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Teaching Stories, part 26: The Seven Grandfather Teachings: Weaving Threads of Tradition

Updated: 6 hours ago

Namebine-giizis (Suckerfish Moon)/Zaagibagaa-giizis (Budding Moon) - June 10, 2024

 

"This Is My Ceremony" Painting by Zhaawano Giizhik
"This Is My Ceremony," ©2020-2024 Zhaawano Giizhik
 
‘‘To describe my art is to reflect back to my forefathers. As I am limited in what I know, or can reveal, about the ancient Anishinaabe ceremonies and Seven Grandfather Teachings, the challenge for me lies in creating abstract, modernly stylized jewelry designs and colorful, expressive paintings to represent the ancient and the sacred. Studying and admiring the contemporary work of the Medicine (Woodland Art) Painters helps me in this process.’’
 

Debaajimood Weaving Stories at the Teaching Lodge, painting by Zhaawano Giizhik
"Debaajimood Weaving Stories at the Teaching Lodge," ©2024 Zhaawano Giizhik
 

Weaving age-old tales through art and written stories


Boozhoo. My name is Zhaawano Giizhik, and I am a goldsmith and visual artist. But first and foremost: Nindayaadizooked I am a storyteller.


Like our relative asabikeshiinh (the spider) does each morning at sunrise, I consider myself to be a weaver a debaajimood, a storyteller at heart who weaves countless threads and patterns of tradition in his story web.


As I weave into my wawezhi'owin (jewelry) and mazinichiganag (paintings) magic tales of yesterday, I never forget to heed the Seven Grandfather Teachings that my Ojibwe Anishinaabe ancestors from the Great Lakes area brought from their original homeland in the east.


Each time I create art I honor the age-old practices of my ancestors' People of sharing human and spiritual experience through storytelling. But, like the delicate intricacy of a spider's web is enhanced by the rays of the dancing sun shining through the morning dew, my works of art aren't merely traditional,as they show a distinctly personal style and often testify of a contemporary, modern sense of color and design.


To describe my art is to reflect back to my forefathers. As I am limited in what I know, or can reveal, about the ancient Anishinaabe ceremonies and Seven Grandfather Teachings, the challenge for me lies in creating abstract, modernly stylized jewelry designs and colorful, expressive paintings to represent the ancient and the sacred. Studying and admiring the contemporary work of the Medicine (Woodland Art) Painters helps me in this process.


 

"Offering of the First Feather," pen and ink drawing by Zhaawano Giizhik
"Offering of the First Feather," ©2024 Zhaawano Giizhik

 

Midewiwin and the Medicine Painters, guardians of the Anishinaabe Way of Life


I take a moment to reflect on what I like doing most: Creating art and writing.


Writing, painting, and designing jewelry, to me, is like opening a door to a place that holds great power; a place if unspoken beauty that validates what I feel deep down in my soul - probably even way before I was born.



My works of art and writings are thematically as well as graphically based on, and inspired by, Gichi-dibaakoniwewin, the Great Binding Law of Gichi-manidoo, the Great Mystery, as well as on  the Seven Grandfather Teachings and the Picture Writings of the Midewiwin, the Grand Medicine Lodge of the Anishinaabe Peoples. 


Midewiwin, which means literally ‘‘Society of Those Who Are in A Sacred, or Unseen, State,’’ is a prestigious lodge or association of male and female healers and thinkers and artists, respected keepers and protectors of the traditional Anishinaabe way of life and ceremonies that are many thousands of years old.


Writing, painting, and designing jewelry, to me, is like opening a door to a place that holds great power; a place if unspoken beauty that validates what I feel deep down in my soul - probably even way before I was born.

The Midewiwin aims to pass on the Great Binding Law of the Great Mystery, and, in particular, to conserve the concept of mino-bimaadiziwin, a set of Seven Grandfather Teachings on human conduct and a spiritual way for living. Its principal focus  is recovering and keeping alive the seven mide-wiigwaasan (birch bark scrolls used for ritual purposes) and their sacred teachings which in recent history had been forced underground. These complex writings also include astronomy, mapping, information about the clan system and family lineage, and up to 1000-year-old migration routes. The symbols depicting historical events, songs, dreams, visions, and prophecies, called mazinaajimowin, were not only inscribed on mide-wiigwaasan, but have also been engraved or painted on cliff walls and rocks for many generations in the past, particularly in those mystic places near the coastline of Gichigami (Lake Superior) where the sky, the earth, the water, the underground, and the underwater meet.


