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  • Writer's picturezhaawano

Spirit of the Seasons, part 7: Mother Earth and the Dance of the Spring Equinox

Updated: Mar 23

Ziinzibaakwadooke Giizis (Maple Sugar Making Moon )- March 20, 2023



BOOZHOO! Today is known by many as the first day of Ziigwan, the powerful time of year we call spring! This year the first day of spring falls on Monday, March 20. The first day of spring season is determined by an astronomical event called a (vernal) equinox, rather than a specific day of the year. The vernal equinox in the Northern Hemisphere occurs when Gimishoomisinaan Giizis (Our Grandfather the Sun) crosses the celestial equator going south to north.

This is true, at least, according to the Gregorian calendar which follows the solar cycles. To us, Indigenous Peoples who follow the cycles of the moon, however, (early) spring starts with the flowing of the life-giving maple tree sap. If you listen to the trees at this time, you can hear the trees crackling as the sap flows. To others who live in regions where there is no abundance of maple trees, early spring starts when the sucker fish spawn, or when the eagles and geese and crows fly. When this is depends on the way nature behaves in a given region. It is hard to pin a specific date on the start of Spring Season. As opposed to those who follow Western tradition and thought, Anishinaabeg don't use fixed dates to mark important phenomena in nature.

Our name for the spring equinox, or late spring, is Minookamin. Traditionally, Minookamin ( Late Spring, literally "Being-Good-Earth") is the beginning of the new year to the Society of the Dawn People (Waabanoowiwin) — as opposed to the Midewiwin , who believe the new year begins in Winter Season. The celebration, or ceremony, of the Spring Equinox falls right after the Sugar Bush camps.

To the Midewiwin, Ziigwan, early Spring, is a time to participate in a tradition known as webinigewin — "throwing away"; a time of letting go. This is a concept that isn't hard to imagine when the ice on the lakes and rivers starts to thaw. As soon as the waters begin to flow freely it is time for emotional healing, starting with the loosening of thoughts and feelings toward one another.

Onizhishin miigwechiwitaagozing: It is good to give thanks. I therefore thought I'd celebrate the coming of spring which is my favorite time of year — and the spiritual concept of flowing waters with a painting, titled "Mother Earth and the Dance of the Spring Equinox." In it, Mother Earth, her loins flowing freely with the lifegiving nibi (water), seems to dance inside the Sun while shaking her zhiishiigwan, or ceremonial rattle. It is this dance that wakes up the creatures of the earth from their long winter slumber.

Zhiishiigwanan, like many items used in daily and ceremonial life on earth, have a direct connection with the spirits in the sky world. Among the Ininewak (Cree), who are cousins of the Anishinaabeg and have pretty similar cosmological beliefs, the sound of the rattle heralds the song and the arrival of sikwun (ziigwan in our language), the star constellation that encompasses the star that we call Giiwedin Anang, the North Star (Polaris). The root word of Sisikwun/Zhiishiigwan is Sikwun/Ziigwan...Spring.

The full moon that shone on March 6-7 is the closest full moon to the vernal equinox on March 20; the equinox, according to the solar calendar, marks the astronomical beginning of the spring season in the Northern Hemisphere when GIIZIS the Sun crosses the celestial equator going north.

Ziinzibaakwadooke-giizis (Sugar Making Moon) is our name for the full moon that shines in March.

The names of late winter and spring moons (months) are highly variable in the northwoods; Namebini Giizis, Onaabani Giizis, Bebookwedaagime Giizis, and Ziisibaakwadoke Giizis are all in use for the month of March. Season changes differ from the northernmost boundary to the southernmost boundary of Anishinaabe Aki. Since fish spawning runs in spring depend on the rivers and tributaries in which they run, Sucker Fish Moon (Namebini Giizis) could be as early as February and as late as May. The month of March is known in some areas as Crow Moon (Aandego Giizis) and in other regions as Eagle Moon (Migizii-biisim), Goose Moon (Nika Giizis), Hard Crust on the Snow Moon (Onaabani Giizis), or Snowshoe Breaking Moon (Bebookwedaagime Giizis), with variations. A hard crust is forming on top of the snow that can bear our weight. Time to make maple sugar is also a traditional event, happening in March in some parts and April in others. So, Sugar Making Moon (Ziisibaakwadoke Giizis or Ziinzibaakwadooke Giizis) are names that are typically used in those regions where the maples yield their nutritious sap.

