Spirit of the Seasons, part 9: Mother Earth's Dream and the Birth of our Lunar Calendar
Waagaabagaa-giizis/Waatebagaa-giizis (Leaves Turning Moon), September 25, 2023
Boozhoo, aaniin, biindigen miinawaa nindaadizooke wigamigong; enji-zaagi'iding miinawaa gikendaasong.
Hello! Welcome back in my Storytelling Lodge where there is love and learning.
Today's story celebrates the beginning of a season that we call in our language dagwaagin, or binaakwii; both are verbs meaning "it is fall."
Indigenous First Nations of Turtle Island (America) do not go by the Gregorian calendar dates for the equinoxes and solstices. We go by the actual Astronomical Solar events for the seasons instead. Our calculations are based on thousands of years of close observation of the moon and the sun and the other stars. While the Gregorian calendar dictates that the equinox (when day and night are equally long) occurred two days ago, on September 23, to us, the Anishinaabeg from the North American Great Lakes area and a vast area stretching to the north, south, and west, the fall equinox occurs today, on 25 September 2023. To us, fall season starts today, at sunset.
Ahaaw ningad aadizooke: okay, I will now share a sacred story with you.
A long time ago, Gaa-biboonikaan, the Spirit of Winter, covered Mother Earth with his icy breath. All-year round the trees were covered with snow and ice and the Anishinaabeg lived miserable lives as famine, sickness, and death were part of their daily lives.* But then, one day, a mighty warrior woke up from a slumber that had lasted many winters – longer than most Anishinaabe could remember. This warrior, whose name was Mandaamin (Mystery Berry), danced around the Turtle Island, shaking his zhiishiigwan (magic rattle), and he chanted a manidoo-nagamon (sacred song). He was in a creative mood and had fire in his loins! Mandaamin's song woke up the Earth Mother. Her loins, which held a miigis shell from which flowed life, produced a flood of mide waaboo (sacred medicine water) that lasted seven days. This mide waaboo flowed through the veins of all Creation and caused the ice caps to melt and rivers and lakes to thaw. The permafrost thawed and the underground wells filled in. The mighty Warrior Mandaamin kept dancing and singing and shaking his rattle for seven days and nights until the flood had stopped. Hereupon Mother Earth opened her arms to him, and the mighty warrior lay with her, for she was now cleansed. They embraced each other and danced together in the light of the waning moon, and while they made love Mother Earth's skin turned from an icy white to a lustrous green.
"I don't think it's erotic to say that it was the moon who created menstruation and a heartbeat for the unborn." (A friend)
From their passionate union sprang a child, a boy. They named him Ziigwan (Spring), after Mandaamin's magic rattle. Trees started to bud and flowers to bloom, and Mandaamin spoke to his lover: "I will now lay myself to rest in the soft soil of your bosom, but rest assured I will return when four full moons have passed. The land will be covered with a tall and graceful plant with leaves green, and its yellow fruit will feed the poor Anishinaabeg so they will become strong again and thrive like never before. The all-year round reign of the Winter Spirit will have come to an end, and there will be six moons of warm weather before he freezes your blood and turn your skin white again." Time passed and the Anishinaabeg rejoiced, for the land and the lakes and rivers produced an abundance of food for their empty stomachs. Eagles and loons started to mate and the flashing of the tails of uncountable shoals of whitefish colored the sunlit waves of the lakes to a silver sheen. Seas of brilliantly colored flowers dotting the plains and the valleys and hills caressed their eyes and the sound of birdsong their ears, and they started to hold ceremonies to celebrate the warm season and the harvesting of the life-giving crops. Leaves and plants and herbs, once reaching their medicine time, were picked, and stored for ceremonial use. Our Medicine People started to use miigisag in their healing ceremonies, those sacred white sea shells from the Oceans that symbolized the life blood of our land... for their water drums they used spring water, direct from the flowing veins of mother earth; a motion of the water created by the moon, for life of the earth's unborn miigis shells...
Life was good and Mother Earth and her children thrived as never before.