Until today, many of the Mide writings and records on birch bark have been kept secret - passed on only in sacred spaces by community-acknowledged Keepers of ceremony -, in order to keep the scrolls safe, to interpret them correctly, and to await a better time - when a generation will rise up that walks according to a more intelligent and respectful worldview than we experience now.

The ancient visual language of mazinaajimowin – be it written on rock or bark any other natural feature or material - features figures consisting of simple, articulated, flowing outlines that are always, in some way or another, interconnected.


During the 1960’s, these pictographs (often done in red ochre) and birch bark writings became an endless source of inspiration to the painters of a Canadian-based, modern Indigenous art movement – to which I, too, am greatly indebted. The typical outline drawing style of these ‘‘Medicine’’ painters, which also characterizes my overlay jewelry work, is directly based on the ancient spirit writings of their Anishinaabe forefathers. In order to fit the need of their art practices, the Medicine Painters – led by the late Miskwaabik Animikii (Norval Morrisseau) – began to stylize many of these archaic components into a new abstract visual language, which is now known as the Native, or New Woodland School of Art.


The outlined figures that the Medicine Painters use for their canvases and that I use in my jewelry and paintings are directly inspired by the rock art of their ancestors; particularly the use of ‘‘spirit lines’’ emanating from the interiors or exteriors of figures and the mystic ‘‘inside views’’ (so-called ‘‘X-ray anatomy’’) of images of people, animals, plants, trees, and supernatural beings, testify of the ancient spirit that lives on in their hearts and minds and works of art.


 

Song of the Heartberry Moon, painting by Zhaawano Giizjik
"Song of the Heartberry Moon," ©2024 Zhaawano Giizhik

 

Ode'imin, the Heart-shaped Berry


The Midewiwin Lodge is believed to have been founded, hundreds, if not thousands of years ago by the first herbalist/medicine man of his People, who went by the legendary name of Ode’imin (Heart-shaped Berry or strawberry). Under the skillful tutelage of his supernatural teacher Wenabozho, who taught him to study the nature of plants from the conduct of animals, Ode’imin forever institutionalized the knowledge of curing and bimaadiziwin, or the Code for Long Life and Upright Living. He taught the People the properties and the curative powers of all beings of the plant world and conferred to them the philosophy of bimaadiziwin, which would forever be propagated through the ceremonies of the Midewiwin. 

 

To this day, whenever or wherever they establish their villages and homes, the Anishinaabeg never neglect their duty to annually honor, celebrate, and carry on the gift of knowledge that was handed down to their ancestors by Ode’imin, the Heart-shaped Berry...


 

The Seven Grandfather Teachings



Gichi-ayaa, the Old Ones, tell us that a great many strings of life ago Gichi-manidoo, the Great Mystery, placed the first man on a land near the borders of a great saltwater sea, which soon would be known as Waabanakiing, the Dawn Land. It was here that many winters later the offspring of first man, the great Anishinaabe Nation, would thrive before six prophets in the shape of Miigisag (Cowrie Shells) emerged from the Ocean, and five of these prophets established among the Waabanakiig (People Of The Dawn) a system of kinship based on gidoodeminaaning ("our clans, or totems").


 

The Miigis Grandfathers From the Dawn Land painting by Zhaawano Giizhik
"The Miigis Grandfathers From the Dawn Land," ©2022-2024 Zhaawano Giizhik

 

After the five Miigis prophets had shared their message to eight prophets, or Grandfathers, seven of these grandfathers asked a mizhinawe (messenger) to see if he could find ways to improve the condition and wellbeing of the Waabanakii People.