Between late winter and early spring, we, as human beings, are transitioning from a quiet thinking time for legend telling and teachings, to another year of new beginnings. We're getting ready for our sugar camps and looking forward to getting out into nature. We start feeling energetic — even though spring is a spiritual time, it’s also a physical time.

On earth level, at this time of year, noozhe-makwak (mother bears) are having their babies in their den while they still sleep. Giigoonhyag, the fish, start to spawn, mitigoog (the trees) begin to shed their vital saps, and the first aandegag (crows) and ozhaawashko-bineshiinhyag (bluebirds) arrive from the south and fill the air with wings and rasping croaks and beautiful songs. The first waabigwaniin (flowers) appear, instantly transforming the country with their intoxicating fragrance and brilliant colors.

Nikag (geese) and zhiishiibag (ducks) are hunted on the lakes by the men. On the land, large game animals are hunted, such as adikwag (caribou) which, along with the winged beings, migrate from southern locations to more northern environments to bear their young. In former days these annual migrations used to provide vital food supplies for us. As plants, trees, and herbs begin to renew themselves after the winter cold, our Peoples traditionally gather roots and new leaves and plants for medicine, paint, ceremony, rituals, and food. We also harvest fish from the lakes for a great part of our diet and sap and bark from ininaatig (maple trees) and wiigwaas (birch trees), which we use for food and utensils, wiigiwaam (house) construction, and jiimaan (canoe) building, are being harvested as well.

As we have seen in the above, for some Anishinaabeg of the northwoods, Ziigwan is traditionally the beginning of a new year, physically as well as spiritually, as we transition from a quiet thinking time for legend telling and teachings to another year of new beginnings. Binesiwi-miikana, the Thunderbird Path, the galaxy called Milky Way in English, turns north and the migrating birds, along with the supernatural Thunderbirds from their stone nests situated on a mountain near Thunder Bay, follow it. The rise of Ojiiganang, the Fisher Star constellation, is an indication to the People that it is time to move their camp into the forest and prepare for aninaatig ozhiga'igewin, or tapping of the maple trees.

Each year around this time I think about the spring ceremonies that will be held throughout Anishinaabe Aki as we speak. I live abroad, far from any ceremonies but that doesn't keep me from musing about it. Perhaps musing on it is a ceremony in itself? I like to think so.

Personally I never attended any spring ceremonies yet but in my imagination the ceremony is paying attention to the life and the many good things that come from the east. Like growth of plant, trees etc. In spring the earth awakens like an infant is born from the mother's womb. The way I imagine it, the ceremony makes us aware that our physical health is directly connected with, and tied to, the earth. So it reminds us to take good care of ourselves in a good physical way.

The way I see it, spring ceremony is also a reference to the season that follows on spring, the summer. In summer ceremonies we are reminded of GIIZIS the sun, our life giver, and the south, where youth comes from. This is where we are reminded of the need to pay attention to, and heal, our emotional health. And not to be afraid to seek help if we are emotionally unbalanced. I was thinking, perhaps this is why the ceremony exhausts participants so much but also makes one feel happy? Because you realize that healing is a gradual step-by-step journey and that once you realize the importance of taking good care of your body, the April ceremony is a first solid step into the direction of emotional healing. I might be wrong but that is how I see it.

What I know for sure though is that we can only mean something substantial to others when we are balanced and feel worthy. This is why I am always glad when my friends, after they come out of ceremony tell me they feel good about themselves. It inspires me to work hard and have a positive outlook and feel good about myself. I am grateful for our ceremonies.

Nahaaw mii sa iw. Miigwech gii agindaasoyeg. OK that is all, thank you for reading.

Illustration: "Mother Earth and the Dance of the Spring Equinox," © 2023 Zhaawano Giizhik.

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