Star Stories, part 6: Parallel Paths (Warriors That Dwell the Earth and the Sky)
Updated: Jun 3
Abitaa-Niibini-giizis (Half-way through Summer Moon) / Miskomini-giizis (Raspberry Moon), July 24, 2019
Boozhoo, aaniin indinawemaaganidog, gidinimikoo miinawaa: Hello relatives, I greet you again in a good way!
I am Zhaawano Giizhik. Welcome to part 6 of the blog series titled Star Stories, in which I connect my storytelling jewelry, occasionally along with artworks of kindred artists, with the ancient Teachings that my ancestors have passed on since they still lived in the Dawn Land in the East - and probably as long as our People have been walking the face of our beloved Aki, the Earthmother.
Today's Teaching is woven around two beautiful canvases by my favorite Woodland Art painter, Bebaminojmat (Leland Bell ), Loon clan Anishinaabe from the Wikwemikong Unceded First Nation on Manitoulin Island, as well as around two paintings by the late Ojibwe Medicine Painter Miskwaabik Animikii (Norval Morrisseau). Additionally, the story features a set of gold wedding bands and a silver belt buckle, both of which I created at my workbench in my jeweler’s studio. The set is titled Wiidosendizog Gidookawi'idizowimimi-waang ("Walk In Your Own Footsteps"); the title of the buckle is Gagwedwewin / Bawaagan (The Invocation / Spirit Helper).
Ever since I was little I felt a special connection with the natural and the supernatural world. I had a special place in my heart for the star world and the star knowledge of my distant ancestors, the Anishinaabeg peoples of Upstate Michigan; a knowledge that had sustained their communities for hundreds of years. This feeling of kinship grew inside me as I got older. As soon as I started writing and making art I decided to honor my Native ancestors by expressing through my creations my love of the celestial bodies.
Central in my ancestors’ outlook on life has always been the concept of bimaadiziwin (life in its widest significance and sense; in a moral sense, in combination with the prefix mino, it means, “living in a good way”) and, along with this, the all-comprehensive concepts of inawendin and gakina-awiiya.
Inawendin is an Ojibwe Anishinaabe word expressing that everything in life is interconnected, interrelated, and interdependent on one another, and the phrase gakina-awiiya means “we are all related,” literally: “someone is everyone.”
“That’s part of what the star knowledge brings. This sense of purpose, the sense of hope, this lifeline, that each person is connected. To the bigger whole, the universe, the stars. Those stars are more than just balls of gas. When we do indigenous science, those stars are our oldest relatives.”
- Annette Lee, Dakota/Lakota and Anishinaabe astronomer.
Star stories of the Anishinaabeg are part of this complex system of spiritual philosophies and beliefs. Anangoog, the stars and planets, have always been regarded as our oldest relatives. Anang Gikendaasowin, knowledge of the stars and other celestial bodies, is found in many aspects of our culture; it particularly relates to our knowledge of aandakiiwinan (seasonal changes), nandawenjige and maamawinige (hunting and gathering activities), manidookewinan (our ceremonies), and - last but not least - our aadizookewin (storytelling). Some of our spiritual leaders alive today are astronomers who still possess special anang gikendaasowin that our ancestors passed on to them; these specialists, Anangoog Maamiikwaabanjigewininiwag or “Star Gazers,” still use this ancient knowledge to help guide the day-to-day affairs of their communities. Priviliged in this area are particularly the Waabanoowinniwag, "The Men of the Dawn," members of the Waabanoowiwin, a secretive Lodge that mainly practices its age-old rituals and ceremonies under cover of the night. Much of their knowledge of the Sky Beings is sacred in nature and is used only under special circumstances associated with certain spiritual matters - which are never to be discussed in writing, or shared with those who aren’t members of the Lodge.
