Love Stories from the Land of Many Lakes: The Amazing Journey of a Woman Named Two-Spirit Thunder
Updated: Apr 30
~~ The sacred story of a brave two-spirit woman of the Rattle Snake clan who had a vision that took her to the domain of the Thunderbirds ~~
Baashkaakodin-Giizis/Gashkadino-Giizis (Freezing Moon/Freezing Over Moon), November 25, 2020
“A man or woman does not exist until they seek a vision, which they then must follow like an eagle seeking the deepest blue of the sky.”
- Free after Tȟašúŋke Witkó / Crazy Horse (ca. 1840-1877)
Aaniin! Biindigen miinawaa nindaadizooke wigamigong; enji-zaagi'iding miinawaa gikendaasong. Ningad-aadizooke noongom giizhigad! (Hi! Welcome back in my Storytelling Lodge where there is love and learning. Let's tell a sacred story today!)
Today's story is the sixteenth part in a series named "Love Stories From the Land of Many Lakes."
It's a collection of love stories provided with jewelry images and illustrations of artwork by myself as well as by kindred artists. The stories are oshki-aadizookaanan (contemporary traditional stories) -- that is, newly created stories which retain elements of the gete-aadizookaanan (old traditional stories) of our People, the Ojibwe Anishinaabeg of Gaa-zaaga'eganikaag, the land of many lakes -- the Great Lakes area of 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.
~~ THEME OF THE TWO-SPIRIT ~~
Artistically, today's oshki-aadizookaan, which is loosely based on an old Anishinaabe allegory known as The Man Who Changed into a Thunderbird,* features several paintings by kindred artists as well as three black-and-whit line drawings done by myself, which serve as illustrations to the story.
Thematically, the story is dedicated to those of us who walk in two worlds. By this I mean the many brave women and men belonging to our Turtle Island Nations who are gender-variant. The narrative, which is situated in the distant past in the area of what is now Blind River, Ontario, tells the story of Will-Sit-on-the-Nest, a spiritually-gifted young woman of the Mississauga nation who dreams about another woman, a warrior from the sky, and who uses her strong medicine and willpower to find her. The story thus touches, in a very allegorical fashion that reflects our ancient storytelling traditions, the unfortunately still controversial topic of, what is nowadays called "Two-spiritedness."² Since two-spiritedness defies the typical dichotomous western perception of gender roles, our two-spirited people, even in our modern day and age, must struggle daily with persistent and wide-spread homophobic prejudices -- geget sa go, sometimes even by people from their own communities. "Two-Spirits" therefore deserve our honor and our respect. As they reflect our beautiful values, traditions, and teachings (that say that ALL LIFE IS SACRED) and at the same time symbolize our modern RESISTANCE against Western/colonial thought and the settler mentality of mainstream society, Two Spirits, those who walk in two worlds, are the true warriors of our time.
~~ THE TWIN SISTERS OF BINIWAABIKONG ~~
Ahaaw, ningad aadizooke. Now, I will tell you a sacred tale…
Gichi-zhaazhigo, once in the very long ago, there lived close to the northern shore of Naadowewi-gichigami, near the river called Biniwaabikong¹ two unmarried twin sisters who belonged to Midewewe doodem, the clan of the Rattle Snake People -- who, along with fish and turtle clans, were traditionally charged with Teaching and Healing. The sisters, who had lived nearly 20 summers, went by the name of Niibaabizokwe (Flies-At-Night-Woman) and Ge-wazaswinebiikwe (Will-Sit-on-the-Nest-Woman). They were both what nowadays would be called "Two-Spirits."²
The wiigiwaam (shelter) of theses Two-Spirit twins stood far off in the forest – a deep forest of oak, birch, tamarack, juniper, spruce, pine, and also cherry, maple, and cedar, intersected with a myriad of winding streams, creeks, and muskeg swamps. The sisters were considered manidoog (spirits) by some of their fellow Anishinaabeg³ who lived in a summer camp close to the lake, for the sisters, although Anishinaabe by their features, had strange eyes that seemed to look beyond what could be seen; they had their own ways of doing things and they hardly ever showed themselves to the villagers.
Even before they attained the age at which Anishinaabe children enter upon a period of puberty rites and fasting the sisters were well-known for their spiritual nature and qualities, and it escaped no one’s attention that they spent much time in solitude and fasting.
It was suspected both twins possessed extraordinary powers above and beyond normal anishinaabeg (human beings), as it seemed there was nothing they could not accomplish.
But there was a difference.
Although they were identical twins and their mashkiki (medicine) was equally powerful, the direction of their ode'imaan (hearts) was different. Flies-At-Night-Woman’s character and intent were entirely opposite to her sister’s! Like everything in life, spiritual powers can be turned to good or evil purpose; unlike her sister, Flies-At-Night-Woman was inclined to the latter. Her outward beauty hid a jealous and vindictive nature, she was sullen, suspicious, and quick-tempered and she spent most of her life gossiping and – as rumors had it – conjuring up evil snake medicine, often in the dark of the night. Some villagers even whispered that she was maji-bimose (a shapeshifter and a bear walker);⁴ others said she was bewitched by the spirits of the Binesii-waawananoon or Thunderbird eggs,⁵ which she, in search of a suitable partner, encountered during her far journeys toward the dawn.
Today’s story follows the footprints of Will-Sit-on-the-Nest-Woman.
From her earliest youth Will-Sit-on-the-Nest-Woman, a slender girl with a slightly darker complexion than her sister and with prodigious curls and glowing eyes the color of slate, was observed to be gaa-biiwaabikokwe (Iron Woman).² Unlike Flies-At-Night-Woman she was introverted and pensive and good-natured, and she was known to walk an upright life. Her nature was gentle and her heart beat for all animate and inanimate beings of the realms of the earth and sky. Like her sister she was initiated into all the secrets of mashkiki (medicine), but, unlike her sister who gave much energy to suspicion and arrogance, Will-Sit-on-the-Nest-Woman just concentrated on her doctoring work without any signs of pride. It escaped no one’s attention that her daily walk and movements through life were humble and in remarkable sync with the seasonal migrations of animals and birds and the changing seasons.
Whenever she could leave the wiigiwaam that she shared with her sister, Will-Sit-on-the-Nest-Woman would venture off to remote glades in the dense woods that covered the shorelines of the Rattle Snake Lake or one of the many inland lakes that dotted the valley of Miswezaaging,⁶ and she would often return with her makak (basket) filled with herbs and berries that she used to make medicine. Other times she ventured to sacred places, domains of the spirits, to fast and have visions. Her favorite fasting place was a steep and narrow rock that overlooked the river branch called Biniwaabikaang or “Fallen Rock”¹ -- nowadays known as Blind River.
It was in such sacred places of visions that Will-Sit-on-the-Nest-Woman sought meaning and self-discovery by petitioning the spirits of her ancestors. At night she regularly invoked her bawaagan or guardian spirit, which was the spirit of an eagle; in the daytime, a miigis – a shining cowry shell -- emerged high up in the blue sky to provide spiritual direction. This magic shell, as we will see in the course of today's narrative, would prove to be a sure and unwavering light guiding her throughout her life's journey.
~~ THE OATH ~~
Now, it happened that while still in their early teens, both sisters, Flies-At-Night-Woman and Will-Sit-on-the-Nest-Woman, had pledged an oath to stay together until one of them came across an ogichidaakwe (warrior woman) wearing an eagle talon in her hair, as had been foretold by a mide (medicine man) who lived in the village by the river. Although Will-Sit-on-the-Nest-Woman knew in her heart that it was she who was predestined to meet this ogichidaakwe, Flies-At-Night-Woman, who as we know had a jealous nature, secretly hoped that this ogichidaakwe would come to her -- and select her, not her sister. In the daytime the sisters each went their separate ways in search for this woman. They wandered the banks of the river and the shore of the great lake, or penetrated the thick woods to find her; at night, they looked for her in their dreams.
One day in late spring Will-Sit-on-the-Nest-Woman – who had received her name after having a vision of a Giniw (Golden Eagle) that took her to its nest on a high cliff -- ventured into the dense woods that lined the Biniwaabikaang-river banks. Sure-footedly and swiftly she climbed over rocks, ducked under low-hanging branches, and crouched down to examine the gaawanzhiig (juniper bushes) in search for berries. After she had filled her makak (basket) with berries and some herbs that she picked along the way, the young woman, humming, walked into the direction of the Medicine Rock -- the steep river bluff that had been her favorite lookout since early childhood. The bluff, which dramatically jutted out from the sloping rock face along the river had magic spirit writings (pictographs) on it. It had been a place of fasting and prayer to many generations of vision seekers that came before her, seeking insight and medicine.
