Love Stories from the Land of Many Lakes, part 14
Updated: May 19
~~ The Pledge: The Amazing Love Story of Star Sinking In The Water and Little Morning Star ~~
Waabaagwabaa-giizis (Leaves Turning Moon), September 18, 2019
~~ WAYESHKAD (HOW IT ALL BEGAN) ~~
One day in the long ago, there lived in the center of Anishinaabe Aki, the land of the Ojibwe People, in a village at the foot of the rapids, a boy who went by the name of Gozaabii-anang (Star Sinks In The Water). He belonged to waabizheshi doodem, the Marten clan of his People. He had received his name shortly after birth because he was born on a day when, right after sunset, the Evening Star shone with an exceptional brightness just before it sank in the waters of the Great Sea in the west.
From his earliest youth Star Sinks In The Water was observed to be introverted and pensive. He was well-known for his artistic nature and qualities and it escaped no one’s attention that he spent much time in solitude and fasting. Whenever he could leave his parents' wiigiwaam he would venture off - sometimes at night - to remote glades in the dense woods south from the rapids and falls, or sit upon some high bluff overlooking Baawaating (present-day St. Mary's River at Sault Ste. Marie). It was in such places that he seeked meaning and self-discovery by addressing the spirits of the Universe and by regularly invoking his bawaagan, or guardian spirit. More often than not he would feel the urge to use red ochre to paint in the presence of the spirits his dreams and visions on the rocks and cliff walls thar bordered the river.
One day in spring Star Sinks In The Water undertook a makadekewin (vision quest) during which he fasted in solitude in the middle of the forest. Surrounded by tall cedar and spruce tree spirits he fasted until after four days and three nights he received his first life-guiding dream. Just after sunset on the fourth day - the sky was already covered by the blanket of dusk - the boy's spirit, which was still alive and vibrant even after the hardships of dehydration and food and sleep deprivation, perceived the tallest giizhikaandag (northern white cedar) he had ever seen that burst right out of the earth in front of him, and in front of his eyes it became a living ladder whose branches reached all the way into the sky-world. A big thundering whisper resonated in the air, Ishpiming inaabin Gozaabii-anang, “Look up into the Sky, Star Sinks In The Water!” Before Star Sinks In The Water knew it his spirit lifted him up and made him climb high, guiding him even past the sun and the moon, past the Milky Way, and as his spirit was travelling a path that resembled the the Milky Way the boy sang a magic song:
Nin debaab aazhawi-anangoong, N’ga gikinoowezhigoog anangoog. Nin debidan aazhawi-anangoong, N’ga noondagoog anangoo, Gaagige n’ga debitaagooz.
"I can see beyond the stars The stars will guide me. I can hear beyond the stars, The stars will hear me, My voice will sound freely in space.”
~~ THE STAR LODGE ~~
The boy, after a climb that could have lasted a few seconds, or minutes, or perhaps even one moon -- for such is the immeasurable nature of non-linear time within dreams! --, found at the end of the starry path a beautiful land of sloping hills and vast lakes bathing in a soft pink light. Here, a sky spirit who had the body of a namegos (lake trout) covered with small thin scales that shone brightly like the evening star welcomed him and conducted him to the western end of an immense lake with the clearest and bluest water he had ever seen, and at its shore stood a madoodiswan (purification lodge) made of earth and stardust. The trout spirit with the shining body told him to undress and after having conducted the sweat ceremony and dressed in new clothes of the softest deer skin, his hair braided in long twin ropes that fell about his shoulders, the boy was led to a waaginogaan (domed lodge) that looked as if it were covered by shakes of giizhik (cedar wood) studded with uncountable shining stars.
The strange namegos manidoo signaled the boy to enter the star lodge, and as he stepped inside he noticed right by the entrance a drum and set beside it was a midemiigis, a shining cowry shell, which he knew to symbolize the sun and long life and the virtue of selflessness. Then, as he looked farther inside the glittering ginogaawaan, Star Sinks In The Water noticed a grandfather sitting in the back with very long hair the color of snow and dressed in a beautiful crimson red blanket. When he looked closer he noticed that the front of the blanket carried magic symbols of turquoise blue lakes and the sun and a big red star and a fire bright with flame. The garment, which was tightly woven with the aid of fine strands of asemaa (tobacco), giizhik (cedar), mashkodewashk (sage), and wiingashk (sweetgrass), along with the smoke from snipped leaves of giizhik, filled the waaginogaan with a sweet-scented, mystic mist the color of turquoise. The grandfather then spoke as follows:
"Aaniin, biindigen noozis (Hello, come in my grandchild). My name is Ikwe-anang, the Women's Star. I was born of the fire of the sun and the foam of the waters of the lakes that flow beneath the sky-world as they color red at sundown; for when I was conceived the west wind blew, and the waves of gichigami (the great lake) quickened into foam, and Giizis (the sun grandfather) and the moon and stars at night shone on the foam and warmed it, and the warmth made life, and that life is I."