MA'IINGAN NAGAMON / A SONG TO WOLF
Ah! Ma’iingan, niwiikaanis
Ninga gikinawaajitoon gindinaadiziwin
Aaniish gimashkiki-akiim aapiji-manidoowan
Giizhigong gigii onjimookiiwe
Manidoowiyin gigii onjimookiiwe
Miinawaa wii-da aangishkaakawen
Haw sa! Mizhisha ninzagaswaa,
Haw sa! Giginoonikoom ji-noondameg,
Minode’ ezhowishinaang niikaan,
Ah! Wolf, my brother
I honor you, I honor you
I shall try to emulate your nature
Since your medicine is truly powerful.
From the Sky you have emerged
In a sacred way you came forth
You will bear your medicine around the world
And you will leave your footprints
Deep into the Earth
as well as deep into my heart.
Yes! before you I sit and smoke the pipe
Yes! Before your ears I speak the word.
Fill our spirits with goodness my brother
So that our lives will be upright
So that I shall always live my life humbly.
- My personal song to Wolf
WOLF AND LYNX, HONORED WARRIORS AND TEACHERS
In Haudenosaunee (Iroquois/Six Nations) and Anishinaabeg (Ojibweg, Odaawaag and Bodéwadmik) tradition, Wolf and lynx are known as warriors and wise teachers who show us the way in life. One of the clans of the Six Nations is named after the Wolf; in Anishinaabe society, both Wolf and Lynx represent warrior clans. The Wolf Clan is called Hoñnat‘haiioñ'n‘ by the Onondowahgah (Seneca), Θkwarì•nę by the Onayotekaono (Oneida), and Okwáho by the Kanienkehaka (Mohawk). The Anishinaabeg call the Wolf Clan Ma'iingan (Mawii'aa in he language of the Bodéwadmik), and the Lynx Clan Bizhiw.
As wolves are endowed with certain characteristics and virtues, so do Haudenosaunee and Anishinaabe (particularly Ojibwe and Bodewadmi) Wolf Clan members endeavor to emulate their character; they see in the Wolf certain ideals to be sought, and as they walk the Life Path they make its spirit part of themselves. Wolf stands for Humility, Perseverance, and Guardianship.
In former times, Wolf clan members produced warriors, teachers and scouts.
Bizhiw, the Lynx, representing one of the four warrior clans of the Ojibweg, symbolizes the virtues of Resolution and Fortitude. Bizhiw’s primary diet on earth consists mainly of rabbits, birds, and small game. GICHI-MANIDOO blessed bizhiw with four legs to feel the earth under its paws at every given moment. To the Anishinaabeg, the tracks bizhiw leave behind are mino-mashkiki, or sacred medicine, as he reminds us how we are to walk mino-bimaadiziwin miikana akiing, the good life road on Earth, “how to walk it in delicate balance and beauty with nature.”¹ Lynx is regarded as a great teacher and is associated with a larger family that inhabits high up in the night sky as well as in the undergrounds of earth, lakes, and rivers.
We call these spiritual beings Mishi-bizhiw, The Great Lynx.
~~ ANISHINAABE GIIZHIG ANANG MAZINA'IGAN - THE OJIBWE SKY STAR MAP ~~
“Ojibwe Giizhig Anang Mazina’igan - Ojibwe Sky Star Map”, was created by A. Lee, W. Wilson, C. Gawboy. The map was designed so that the Giwedin’anang, North Star, Polaris, is at the center of the map. This reflects the motion in the night sky – the North Star-Polaris appears to be a ‘motionless point’ about which all other stars in the sky appear to rotate around counter-clockwise (CCW) as viewed from the Northern Hemisphere. Moving outwards from center, Ojibwe constellations of each of the four seasons are painted in Woodlands x-ray style by W. Wilson. Brighter Greek constellations are shown in whispers of light yellow. Dimmer Greek constellations are visible in pen or simply pencil. Seasonal medicinal plants are displayed on the border in a floral Ojibwe style beadwork pattern.
WOLF AND LYNX AS STAR DWELLERS
To the Anishinaabeg, both Wolf and Lynx play an important role in Gaagige-giizhig, the Universe, and not just as Teachers on earth.