On top of the Medicine Rock, peacefully sitting amid offerings of asemaa (tobacco) and bundles of colored sticks and surrounded by friendly spirits and by shrubs and saplings with brightly colored ribbons and cloths tied to them softly moving in the wind, Will-Sit-on-the-Nest-Woman, still humming, took out her dewe’igan (hand drum) attached to her pack – its deer hide membrane decorated with the painted image of a turtle --, and smudged it with wiingashk (sweetgrass). Feeling embraced by the spirits of her ancestors and the soft spring breeze that blew gently off the river beneath her, she fell asleep.
~~ THE DREAM ~~
It was here, on top of the bluff towering high above the river of the Fallen Rock, that Will-Sit-on-the-Nest-Woman had a strange dream. In the dream, an object that resembled a waabiwaawan (white egg) came floating out of her right eye. The egg floated inside a transparent, amorphous bag that hovered in front of her. The bag was her abinoojiinh (womb) and it was filled with many onishiwag (penises)! Next, to her horror, she noticed that her left hand changed into an eagle’s talon, and it reached into her womb, grabbed the penises from under the miigis and threw them out in one fluid motion, tossing them up high and scattering them to the winds. Next, her womb, now lovingly embracing the egg, floated toward her pelvis, and within an eyeblink before it disappeared in her vagina, she realized with a shock the egg was a miigis – a sacred seashell from the ocean!
“Awegonen i'iwe bawaajigan? What does it mean, that dream?” Will-Sit-on-the-Nest-Woman, waking up puzzled, pondered. Touching her loins she thought in wonderment, “It seems to me it is a dream that holds a message, and a prediction as well. The miigis shell that dwells in my pelvis is a sure sign of gichi-gichitwaa-bandamowin: a very sacred dream. Have the shining shells of the sea not given me direction in life always? Also, surely the egg and the penises inside the floating womb means that two ojichaagwag (spirits) live inside of me: that of an inini (man), symbolized by the waabiwaawan, and that of a kwe (woman), symbolized by the onishiwag. Also, my left hand turning into an eagle claw may refer to my giniw mashkiki (war eagle medicine)! And, perhaps, the onishiwag scattered to the winds signify that I am not destined to be with an inini, but instead will meet an ogichidaakwe and lie down with her! Could it be, then, that this ogichidaakwe is the one the old medicine man from the village dreamt about, and could it be she is the giniw (eagle) I dreamt of when I was a child, this black-headed eagle that took me to its nest high up in the clouds? Eye'! Yes! I will now petition the manidoog (spirits) to find out more.” Next, still mystified by the dream, she reached for her dewe’igan (hand drum).
Will-Sit-on-the-Nest-Woman had barely started to make the voice of her dewe'igan sound, mingling it with her own, high-pitched singing voice, when tayaa! something or someone angered the spirit of the lake to her south; Will-Sit-on-the-Nest-Woman heard a terrible noise that sounded to her as if mishiginebig, the horned underwater snake was in a frenzy of rage, slashing his mighty tail! The flood that was caused by whatever it was that caused it struck the land, even as far as the high point of land where Will-Sit-on-the-Nest-Woman sat, with such terrible anger and violence that she was immediately thrown to the ground!
~~ THE MIIGIS IN THE SKY ~~
Then, as she lie on top of the bluff, still groggy from the forces that had been unleashed, inaa! Will-Sit-on-the-Nest-Woman heard the sky open. It was ningaabii'ani-noodin, the West Wind! Next, the flashing eyes of animikii binesiwag (the Thunderbirds) set the sky above the lake in fire. Their mighty voices boomed over the valley! Hammering the western skies behind the clouds, their shadows swooped down toward the river valley with great speed. They hurled their fire arrows at the object of their anger, which seemed to move northeast, toward the wiigiwaam that, Will-Sit-on-the-Nest-Woman realized, she shared with her sister! Next, a terrible thunderstorm rolled in, bringing torrential downpours of rain with it. Quickly Will-Sit-on-the-Nest-Woman packed her belongings and sought refuge in a nearby grove of wiigwaasaatigoog (birch trees) where she knew the Thunder Beings would not harm her.
Then, suddenly, before Will-Sit-on-the-Nest-Woman could count to three, the thunderstorm was over. The eyes of the Thunderbirds flickered off toward the sky in the west. Their voices faded. Next, the breath of the West Wind rolled away the black clouds and when Will-Sit-on-the-Nest-Woman peeked from her shelter in the birch grove she noticed the water of the river was tranquil again and the sky had regained its bright blue color. The sun shone brightly again. But then, suddenly, a blinding white light came from the direction of the lake! Squinting her eyes against the light the startled girl saw, where a few eyeblinks ago the sun stood, a shining miigis (cowry shell) hovering over the lake!
Hypnotized by the shining shell that, if it were the morning star, stood high and still in the sky, the girl picked up her drum and her other belongings and headed south, in the direction of the lake. After a while of walking – the light of the sky miigis being so bright that she easily could have found the lake blindfolded – she arrived at the shore of Naadowewi-gichigami. Here, still in trance, but trying not to look into the blazing light of the seashell in the sky, she installed herself on a bluff overlooking the now perfectly tranquil lake. Suddenly the sun reappeared behind the seashell and poured its glorious radiance over the lake! Before the girl’s wonderment-filled eyes the glossy surface of the miigis reflected the sun’s rays on the polished surface of the lake and the colored pebbles of the beach beneath her. It was truly a wonderful sight, and the girl knew it had to be a blessing from the powers of the earth and the skies.
Will-Sit-on-the-Nest-Woman then took her zhiishiigwan (turtle shell rattle) from its bearskin casing and started to shake it; the rhythmic sound of the rattle and the girl's clear voice that flew above it sounded far across the mirrorlike waters of the Great Rattlesnake Lake. Sensing that more magic was yet to come, she sat there until nightfall sounding her turtle rattle and chanting sacred songs. Still waiting for more signs, feeling tired and hungry, she fell asleep again …
~~ THE APPARITION ~~
Will-Sit-on-the-Nest-Woman, still dreaming, woke up and noticed it was dark. The moon was in the sky, a great multitude of stars shone brightly, and the miigis had lowered itself and now, in glinting metallic tones of purple and green, hovered just above the surface of the lake! Then, inaa! before the girl’s puzzled eyes an eye-dazzling ogichidaakwe, her hair unbraided and dressed in a garment woven of eagle and hawk feathers, nimbly climbed out of the interior of the big sea shell and with the night-sun reflecting off the dark blue surface of the lake, she waded in a calm manner through the water toward the beach where Will-Sit-on-the-Nest-Woman sat. To her, it seemed she was a bird floating on the air! Her bony and handsome face, which had hawklike features, stopped Will-Sit-on-the-Nest-Woman’s breath and set her heart on fire. She deemed she had never seen so pretty and stalwart a creature! As soon as the stranger reached the beach she dropped her cloak on the colored pebbeles beneath her dark brown feet. Only dressed in aanziyaanh (breechcloth) the ogichidaakwe walked up to Will-Sit-on-the-Nest-Woman, who noticed a yellow lightning bolt was painted on both of her cheeks and her naked breasts were adorned with dots of blue paint. An eagle talon was attached to her long raven-black hair – just like the old medicine man's prophecy had foretold!
“Waahowaa! Awenen giin?” Will-Sit-on-the-Nest-Woman said when the ogichidaakwe stood smiling in front of her. “Oh my! Who are you?” To this she was answered in a deep, rumbling voice, “Boozhoo Ge-wazaswinebiik! Naanzhakii-animikii nindizhinikaaz. Giniw miinawaa Binesi niin indoodemag. Ishpiming indoonjibaa.”
This means: “Hello Will-Sit-on-the-Nest-Woman! My name is Flying-Down-Thunder and I belong to the War Eagle and Thunderbird clans. I come from the sky.”
After she had introduced herself to Will-Sit-on-the-Nest-Woman she said: “I know who you are. Your heart is known to me. Your dreams are known to me. Two spirits live in your heart; they are intertwined and they complement each other. They are together One. Eye', it has come to my attention that you possess a generous and gentle nature and have always behaved in the most upstanding way. You are sincere in your concern for the animals, the small and large birds, the fish and the human beings, all the nations of the four-legged and fish and birds.”
