Star Stories, part 24: The Vision of Sees-Beyond-the-Stars-Woman
Updated: Mar 5
Mamoominike-giizis (Ricing Moon) (August 6, 2022)
~~ THE MEDICINE WOMAN FROM HIGHBUSH CRANBERRY RIVER ~~
One early morning in the Medicine Moon, a Waabanookwe (Medicine woman of the Dawn Lodge) of the People of the Highbush Cranberry River* sat in front of a small wiigiwaam (birch bark shelter) on a high bluff overlooking Gichi-ziibi – a river nowadays called Red River of the North. She was known wide and far by her People as Waabi Azhiwi-anangoogik (“Sees Beyond the Stars Woman”), someone who was anangoog maamiikwaa-banjigedkwe, literally “a star gazer woman”; a woman who has great star knowledge. It was still dark; Waaban-anang, the Morning Star, glowing with a steady, silvery light, had just risen above the eastern horizon. After a fast that lasted seven days and nights, she had finally the vision she had be waiting for. It was no ordinary vision!
In her vision she saw herself crossing a big lake in a canoe. It was broad daylight, and the sun hid behind a gray haze of clouds. Then, suddenly, a bright blue light, much brighter than the bluest of skies, almost blinded her. It came from the direction of Mikinaak-wajiw, the Turtle Mountain west of her, where her relatives, the Turtle Mountain People, lived.
~~ THE VISION ~~
From the top of the mountain a column consisting of a swirling mass of rainbowlike colors moved upward as if it were a hurricane. Inside this spiral wave she noticed in a flash the small figure of a man sitting on top of a big miigis (seashell)! (Since Sees Beyond the Stars Woman, besides a medicine woman and star gazer was also ganawenjiged, a History Keeper of her People, she knew that in ancient times her people had followed a similar shell in the sky that led them from the boards of the Ocean in the east toward the Great Lakes area, and beyond. Intervening, leading them through their spirituality, and toward the promised land in the west, the miigis shell had earned a central place in the spiritual and medicinal practices of her People.)
Now, this man was dressed in garments of the richest brown and wore a headdress of many waving eagle feathers on his snow-white hair. He appeared to travel through the tail-end of a trail made of ice and dust – a sight that reminded Sees Beyond the Stars Woman of a comet shooting through space. “Hoowah!" Sees Beyond the Stars Woman thought by herself. "He must be an important man!” The traveler’s face was painted with a red bear claw design and big round dots brown and red. This, along with the seashell vessel and his rich attire and waving headdress, identified him as an ogimaa (leader) and a high-ranking Mide (Medicine Man) who was on his last journey...
Then, before she could blink twice, the sky became pitch black, which made the swirling colors that surrounded the traveler look even brighter…in a flash she saw to the left and right of her - only illuminated by a shower of jiingwanan (meteors) flashing by - the images of several mysterious creatures, among which a hare in a canoe – which she recognized as the great trickster Wenabozho –, a turtle, a loon, and a mishibizhiw, a horned underwater cat, which then disappeared as quickly as they had appeared…the turtle and the loon were obviously guiding the Ogimaa on his journey to the Path of Souls! And the trickster hare and the horned cat were obviously trying to divert him away from his destination and prevent him from entering the sky hole he was heading for!
The swirling column, which to her seemed to fall somewhere between a raging river and a hurricane, swished at tremendous speed toward seven stars forming a semi-circle, which her People called Madoodiswan, the Sweat Lodge. These stars lived in the same area in the sky where she knew the Bagonegiizhig, the Hole in the Sky star cluster appears in the fall. It was through this opening in the sky that the jiibayag (soul-spirits) of deceased humans ascended and traveled toward their destination in the Jiibay-miikana (Path of Souls). This sacred place in the sky, she knew, was aaniindi nitam anishinaabeg gaa-ondaadiziwaad: the origin of her People. It is where the Seven Teachings came from, she thought by herself, along with the mitigwakik (water drum), and the odoodemag (clans).
But then, tayaa! faster than she could count to three, the cosmic river disappeared through an opening – which looked to her like a gigantic hole burrowed by a manidoosh (earth worm)! She knew there must be a tunnel behind the hole, leading to another world and dimension and time. (This world, a faraway realm stretching to and beyond the stars and planets, was called Waakwi, the Land of the Deceased, where all life began.) Without a sound the wormhole, surrounded by a what looked to her like a blanket of stardust, closed behind the shell. The seashell that carried the Chief was now completely out of sight! The sky turned from black to gray, then blue, and to her surprise she was still in her canoe in the middle of the lake. The sun shone overhead and not a ripple stirred the still surface of the lake. It was as if it had never happened!