Ma’iingan Anang is translated into English as the Wolf Star, or Constellation. The wolf is brother to our supernatural hero and First Man Wiinabozho, and is said to walk anangokamig (the star world) with him. Ma’iingan Anang is called Canis Major on the Western-oriented star charts. ~~ THE WOLF SKY TRAIL ~~
My ancestors also observed that a few times a year certain aadawaa'amoog (planets) - such as the planet nowadays popularly called Mercury - seemed to travel retrograde (westward in relation to anangoog, the stars) . They saw Wolf's presence as gekinoo'amaaged (teacher) on earth mirrored in the night sky as Azhe'ose: a Contrary walking the backward path as it is disobeying the rules of the other Sky Beings. Up until today, this phenomen, of aadawaa'amoog azhe'osewag (planets seemingly traveling the opposite path), is known as Ma'iingan Giizhig Miikana: the Wolf Sky Trail (see below video).
~~ MISHI-BIZHIW AMONG THE STARS ~~
Gaa-ditibaanowe' Mishi-bizhiw, or "Curly Tail - Great Lynx," is another constellation that is known to emerge in the late winter skies, or during ziigwan, the spring. On earth, although they keep themselves at a distance if not directly attacked, lynx can be dangerous when met on a mountain or in the thick forest – particularly where adult lynx females have cubs. Hence, the Mishi-bizhiw constellation is a reminder that the north woods, especially during the transition time between winter and spring, is potentially dangerous. Thinning ice on the lakes and rivers, hard crust on the snow, flooding, and unpredictable snowstorms are characteristic of Gichi-gamiin, the Great Lakes region, during this time.
The constellation Gaa-ditibaanowe' Mishi-bizhiw, in turn, consists of two smaller “Greek” constellations, called Leo and Hydra on the Western-oriented star charts. The head of “Hydra” makes up the head of the Great Lynx, while te head of “Leo” makes up its long curled tail.²
BIZHIW NAGAMON / A SONG TO LYNX
Anang gii-piidagoojin. Wiindaagawaateshkamaw noongom. Gaagige wiindaanikeshkawaan Dibishkoo aagawaateshimowin Mooshka'agwiinjise.
Niwiikaan Bizhiw Anangoominisiinoo Gichigamiin bawaagan Gigichitwaawenimin Ninga kikinowaatchitoon gindinaadiziwin
A star fell through the sky toward me. He now covers me with his shadow. Always following Like a shadow Rising to the Lake's surface.
Brother Lynx Star Warrior Guardian of the Geat Seas I give you praise I will imitate your nature
- My personal song to Lynx
~~ MISHI-BIZHIW WHO LIVES UNDER THE EARTH AND THE WATERS ~~
To the Anishinaabeg and Ininewak, the waters themselves and their undercurrents and beaches and islands covered with mists have always evoked a myriad of mysterious representations of manidoo. These spirit beings occasionally appear in natural guise with distinct human or animal personalities; these include the mischievous water dwarfs called memegwesiwag and the friendly bagwajininiwag, the little wild forest people, creators of mystic glades in the woods, who are known to sometimes inhabit the sandy beaches, emerging from their sanctuaries on moonlit nights to dance in the shadows, warning passers-by of the fearful Mermaid. And the shining lodges of the mishiinimakinagoog, the turtle spirits, can be seen in the summer evenings when the moon shines on their island habitat; Ojibwe and Odaawaa fishermen, who steer their canoes near certain steep cliffs and jagged pinnacles at night, occasionally hear their happy voices echo across the dark lake. Others, however, are more indefinite and potentially dangerous - such as Makadeshigan (the Black Bass, Spirit Fish of the Underworld), nibiininaabewag and nibiinaabekwewag (mermen and mermaids), mishi-ginebigoog (great horned underwater snakes).
Throughout the ages many of these spirit beings have been perpetuated on the spot in stylized drawings or carvings in and on rocks in sacred locations, particularly in mystic places near the coastline where the sky, the earth, the water, the underground and the underwaters meet.