After a brief pause Flying-Down-Thunder, tall and piercing eyes unblinking, gently took hold of Will-Sit-on-the-Nest-Woman’s hands. Gazing deeply into her receptive eyes she resumed: “It has also come to my attention that the manidoog (spirits) that dwell the corners of the earth and the stars that dwell the night sky feel kindly disposed to you. They acknowledge that, since you are a gifted two-spirited person, you are between the worlds, and that you therefore walk between the worlds. This is why they have conferred upon you the power that exist in the skies beneath and beyond Giizis (the Sun), Dibik-giizis (the moon), and Anangoog (the Stars). Tomorrow at noon the miigis will rise again in the sky and when it lowers itself to the lake at nightfall I will visit again.”
The stranger disappeared back into the lake. The night and the following day passed quickly as Will-Sit-on-the-Nest-Woman sat on the beach pondering over what had happened and what it all meant. Had she imagined it all? But at nightfall the next day the strange eagle woman came to her again, and as she emerged from the lake she seemed to Will-Sit-on-the-Nest-Woman even more beautiful than she had the day before. As she took her hands in hers Flying-Down-Thunder said, “I know your sister Walks-At-Night-Woman. Unlike you she has a dark heart, filled with the venomous twin snakes of jealousy and ambition. It was she who angered my fathers who live above the clouds, causing a flood and awakening their wrath … To your sister you are just a little brat, but not so to my People who abide in the sky. The spirits, haw sa, even GICHI-MANIDOO itself,⁷ have blessed you with a pure heart and with every power within the domain of the skies. Eye' sa Ge-wazaswinebiik, I see and honor the light within your eyes where the whole Universe dwells. Now I have found you, and now you are at that center within you and I am that place within me, we are truly as one. Therefore be my wiijiiwaagan (wife)! Forever will we fly together on wings of thunder and bring harmony, fertility, and prosperity to the world! Arise, Ge-wazaswinebiik, and let us eat and sleep together. Tomorrow at daylight, I will take you to my nest behind the clouds.”
Next, a haunting strain of the most wondrous music came from the miigis that still floated above the peaceful lake. Enchanted, the girl looked about as the beautiful music pulsed and, swelling and diminishing, came closer each heartbeat until it enveloped the happy couple on the beach. Not sure if she was still dreaming, the girl closed her eyes and when she opened them again, inaa! a mysterious banquet of delicious fruit and berries lay spread before them. Happily and wordless but with hearts dancing and minds overwhelmed in joyful anticipation, they ate together. After they had finished their meal they lie down together like spouses…
~~ FLYING BEAR AND THE WRATH OF THE THUNDER BEINGS ~~
Morning dawned; the miigis still floated above the surface of the lake. Not long after the Morning Star had disappeared in the eastern night sky the Sun arose with loving radiance, throwing his dazzling smile over the sleeping couple on the beach. But then, suddenly, a shiver went through the Universe!
The sky miigis, drawn up as by an invisible hand, disappeared quickly behind the sun. A cold gust of wind awakened Will-Sit-on-the-Nest-Woman, who dreamt that her sister had followed her tracks to the beach and stealthily approached the sleeping couple. But even before she had time to open her eyes she saw the shadow of a growling bear flying over her! Her eyes wide open now, she witnessed to her horror how her sister attacked her lover, who was still asleep. With Flies-At-Night-Woman’s claws sinking deeply in her flesh, Flying-Down-Thunder made a screeching, hawk-like sound! With all of her power she freed himself from the vicious bear’s embrace and, not looking over her shoulder once, bleeding and her arms resembling the drooping wings of a wounded bird, leaped into northern direction. Quickly she disappeared behind the dunes.
What happened next went so fast and was so heinous that it beggared Will-Sit-on-the-Nest-Woman’s imagination! Her fleeing lover had barely disappeared behind the dunes or zhaawani-noondin, the otherwise gentle spirit of the South Wind, blew a violent blast over the land and caused the waves of the lake hammer the beach. A terrible roar of thunder filled the sky and a loud thunderclap followed by lightning rang above the angry screams that came from her sister, who had shapeshifted back to her human form and now ran after Flying-Down-Thunder. Within moments the sky that had been clear blue became covered by a pitch-black cloud! Then suddenly the wind lay down and the sky opened, then closed. Will-Sit-on-the-Nest-Woman, horrified by this sudden blazing force of nature, saw ginebigoog (serpents) in great multitudes falling from the sky!
Then, she saw, scattered in a scorched pit where her sister had been a few eyeblinks ago, several giniw miigwanan (feathers of a golden eagle)! Next to the pit lay a wounded naadowe (rattle snake), ferociously writhing and slithering, hissing in rage and fury, opening wide its fanged maw and ferociously lunging at the plumes, which were stained with the blood of her victim. Perhaps it was as long as it takes to blink an eye twice, such was the length of time Will-Sit-on-the-Nest-Woman had to observe the horrible scene; then again up closed the cloud.
The terrified girl stood in the dark for a while, rooted to the spot, her heart racing, not knowing what to do. Then suddenly the darkness dissipated, giving away to the light of day again and Will-Sit-on-the-Nest-Woman saw lying upon the scorched pebbles where a few moments before had been the writhing snake, her sister, dying. As Will-Sit-on-the-Nest-Woman demanded what had prompted her sister to commit her hideous deed, the latter replied:
“We used to be so close as sisters, oh nishiim
We were all happy together before this wicked woman
who came out of a seashell and is a child of animikii (the Thunder)
stole your heart and tried to steal you from me
Now she is gone for good.
When you left our camp the day before yesterday I followed you to the beach
But not before I tested my magic powers
And challenged the spirits of the Sky and the Lake.
Then when I saw you on the beach with this wicked woman
I shapeshifted into a bear.
I put on my sharpest claws
which found their mark in her hip and breasts.
If you wish to find her, nishiim
all you have to do is follow the trail of blood and feathers
that leads into the valley behind yonder dunes.
But I must warn you
The trail will disappear into the empty sky.
She came like a bird casting its shadow over the blue lake
She has now vanished into infinity
Like a thundercloud gone forever.”
Panic-stricken, her heart pounding in her throat, Will-Sit-on-the-Nest-Woman ran for the dunes as fast as her makizinan could carry her. Disheartened and sad, she followed the blood trail and eagle feathers that scattered here and there around the trail, and she kept repeating to herself “She is gone, my beautiful eagle woman from the shining sky vessel, and I shall see her no more.”
The blood trail lead across the dunes and beyond, all the way to the River of the Fallen Rock,⁶ and, to the girl’s surprise, even to the high bluff that was her favorite place to fast and have dreams! On top of the bluff she discerned trough the foliage a glimmer of blue that drew her to a perfectly round, softly grassed clearing surrounded by a grove of wiigwaasaatigoog (birch trees) – the same trees that had protected her earlier from the lightning of the Thunder Beings. There, on a small boulder in the middle of the open glade, Will-Sit-on-the-Nest-Woman noticed with a mixture of horror and relief that the blood trail ended, leaving only a little pile consisting of bloodstained giniw-miigwanan. "These feathers are all that is left of my breautiful friend," she thought by herself. All she could do was gaze at the feathers and then up, to the hole in the sky above her, knowing Flying-Down-Thunder had disappeared through it to never return …
Crying, Will-Sit-on-the-Nest-Woman picked up two of the bloodstained feathers, carefully wrapped it in a red cloth, and carefully hung them around her neck. With a heavy heart she headed south again, back to the beach of colored pebbles that, enchanted by peace and promise, suddenly had erupted in violence and treachery. She found her sister lying motionless where she had left her. Grieving, Will-Sit-on-the-Nest-Woman decided to bury her sister right on the spot where she had been struck by lightning, and after she laid asemaa (tobacco) on the grave of pebbles as a peace offer to the animkiig (Thunder Beings), she spoke the following words to her sister who had joined her ancestors:
“Oh Niibaabizok! my foolish sister,
Who lies here struck by the wrath of the Thunderbirds,
Even though I am mad enough to kill you myself
I pity you.
Did it not ever cross your mind who the woman you assaulted was?
She was Animikii Giniw Ikwe, a Thunder Eagle Woman, for she truly came from the Sky.
You must have known he was sent by the Thunder Beings.
She would still be among us
if not for your blind jealousy
and your maji-mashkiki (evil medicine).
I would have also told you
She has a two-spirited sister who is still unmarried
And had been more than happy to meet you.
Can you not imagine the power we both would have had in the sky?
What it would have meant for us both and for our People as a whole?
For this woman from the sky was truly a Thunderbird
in human form.
And now it is too late.
The Thunder Beings killed you
And I am leaving to never return until I find her.”