~~ THE WATER DRUM ~~
Suddenly, realizing she was still dreaming, she found herself on top of a high riverbank. It was night. Her canoe sat on the beach below her. When she looked up, she saw the sweat lodge-shaped pattern of the Madoodiswan directly overhead, its seven poles shining in a golden light. The grandfather stones in the sky were still glowing. She lay peacefully on her back, contemplating the Chief’s wondrous river passage through space-time she had witnessed. As she watched the shiny star lodge above her, she heard a faint sound coming from it that reminded her of a drumbeat. Then suddenly, atayaa! her glance got caught by an extraordinary bright star radiating an amazingly white glow. Never had this star, which she discerned as the third to the right in the constellation, shone so brightly! Then, her ears caught the intensifying throbbing of a water drum coming from this place! Its pulsing sound reverberated throughout the cosmos. As she was watching the star and listened to the drumbeat it finally dawned on her! The drumming was in honor of the man she had seen traveling toward the stars! Now she knew who he was. It was Nimitamaan, the highly respected medicine man from Turtle Mountain who had brought the Anishinaabeg the water drums along with Medicine and the Seven Teachings!*** His time on earth was up and he had returned, through the Hole in the Sky, all the way to the celestial Sweat Lodge, where he now rejoined his ancestors. The swirling river she had seen him riding on top of a seashell, had been Jiibay-ziibi, the River of Souls! The drumming she heard coming from the bright white star indicated that there was feasting and dancing in honor of his homecoming!
Slowly the dusk of the night faded away, and so did the sound of the water drum. Still pondering what she had seen and heard, the Medicine Woman from Aniibiminani-ziibi woke up from her vision. Grandfather Giizis cast his yellow rays on the river that minutes before had been basking in the silver light of his relatives, the Moon and the Morning Star. She realized she had, through her vision that – measured in earth time - had lasted no longer than it takes time to take three breaths, witnessed something extraordinary and profoundly meaningful – not just to herself, but to all her People.
~~ TALES OF THE HOLE AND THE SWEAT LODGE IN THE SKY ~~
Sees Beyond the Stars Woman, true to her calling of being Record Keeper and anagoog gekenimaad (astronomer) of her People, returned to her village to make preparations for a long trip east, south, west, and north. For many moons she traveled, visiting many villages of the Anishinaabeg Peoples. She even went to Waabanaki, the Dawn Land nowadays called Quebec! In each village she would summon the People to gather after sundown and standing at many campfires she would relate her vision at the Highbush Cranberry River, in which she had witnessed the Turtle Mountain chief’s wondrous journey to the Sweat Lodge in the sky. She told about the extraordinary feats of this medicine man whose name was Bowsprit, and who had brought the Anishinaabeg the water drums and the seven sacred teachings from the grandfathers from the stars. She explained to her people that this extraordinary visionary from Turtle Mountain had now returned to his birthplace in the Sweat Lodge constellation.
Pointing up to the River of Souls dotted by a sea of countless stars, she would tell stories about the Bagonegiizhig, the Hole in the Sky star cluster through which the spirits travel; almost opposite of the Hole in the Sky, she said, dwells a star that is part of the Sweat Lodge constellation. This navigational star, which is the third star to the right in the Sweat Lodge when you look at it from the earth, she explained, actually consists of two stars that revolve around each other, one representing the Grandfather Water Drum and the other his helper, the Little Boy Drum. These stars** will be forever home of Nimitimaan, the man who puts himself in front of a canoe…
So it came to pass, and such is the the remarkable legacy of the Medicine Woman and Star Traveler Waabi Azhiwi-anangoogik, who had a vision that is still being shared around the campfires and kitchen tables, reminding us Anishinaabeg where our clans and our water drums came from and where we, as Anishinaabeg, return to when our time on aki (earth) ends...
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! Migwechewendan anangoog gaye makwag gaye memegwesiwag gaye mitigwakikoog gaye akina gegoo ahaw! Be thankful for the stars and the bears and the little people and the water drums and for everything else alive!
* Aniibiminani-ziibi: Highbush Cranberry River; the Pembina River. The Aniibiminani-ziibiwininiwag, or the Pembina band, was a historical band of Ojibweg Peoples. Aniibiminani-ziibi is a tributary of the Gichi-ziibi (Red River of the North), approximately 319 miles (513 km) long, in what is nowadays southern Manitoba and northeastern North Dakota.
** Alphecca in Western astronomy. Also called Alpha Coronae Borealis (α CrB). The Ojibwe name we use for this binary star is Nimitimaan Anang (Bowsprit Star).
*** Read the story of Nimitimaan: Nimitimaan and the Gift of the Water Drums.
(From top to bottom)
Vision of Sees-Beyond-the-Stars-Woman. Visit the website to view details.
The Vision Quest. Visit the website to view details. (Link will soon be active.)
Journey to Waakwi. Visit the website to view details.
The Portal. Visit the website to view details.
The Bright Star. Visit the website to view details.
Vision of Sees-Beyond-the-Stars-Woman. Visit the website to view details.