After a thougthful silence during which he appeared to be looking straight ahead into space, the old man with the snow-white hair took a few draws of his stone pipe and continued, "Inaa! See! I carry with me healing, wisdom, and love. I will give it to you if you will grant my wish and take my wisdom and love back home to your People. The women of your People, who as you know are the keepers of Gichi-Nibi, the sacred Water Circle, will love and honor me well for these gifts of life and water for they will understand that I am their protector and their guiding star into old age. I am but an old spirit but nevertheless swift of mind, and I summoned you in your dream to be nimizhinawe (my messenger) and to make it known to you that from now on I shall abide with you and be your teacher and helper during the long quest that you are about to undertake in search of love and knowledge and the gift of youth."
As soon as the grandfather-spirit who called himself Ikwe-anang had uttered these words the boy noticed a girl peering out at him from underneath long and jetblack shiny hair and who seemingly had sat in the shadows behind the Women’s Star Grandfather. As she smiled shyly she took her place beside the Grandfather and it was then that he noticed the girl looked at him with an open, inquisitive look in her starry eyes. She wore a blue dress on which he noticed streaks of bright paint representing Miskwaadesi doodem (The Painted Turtle Clan). Then she spoke, in a clear voice in the language of his People:
Aaniin, Waabananangoons niin nindizhinikaaz, Anangoog Agwana'igewag Aki idash nindigo. Miskwaadesi niin nindoodem. Niin mazinibii’igekwe. Aki nindoonjii. Gi-zaagi’in idash bangii ningotaaj idash wiinge nindagaj noongom. Gaye dash nimino-ayaa aapichi gaye niminwendam eyaawaan omaa noongom.
This means, “hello, Little Morning Star is my name, I am also called by the name Star Blanket Covers The Earth. Painted Turtle is my clan. Like you, I am an artist and like you, I come from the place called Earth. I love you and I am a little afraid and very shy today. I am also very fine and I am happy to be here today.”
The girl remained still for a moment, then began to sing in a strangely enchanting voice that to the boy sounded as pure and clear as a fast-flowing mountain brook:
"I lay down against the black waiting to drift into the light of my deepest and sweetest dreams
My eyes had barely closed to welcome the bliss of night when
I could feel his hands take mine
How this real world changed as my lids fell so heavy against my cheek
that I could hear them shut
As I opened them on the other side
it was like stepping into the universe being drawn up by Star People
I saw him once before when so small that my feet could barely take me more than a few miles at a time
Always just above my real sight until the darkness came this dream before I awoke today
We travelled through them so vast the constellations of stories past I had been here before?
As my feet walked into this lodge I closed my eyes and left again Into the universe not for the first flight
That was taken when just a child A hand taken to a place of freedom Where no sounds or feelings could come
Where will I go tonight When he comes To take my hands..."*
Before Star Sinks In The Water had a chance to respond he felt the girl’s hand in his, after which the Grandfather began to sound his hand drum and chant to him in a strange language that nevertheless, miraculously, sounded familiar in the ears of the boy whose name was Star Sinking In The Waters, and which in his own language would translate as follows:
Ninagam endazhi endani-dabayaan Gaagige ninga dabitaagoz Giizhikaandag gindizhinikaaz giin
Gizhawenimig giizhigaadizookanag Bimaadiziwinaatig giigaa bawaajige Midewaatig gimizhinawe-ik
Gimashki-akiimewaa mandidoowan Giigaa waaseyaa-aabindam nebaa'in Giigaa gawakoshe nebaa'i
Giigaa babaa-ayindaa Giigaa mino-bimaadiz E-naabindaman daa izhi-wabad, noozis.
"I sing before you Timeless is my voice Your name will be Cedar Tree
The Sky Grandfathers are generous with you Through the Tree of Life will you dream Through the Ceremonial Tree will you speak
Your Medicines are potent Even in sleep will you see Even in sleep you will hear
You will live in different spheres You will live a long and prosperous life What you dream will be, my grandson."
No sooner had the strange song echoed away than Star Sinks In The Water found himself standing outside the star waaginogaan. As he desperately looked about him for signs of the starry-eyed girl who had shyly introduced herself to him in the star lodge, slowly, the lodges and the rollling hills of lush green grass surrounding the deep blue lakes faded from view, and from the wondrous sky-land where he had met the beautiful Star Blanket with her clear-sounding voice the dreaming boy was transported back to earth by way of the tall Tree of Life that connected the sky-world with the earth beneath...
~~ THE MEANING OF STAR SINKING IN THE WATER'S VISION ~~
When Star Sinks In The Water woke up he found himself in the glade amid the cedar and spruce trees where he had commenced the vision quest that had led him into the skies and back. The tall giizhikaandag that had served as a ladder into the sky-world was gone! The Elder who had watched over him had already arrived with a tray with some deer meat and dried corn on it and a bowl of water. Although weak, the boy felt refreshed. The Elder took Star Sinks In The Water to his uncle, who was the medicine man of his People, for an interpretation of the dream the boy had received during the fast. The medicine man, after hearing Star Sinks In The Water's detailed account of the dream confirmed that it was a vision of great power and he addressed the boy as follows:
Ningwiz, my son, listen to what I have to tell you for my lesson is filled with wisdom and direction. Ningad aadizooke! I will tell you now a sacred story! It is the story about the star called Nigaabii-anang, or Star of the West (Evening) by our People.
