Teachings of the Eagle Feather, part 21: Eagle Feathers & Braids of Northern Sweetgrass
Updated: Feb 29
Gichimanidoo-giizis (Great-Spirit Moon, January 21, 2020)
Giinawaa aya'aabitameg giiwedinoong ineninimishinaang noongom giizhigak ji mino-bawaajigeyaang. Naazikaawizhinaang, abi-izhaamizhinaang noongom dibikak endaso-dibikak gaye; abi gaatwendamoog en-daayaang abi-mooshkineshiwik n’jiichaaginaanin ji gezhendamaang w’onizhishiwing. Waabandashinaang gwayakawaadizin ji gikendamaang ge izhi gayekaadiziyaang.
“To you, spirit beings who dwell to the North: today we ask you to grant us good dreams. Approach us this night and every night; enter our homes and our spirits and fill us with the yearning for beauty. Show us the good that we may follow and observe it.”
- An Ojibwe Anishinaabe Midewiwin prayer to the North.
Boozhoo indinawemaaganidog, gidinimikoo miinawaa. Biindigen miinawaa nindaadizooke wigamigong; enji-zaagi'iding miinawaa gikendaasong. Ningad-aawechige noongom giizhigad! Hello my relatives, I greet you in a good way. Welcome back in my Storytelling Lodge where legends and teaching stories are told. Let's tell a teaching story today!
Today's teaching is woven around a set of elegant white gold wedding rings designed by me and handcrafted in my jeweler's studio. The title of the ring set is madweyaash, which is Anishinaabemowin (Ojibwe) for “sound of flight," or, more precisely, "sound in flight." Title and shape of the wedding rings, suggesting movement as well as sound, symbolize Migizi, the American bald eagle in full flight, whose feathers in turn represent MANIDOO, the sacred spirit that lives in all living things - and, ultimately GICHI-MANIDOO, the Great Spirit, which our ancestors regarded as the sum of all Mystery that exists in all levels of nature and life.
Ningoding gaawiin memwech jiwaabamamind migizi; ningoding etago jinoondawaad, bizindo weweni.
Sometimes you don't have to see the eagle; sometimes you just have to hear it, listen to it carefully.
- Anishinaabe proverb
In Anishinaabe thought, Migizi represents the Teaching of love because he flies high above the earth and is therefore closer to the Great Mystery than any other creature. Love is the most elusive of all virtues and no other creature is so elusive as this mighty spirit-bird, and love has the same light and airy nature as his feathers.
~~ THE FOUR SACRED MEDICINES: THAT WHICH IS GIVEN TO US ~~
Asemaa or tobacco is the first mashkiki manidoo that GICHI-MANIDOO, the Great Mystery, gave to our ancestors - way before they arrived at Gichigamiin, the Great Lakes area. Asemaa is the first plant spirit of all the mashkiki manidoog (medicinal plant spirits).
Three other mashkikiwan, bashkodejiibik, also called mashkodewashk (sage), giizhik (cedar), and wiingashk, also called bashkode-mashkosiw (sweetgrass), follow tobacco, and together they are referred to as niiwino-mide-mashkikiwan (the Four Sacred Medicines).
The niiwino-mide-mashkikiwan are used in everyday life and in ceremonies. All of them can be used to smudge with, though mashkodewashk, giizhik, and wiingashk - all of which are called nookweziganan or Smudging Medicines -, also have many other uses. It is said that asemaa sits in the eastern door, giizhik in the southern door, mashkodewashk in the western door, and wiingashk in the northern door. Elders say that the spirits like the aroma produced when we burn tobacco and the other three nookweziganan.
The Anishnaabeg Peoples follow sacred traditions and believe that when one takes something from Aki, the Earth - for example, when bashkodejiibik or wiingashk are picked - then an explanation to the spirit of the plant about why it is being picked and how it will be used is required. The explanation is often accompanied by an offering of asemaa in return for the generosity shown by Aki and the plant which shared itself.
~~ WIINGASHK, THE SACRED GRASS FROM THE NORTH ~~
The twisted wire of white gold that runs the length of both eagle feathers symbolically represents fresh braids of wiingask (northern sweetgrass), which the Anishinaabeg regard as a sacred plant that symbolizes the hair of Mother Earth and Giiwedin, the northern direction. Wiingask, the sacred grass, is often used in prayer and for smudging in purifying ceremonies. Wiingashk literally means Fragrant Grass.
Our Peoples regard wiingashk - also referred to as wiishkobi-mashkosi (in some parts of what is now the US and Canada), as iinashk (in some communities in what is now Minnesota), as bashkode-mashkosiw (by the North-Shore Anishinaabeg of Ontario), and as mashkosii-wiingashk or wiingwashk (by the Anishinaabeg who live in Northwestern Ontario) - as an important purifier on various levels in everyday and ceremonial lfe, replacing negative with positive. It gives out a sweet, aromatic scent, especially when burnt or when it rains. We are taught that spreading the smoke around one's head clears the mind of negativity; across the eyes, ears and mouth helps to see, hear, and speak only good things; and onto the rest of the body sends prayers for health and helps the body to work toward the benefit of our fellow Anishnaabeg. Braided strips of sweet grass, blessed by a sage smudge, are hung in our buildings, homes, and cars for protection.
Many things are made with the sacred grass such as wiingashkoo'iinan (coiled baskets), and when braided it signifies the hair of Omizakamigokwe (also called Ogashinan), the Earthmother. When it is harvested, it is traditionally cut, never pulled.
~~ THE DARKNESS OF WINTER AND A PROMISE OF BURSTING LEAFS IN SPRING ~~
Giiwedin, or biiboon (the spirit of winter) is also represented by the dark, sparkling glow of the marquise-cut blue sapphire stones set in yellow gold, asymmetrically mounted on the white gold feathers of both wedding rings. The position and the shape of the stones, which dramatically jut out of the eagle feathers, suggest outward movement and growth - reminiscent of the promise of bursting leaf buds in early spring - , and as such symbolize enlightenment, wisdom, and hope. Our ancestors knew Giiwedin to be the direction of sickness and decay, but also of wisdom and spiritual renewal.
The lustrous transparency of the stones, therefore, represents the sudden understanding and deep and all-comprehensive consciousness that befall on the couple wearing the rings, once their spirits have reached that sacred realm in the north.
The wisdom that lives in there tells them to let go of themselves and of the past, to let go of fears, and to get in touch with their ancestors.
It is in the north that we, as human beings, experience and explore our love for family and friends - and, if we're lucky, for that special person with whom we decide to walk the Path Of Life... Giiwenh. So goes the teaching story about the eagle, the northern sweetgras, and the spirit of wisdom and knowledge that lives in Giiwedin, the North.
Miigwech gibizindaw noongom mii dash gidaadizookoon. Thank you for listening to my storytelling today. Giga-waabamin wayiiba, I hope to see you again soon.