In pre-contact times Mishibizhiw, or Anaamakamig Bizhiw, or - in its shortened form - Nambizhiw (literally: Underworld Lynx), was believed to be a powerful spirit of the night, the underground (and also of the sky). Nambizhiw was believed to supply plants with their medicinal power that came from the depths of the earth, thus enabling the healing work of herbalists. However, in the past few centuries, probably in the course of the 19th century, this image started to change. Nambizhiw, or Mishi-bizhiw, shifted its subterranean existence to the realm of the under-lakes. By mid 20th century, in Anishinaabe conception, the Great Underground Lynx and the Great Underwater Fish/Snake had merged, with the name Mishibizhiw sometimes coming to cover the aspects of both. Nowadays, the Ojibweg, Odaawaag, and Bodewadmik as well as the Ininewak see "Nambizhiw," the Great Underground Lynx of the Night, as an anaamibiig aya'aa (underwater creature) - a variant on the ancient Mishiginebig.
This means that nowadays Mishibizhiw, the Great Lynx, besides being a Star Traveler, is regarded as one of the main aadizookanag (story grandfathers) associated with the water realm, and revered by the Anishinaabeg and Ininewak (Cree) as one whose long, slashing tail controls the moods of the Lakes and as a (potentially) dangerous guard of rapids and swift or troubled waters. This Anaamakamig Aadizookaan (Underworld Being) is often depicted with copper horns, symbols of great power, and with palmed paws that enable him to swim fast, and his back and long tail is covered with scales, often made of pure copper as well, which is a sacred metal in our culture.
Misshepeshu (Mishibizhiw), the water man, the monster . . . . He’s a devil, that one. . . . Our mothers warn us that we’ll think he’s handsome, for he appears with green eyes, copper skin, a mouth tender as a child’s. But if you fall into his arms, he sprouts horns, fangs, claws, fins. His feet are joined as one and his skin, brass scales, rings to the touch. You’re fascinated, cannot move. He casts a shell necklace at your feet, weeps gleaming chips that harden into mica on your breasts. He holds you under. Then he takes the body of a lion, a fat brown worm, or a familiar man. He’s made of gold. He’s made of beach moss. He’s a thing of dry foam, a thing of death by drowning, the death a Chippewa (Ojibwe) cannot survive. —Louise Erdrich, from Tracks, p. 11
As said in the above, Nambizhiwag, or Mishibizhiwag, are now traditionally held to be the most powerful of all water creatures, including the fish and Underwater Snakes. Mishibizhiw, in modern Anishinaabe tradition, controls access to the land animals as well as all the fish and other creatures within the waters, and can withhold them from anishinaabeg (humans) on impulse. Mishibizhiwag are also said to move between different bodies of water through zhiibaayaag (hidden underground passageways), to emerge when one least expects them.
Modern tradition dictates that the Nambizhiwag/Mishibizhiwag live in opposition to Animiki Binesiwag (Thunderbird Grandfathers), who live on nearby Animikii Ajiw (Thunderbird Mountain, called McKay by Canadians) and are seen as the most powerful of all aadizookaanag that dwell in the sky. They are regarded as an opposing yet complementary force to the Thunderbirds, and both aadizookanag are engaged in eternal conflict. No matter how scary and potentially dangerous mishibizhiwag are to our Peoples, we love and respect them greatly because they provide us with protection and medicine and secure successful hunts and an abundance of food.
~~ GUARDIAN OF THE SACRED COPPER ~~
Today, Nambizhiw, or Mishibizhiw as he is called nowadays, is known among our Peoples for guarding the vast amounts of zhooniyaa (silver) and ozaawaabiko-zhooniyaa (copper, literally: brown silver) in Gichigami, Lake Superior. Native peoples mined silver and copper ore long before the arrival of Mooniyaag (Europeans) to Gichigamiin. Later, during the 17th century, missionaries arrived in the Great Lakes Region. By that time, swiping copper from the region was extremely taboo and forbidden by the Ojibweg. It was even worse to take it from Mishibizhiw's home, Mishibikwadin-minis (Michipicoten Island); this was considered to be stealing from the Great Underground Lynx himself.