Wayeshkad, in the beginning of times, Gichi-manidoo, the Great Mystery, assigned Nigaabii-anang to the quarter of the world called E-bangishimog (the West) and to the winds and the portion of time that goes with the western direction. Thus the Evening Star was gifted with an important power over life on earth to be exercized with prudence and wisdom so that harmony would be maintained forever. One bad day, however, after many strings of life of perfect harmony between the West, the East, the South, and the North, a struggle arose between Nigaabii-anang and the Spirit of the East.
Although nowadays Waaban-anang, the Morning Star Spirit that governs the East controlls knowledge and medicines equally vast and powerful to that of the Evening Star and the other two quarters of the earth, Gichi-manidoo had initially assigned Nigaabii-anang the task of being Morning Star’s Elder and tutor since the latter was not yet fully accredited as a medicine man; keep in mind ningwiz, that the difference in age between the two stars was about the same as the number of years that stand between you and me!
So, the animosity between the two powerful stars started when the proud and headstrong Waaban-anang, after many years of study under Nigaabii-anang’s tutelage, felt that he was ready to exercise his own medicine without Nigaabii-anang’s supervision and counsel; when the latter told his impetuous and hot-tempered student that his knowledge and skills were not complete since he had not yet reached his level of wisdom and moderation and patience that is needed to conduct the important tasks of teaching healing and prolonging life, Waaban-anang challenged him to a contest, taunting him and challenging him to prove his powers.
The battle that took place between the Morning Star and the Evening Star that day became a metaphor for the lasting human conflict between youth and age, and also between knowledge and wisdom. Although in this day and age neither star is more powerful than the other and although the Morning Star and the Evening Star have made peace a long time ago, Dawn and Evening still continue their duels, thus symbolizing the eternal conflicts and dualisms within the human soul, and within human society as a whole.
Giiwenh, thus is the story of the Morning Star and the Evening Star, ningwiz. The tale I just shared with you is a powerful parable about the duality that exists in human nature and, in particular, the conflicts and rivalry and jealousy between life partners; but if you look closely you will see that in essence the tale is about two forces, or beings, or persons, niizhoodenh ishkoden (twin flames), or like two miinikaanan (seeds) in a pod. The beautiful girl from the Painted Turtle Clan whom you met in the star lodge in the sky is an artist like you, and as such she inspires, strengthens, and directs you, just as you inspire, strengthen, and direct her. Now you shall undertake a quest in order to reunite with this girl who is your mirror image. One day you will meet her on this earth and when you two are reunited you will hang up your garments together; each night the light of Ojiiganang (the Fisher Star) will shine on the both of you and each nightfall and the following dawn your wiigiwaam will be blessed by the magic light of Giizhig-anang, the Day Star.
Aaniin igo! Gichi-wiiyagaaj ningwiz… But alas my son! As your lives unfold you will notice that you and she, as do the Evening Star and the Morning Star in the narrative, will have many conflicts together. For her, the unconditional love that you harbor for her is tantamount to bondage; to you, her desire for independence will feel like a betrayal of a trust. But no matter how big the conflicts will be and how high the emotions fly, there will also be a deep love and understanding between you two. You will both walk your own path but these paths will be like three rivers that run parallel, one representing ceremony, the other artistry, and the middle one symbolizing the love that you two share. One moment these three streams will converge, the next moment they will diverge, but they will always be running side by side as if propelled by a powerful source of unbound vision, creativity, and love. And in the end, when you both reach old age, the three streams, their waters flowing spiritually, will merge into a single stream and your paths shall be like hair or sweetgrass tightly woven into a three-strand braid.”
The old man paused for a short while and then continued: “For now, ningwiz, you are expected to return to your old life, to walk your own path, and to start living your vision. Soon, when the sun will take his position at the very height of his westward journey, a naming ceremony will be held in your honor, ratifying the new name you received in your dream. Later on, after you fulfilled your quest which will be nine moons from now, as soon the summer arrives in the land, there will be a wedding ceremony joining the hands and hearts of you and your new wife Anangoog Agwana'igewag Aki whom you found in the star lodge in the sky and whom you will find again in this middle world, this earthmother we walk upon. Ahaaw sa ningwiz, maajaan! Go now my son, be truthful and selfless and walk tall, with your head high and love for the Great Mystery in your heart.”
So the story goes...
Giiwenh. So goes the story about the eternal battle between the Morning and the Evening Star; so goes the amazing love tale of the young Anishinaabe inini who bore the names of Star Sinking In the Water And Cedar Tree, who had a vision and found in the Sky World his love match, a young Anishinaabekwe who bore the poetic name of Star Blanket Covers The Earth…
Miigwech gibizindaw noongom mii dash gidaadizookoon. Thank you for listening to my storytelling today. Giga-waabamin wayiiba, I hope to see you again soon...
Read the next part in the series: Wiinabozh and the Storytellers' Mirror
* The song is based on the poem Take My Hand/Spirit Flight by Simone McLeod (2013)