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Love Stories from the Land of Many Lakes: The Amazing Journey of a Woman Named Two-Spirit Thunder

Updated: Oct 14

~~ 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


ᐅᓵᐚᐱᐦᑯᐱᓀᐦᓯ Two Spirit Soul
"Soul," acrylic on canvas by the late ᐅᓵᐚᐱᐦᑯᐱᓀᐦᓯ (Miskwaabik Animikii/Norval Morrisseau).

“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. Ninga-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,* is represented by a white gold eagle feather ring set that I recently created at my workbench, and which is titled: Sound of the War Eagle /They Fly Together; see the above image. Also, several paintings by kindred artists as well as three black-and-whit line drawings done by myself 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 -- ahaaw, 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);others said she was bewitched by the spirits of the Binesii-waawananoon or Thunderbird eggs, 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, 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!

Two Spirit Thunder and the miigis in the sky
Miigis in the Sky, black-and-white line drawing by Zhaawano Giizhik © 2020 Zhaawano Giizhik.

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, 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 Carl Ray
Flying bear, acrylic and ink on paper by the late Carl Ray (1974).

~~ 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!

Animikii binesi miinawaa ginebigoog
Animikiig Nishkaadiziwin (Wrath of the Thunder Beings), line art by Zhaawano Giizhik © 2020 Zhaawano Giizhik.

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, 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.

Carl Ray Despair
Despair, ink on white art paper by the late Carl Ray (1972).

~~ 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.

Gizhaadizig animikiig,

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!


Haw dash, well now! Out of all these medicine people, noozis, it is you who was chosen, because your visions of the black-headed eagle 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.

H’ya-whe-yawhe-yaw!

H’ya-whe-yawhe-yaw! H’ya-whe-yawhe-yaw!

H’ya-whe-yawhe-yaw! H’ya-whe-yawhe-yaw!

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.

H’ya-whe-yawhe-yaw!

H’ya-whe-yawhe-yaw! H’ya-whe-yawhe-yaw!

H’ya-whe-yawhe-yaw! H’ya-whe-yawhe-yaw!

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.”)

Journey of the Two Spirit Woman by Zhaawano Giizhik
Niizh Manidoo Animikii Mamaanjbabaamaadiziwin (The Magic Journey of Two Spirit Thunder) © Zhaawano Giizhik.

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.

H-ya-whe-yawhe-yaw!

H-ya-whe-yawhe-yaw! H-ya-whe-yawhe-yaw!

H-ya-whe-yawhe-yaw! H-ya-whe-yawhe-yaw!


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.

H-ya-whe-yawhe-yaw!

H-ya-whe-yawhe-yaw! H-ya-whe-yawhe-yaw!

H-ya-whe-yawhe-yaw! H-ya-whe-yawhe-yaw!


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! 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! H-ya-whe-yawhe-yaw!

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! 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! H-ya-whe-yawhe-yaw!

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!

Norval Morrisseau Mother of All Serpents
Mother of All Serpents, acrylic on canvas by the late Ojibwe painter ᐅᓵᐚᐱᐦᑯᐱᓀᐦᓯ (Miskwaabik Animikii).

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.

Mishibizhiw Joshim Kakegamic
Misshepeshu (Mishibizhiw, the Great Horned Serpent), line d