Spirit of the Seasons, part 9: When the Heart Berry Moon Speaks
Updated: Jun 21
Ode’imini-giizis (Strawberry Moon) / Baashkaabigonii-giizis (Blooming Moon), June 9, 2023
Ode’imini-giizis noongom. Aaniin dash wenji-izhinikaazod a’aw giizis? Betoo aanish nookomisiban gii-minwendan ode’iminan… "We now live in the moon of the heart berries (month of strawberries; June). Why is this moon called so? It is named so because my grandmother loved strawberries..."
Today, I will share a sacred story about a boy named Ode'imin, the Heart Berry, who lives in the moon and became the guardian of gimishoomisinaan — our "Grandfather," as we call our mitigwakik, or sacred water drum. I wove the story around two paintings I recently did, and a set of white gold and sterling silver wedding rings featuring marquise-cut rubies set in yellow gold bezels.
Let's first talk about waawiyezi-dibik-giizisag — as we call our full Moons.*
Colonial Americans adopted some of the Indigenous Turtle Island full Moon names and applied them to their own calendar system (primarily Julian, and later, Gregorian). Among Anglo Americans and Canadians, as they were inspired by Indigenous seasonal activities and the ways Indigenous cultures look at nature, June's full moon is known as the Full Strawberry Moon. This, of course, is a reference to the blooming of strawberry plants on Turtle Island this season. This Moon phase is typically the last full Moon of ziigwan (spring) or the first of niibin (summer).
The Anishinaabeg have different names for the full moons in this particular season:
Ode'imini-giizis (Strawberry, literally Heart Berry Moon):** June, lunar orbit May-June;
Miini-giizis (Blueberry Moon, called Buck Moon by the Euro-colonizers): July, lunar orbit June-July.
This year, the Ode'imini-giizis rose on June 3. The Miini-giizis will rise on July, 3.
GRANDMOTHER AND THE STORY OF THE HEARTBERRY MOON
In the old days, sharing moon and strawberry teachings with the young was reserved to ikwewag (the women). Ojibwe women historically conducted a ritual for their weshkiniigidjig (girls) when they started their first menstruation, part of which included fasting from eating strawberries for an entire year. This was also a time to learn valuable wisdom from the elders. One particular story oozhisimaag (grandchildren) loved to hear from the ookomisanag (grandmothers) was the tale of Ode’imin, or Heart Berry.
My own grandmother Willa happened to love strawberries too. Many times, when I visited her, I found her stooping over her garden in front of her house tending the strawberry plants — or "heart berries" as she called them. It is one of the many fond memories I have of my grandmother. One day in June -- I must have been around 15 years old —, as we watched the flowers bloom and early fruit ripen, she told me the following story.
"When a terrible plague had struck the Anishinaabeg, a young boy named Ode’imin, who had the same age as you, had been one of many who died. He entered waakwi, the Faraway Land of Souls. Nigig the otter, called oshkaabewis or helper, walked with him as his travel companion. At the end of this path the boy met up with manidoog (spirits) who manifested themselves as ookomisag (grandmothers). He pleaded with these ookomisag to save the Anishinaabeg from this destructive epidemic. The ookomisag were so impressed by the admirable altruism of the young fellow, that he was brought back to life and sent back to earth on a mission of revival and hope. Next, under the skillful tutelage of his supernatural teacher Wenabozho also known as the Great Hare, who taught him to study the nature of plants from the conduct of animals, Ode’imin brought his People their Midewigaan (Medicine Lodge), and with it came the knowledge of curing — which, as you know, our People are famous for. The other tribes regarded us as magicians of the woods and from wide and far our healers were consulted for their knowledge of plants and herbs and their curing properties!" Grandmother was silent for a few seconds, and then said, smiling "But most importantly, Ode’imin taught the Anishinaabeg about mino-bimaadiziwin, the Good Code for Long Life and Upright Living. This, hun, led to the physical and moral healing of our People, who were in really bad shape back in those days...”