After Will-Sit-on-the-Nest-Woman had uttered her bitter farewell speech she turned her back to her sister’s grave. Falling prey to unspeakable grief and despair, she returned to the River of the Fallen Rock. There, on top of the rocky river bank, she sank down to the earth, mourning her sister and weeping the loss of the woman she loved. She wanted to die.
~~ THE GREAT SEA TURTLE ~~
Suddenly a mist rose from the ground, muffling every sound in the Universe. Her soul vision saw flashes of pure, bright light that came from the blue hole in the sky through which her love had ascended back into the Sky World. Will-Sit-on-the-Nest-Woman, exhausted, had a vision.
In her vision, she was back on the beach of the Great Rattle Snake Lake. The fog had lifted and the sun shone brighter than ever on the water surface. Then, a thunderous voice came from the sky and spoke to her the following words:
Gego gashkendigen noozis.
Mii dash enaabandaman da-izhi-webad.
Giga gikinoowezhigoog midemiigisag,
Mii dash gichiijaag windaabiidam.
Mishiikenh giga mizhinaawa-ig,
Mii dash mino-dodoman, gibawaajige.
(“Do not be sad my grandchild.
The Thunder Grandfathers are generous with you,
So your dream will become reality.
The sacred cowry shells will guide you,
So your spirit will endure.
The great mud turtle will be your messenger,
And you shall dream of good things.")
The voice from the sky faded away and a magic mikinaak (great snapping turtle), its shell the shape of a miigis, emerged from the waters. The snapping turtle spoke to Will-Sit-on-the-Nest-Woman as follows: “Aaniin noozis, I was sent by the Thunder Grandfathers to fetch you. As you know, the Thunderers, which come to earth every spring in the form of giant birds, have formidable powers that, as bringers of the life-bringing rain that washes clean all of nature, control the lives and the existence of anishinaabeg (human beings), awesiinhyag (animals), and ozaagakiig (plants) alike. This is why your People never forget to remember them, and in order to remember and honor their sacred gifts, they chose nimikiig (thunderclaps) and waasamoog (lightning) to represent them.
Igaye, also, since your People have no direct control over the formidable powers of the Thunderbirds, they chose certain women and men of your tribes to commune with them. These medicine people use ojichaak-bimisewin (spirit flight) to do so, and they exercise their spirit powers to assist the process of healing the sick in their tribes. So powerful is their medicine that their spirits are able to fly forth and explore distant places that lie behind the moon, the sun, haw sa, even beyond binesiwi-miikana, the Thunderbird Trail!⁸
Haw dash, well now! Out of all these medicine people, noozis, it is you who was chosen, because your visions of the black-headed eagle⁹ and the seashell in the sky was deemed extraordinarily powerful. It is you who is chosen to travel to the domain of the Thunder Beings and marry one of their women, and henceforth you shall represent your people on earth from their dwelling place in the sky.
Mii dash noozis, my grandchild, therefore, since Nookomis, our grandmother Moon, conferred upon me the power to freely travel between the different layers of the Universe and to communicate between all beings that inhabit these world layers -- and to commune between all different dimensions that exist in terms of physics and time --, I now bid you to allow me to take you to a distant place beyond the stars where the Thunder Beings live. In this faraway place your spouse awaits you and in it is there that you will fulfill your vision and find your purpose.”
As soon as the Great Sea Turtle had finished his speech, Will-Sit-on-the-Nest-Woman waded through the water toward him, and as she pounded on her hand drum she sang a sacred song:
Heya-way-whe- H’ya-whe-yawhe-yaw! Heya-wya-whe.
Gigiizhigoongimaani nindowedaan Jiigaya'ii shkwaandeming, besha waawizhigaa-bowiyaan. Nimidewewiganim, manidoowiyaawi. Giizhigoong wida debweweshin, nidewewiganim. Nindanimikiimiinigowin, Nigiiwitaakamigowiyaan, Giginawaaji-bii’igaade.
(Heya-way-whe- H’ya-whe-yawhe-yaw! Heya-wya-whe.
To the skies I look and call Near your entrance I will soon stand. I bid you to bestow mystery on my drum. My drumming shall sound throughout the Universe. My thunder gift, Around the earth I shall carry it, It shall be acknowledged by the spirits.”)
Once Will-Sit-on-the-Nest-Woman had climbed inside the sea shell that was the Great Turtle’s back, Michi-mikinaak said "Aw, izhaadaa! Owidi inakake binesiwi-miikana gaye dash awasayi'ii izhaadaa!" (Allright, let us go! Over this way, let us go to the Thunderbird Trail!”) And off they went, upward, with great speed toward the Thunderbird Trail and as the Great Rattle Snake beyond them disappeared out of view they flew upward like a bolt of lightning in reverse, breaking apart the clouds and letting the light of the moon and the sun and the stars shine through. Climbing faster than the speed of light the Great Turtle sang a mystic song that echoed throughout the Universe:
Heya-way-whe- H-ya-whe-yawhe-yaw! Heya-wya-whe.
A yo-o, nimishimikinaak, Ya oo, ya i', ya i', ya i', ya i'. A yo-o, Nimidemiigis bimiwijige, Ya oo, ya i', ya i', ya i', ya i'. A yo-o ogidibiig babaamaashiyaan, Ya oo, ya i', ya i', ya i', ya i'. A yo-o Nindebaab aazhawi-anangoong, Ya oo, ya i', ya i', ya i', ya i'!
(“Heya-way-whe- H-ya-whe-yawhe-yaw! Heya-wya-whe.
A yo-o, I am the Great Sea Turtle. Ya oo, ya i', ya i', ya i', ya i'. A yo-o, I am the Sacred Sea Shell Ya oo, ya i', ya i', ya i', ya i'. A yo-o I fly over the waters, Ya oo, ya i', ya i', ya i', ya i'. A yo-o I can see beyond the stars, Ya oo, ya i', ya i', ya i', ya i'!”)
Inside the miigis shell, Will-Sit-on-the-Nest-Woman took out her zhiishiigwan (turtle shell rattle) from her travel pack. Accompanied by the rhythmic sound of the rattle her ojichaag (spirit) was carried as if it were an eagle swiftly climbing on an upward wind. Soaring and circling in a sacred blessing her eagle medicine caused her spirit to fly through Bagonegiizhig –- a big opening in the sky, a spiritual doorway that gave access to the star world.¹⁰
The two eagle feathers that she carried around her neck in one hand – pointing them toward the stars -- and the rattle –- shaken in sacred, rhythmical pattern -- in the other, Will-Sit-on-the-Nest-Woman sang a mystic song:
Heya-way-whe- H-ya-whe-yawhe-yaw! Heya-wya-whe.
H -ya-whe-yawhe-yaw! H-ya-whe-yawhe-yaw!
H -ya-whe-yawhe-yaw! H-ya-whe-yawhe-yaw!
Niin niizh-manidoo Giiwitaa-giizhigong Nindombaashi dibishkoo giniw. Heya-way-whe- H-ya-whe-yawhe-yaw! Heya-wya-whe.
H-ya-whe-yawhe-yaw! H-ya-whe-yawhe-yaw! (“Heya-way-whe- H-ya-whe-yawhe-yaw! Heya-wya-whe.
H-ya-whe-yawhe-yaw! H -ya-whe-yawhe-yaw!
H-ya-whe-yawhe-yaw! H -ya-whe-yawhe-yaw! Two-spirited I am
All around the Sky I am Soaring up like a War Eagle. Heya-way-whe- H-ya-whe-yawhe-yaw! Heya-wya-whe.
H-ya-whe-yawhe-yaw! H-ya-whe-yawhe-yaw!”) Finally, 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! ---, Will-Sit-on-the-Nest-Woman’s spirit reached Binesiwi-miikana, the Thunderbird Trail. There, at the end of the starry river path, she came upon a barren, gloomy looking plain beneath a sunless sky. The great turtle with the miigis-shaped back shield that had transported her to this land was nowhere to be seen! For one disorienting moment she wondered if she hadn't imagined him entirely; had it perhaps been her own powerful eagle medicine that had brought her there?
~~ THE REUNION WITH WALKS-AT-NIGHT ~~
Then, as she gazed around in wonderment and awe – still wondering if the turtle had been a figment of her imagination --, she thought she saw before her, on top of a steep jagged-edged cliff the color of jet, the contours of a single wiigiwaam (wigwam) surrounded by many trees, badly charred as if hit by lightning, and covered in a thick, gloomy blanket of fog! Anxious to fulfil her quest and find back the woman she loved, Will-Sit-on-the-Nest-Woman mustered up her courage and –- her heart racing, holding a miigis shell in the hollow of her left hand and the fingertips of her right hand touching Flying-Down-Thunder’s eagle feathers --, walked into the direction of the ghostly lodge. As she stood near the entrance to the lodge, tayaa! what she found there made her blood stop in her veins!