Like most other aadizookanag and manidoog (spirits), Mishibizhiw has the power to very abruptly shapeshift into various animal forms and into natural phenomena like, for instance, sudden strong winds, or fog, or whirlpools. Many aadizookanan (sacred stories) of the Ojibweg describe Mishibizhiw, whose stylized representations are to be found on rock paintings and petroglyphs in hidden places throughout the Great Lakes area, as a metaphorical interpretation of a giigoonh, or fish being – and as such closely related to sturgeons and trout-, as well as a prominent aadizookaan, or patron, of healing and knowledge of medicinal herbs. Mishibizhiwag have often been associated with drowning and floods and evil medicine as well as with good medicine, and healing. Mishibizhiw is also said to aid those who seek to cross dangerous water, provided that a suitable offer is made.
Some Anishinaabeg and Ininewak, particularly medicine men who seek to be granted the power from mishibizhiw to enter the sacred rocks, still leave offerings like asemaa (tobacco), clothing, and bundles of colored sticks. The rock painting shown in the above video partially recounts the daring four days crossing of eastern Lake Superior in the early 1600s by a fleet of war canoes, according to Midewiwin tradition led by an Ojibwe warrior and Mide (Medicine Man) named Ma’iingan (Wolf), with the blessing of Anaamakamig Bizhiw, or Mishibizhiw - who, back in those days, was regarded as the Great Lynx of the Night, or Underworld.
From of old, some Midewayaanag (Medicine bundles) are being made of snake skin - a spiritual reference to mishiginebig and mishibizhiw. Mishibizhiw is also one of the guardians of the Midewigaan, the Midewiwin lodge. And to this day, the term "Mishipeshu" is used as a family name, showing that the great horned lynx that lives beneath the earth is seen as having beneficial powers and good medicine...
See the Fisher Star Creations website for details of the above wedding ring set.
~~ ABOUT THE RING DESIGNS ~~
The stylized footprints of Ma'iingan the Wolf and Biziw the Lynx feature the design of these handcrafted, multicolor overlay wedding rings. The ring to the left, which shows a wolf paw design, is made of 14K palladium white gold with a 14K red gold interior; I used 14K red gold to create the lynx paw ring, which has a sterling silver interior. The title of the ring set is Wiidosendizog Gidookawi'idizowinimiwaang ("Walk in Your Own Footsteps").
Symbolically, the design of the rings tell a story that is two-fold. Let me first explain the design in a cosmological context, and then in a more “earthly” context.
Each ring has two dots, representing the presence of both lynx and wolf, as warriors and teachers on Aki (earth) and, mirrored in Anang Aki (the star world), as star grandfathers. The two straight lines or grooves that run parallel, side by side, around the ring bands represent the parallel paths Lynx and Wolf walk on earth and in the sky. The longest line, which represents the earth as well as the underworlds, is connected by the stylized paws of respectively Wolf (the red paw in the ring to the left) and Lynx (the black paw in the ring to the right); the short lines represent the sky world where Lynx and Wolf dwell in the form of star constellations – and also, in case of Wolf, as a contrary walking the sky trail.
The story of the ring set – finding expression in its design as well as the title, Walk in Your Own Footsteps - could also be explained in a more earthly light: Each ring has two dots, representing partners for life. The two straight lines or grooves that run parallel, side by side, around the ring bands represent their individual paths; the longest line, which is the path of the person wearing the ring, is connected by the stylized paws of a wolf (the red paw in the ring to the left) and a lynx (the black paw in the ring to the right).
Wolf and lynx are known as warriors and wise teachers who show us the way in life.
The Elders tell us that there are many paths to follow, many choices to make. We must choose the right one.
Make your own footprint on this earth!
Gwayako-bimaadiziwin. Wiidosendizog gidookawi'idizowinimiwaang: Walk the straight road; follow your own footsteps.
Giiwenh. Miigwech gibizindaw noongom mii dash gidibaajimotoon wa’aw dibaajimowin. Bi-waabamishinaang miinawaa daga!
So the story goes. Thank you for listening to me today, for allowing me to share with you this story. Please come see me again.
¹ Courtesy of Bomgiizhik (Isaac Murdoch)
² Mishi Bizhiw drawing was respectfully taken from "Anishinaabe Star Knowledge"; written by Michael Wassegijig Price for the Summer 2010 edition of Mazina’iagan.