youth and age on earth.
Waaban-anang, the Morning star, or Waaban the Dawn, is regarded as an equallly powerful medicine man of the eastern skies, embodying youth and knowledge; this made him the eternal rival of Nigaabii-anang the Evening Star, the powerful Grandfather and medicine man of the West. The Morning Star, to many Anishinaabeg a sign of hope of biidaaban, the coming of a new dawn, is still honored as a sign of purity of spirit, courage, hope, and new life.
Both stars, Nigaabii-anang (who shines at nightfall) and Waaban-anang (who rises the following dawn) form together one star, named giizhig-anang, the Day Star – who is known by the name of Venus by most non-Native people. In many an aadizookaan, sacred stories of the Anishinaabeg, Dawn and Evening tot his day live on as Grandfathers who - neither one being more powerful than the other - continue their duels, thus symbolizing the eternal conflicts and dualisms within the human soul and in human society.
Waaban-anang is also a human character in a rather sad Ojibwe aadizookaan (sacred story); a legendary, young Anishinaabekwe (woman) who, when she was about to be married to a boy named Giizhik (Cedar), disappeared suddenly and for good by way of Jiibay-miikana, “Path of souls”, to Ningaabii’anong, the Land of Souls in the west. Giizhik, on whom I loosely based the character of the boy Gozaabii-anang in the aadizookaan “Gozaabii-anang and Little Morning Star”, began a desperate quest for the Land of Souls. When he finally found his niinimoshenh (sweetheart), he eventually had to return without her, tot he Land of Living…
The bolo tie, which I designed as a tribute to the Evening Star, consists of a star-shaped slide attached to a leather cord equipped with conical tips of silver and gold ball end tips – the latter symbolizing planet Venus reflecting the light of the Day-Sun. The slide is made of gold and has a silver back. The oval malachite stone in the middle, set in gold, is surrounded by red coral fragment inlay, 10 balls of gold, and – depicting the rays of the star - 10 oval turquoise stones set in gold, each tipped wit small red coral cabochons, also set in gold. The green of the large oval malachite stone cabochon in the middle stands for Omizakamigokwe, the Earthmother, source of all life and also for the primacy of the women of our Nations who have the Evening Star as their patron; the blue color of the turquoise stones and the red coral surrounding the center stone denote, respectively, the water of the lakes and the fire of the setting sun of which the Evening Star was conceived. The matching women’s ring, which I titled Waaban-anang, consists of the same material and is basically constructed the same way as the bolo tie slide; the three-prong shank of the ring is made of round gold wire and a twisted wire of silver in the middle. The malachite stone placed in the center of the ring refers to the spring season that starts in the east, the turquoise stones adjusted around the malachite, the rays of the morning star, denote Spirit and Morning Prayers, and the red coral inlay and cabochons represent all the stars in the Universe. Bolo tie and ring, although seemingly counterparts, form a set together, titled Giizhig-anang, the Day Star.
It is believed that since stars move from east to west, new life and knowledge emerge from Waaban, the eastern sky. When a person dies his or her spirit will therefore travel to Ningaabii’an /E-bangishimog, the eastern sky. Click here to see details of the bolo tie and click here for details of the ring.
Giiwenh. So the story goes about the power of dreams, spirit flight, and the eternal battle between the Morning and the Evening Star. Such is the story of Simone’s paintings; such is the story of my jewelry. Miigwech gibizindaw noongom mii dash gidaadizookoon. Thank you for listening to us today. Giga-waabamin wayiiba, we hope to see you again soon.
Click here to read the next episode in the Star Stories series, about the ancient Anishinaabe concept of the Revolving Sky.
Anishinaabe Star Knowledge by Michael Wassegijig Price;
** Based on the poem Take My Hand/Spirit Flight by Simone McLeod (2013)
About the authors/artists
Simone Agnes McLeod (her traditional name is Aki’-egwaniizid, which is an Ojibwe name meaning "Earth Blanket") is a ᓇᐦᑲᐌ (Nakawē Anishinaabe) painter and poet, born in Winnipeg, Manitoba in 1962 and a member of Pasqua First Nation, Saskatchewan. She belongs to he Name doodem (Sturgeon clan) of her mother's people, the Azaadiwi-ziibi Nitam-Anishinaabeg (Poplar River First Nation) of Manitoba. Simone descends from a long line of Midewiwin seers and healers and artists. Her artwork has been appreciated by several art collectors and educational and health care institutions from Canada, as well as by art lovers from all over the world.
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 an artist and a writer and a jewelry designer, Zhaawano draws on the oral and pictorial traditions of his ancestors. In doing so he sometimes works together with kindred artists. He has done several art projects with Simone and hopes to continue to do so in the future.