The messenger – some say that he was nigig, an otter, who mastered the Waabanakii language –began a quest that would lead him to an abinoojiinh (child), and after receiving approval from the Seven Grandfathers, the mizhinawe tutored the child in mino-bimaadiziwin (how to live a full and healthy life).


Each of the Grandfathers then instructed the child with a principle, a guideline that honored one of the basic virtues intrinsic to mino-bimaadiziwin.


These Nizhwaaswi Gagiikwewinan (Seven Sacred Teachings, or laws) that made up Gichi-dibaakoniwewin, the Great Binding Law of the Great Mystery, became the foundation of Midewiwin spiritual practice.

The Seven Teachings, or Grandfathers, and the Seven Sacred  Directions and the odoodemag (clans)  that represent them, are as follows:


  • Nibwaakaawin (Wisdom) (The East; Fish Clans)

  • Zaagi'idiwin (Zhawenjigewin) (Love) (The Center; The Deer, Stag, Antler, Elk, Caribou, and Moose Clans)

  • Manaadenindiwin (Manaaji'idiwin, Gichi-inendamowin) (Respect, or Honor) (The South; The Marten Clan)

  • Zoongide'ewin (Aakode'ewin, Mangide'ewin) (Bravery, or Courage) (The West; The Crane Clan)

  • Gwayakwaadiziwin (Gwayako-bimaadiziwin) (Honesty) (The North; The Loon Clan)

  • Dabaadendiziwin (Dabasenimowin) (Humility) (Below; The Bird Clans)

  • Debwewin (Truth) (Top; The Bear Clan)


 

Midewigaan, painting by Zhaawano Giizhik
"Midewigaan (Midewiwin Lodge)" ©2022-2024 Zhaawano Giizhik

 

The Seven Fires Prophecy


Along with a set of moral values and a new form of kinship, the Grandfathers left the Waabanakiig with seven  predictions of what the future would bring, warning them of a time when light-skinned strangers would arrive at the shores who would wear the face of death and would ultimately bring about the extinction of the Waabanakiig and their way of life. If they would not leave their land by the Big Salt Sea, the shadow of illness would befall on them, their once happy world befouled, and the waters would forever turn bitter by disrespect. Many people of the Waabanaki Nation decided to heed the warnings of the Grandfathers and several clan groups embarked on a long journey along a myriad of waterways that lead to a faraway land in the west, where were many lakes and a mysterious food (manoomin, or wild rice) that grew on the water. As the journey was marked by Niizhwaaso-ishkoden (Seven Fires), the Waabanaki migrants were told that midemiigisag (sacred, radiant cowry shells appearing in the western sky) and an ajijaak (sandhill crane) would show them the way. One of the seven ishkoden was associated with an Animikii-binesi (Thunderbird), which told the People about a powerful vision of several mikinaako-minisensing (turtle-shaped islands) that would be encountered during the westward migration.


The seventh and final stop was on present-day Madeline Island – and it was here that, for the fourth time since the Anishinaabeg had left the Dawn Land, the Grandfather Water Drum of the Midewiwin Lodge sounded its voice and it was here that the Mide rituals were performed in their most original and pure form...

Large groups of Waabanakiig moved inland, away from the coast of the Salt Sea. Along the migration small family groups or odoodeman (totem clans) stopped, set up permanent settlements – with the societies centered around the Medicine Lodge of the Midewiwin – and eventually became separate Nations. As they travelled deeper and deeper into unknown and often hostile territories, these courageous Waabanaki migrants started to refer to themselves as Anishinaabeg: ‘‘Spontaneously Originated People.’’


After they had reached the fifth stopping place at the rapids and falls near Baawitigong (Sault Ste. Marie on Michigan's Upper Peninsula), one branch of the Anishinaabe settlers paddled along the southern shore of Gichigami (Lake Superior) following the flight of a sandhill crane, another along the northern shore following the miigis shell, and they eventually met up at Manidoo-miinis (Spirit Island) near the western tip of the lake (the sixth stopping place). Here they finally found the manoomin, or sacred food that grows on the water. 