The frame of the wiigiwaam in front of her had a peaked roof and a covering of ginebigozhaga'ayag (snakeskins), and around the lodge lay scattered between the scorched trees the remains of many ginebigoog (snake species): omazaandamoog (black snakes), mideweweg and naadoweg (rattle snakes), miskondibag (copperheads), wenjida-ginebigoog (garter snakes), ozaawi-and ozhaawashko- ginebigoog (yellow and green snakes), and neweg (bull snakes). Some had been swallowing their own bodies, while others were still alive, ferociously writhing and slithering and hissing in agony and anger at the approaching girl.
Will-Sit-on-the-Nest-Woman, whose eagle medicine made her determined to fulfill her vision, did not shrink back and, as the mass of writhing and slithering reptiles reluctantly made way for her, she reached resolutely for the door flap. In the wiigiwaam’s dim interior she barely discerned the figure of a mindimooyenh (old woman). Waatayaa, maanaadizi a’awe okoomisan, she thought by herself, my goodness, she is homely, that grandmother!
The old woman, drawing back from her uninvited visitor in seemingly great distrust, hissed “Hisht, awegonen o'ow? Hey! What is this? Why did you come here? Don’t you know where you are? Gaawiin ninandawenimaa ji-biindigewaad imaa biindig! I do not want you to come in here! You don’t belong here! Ani-giiwen! Go back!
“Oooh memdaage! Mii go maanoo nookoo, Oh my gosh! That’s fine grandmother,” Will-Sit-on-the-Nest-Woman replied, “Awenen idash giin? Anishinaabekwe na gidaaw? Aaniindi niin? But who are you? Do you belong to my People? And where am I?”
“Gibiijiin! Stop! This is the gateway to the land of the Thunder Beings. You do not belong here! Gidanishinaabe, gaawiin jiibay! You are a mortal, not a ghost! Zhegiiwen! Go back!” the old woman retorted.
The old woman’s voice had risen to a shriek; but Will-Sit-on-the-Nest-Woman, determined to find her lover, made no move to leave. Then, faster than Will-Sit-on-the-Nest-Woman could blink the old women threw off her robe and Will-Sit-on-the-Nest-Woman saw to her horror that the old woman had changed into a young woman, naked. Snakes coiled with jaws agape where once had been her limbs! Opening their fanged maws wide the snakes lunged at Will-Sit-on-the-Nest-Woman, who barely sidestepped the lightning strikes. The girl screamed reflexively and dived to the floor. The snake heads shot past her and their snouts smashed hard into the wall, leaving them groggy and disoriented for a few eyeblinks. This gave Will-Sit-on-the-Nest-Woman time to look into the hatred-distorted face of her attacker. It was the jiibay (ghost) of her sister, Walks-at-Night, whom she had left dead on the beach of the Great Rattle Snake Lake!
“You have betrayed me! It is bad enough you stole away my thunderbird woman from me!” her sister screamed in utter rage, “and now you have the nerve to come to this limbo land and enter my lodge? There is no way I will let you pass and enter yonder abode of the Thunder Beings!” Now, the snakes, who had regained their senses, prepared for another attack, and Will-Sit-on-the-Nest-Woman, the miigis shell clasped tightly in her hand and her fingertips touching her eagle feather necklace, braced herself for yet another assault. But then, tayaa! suddenly the lodge started to tremble. Invisible powers shot forth lightning and thunder across the sky toward Walk-at-Night’s lodge, and the attacking serpents recoiled in horror. Then, before Walk-at-Night’s dazed eyes, invisible wings lifted Sit-on-the-Nest-Woman and, amid thunderclaps and lightning, guided her through the smoke hole and made her land on a higher-located land. It was a vast plain of thick clouds covered with rocks and heaps of stones!
As the lightning of the celestial thunderstorm beneath her flickered off, Sit-on-the-Nest-Woman looked over the rim of the plain and saw far below her the small figure of her sister, who had regained the form of an old woman, standing in front of her wiigiwaam, raising her fist, cursing her. But the distance muffled her voice, and it was then that Sit-on-the-Nest-Woman noticed in wonder that the high place she had been taken to was immersed in a petrified stillness, as if time had ceased! Then, when she looked up, she saw standing on an elevated blanket of cloud a towering wiigwaasi-madogwaan (birchbark tipi)!
~~ THE REUNION WITH FLYING-DOWN-THUNDER ~~
Happy laughter broke the silence on the celestial plain and Will-Sit-on-the-Nest-Woman noticed it came from the majestic wiigiwaam in front of her. Then the tipi flap opened and hoowah! there stood her Thunderbird woman, her wounds healed and looking more beautiful than ever!
Boozhoo, biindigen!” Flying-Down-Thunder said, “hello, welcome! I am happy to see you managed to escape your sister’s wrath for the second time!” With concern she asked why Sit-on-the-Nest-Woman had followed her to his world above the clouds. “Because you are niwiidigemaagan (my spouse),” Sit-on-the-Nest-Woman answered. Flying-Down-Thunder smiled upon hearing Sit-on-the-Nest-Woman's words. “Ambesa! Come! I will ask my People if they will allow us to give a wedding feast,” the Thunderbird woman said. “We must hunt for food, but not before we see our Medicine Woman, who will perform a sacred naming ceremony, since my People will not recognize you as long as you carry your present earth name.. the new name will define who you will be in the sky, as one of our People. Ambe wewiib, wiidosemishin! Come, hurry, walk with me!"
Flying-Down-Thunder took Sit-on-the-Nest-Woman's hand in hers and together they walked on the rocky plain until they reached a pool in whose water stood a dome-shaped lodge. It was the Medicine Lodge where the Medicine Woman resided. "Ambe niinimoshenh, biindige, come sweetheart, go inside," Sit-on-the-Nest-Woman said, I will stay here and wait for you!" Sit-on-the-Nest-Woman waded through the water and when she opened the lodge flap she noticed a white-haired woman sitting on a floor covered with apishimonag (cedar boughs), eating her midday meal. She sat in the center of the wiigiwaam facing a round, red hot madoodisonasin (grandfather stone) that gave off a thick steam. The penetrating scent of burnt leaves of asemaa (tobacco), giizhikaatig (cedar), and mashkodewashk (wild sage) filled the lodge and reminded the girl of home.
~~ THE NAMING CEREMONY ~~
"Boozhoo noozis, biindigen," the old woman said as she looked up from her plate of snake meat, smiling, and she was clearly pleased by the gift of miigisag that she received from her guest. The many wrinkles on her face, apparently earned through hardship and grief and also much laughter, showed wisdom of life. "I have expected you and prepared for this day... Misaabooz Baaginaazhikwe nindizhinikaaz: "Woman-Who-Strikes-the -Great-Hare-with-Lightning" is my name. I know you, you are the two-spirited earthling who came to our tribe to become one of us. It was me who struck lightning at your sister at the Great Rattlesnake Lake when she tried to use her snake medicine on my People! And it was me who struck her on the beach when she used bear medicine to attack Flying-Down-Thunder! My tribe chose you to be our representative among your tribe, to hunt snakes and ward off the evil spirits that threaten them from underneath the lake surfaces. But before anything else, you shall keep an eye on them and examine their hearts and minds, and remind them to live according the laws of mino-bimaadiziwin, the philosophy of how to live life in a good and wholesome way. You shall be able to look straight into their hearts and read their minds and punish them if they do not maintain a good moral conduct. You shall also be known among your People on earth as an ogichidaakwe who inspires and protects other two-spirited, and since you yourself will live in two worlds, the sky world and the earth world, you shall be a symbol of the innate two-sidedness of Two-Spirits and of the human prejudices they must cope with because of this duality. You came to my Lodge to receive a name that will reflect your identity and your purpose both in the sky world and the earth world. Noongom, now, before I give you your new name, let me first first tell you how I got my name."
“Once, when I was still weshkiniigid (a young woman), there lived on earth a manidoo-gwiiwizenh (spirit-boy), who was named Nanabozho (Trembling Tail) by his grandmother Nookomis and who taught your People how to live on earth.
It is said that this spirit boy lived in the sky but at one time was sent to earth to be a teacher.
One day Wenabozho (for this is how we call him when we talk about him) asked Nookomis what was the biggest fish in the lake. She replied that there was a gigantic ginoozhens (pike) that lived by a rock ledge but it was very powerful and would harm Wenabozho. No one could kill the fish because no one could get down there where it lived.
