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  • Writer's picturezhaawano

Stories and Teachings From the Earth, part 17: What Is My Real Body?

Updated: Jun 18

Namebine-giizis (Suckerfish Moon)/Zaagibagaa-giizis (Budding Moon) - June 15, 2024


Maamaanaan Aki ("Mother Earth") Painting by Zhaawano Giizhik
Maamaanaan Aki ("Mother Earth") © 2022-2024 Zhaawano Giizhik


Western belief, or Euro-centric worldview if you will, arrived, via Judeo-Christian tradition and Aristotelian - Cartesian philosophical thinking, at the odd conclusion that human and natural realms are separate. This dualistic worldview facilitated the deeply ingrained perception in Western thought that humans are autonomous, self-sufficient beings surrounded by a natural world they are not intrinsically part of. Both Aristoteles' teleology and the Second Biblical Testament promoted the perception of a vertically structured world, meaning: arranged into lower and higher forms, where human beings are placed on top of an imaginary pyramid and the natural world, including the animals, exists for the sake of them.

To us, Indigenous Peoples, however, humans are not separate from nature. They are not above this extended family of living, ensouled beings called "nature." They don't need to go to the forest to look at "nature." There are no "surroundings"; just patterns. When you look at the patterns that surround us you will realize that a land-dwelling animal, a tree, a plant, or the earth herself are bemaadizid: a living being that has organs just like we have. Human beings closely resemble in anatomy and physiology other forms of life. Consider, for example, the branches of a tree: It is no coincidence they resemble the veins and arteries of the human body.

There are no "surroundings"; just patterns. When you look at the patterns that surround us you will realize that a land animal, a tree, a plant, or the earth herself are bemaadizid: a living being that has organs just like we have.

The ancient Chinese and Japanese physicians knew this too. They, too, were aware of the resemblance between the human body and nature. According to the 4000-year old concept of qi (pronounce "chi"), which poses a model of the human organ systems, a so-called human's body-energy clock is built upon the concept of the cyclical ebb and flow of energy throughout the body. Ancient Taoist practitioners observed that there were specific energy pathways or meridians in the body through which qi (a universal life force; literally air, water, vapor, or breath) flowed. Four "Earth organs" were recognized in the human body, and all four functioned in the creation and maintenance of boundaries a key attribute of Earth. [1]

The late Jack Forbes (Powhatan-Renapé/Lenápe author) once wrote: [2]

"I can lose my hands and still live. I can lose my legs and still live. I can lose my eyes and still live…But if I lose the air I die. If I lose the sun I die. If I lose the earth I die. If I lose the water I die. If I lose the plants and animals I die. All these things are more a part of me, more essential to my every breath, than is my so-called body. What is my real body? We are rooted just like the trees. But our roots come out of our nose and mouth, like an umbilical cord, forever connected to the rest of the world..."


"Ojibwe shaking Tent Healer" Painting by Zhaawano Giizhik


The above painting is titled "Jiisakiikwe" (Female Shaking Tent Healer). The jiisakiikwe communes with the spirits of the Thunderbird, the Turtle, the Bear, and a myriad of other beings that dwell the Universe. Once they come to her jiisakaan (tent) she tracks them back to where they come from. Some jesakidjig (healers) use whatever forces are nearby the jiisakaan; particularly the spirits that people (clients) bring with them to the tent. That’s where their answers usually come from.

Also depicted are translucent domes around the tent area coming from the sky. Effigies of Thunderbirds are placed on either side of the tent. Trees, usually about eight, stand nearby the jiisakaan. The trees rely on vibration (shaking) of their leaves to communicate with each other and with the spirits of the Universe. When the tree leaves start moving and shaking, bells attached to the branches will sound and the shaking tent seer knows the spirits are near. As they are very much in tune with everything that goes on in the Universe , the jesakidjig, when they hear the bells and see the trees shake, will see the spirits and experience the change of the weather and feel or see the electromagnetic field around the shaking tent area...



No person exemplifies this principle of mankind-nature interconnectedness better than a certain type of nenaandawi'iwed (traditional healer) called jesakiid, or jaasakiid ("shaking tent conductor"). These jaasakiidjig ("shaking tent conductors") use a jiisakaan, also called gozaabachigan, a Shaking Tent, to tell the future and heal the sick.

Jaasakiidjig can be found among the Anishinaabeg (Ojibweg), Ininewak (Cree), Innu (Montagnais-Naskapi), Abenaki. and Penobscot. Gender names in Anishinaabemowin, the Ojibwe language, for this type of nenaandawi'iwed are jiisakiikwe (when female) and jiisakiwinini (when male). The topic of jiisakaan is considered sacred and details cannot be shared publicly, which is why I will only speak of it in here in generalist terms.

" What is my real body? We are rooted just like the trees. But our roots come out of our nose and mouth, like an umbilical cord, forever connected to the rest of the world..."

