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  • Writer's picturezhaawano

Star Stories, Part 16: The Wolf Above and the Wolf Below

Updated: Mar 29

Waabaagbagaa-giizis / Waatebagaa-giizis (Leaves Turning Moon), September 30, 2021

Updated: Makwa Giizis (Bear Moon), February 12, 2022




Long ago, ma'iinganag, or wolves, were as numerous as the stars. Many of them watched over us. They were strong hunters and taught us to survive with what the earth would give us.

Ma'iinganag, the Wolves, and Anishinaabeg, the Native Peoples of Turtle Island, had many things in common. The virtue of humbleness was one of the similarities, as we have seen earlier. But there is another habit of wolves that our ancestors seem to have emulated in their approach to the world of the spirit beings. In winter wolves, when running on the ice, sometimes stop and face the east, the south, the west, and the north, just as we, as Anishinaabeg, face these four cardinal points in turn when we perform gimanidookewininaanin (our spiritual ceremonies).

One beloved (post-contact)¹ Anishinaabe aadizokaan (sacred story) about the legendary, spiritual companionship between Anishinaabeg – in the form of Wenabozho/Wiisagejaak – and Wolf goes as follows.

"One day, a long time ago, Wenabozho, the semi-human spirit and benefactor of the Anishinaabeg, befriended a Wolf, whose name was Gekinoo’amaaged Ma’iingan, The Teacher Who Makes Strange Noises. The latter became also known as Zhewenimaad: "He Who Has Great Compassion to Help Others." Wenabozho and the Teacher became brothers and together they walked naming all of the other creatures on Aki, the earth, such as the mountains, the rivers, the lakes, the trees, the plants, and the animals, the insects, the birds, and the fish.


The Sacred Animals Know Your True Intentions by Mishibinijima
Pen and ink drawing by Ojibwe painter James Mishibinijima Simon: "The Sacred Animals Know Your True Intentions."


The two brothers had many adventures together on Aki and they took great pleasure in tricking each other. Both had the power of shapeshifting; this means that they often transformed into any animal or human form. Although it was Wenabozho who was the most daring and imaginative of the two, it was Mai’iingan who showed great compassion and often guided Wenabozho and taught him valuable lessons of wisdom. So, since he was the elder and wiser brother of Wenabozho, Gekinoo'amaaged Ma’iingan taught Wenabozho many things. First, he taught Wenabozho to hunt moose, and he on turn taught the Anishinaabeg to hunt moose. Then Ma’iingan gave Wenabozho one of his teeth – the first arrowhead –, which Wenabozho then used to make fire with. Thus Wenabozho shared with the Anishinaabeg many teachings and survival techniques obtained from Teacher Wolf. When Ma’iingan was finished teaching he and Wenabozho went different ways, and Ma’iingan was sent by GICHI-MANIDOO (the Great Mystery) to jiibay-miikana (the Spirit Trail; the Milky Way) to await all Anishinaabeg who pass on so that he could show them the way to the Land of Souls... and at clear nights we can see Wolf's dwelling place hanging in the sky, the trail that he guards illuminated by the countless campfires of the ancestors who moved to the Spirit World before us..."

Stories like this one reflect how much humankind is indebted to the wolf. All the many wolf related stories I have been telling in the past shed light on how much our ancestors were aware of the humanlike characteristics of wolves and the social, basically non-violent personalities they possess and on why we regard them as our educators and important spiritual teachers.


Ma'iingan Anang
Illustration: "Wolf and His Brother in the Night Sky," digitized pen and ink drawing by Zhaawano Giizhik @2022



Ma'iingan Anang is translated into English as "The Wolf Star." Ma'iingan, the wolf, is brother to Wenabozho and walks the star world with him. The Wolf Star is called Canis Major on Western star charts. Ma’iingan Anang, a winter constellation, represents Ma’iingan Doodem (the Ojibwe Wolf Clan) on earth. The above image depicts the terrestrial Wolf howling at the moon, while his sky relative hunts with his brother Wenabozho by his side. In the Northern Hemisphere, Wenabozho Anang, the constellation called Scorpio in Western astronomy, is visible from earth in the summer moons; as soon as the first snow falls Wenabozho Anang changes into Gaa-biboonikaan, “One Who Brings the Winter” (the great trickster-hunter named Orion on Western star maps).




As we have seen in the above, Ma’iingan the Wolf, as she/he is a symbolic mediator between man and spirits and of many fundamental paradoxes that exist in life, plays an important role in several Ojibwe stories of Wenabozho, of the creation of the earth, and of stories of the Great Flood. We learned that, according to tradition, Wolf was gekinoo'amaaged (a teacher) who was sent by Wenabozho to the Earth to teach mankind about the world, and to the world of the souls of the deceased to be their ogimaa (chief).

The Hegman Lake mazinaajimowinan (pictographs), located on North Hegman Lake in what is nowadays Minnesota, are a well-preserved example of Anishinaabe mazinaajimowin, or "pictorial spirit writing." The red ocher painting on the granite cliff overlooking the lake sheds an intriguing light on our ancestor's worldview and the role of the Wolf in their stories and teachings.

The panel (see above image) shows a humanlike figure in an outstretched arms posture standing near a bull moose and – what many regard to be – a wolf. Beneath these figures is a long horizontal line, probably representing the earth, and above the human figure are two vertical rows of short horizontal lines or dashes. One set has 4 lines and next to it are 3 lines visible. Above and to the right are the images of three canoes carrying five occupants. Above the moose's rack is a single mark. Above all of these figures rises a large cross-like figure.