Wenabozho thought about how to hunt this ginoozhens, so he got some wood to make a bow and arrows. Then he asked his grandmother if there were any binesiwag (birds) whose feathers could be put on the arrows to make them effective. She told Wenabozho the only feathers strong enough come from a binesi that lives in the sky, at the opening of the clouds. One would have to go there to get these feathers.
Wenabozho climbed to the highest cliff and inashke! behold! there he discovered the nest in which I happened to live with my babies when I was still a young woman. Inashke Wenabozho iidog anooj gii-izhichige, you see, Wenabozho was always up to something! When Wenabozho saw my children he turned into a waabimisaaboz (white jack rabbit)! Thinking he was truly a hare, I took him to my nest for my babies to play with. Wiinabozho stayed in the nest for a long time; the babies played with him but never wounded him. One day I went away to hunt for more snakes for my babies. Quickly Wiinabozho turned back to a boy; he clubbed my kids and pulled out their feathers. Before I could return, Wiinabozho jumped from the high nest with the bundle of feathers but he did this so rashly that he was knocked out. But Wiinabozho was not killed because he is manidoo (a spirit)! When I returned to my nest, I saw what happened and, stricken with grief and rage at the loss of my children, flew after that darned Wenabozho! Thunder rolled from my beak and lightning flashed from my eyes! Wenabozho ran for his life clutching his bundle of feathers, but soon grew tired. As I reached for him with my claws, Wenabozho saw an old fallen birch that was hollow inside. He crept into the hollow in the nick of time! I had no choice than to end my attack because our People, as you know, regard birch trees as our own children! Wenabozho was safe. After I ascended back into the sky mourning the death of my babies, Wenabozho came out and proclaimed that the birch tree would forever protect and benefit the Anishinaabeg. Wenabozho fixed his arrows and went home. With these arrows he headed out on the lake in his canoe and killed the great pike that lived under the rock ledge.¹¹
Now, if you look closely, noozis, you can still see the short marks on the birch tree to commemorate my sharp claws which almost killed him. I also put "pictures" of my baby birds with outstretched wings into the bark so the sacrifice of my children would always be remembered! Upon returning to my tribe and after a mourning period of 3 suns and moons, a naming ceremony was held on my behalf, and this is how I received the name Misaabooz Baaginaazhikwe nindizhinikaaz, Woman-Who-Strikes-the-Great-Hare-with-Lightning!"
Smiling at the Anishinaabe girl who sat across her listening intently, the old Medicine Woman, after a brief silence, resumed, "Now you know the story of my name, noozis, it is time to give you a name that tells yours!"
The scent of burning medicine lifted from the glowing grandfather stone as the old woman took a giniw miigwan (eagle feather) and fanned the fragrant smoke over Sit-on-the-Nest-Woman. The Medicine Woman offered a prayer, which, although it was done in a strange tongue she had never heard before, Sit-on-the-Nest-Woman understood it to be for a long and prosperous life. Next, the old woman directed her gaze at the Anishinaabe girl and spoke in a thoughful manner. "Niizh Manidoo Animikii, Two-Spirit Thunder will be your name. You will wear this name with dignity and awareness of its sacred meaning. It is not only a prized possession, to be cherished and loved; above all, it defines who you are as a two-spirited being, a being of earth and a being of fire, as well as a being of masculine characteristics and a being of feminine characteristics. But whether you are a manidoo (a spiritual being) or whether you are anishinaabe (a human being), whether you reside in the sky or whether you dwell the earth, your name will remind you to strive each day to be a good person. You shall align your identity and your future life with the name that is given to you today. You shall be dedicated to your Thunderbird family, your People on earth, and the language and you shall be a true leader to us all — not by command, position, or power, but by your moral courage, your kind behavior, and your genuine goodness. You will put to good use your keen insight and the ability to see things through both feminine and masculine eyes; you will use this gift, this niizho-izhinamowin ("double vision") to help your People on earth to spiritually grow and prosper. You shall become a teacher unafraid to grow strong and wise, and you shall make our People and your People proud."
After the ceremony was over Woman-Who-Strikes-the-Great-Hare-with-Lightning gifted Two-Spirit Thunder with a manidoowayaan (medicine bag made of snake skin) containing special items that she had assembled prior to Two-Spirit Thunder's arrival, and she explained to her that it was her role as Name-Giver to be Two Spirit Thunder's aadizookaan (guiding patron) for life.
Sit-on-the-Nest-Woman, whose name was now Two-Spirit Thunder, bade her Name-Giver giga-waabamin ("until later") and left the wiigiwaam, but not before the old woman put her hand on her arm and looked her straight into her eyes, saying, "Ayaamgwaanizin, noozis. Inashke go, zanagad ezhaayan. Be on your guard, my grandchild. It is difficult where you are going, you see."
~~ THE UNDERWATER SERPENT ~~
As she left the lodge of the old medicine woman Two-Spirit Thunder noticed to her relief that Flying Down Thunder had waited for her at the edge of the pool. After she had told Flying Down Thunder about the naming ceremony, the latter said, "Now, we must hunt and bring food to my family because they are hungry." Then, as she pointed her chin at the horizon, she added, "Ambe! ani-naanaaba'anishin! Bezhig wajiw iwidi ayaamagad, giishkaabikaa. Come, walk along in my footsteps! There is a mountain off yonder, it has steep sides." Consenting, Two Spirit Thunder followed her spouse to a mountain whose peak penetrated the very clouds they were walking on. There, on top of the mountain, Two Spirit Thunder noticed a pool of iridescent water with colors that reminded her of a rainbow. Since her makizinan (moccasins) looked worn, Two Spirit Thunder kneeled down and took some of this magic water in the palm of her hands and decorated her makizinan with it.
“Betag niinimoshenh, be careful my sweetheart,” Flying-Down-Thunder warned. “This here pool is the home of Mishi-giizhig-ginebig, a Great Horned Sky Serpent, who lurks on the bottom of the pool for unsuspecting prey and makes a habit of grabbing our young and dragging them down to his abode in the depths of the water to devour them. This is why our People, who will soon be your People, must protect our young and must fend the serpent off by slinging our thunderbolts at them. I will now go into the pool and hunt the evil Serpent for its flesh.”
Consenting, Two-Spirit Thunder followed her spouse to a mountain whose peak penetrated the very clouds they were walking on. There, on top of the mountain, she noticed a pool of iridescent water with colors that reminded her of a rainbow. Since her makizinan (moccasins) looked worn, Two-Spirit Thunder kneeled down and took some of this magic water in the palm of her hands and decorated her makizinan with it.
“Betag niinimoshenh, be careful my sweetheart,” Flying-Down-Thunder warned. “This here pool is the home of Mishi-giizhig-ginebig, a Great Horned Sky Serpent, who lurks on the bottom of the pool for unsuspecting prey and makes a habit of grabbing our young and dragging them down to his abode in the depths of the water to devour them. This is why our People, who will soon be your People, must protect our young and must fend the serpent off by slinging our thunderbolts at them. I will now go into the pool and hunt the evil Serpent for its flesh.”
Next, Flying-Down-Thunder changed herself into a mishi-name (great sturgeon). Despite pleas of Two- Spirit Thunder not to go, she dived into the depths of the magic pool to wrestle a young Thunder Being away from the Serpent Spirit. After she brought the frightened Thunderbird to safety -- meanwhile a big thunderstorm had approached and raged above -- she dove back into the pool, shapeshifted into a human again and, as the thunderstorm was reaching its climax, she jumped on the great snake’s back and killed it with her warclub! Hereupon Two-Spirit Thunder, impressed by Flying-Down-Thunder’s magic powers and bravery, suggested they return to the Thunderbird Lodge and meet her family.
~~ THE HUNT FOR BEAVER MEAT ~~
After they had descended the mountain Two-Spirit Thunder and Flying-Down-Thunder walked back to the big Sky Lodge. Inside the gichi-wiigiwaam were Flying-Down-Thunder’s sister and her four brothers; in the back sat an elderly woman by a fire preparing an evening meal and, across the fire, an Animikii-aadizookan (Thunder Grandfather) sat in human form smoking a stone pipe. Light radiated from his eyes, suggesting to Two Spirit Thunder a presence full of great power and wisdom.