Jaasakiidjig belong to the highest degree of all the medicine practitioners in the Midewiwin. These spirit-doctors treat the sick without material means, without using herbs and medicinal plants, but via spirit-travelling. Knowledge is acquired through fasting. Some jaasakiidjig receive their power from the Thunderbirds. Others have claimed they draw spirit power from the water, or from the wind, or the earth. A special category of jaasakiidjig has the power to make a tent and everything that’s in it shake (hence the name, shaking tent) by inviting a myriad of beings from various spirit worlds, including the turtle, thunderbirds, and the bear. Some use whatever spirits and environmental forces happen to be nearby, in and around their tent. This is done between sundown and sunrise. It is with the aid of these spirit helpers from the waters, the winds, the star world, and the earth (mikinaak the snapping turtle being the most prominent intermediator) that jaasakiidjig pass on their spiritual medicine power to their patients or apprentices. A very old league of tent shakers exists; these jaasakiidjig communicate directly with the turtle to get into the underground realm of the earth...

A traditional depiction of the jiisakaan is a bell. A bell is is tied to one or more (usually 8 to 10) trees; when it starts shaking the jaasakiid will hear it. This way they know spirits are nearby. They will feel or see the electromagnetic field around the area.

Jaasakiidjig understand that aki, the earth, is bemaadizid: a living being.

To them, mitigoog (the trees) are part of the hair of mother earth. They understand that mitigoog contribute to the consciousness of mother earth. The jaasakiid acknowledge the mitig's process of using light as their energy fields of communication to each other. As the trees rely on the vibration, or shaking, of their leaves to communicate with each other worldwide, they create power for the jaasakiid, whose senses are keenly aware of the static charge the mitigoog transmit. Their ability to involve this natural electrical power of the universe makes the jaasakiid a very powerful healer.

People who turn to a jaasakiid are usually in great need of help. The tent conductor often communicates with the spirits that people bring with them to the session. That's where their answers usually come from; all in the context of healing and prophecy of their future. Besides curing illnesses, the spirits that are being invited to enter are sometimes also addressed in an effort to tell the future, or seek spiritual help against wrongdoing by outsiders. Those who seek help are bound to speak the truth inside the jiisakaan, and those who have been initiated through a jiisakaan ceremony swear they will never disclose anything that happens inside the jiisakaan and will be subject to judgement if they break their vow.


"Origin of the Shaking Tent" painting by Zhaawano Giizhik


Illustration: "Origin of the Shaking Tent." There are ancient traditions that say that the Shaking Tent originates from the black hole in the Mashkode Bizhiki (Bison). This is the constellation in the northern sky known as Perseus on the Western sky maps. It can be found in a direction away from the center of the galaxy into the outer reaches of the Bison Arm, the second major spiral arm that emanates from the core of the Path of Souls (Milky Way). The bison is the guardian of the jiisikaan/gozaabachigan. In the winter, the Bison Constellation can be easily seen, but in the summer she is barely visible because she is on Earth, feeding and helping the Anishinaabeg.


Some Ojibweg build their jiisakaan/gozaabachigan, which has a cylindrical shape, in the water, in order to receive power from it. Eight poles are cut and placed in a circle; two hoops placed inside the jiisakaan keep the poles in position. Deer hide, birchbark, or canvas is used to cover the cylindrical structure. Zhiishiigwanag (rattles) made of cari­bou hoof or tin are used to make a rattling noise while in the jaasakiid.

Miskwaabik Animikii, the late Ojibwe artist who dubbed himself "The Grand Ojibway Shaman Artist" and became widely known by his European name Norval Morrisseau, was raised on the Gull Bay shore of Lake Nipigon by his maternal grandfather who himself was a jaasakiid. Miskwaabik Animikii once said the following about the Shaking Tent practice: "All the Ojibway would gather and sit in a circle facing the shaking tent. This took place at night. The conjurer would disrobe, have his hands tied up and crawl inside the wigwam (jiisakaan). He would not speak but would have one Indian, or all, start asking questions, whatever each one wished to know. As the conjurer crawled inside, the tent itself began to shake and the rattles were heard. The Ojibway believe a medicine wind blows from heaven in the tent and that is how it shakes. All the dogs tied close by began to yelp and were afraid but the people were not, for it does not affect human beings. What come into the wigwam to sing or talk are the water god Misshipeshu (Mishibizhiw) and other spirits of bears, serpents and animals, thunderbirds, the evil Windigo (Wiindigoo), the morning star, the sky, water, earth, sun and moon, also female and male sex organs. Each speaks in his own lan­guage but we have an interpreter whom we call Mikkinnuk (Mikinaak) (...) who interprets for all these beings. (...) A lot of people of the Ojibway tribe used this conjuring tent to conjure people but a lot also used it to cure people, to find lost things, to defend the people from evil sor­cerers, or bad medicine-men, and to know about the future."

I believe Miskwaabik Animikii's description of a Shaking Tent ceremony is a perfect example of the traditional Indigenous view on nature: an extended family of living, inspirited, sentient beings that, through a myriad of rich and vital complexes of rites and ceremonies (of which the jiisakaan is only one example), can be invited into the human realm at will. A view that is diametrically opposed to Western tradition with its alienation from the natural environment and unbridled material exploitation and abuse of the earth, waters, and sky...

Nahaaw. Weweni onjida gibizindaw noongom. Well, thank you for listening today. Giga-waabamin wayiiba, I hope to see you again soon! 



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