It is possible that the age-old visual language (possibly up to 500 years) of the panel relates to the Ojibwe aadizookaan (story-legend) of Wenabozho and the Wolf, the four legged animal representing a wolf which is hunting the moose.

It is also suggested that the careful and artistical arrangement of painted figures on the cliff wall represents the meridian constellations visible during the early evening in winter. To the Ojibweg, the winter constellations were important guidelines essential for navigating in the deep woods during hunting season. Mazinaajimowinan such as those found at Hegman Lake depicted the seasonal changes of star constellations, thus connecting the sky to the land; these spirit writings, in turn, reflected aadizookaanan, the traditional teaching narratives that were told during the long winter nights.

This – widely acknowledged – theory about the rock paintings denoting star constellations suggests that the man with the outstretched arms, besides (possibly) referring to Wenabozo, is a graphical reference to the winter-rising constellation called Gaa-biboonikaan, the Bringer of Winter (which is the same as Orion the Hunter in Greek mythology but extends beyond it), whose presence in the night sky heralds winter.

According to Ojibwe tradition Gaa-biboonikaan – who, like Wenabozho, is a supernatural trickster hero – arrives in the sky around the moon when the spirit is born (December). In the rock wall painting, his awe-commanding arms are outstretched across Gaagige-giizhig, the Forever-Sky (the Universe), enveloping the sky while each year keeping Aki in an icy grip until the moon of boiling maple sap (April) arrives.

According to the Bringer of Winter story-theory the position of the pictographs on the cliff wall is intentionally drawn oriented toward viewing the Gaa-biboonikaan constellation in winter. The moose and wolf, then, could well represent star patterns that can been seen on winter nights below Orion/the Bringer of Winter. The constellation of Mooz (Moose) heralded the fall; the wolf, or rather the path he follows in the night sky, symbolized to our ancestors the phenomenon that some planets travel backward through space. In this context, Wolf is not a teacher who walks the Earth with his brother Wenabozho, but a hunter who walks a path in the sky as Giiwitaagiizhig Bimose, "He Who Walks Around the Sky" as he perpetually follows the tracks of Mooz throughout the Universe.

Learn more about the Wolf Sky Path below: see "What Is the Ma'iingan Miikana?"

The three canoes in the painting, according to this version of the story, represent paddlers steering their jiimaanan under a sky awash in northern lights along jiibay-ziibi (River of Souls; the Milky Way); so these paddlers, too, could very well be metaphorical representations of stars. The horizontal markings depicted above the Winter Bringer may have been used for counting or tracking the passage of time.

In conclusion, the large crosslike figure depicted at the top of the panel is probably Ajijaak, the Crane (called Cygnus on the Western star maps), flying north. It is also impressive enough to represent GICHI-MANIDOO, the Great Mystery and Creator of the Universe. The position and size of the X could also be a reference to Mikinaak Anangoog, translated as the Turtle Stars, and called Capella in English; or it may well be a reference to a supernova – that once, in the long ago, struck awe in the eyes and hearts of ancient man...




Ma'iingan Miikana, the Wolf Trail, is called Ecliptica in Makadewikonayemowin (Latin) and Ecliptic in Zhaaganaashiimowin (English). The Wolf Trail is the yearly path Gimisoomisinaan Giizis (Grandfather Sun) follows on the celestial sphere, as seen from Earth.

Ma’iingan Miikana was also used to describe the (optical-illusion) phenomenon of the retrograde motion of aadawaa'amoog ogimaag (planets). Retrograde, in this context, means that a planet appears to go backward in its orbit, as viewed from Earth.

The ancestors knew that the celestial bodies they observed in the night sky related to seasonal changes, hunting, fishing, food gathering and farming, ceremonies, and storytelling. To them, seasonal changes corresponded with the movement of stellar constellations, which, in turn, were reflected in their storytelling and ceremonies. They observed a circular movement of the sky throughout the year; this phenomenon they called Gizhibaa Giizhig ("the Revolving Sky"). Gizhibaa ("circle") referred to a circular, east-to-west movement of the sun, moon, stars and seasons in Waawiyekamig, the "round lodge" – the Universe/cosmos. It was also observed that a few times a year certain aadawaa'amoog ogimaag (planets) – such as Waaseyasiged Azhebaashkaabizod Aki (Venus) and Oshkaabewis (Mercury) – traveled retrograde (westward in relation to anangoog, the stars).


"Our spirits shine like electricity; it's a vibrancy of other places we carry within us," said the Wolf in the night sky to his relatives on earth.

As keen observers of nature, the ancestors noticed that, although ma'iinganag (wolves) usually travel in packs, sometimes a lone wolf rebelliously sets off in a different direction for a while to hunt for moozoog (moose) before eventually rejoining the pack. This is why they saw Ma’iingan’s presence on earth mirrored in the night sky as Azhe'ose: a moose-hunting Contrary walking the backward path as it is disobeying the rules of the other Sky Beings. The above image is an artistic rendering by the author of the Sky Wolf hunting a moose, thus depicting the retrograde motion of Azhebaashkaabizod.

Up until today, this phenomen, of aadawaa'amoog ogimaag azhe'osewag (planets seemingly traveling the opposite path), is known as Ma'iingan Giizhig Miikana: the Wolf Sky Trail – also called Ode' Miikana, the Pathway of Her/His Heart...

> Return to Ma'iingan Anang.



¹ Post-contact: of or relating to the period after first contact of the Ojibwe Anishinaabeg with the Mooniyaag (European colonizers). ^

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