All was profound stillness in the Sky Lodge, only broken now and then by the crackling of the fire and the howling of the storm that still raged on top of the Serpent Mountain. “Boozhoo nimishoo!” Two- Spirit Thunder said. “Hello grandfather! I come from aki (the earth) with respect and acknowledgement.” Then, respectfully, she presented the old Grandfather with asemaa and a handful of miigisag from her pouch and some of the flesh of the Great Snake that her spouse had killed, which was met with nods and grunts of approval.
It turned out that the grandfather, who introduced himself as Ogimaa Animikiib Giniw (Leading Thunder Eagle), was the father of Flying-Down-Thunder and her six siblings; as it happened, he was also ogimaa (Chief) of the Thunderbird Nation. As he noticed Two-Spirit Thunder’s hunger the old man offered her the meat of the freshly caught monster – which he called “amiik-wiiyaas” (beaver flesh). When the girl politely declined, tayaa! suddenly a roar of deafening thunder erupted as Thunder Man’s siblings stretched out their arms and changed into Thunderbirds!
Next, Flying-Down-Thunder and her sister and brothers left the lodge and flew away amid thunderclaps and lightning to a big lake on earth. Shortly they returned with more, as they called it, “beaver meat” – which Two-Spirit Thunder, filled with unspeakable horror, recognized to be a makade-mishi-name-ginebig, a great black sturgeon snake with a fishtail and horns like a moose, still alive and coiling! They offered the fish-snake to Two-Spirit Thunder to eat it but the Anishinaabe girl, trying hard to hide her disgust, quickly turned away from the writhing mass of flesh. “Gaawiin,” she said, since I belong to the snake clan I am not allowed to eat snake meat.”
The next morning the thunderstorm on the Serpent Mountain had passed and peace had returned to the land. When the light of day was starting to break Leading Thunder Eagle again asked Two-Spirit Thunder if she needed food. When the latter said yes her spouse and her six siblings flew down to the earth again; this time to return with a Mishi-bizhiw (a cat-like underwater spirit) and a handful of frogs, toads, and adders, which they had caught in a big lake and marshlands below the clouds. Again, the Anishinaabe girl politely, yet resolutely declined the “beaver meat” that was put in front of her served in a stone bowl.
With the passing of days, Two-Spirit Thunder’s hunger got worse and she grew weaker and weaker. Touching the miigis shells in her medicine pouch and the golden-eagle feather that she carried around her neck she desperately tried to change herself into a Thunderbird but to no avail; apparently, the gift of transformation that had been gifted to her and her sister at birth -- the same power that that imparted her sister with reptilian traits – wasn’t powerful enough to have her transformed into a supernatural being!
~~ THE TRANSFORMATION ~~
Finally the elder woman who lived in the Thunder Lodge – and who turned out to be her mother --, fearing that her daughter-in-law from earth was starving, told her daughter to take her to her great medicine uncle, whose name was Giiwitaa-giniw (Around the War Eagle). As her uncle was a jaasakiid (seer using a shaking tent) she knew that he would have strong medicine for the Anishinaabekwe who came from the Earth World. Next, she laid Two-Spirit Thunder on a blanket of cloud as soft as rabbit fur and wrapped her gently so that she would not see. Then, with the thunder suddenly erupting, Two- Spirit Thunder felt her nest of cloud move!
After what seemed like a mere moment the cloud stopped shaking and Flying-Down-Thunder’s mother removed the cloud from around Two-Spirit Thunder, and sa niinwi! in front of Two-Spirit Thunder, perched on another cloud, stood a Gichi-Giizhig-jiisakaan (great Sky Medicine lodge)! Two-Spirit Thunder looked around her and saw many wiigwaasi-zhaabondawaanan (birchbark longhouses) that were the homes of many different kinds of Thunderbirds, little and big Thunderbirds; with a shock she realized these Thunderbirds, like her spouse and her family members, as well as the medicine woman who had given her a new name, were all in human form!
Entering the great medicine lodge Flying-Down-Thunder beseeched her uncle -- a quite impressive fellow with snow white hair and bright yellow eyes -- for help. After she gifted him with a bowl of snake meat she said “Inga (my mother) said that you would have mashkiki (medicine) for niiw (my wife) so that she may eat as we do and perhaps even become one of us.”
The old Thunderbird Healer stood in silence pondering the love between oshimis (his niece) and the earthling and the consequences of such an action.
“Let it be known, nishim, that if a’aw anishinaabe (that human) takes my medicine she will never return to earth but will become a Binesi (Thunderbird) forever,” the old medicine bird said. Hardly had he uttered these words when the great medicine lodge began to shake! The Thunderbird Medicine Man started to commune with the spirits of the Universe in strange tongues that were unintelligible to Two- Spirit Thunder! Next, the white-haired jaasakiid carefully took two small blue medicine eggs out of his bundle, mixed them together, and advised Two Spirit Thunder to call on her eagle medicine and drink from the magic brew.
Two-Spirit Thunder, calling upon her eagle medicine, touched the feathers that she carried around her neck. As she swallowed the beverage she felt a strange power surge throughout her body and looking at her hands and feet, atayaa! she noticed they were no longer human but of the talons and wings of a Thunderbird! “Nimishoo! zhayiigwa ninaa aabita nibinesiw! O grandfather! already have I now become half a Thunderbird!” she exclaimed. Again, she touched the eagle feathers and the change was complete. “Tayaa! Mii gakina gii-binesawiyaan! Wow! Wholly now have I become a Thunderbird!” she shouted. She was now an Animikii Binesi, a Thunderbird! Her human form, the wiigiwaaman, the Great Medicine Lodge, the rocks that lay scattered on the plain -- all disappeared. Everywhere she looked, all she could see were clouds and everyone who surrounded her was now a Thunderbird!
After her wondrous transformation into a Thunderbird, Two-Spirit Thunder thanked the old Thunderbird Healer and she and Flying-Down-Thunder spread their wings and flew to Flying-Down-Thunder ’s nest. To her own amazement, she no longer detested snake meat. The vision that she had when she was still a girl and that had given her her first name, had finally become reality …
The following day Two-Spirit Thunder and Flying-Down-Thunder gave a great feast, and everyone was invited!
~~ THEY SOAR TOGETHER ~~
There, in this place high above the earth, spending their days feasting on snakes, cats, and frogs and hunting the Underwater Spirits on earth, the two lovers happily lived together … and amid the clouds and the glowing splendor of the stars they experienced the essence of what is sometimes called ajiwekamig bezhigwendamowin: the unity and conformity of universal thoughts and knowledge. And to this day, when spring arrives in the land, Two-Spirit Thunder and Flying-Down-Thunder, under the tutelage and the magical protection of Woman-Who-Strikes-the-Great-Hare-with-Lighting, leave their home in the sky on wings of thunder to bring knowledge, fertility, and prosperity to the earth below. And it is understood that at times, Two-Spirit Thunder leaves her high stone nest alone and travels to the earth in human form to teach among her former People, the Anishinaabeg.
This is why even now, when we see a war eagle soar across the skies, we stop in our tracks -- or pull over our car. With asemaa (tobacco) in hand we humbly remember the story about the ogichidaakwe who had a great vision and dared to walk tall between two worlds. And we once again are reminded of the importance of Two-Spirit people in our culture and traditions …
Meanwhile, one night in late summer the vindictive spirit of Two-Spirit Thunder's sister Flies-At-Night-Woman returned from her high abode in the clouds to create havoc on earth. Eversince her twin sister had left her behind in limbo and succeeded in finding back her Thunderbird lover, Flies-At-Night-Woman had been plotting her revenge. Her heart turned to stone, Flies-At-Night-Woman decided to return as a jiingwan (stone falling out of the sky). But, in her intense fervor to take revenge on her sister she, as she was aiming for the area of her birthplace -- the area nowadays known as Blind River --, missed her target and flashed westward, over the island of Manidoowini-minising (Manitou Island), to finally land in the southwesternmost corner of the Great Rattle Snake lake! Here, near the place called Kikonaang (Place of the Kettles),¹² Flies-At-Night-Woman fell asleep and lived a dormant life for several generations.
The Anishinaabeg of Kikonaang figured that this stone from the sky -- which they called "Anang" (Star) --, as long as it was buried in the bottom of the Great Rattle Snake Lake, would do them no harm. But then, one bad day, the stone spirit that once had been Two Spirit Thunder's twin sister, woke up from her slumber and awakened the dreaded serpents of the lake! This made them slash their tails, and the flood that was caused by this struck the land with such terrible anger and violence that the sky spirits responded with equal force! The sky grew dark with storm; then, a terrible thunderstorm and lightning came from above and pounded the land and caused the waters to withdraw and the horned underwater spirits to flee back to the bottom, and back into the caves and crevices, of the lakes and rivers.