Six full moons had passed, and before the amazed eyes of the Anishinaabeg, out of the soft green skin of their Mother a tall and graceful plant grew that no one had ever seen before. They now had food that could last them through the cold winter that was about to return to the land. The nights became longer, and the cold breath of the Winter Spirit mingled with the warm breezes that still blew through the branches of the trees. Mother Earth, sensing a change in the air, shook her rattle. This awakened another spirit, who was more an artist than a warrior. His name was Zhezhoobii'iged, the Spirit Painter. He too, was in a creative mood and he, too, had a fire burning in his loins. Mother Earth, knowing that her blood would soon stop flowing through her veins and ningiigwagi (frost) would numb and discolor her skin back to an icy white, opened her miigis shell, upon which Zhezhoobii'iged accepted her invitation. They danced and shook their rattles together in the light of the Full Moon and while they did, Mother Earth's skin turned from green to brown, then a beautiful red. As they danced and made love together the leaves of the trees were splashed with brilliant colors of yellow and red. The Anishinaabeg, understanding their mother was dancing her last dance of the warm season, marveled at the beauty that sprang from this sacred union.
The two lovers danced and made love together until a freezing wind from the north came crawling through the tee branches. The tree leaves and branches started to dry and soon they fell to the ground below. Then, Mother Earth had a dream. A snapping turtle appeared in it, and the turtle spoke to her the following words: "Boozhoo, I was sent by your mother, the Moon, who created the cycle of menstruation and a heartbeat for the unborn. I have come to you with an important teaching for your children. Now that you have finished your sacred, annual work and are ready to rest, your loins and veins will stop flowing, and you shall sleep peacefully and quietly, with dignity, happiness, and satisfaction. You have known love and you have fed and nourished all your children, but now it is time for the Winter Spirit to reestablish his dominion over the land and lakes.
Since the Moon is your mother, she will watch over you and your children while you are asleep. The thirteen scutes on my back will serve as a calendar for your children, aiding the memory of important events and reflecting the People’s origins, history, and reminding them that there are now four seasons, called Biboon (Winter), Ziigwan (Spring), Niibin (Summer), and Dagwaagin (Fall). Each of the four seasons will begin when the moon is full and the names of these moons will be Namebini-giizis (Moon When the Sucker Fish Spawn) and/or Oshki-bibooni-giizisoons (Little Moon of the New Winter), Ode'imini-giizis (Moon When the Heart Berries Are Ripe), Ziinzibaakwadooke-giizis (Maple Sugar Making Moon), and Mandaamini-giizis (Moon When the Corn Ripens).
The scales on my back shield will serve as a teaching tool, reminding the Anishinaabeg to follow the cycle of the Moon, and to live according to the four seasons in your cycle around the Sun. The large scutes on my shield represent the number of moons in your annual dance around the Sun, while the smaller ones that surround them represent the number of days from Full Moon to Full Moon. Mii i'iw, thus it will be. Lay yourself to rest now, knowing you leave your children behind with their bellies filled with food and their minds filled with blessings for the moons ahead, and rest well."
And so it happened. Mother Earth’s dream of the turtle marked the beginning of the Anishinaabe calendar. Certain Anishinaabeg dreamed of the Earth, and through these dreams the turtle conveyed to them her teaching about the seasons and the moon cycles. They became the calendar keepers of their People, a calling that is still held in high regard among the ranks of wisdom and knowledge seekers. It is this teaching of long ago that still makes us as Anishinaabe People follow the movement of the Moon and live according to the cycle of the seasons. And therefore, we still have ceremonies that honor the Turtle/ Earth and the Moon and we still have stories of how the mighty warrior Mandaamin and the great Painter artist Zhezhoobii’iged gave pleasure and new life to our mother the Earth...
Ahaaw sa. Mii sa ekoozid. Miigwech gibizindaw noongom. Ok, that is the end of the today's story. Thank you for listening to me. Gigiveda-waabamin wayiiba, I hope to see you again soon! Mino bimaadizin! Live well!
* Scientists and anthropologists have found evidence of human remains in the north country existing nearly 12,000 years ago. Before then, most humans are believed to have lived in the Southern Hemisphere.