The odoodemag (clans) of Loon, Bear, Catfish and the allied clans of Marten and Moose finally arrived at the last turtle-shaped island situated northeast of Spirit Island, and as they were planting asemaa (tobacco) near the shores, the sacred miigisag washed up onto the beach, and the Elders of the Nation sensed the long journey, which had lasted at least 1500-2000 years, was near its end. This seventh and final stop was on present-day Madeline Island – and it was here that, for the fourth time since the Anishinaabeg had left the Dawn Land, the Grandfather Water Drum of the Midewiwin Lodge sounded its voice and it was here that the Mide rituals were performed in their most original and pure form...


 

Seven Fires "squash blossom" necklace, designed and handcrafted by Zhaawano Giizhik
The Eight Fire "squash blossom" necklace, designed and handcrafted by Zhaawano Giizhik

 

The Seventh and Eight Fire


After the Anishinaabe migrants had colonized the promised land, the last of the Seven Grandfathers visited the Anishinaabeg and he prophesized this:


"In the time of the Seventh Fire, New People will emerge. They will retrace their steps to find what was left by the trail. Their steps will take them to the Elders, whom they will ask to guide them on their journey. But many of the Elders will have fallen asleep. They will awaken to this new time with nothing to offer. Some of the Elders will be silent because no one will ask anything of them. The New People will have to be careful in how they approach the Elders. The task of the New People will not be easy.


If the New People will remain strong in their quest the Water Drum of the Midewiwin Lodge will again sound its voice. There will be a rebirth of the Anishinaabe Nation and a rekindling of old flames. The Sacred Fire will again be lit."


"We must retrace the steps of the gete-ayaa and collect their teachings and ceremonies and songs and the language that they left behind along the Good Red Road they walked. None of those are whole, but the bits and pieces that lay scattered along the Good Red Road are many and ready to be picked up and put back together again. "

Some Anishinaabe Elders say that we live in the era of the Seventh Fire; others believe that now another Fire has been lit that arose from the teachings of the Seven Fires prophecy. This Eight Fire Teaching tells us that the human race must find back mino-mishko-miikana (the Good Red Road) of the Anishinaabe ancestors. We, as New People, must  – irrespective of our our backgrounds, color, and faith – collectively walk the path of anishinaabe-bimaadiziwin; a wholesome life, honoring and sharing among ourselves and with others the virtues of peace, love, brother and sisterhood, respect, wisdom, and spirituality.


Freely translated, the prophecy means that the People of the Seventh Fire, in order to bring about a rebirth of the Anishinaabe nation, need to aabanaabam, literally.: “turn and look back.” Used in a traditional context, abanaabam signifies a time to stop, pause, and look back in the past from which the People (gete-ayaa'ag, our ancestors) have emerged. We must retrace the steps of the gete-ayaa and collect their teachings and ceremonies and songs and the language that they left behind along the mino-mishko-miikana they walked. None of those are whole, but the bits and pieces that lay scattered along the mino-mishko-miikana are many and ready to be picked up and put back together again.


 


"Anishinaabe Wiidigendiwag (Ojibwe companions on the Road of Life)" pen and ink drawing by Zhaawano Giizhik
"Anishinaabe Wiidigendiwag (Ojibwe Companions on the Road of Life)" ©2004-2024 Zhaawano Giizhik

 

Nurturing the Flame of Wiidigendiwin


In a metaphorical way, the Teaching of the Eight Fire also applies to the strongest and most sacred of bonds: wiidigendiwin, or marriage. When you decide to walk with someone and be with that person through all aspects of bimaadiziwin, you rekindle, nurture, and maintain a fire that has been lit many times before. Like your ancestors before you, you will commit to live according to the guidelines offered by the Seven Grandfathers. Like your ancestors before you, you will, by nurturing the flame of loyalty, prudence, generosity, and kindness, make the day as light as you can for the companion with whom you chose to walk with.


Ultimately, the reward for walking and sharing the good trail will be a long, healthy, and happy life together, so that partners can exemplify this mino-bimaadiziwin to their loved ones and pass the lessons of the Grandfather Teachings on to the younger generation. Lessons that are reflected in the stories, jewelry, and paintings that you will find in my blogs and websites...


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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