The following day, a very brave Anishinaabe Inini (Ojibwe man) whose name was Niizh Manidoo Waabooz (Two-Spirit Hare) and who lived on a high bluff above the rocky shore near the Place of the Kettles, decided to defy the unleashed spirit of Flies-At-Night-Woman and start a dialogue with her twin sister, whom he knew governed together with her spouse the Four Winds of the Universe.
Dressed in the clothing of a woman, asemaa in hand, Two-Spirit Hare stepped out of his wiigiwaam, walked to the shore where his jiimaan (canoe) rested, and risked his live by heading out on the tempestuous lake.
Paddling along Two-Spirit Hare sang a magic song:
Wegonen manepwaand? Wegonen waa bagidinagesig? Who dares without tobacco? Who dares without offering?
Asemaa bizaande-ekaage. Asemaa waaseyaakaage. Tobacco will allay your anger. Tobacco will brighten the sky.
As he steered his canoe toward the middle of the lake, the roaring waves subdued and a thick brown foam started to cover the lake's surface like a blanket of dirty snow, and amid the frothy mess he noticed to his horror a great mass of omazaandamoog (sea snakes) coiling, hissing at him ferociously with all their might. Two-Spirit Hare fetched his bawaagan (peace pipe) and blew the smoke into the four directions in order to appease the angry forces that had been unleashed on the lake. Then, suddenly, a great thunderclap sounded above the lake and when he looked up, hoowah! he saw two golden eagle feathers falling out of the sky! Still chanting his magic song and struggling to keep his canoe from capsizing, Two-Spirit Hare stood erect and with both arms outstretched, amid blasts of deafening thunder claps and searing flashes of lightning, he caught both feathers.
Then, tayaa! the thunderstorm ceased as suddenly as it had begun and the sky became serene again… the foam and the coiling snakes had disappeared and the scorched land around him lay littered with pieces of flint-like stone, which appeared to have been chipped off the body of Flies-At-Night-Woman by the thunderbolts that her twin sister and her spouse had slung at her! Hereupon the brave Ojibwe Inini named Two Spirit Hare addressed the spirit of Flies-At-Night-Woman:
“Waahowaa! Once again you were defeated by the Thunder Beings, who are our allies. Your body lies now scattered throughout the land but your vindictive spirit will not return. Those pieces broken from your body may be of some use to anishinaabeg (human beings) some day. But you will not be able to attain any substantial form or shape so long as aki (the earth) shall last. You’ll never harm anyone again.”
...And the Story Continues.
Giiwenh. So the aadizookaan goes about the brave Misi-zaagiwininikwe (Mississauga Woman) Named Two-Spirit Thunder Who, Despite of the Jealousy of Her Twin Sister Flies-At-Night-Woman, Lived out Her Vision and Changed into a Thunder Being in order to Be with the Woman She Loved.
Mii sa ekoozid. Ahaw aapiji miigwech bizindawiyeg noongom. And now that is the end of the story. Thank you very much for listening to me today. Mi’iw akawe. That’s it for now.
¹ Naadowewi-gichigami: Great Rattlesnake Lake, nowadays called Lake Huron.
Biniwaabikong, also written as Penewobecong, is a river three miles (5 km) east of the Mississagi mouth. Biniwaabikong means "at the fallen rock" due to the smooth, sloping rock face along the river.
² Two-Spirits, those who are "gender variant," go by many names. Gaa-biiwaabikokwe (Iron Woman) used to be term for gender-variant (medicine) women who communed directly with the spirits - something that was generally reserved for men. Aabita-aanakwad ("Half Sky") was a term sometimes used for gender-variant women who took on typical men's roles, such as hunting and warfare. An old term for women who in dominant society would be referred to as "lesbian" is ogichidaa, plural ogichidaakweg: warrior women, or literally, “her brave heart." A (slightly prejorative) Ojibwe expression that was also commonly used was ininiikaazo, plural ininiikaazowag: “One who pretends to be like a man.” Then there is niizh ojichaag, plural niizh ojichaagwag, which literally translates into “Two Spirits/Souls,” describing a gender-variant male/female person. And then we have the modern Ojibwe expression: Niizh manidoo, plural niizh manidoog, or niizh manidoowag, which literally means Two Spirit Beings, or Two Mysteries.
From of old, two-spirited persons fulfill a traditional sacred, third-gender ceremonial and social role in Turtle Island (Native American) communities and Lodges. It is an ancient phenomenon that since time immemorial has been embedded in some (not all) Native cultures and traditions. In these traditions, "androgynous" or "transgender" persons are seen as doubly blessed, having both the spirit of a man and the spirit of a woman. Since they have two spirits they are seen as more spiritually - and generally also more artistically - gifted than the typical masculine male or feminine female. Some Two Spirit people choose to marry a person of the same sex, while other Two Spirit people choose to marry a person of opposite sex.
Two-Spirit is a moderately modern definition that openly defies western gender roles. It was born from the understanding that it is our tradition to focus on the spiritual gift and the gender role of a two-spirited person, rather than to emphasize his or her sexuality. in other words, Two-Spirit identity emphasized on a person's own gender and/or the roles they chose to do in their community and less on their own sexual and/or romantic orientation.
The term Niizh manidoo (Two-Spirit) was adopted in English, and created in Ojibwemowin (the Ojibwe language), in 1990 at the third annual Native American/First Nations gay and lesbian conference in Winnipeg, Manitoba, as a replacement for the homophobic European term berdache (from the French word bardache, which means “slave”). The identity itself was introduced by Anishinaabekwe-Métis-Nehiyaw Elder Myra Laramee (Ochekwi-Sipi/Fisher River Cree Nation, Manitoba) through a vision she had prior to the gathering in Winnipeg. Within this vision, Myra shared the vision she had of her Anishinaabemowin name of niizh manidoowag. The decision to adopt this new, pan-Indian term was deliberate, with a clear intention to distance themselves from non-Native gays and lesbians, as well as from non-Native terminology like berdache, gay, lesbian, and trans.
In a time before colonial contact, Two Spirit identity in several Turtle Island communities traditionally involved special work roles in society, e.g., pipe bearers, fire keepers, spokespersons/leaders, warriors/defenders, healers, visionaries, craftspersons/artists, knowledge keepers, caretakers/foster parents, and marriage counselors. The Anishinaabeg Peoples have traditionally certain important ceremonial roles for Two-Spirits; among the most sacred roles is tending the sacred fire, and the willingness to go into long vigils of prayer and fasting -- and, in some instances, literally sacrifice their lives for their people.
³ (O)misi-zaagiwinini Anishinaabeg: Literally “Anishinaabeg who live at the river with many outlets"; the Mississaugas.
⁴ Maji-bimose or makwa-bimose: a sinister medicine person; a “bear walker,” a medicine person and shapeshifter who walks by night in the form of a bear, using his or her bear powers to bring illness or death to their victims.
⁵ Thunderbird eggs: Mysterious round stones that lay scattered about in a place on the southeastern shore of the Rattle Snake Lake (Wiikwedong, nowadays called Kettle Point), and that were believed to be the eggs of the Thunderbirds that nested on the jagged, high point of land jutting into the lake.
⁶ Miswezaaging or misi-zaagi means “a river with many outlets or “a river with a wide mouth.” It is nowadays called Mississauga Valley; the river that flows there is nowadays called Mississaugi River.
⁷ GICHI-MANIDOO: Great Spirit; Great Mystery. The sum of all spirit and mystery that infuses everything in the universe.
⁸ Black-headed eagle: giniw, the golden eagle, also called War Eagle.
⁹ Binesiwi-miikana, the “Thunderbird Trail,” also called jiibay-miikana, “Trail of Souls”: the Milky Way.
10 Black-headed eagle: giniw, the golden eagle, also called War Eagle.
¹⁰ The Anishinaabe constellation, Bagonegiizhig -- Hole in the Sky, or Hole in the Day, is the star cluster commonly known by their Greek name, Pleiades. This constellation is only visible in winter and the fall. The open star cluster of Bagonegiizhig represents the opening between the Earth and the star world, or the spirit world. The seven stars of Hole in the Sky are believed to represent the seven poles used in the construction of the jiisaakaan (shaking tent).
¹¹ Source: The Origin and Spirit Powers of ᐧᐄᐧᑳᐦᔅ the Birch Tree told by Zhaawano Giizhik.
¹² Kikonaang: a place near Wiikwedong, Ontario and nowadays called Kettle Point. See also the history of Aazhoodena (Stony Point). Or visit the website of Chippewas of Kettle and Stony Point First Nation.