My curiosity fired, I asked her “But why do you call a strawberry 'heart berry'?" But instead of answering my question, grandmother asked a counter-question. "Do you know what our cardiovascular system is, hun?" I nodded, as I remembered a lesson I recently learned in school, in biology class. Her eyes glistened as she continued “Nishin! Good! Our people have called the strawberry "heart berry" in living memory since a strawberry is shaped like a heart and its medicinal uses are for strengthening and healing the cardiovascular system." She pointed at a plant that stood in front of me. "When you look closely at this here plant it resembles a human heart, and its veins, leaves, and roots function the same as the heart system that we carry in our bodies. Baashkaabigonii-giizis, the Flowering Moon that we nowadays call "June" is when the heart berry ripens and since our Ojibwe ancestors first walked the earth, it is a time of Summer Solstice when the People come together to hold a yearly ceremony and feast. Traditionally, we eat the entire berry including the little green leaves that sit on top. The reason for this is that this part is not only full of medicine but it is also part of the spirit of the plant.”
Grandmother looked in the distance, and just when I was about to ask her another question, she said "Tonight is full moon, hun. When she is up there, I want you to come out of bed and go outside with me. I want to show you something."
That night I was too excited to sleep. Around midnight grandmother softly nocked on my bedroom door and as soon as I had dressed, we walked outside. She told me she had sat on her porch since sunset, her eyes fixed on the southeast to watch the full Moon rise gently above the horizon. And indeed, the sky was illuminated by a soft glow, shrouding the water of the lake and the surrounding trees in an atmosphere of tranquility and awe. As I looked up, I saw the heartberry moon perched high in the night sky, round, large, and golden-hued!
Grandmother was quiet, and, since I always paid attention to her, I did the same. From the corner of my eyes, I noticed her eyes were closed. Suddenly she whispered "Listen hun. Listen to the moon. She talks to us. She tells us many stories of times long gone..." What is the moon telling you?" I asked her. "If you listen carefully, hun, you will hear our grandmother tell stories of Ode'imin, the boy of your age who left for the Spirit World and returned to bring our People teachings..."
“But where does Ode’imin live now?” I asked. “He now lives in the moon,” my grandmother replied, her dark eyes sparkling, “the Midewigaan, the Medicine lodge, was built in honor of him, and this is still remembered today when we look up to the moon." Looking up, she suddenly pointed her lips. "Look!" she whispered." Do you see that shadow in the moon? It is Ode'imin, holding and guarding the grandfather-water drum." Squinting my eyes against the bright light, excited because I remembered she had told me many things about Gimishoomisinaan, the Grandfather drum, I nodded. " I see him!" I said. My grandmother smiled. "Through Ode'imin," she said, "Gookomisinaan Dibik-giizis, our Grandmother the Moon, teaches the men of our Nation to care for this sacred item, and she has instructed our women to teach the men to use their hearts and to connect their hearts to it..."
After a brief pause, which she seemingly used to reflect on the story she just had shared with me, grandmother concluded: "So sacred is the story of Ode'imin who lives in the moon to guard the water drum that back home the ma'iinganag, the wolves, can be heard howling at our grandmother at night...”
Grandmother put her arm around my shoulders as we walked back into the house. That night, I dreamed about Ode'imin who lives in the moon. Although there are no wolves where we live, I could swear I heard one howling at the Heartberry Moon. Yup, my grandmother Willa was truly a great storyteller...
*To read more about the Anishinaabe moon phases, visit: Stories and Teachings from the earth, part 13.
**To read more about the Strawberry Moon, visit: Spirit of the Seasons, part 8.
Illustrations, from top to bottom:
"Song of the Heart Berry Moon" ©2023 Zhaawano Giizhik. Visit the webshop to view details.
"Midnight Offering to the Boy in the Moon" ©2023 Zhaawano Giizhik. Visit the webshop to view details.