History From America's Most Famous Valleys
The Indian In His Wigwam
Characteristics of The Red Race of America
From Original Notes and Manuscripts
By Henry R. Schoolcraft
Dewitt & Davenport
This is a lengthy book and covers many of the Red Race who
are not native to New York State. Pertinent parts of the book will be posted.
Thanks to Pamela Wozniak and David Collins for loaning this book for the purpose of using it on our website.
MYTHOLOGY, SUPERSTITIONS, AND RELIGION OF THE ALGONQUINS.
THEIR SYSTEM OF MANITO WORSHIP, AS RECENTLY DISCLOSED BY THE CONFESSIONS OF ONE OF THEIR PROPHETS ; THEIR LANGUAGES, AND CHARACTER OF THE TRANSLATIONS OF THE GOSPEL MADE INTO THESE DIALECTS; AND THE LEADING MOTIVES OF CHRISTIANS AND PHILANTHROPISTS TO PERSEVERE IN THEIR CIVILISATION AND CONVERSION.*
IT is known that the Indian tribes of this continent live in a state of mental bondage to a class of men, who officiate as their priests and soothsayers. These men found their claims to supernatural power on early fastings, dreams, ascetic manners and habits, and often on some real or feigned fit of insanity. Most of them affect a knowledge of charms and incantations. They are provided with a sack of mystic implements, the contents of which are exhibited in the course of their ceremonies, such as the hollow bones of some of the larger anseres, small carved representations of animals, cowrie and other sea-shells, &c. Some of these men acquire a character for much sanctity, and turn their influence to political purposes, either personally or through some popular warrior, as was instanced in the success of the sachems Buchanjahela, Little Turtle and Tecumthe.
We have recently had an opportunity of conversing with one of this class of sacred person, who has within late years embraced Christianity; and have made some notes of the interview, which we will advert to for the purpose of exhibiting his testimony, as to the true character of this
* New York Lit. & Theo. Review.
class of impostors. Chusco, the person referred, to, is an Ottawa Indian who has long exercised, the priestly office, so to say, to his brethren on the northern frontiers. He is now a man turned of seventy. He is of small stature, somewhat bent forward, and supports the infirmities of age by walking with a staff. His sight is impaired, but his memory accurate, enabling him to narrate with particularity events which transpired more than half a century ago. He was present at the great convocation of northern Indians at Greenville, which followed Gen. Wayne's victories in the west-an event to which most of these tribes look back, as an era in their history. He afterwards returned to his native country in the upper lakes, and fixed his residence at Michilimackinac, where in late years, his wife became a convert to the Christian faith, and united herself to the mission church on that island. A few years after, the old prophet, who despised this mode of faith, and thought but little of his wife's sagacity in uniting herself to a congregation of believers, felt his own mind arrested by the same truths, and finally also embraced them, and was propounded for admission, and afterwards kept on trial before the session. It was about this time, or soon after he had been received as an applicant for membership, that the writer visited his lodge, and entered into a full examination of his sentiments and opinions, contrasting them freely with what they had formerly been. We requested him to narrate to us the facts of his conversion to the principles of Christianity, indicating the progress of truth on his mind, which he did in substance, through an interpreter, as follows:
" In the early part of my life I lived very wickedly, following the META, the JEESUKAN, and the WABENO, the three great superstitious observances of my people. I did not know that these societies were made up of errors until my wife, whose heart had been turned by the missionaries, informed me of it. I had no pleasure in listening to her on this subject, and often turned away, declaring that I was well satisfied with the religion of my forefathers. She took every occasion of talking to me on the subject. She told me that the Indian societies were bad, and that all who adhered to them were no better than open servants of the Evil Spirit. She had, in particular, four long talks with me on the subject, and explained to me who God was, and what sin was, as it is written in God's book. I believed before, that there was One Great Spirit who was the Master of life, who had made men and beasts. But she explained to me the true character of this Great Spirit, the sinfulness of the heart, and the necessity of having it changed from evil to good by praying -through Jesus Christ. By degrees I came to understand it. She told me that the Ghost of God or Holy Spirit only could make the heart better, and that the souls of all who died, without having felt this power, would be burned in the fires. The missionaries had directed her to speak to me and put words in her mouth, and she said so much that at length, I did not feel satisfied with my old way of life. Amongst other things she spoke against drinking, which I was very fond of.
" I did not relish these conversations, but I could not forget them When I reflected upon them, my heart was not as fixed as it used to be. I began to see that the Indian Societies were bad, for I knew from my own experience, that it was not a good Spirit that I had relied upon determined that I would not undertake tojeesukd or to look into futurity any longer for the Indians, nor practice the Metals art. After a while I began to see more fully that the Indian ceremonies were all bad, and I determined to quit them altogether, and give heed to what was declared in God's book.
" The first time that I felt I was to be condemned as a sinner, and that I was in danger of being punished for sin by God, is clearly in my mind. I was then on the Island of Bois Blanc, making sugar with my wife. I was in a conflict of mind, and hardly knew what I was about. I walked around the kettles, and did not know what I walked for. I felt sometimes like a person wishing to cry, but I thought it would be unmanly to cry. For the space of two weeks, I felt in this alarmed and unhappy mood. It seemed to me sometimes as if I must die. My heart and my bones felt as if they would burst and fall asunder. My wife asked me if I was sick, and said I looked pale. I was in an agony of body and mind, especially during, one week. It seemed, during this time, as if an evil spirit haunted me. When I went out to gather sap, I felt conscious that this spirit went with me and dogged me. It appeared to animate my own shadow.
" My strength was failing under this conflict. One night, after I had been busy all day, my mind was in great distress. This shadowy influence seemed to me to persuade me to go to sleep. I was tired, and I wished rest, but I could not sleep. I began to pray. I knelt down and prayed to God. I continued to pray at intervals through the night; I asked to know the truth. I then laid down and went to sleep. This sleep brought me rest and peace. In the morning my wife awoke me, telling me it was late. When I awoke I felt placid and easy in mind. My distress had left me. I asked my wife what day it was. She told me it was the Sabbath (in the Indian, prayer-day). I replied, how I wish I could go to the church at the mission ! Formerly I used to avoid it, and shunned those who wished to speak to me of praying to God, but now my heart longs to go there. This feeling did not leave me.
" After three days I went to the mission. The gladness of my heart continued the same as I had felt it the first morning at the camp. My first feeling when I landed, was pity for my drunken brethren, and I prayed that they might also be brought to find the true God. I spoke to the missionary, who at subsequent interviews explained to me the truth, the rite of baptism, and other/principles. He wished, however, to try me by my life, and I wished it also. It was the following autumn, that I was received into the church."
We now turned his mind to the subject of intemperance in drinking, understanding that it had been his former habit. ' He replied that he had been one of the greatest drunkards. He had not been satisfied with a ten days' drink. He would go and drink as long as he could get it. He said, that during the night in which he first prayed, it was one of the first subjects of his prayers, that God would remove this desire with his other evil desires. He added, " God did so." When he arose that morning the desire had left him. The evil spirit then tempted him by suggesting to his mind-" Should some one now enter and offer you liquor, would you not taste it ?" He averred he could, at that moment, firmly answer No ! It was now seven years since he had tasted a drop of strong drink. He remarked that when he used first to visit the houses of Christians, who gladly opened their doors to him, they were in the habit of asking him to drink a glass of cider or wine, which he did. But this practice had nearly ruined him. On one occasion he felt the effects of what he had thus been prevailed on to drink. The danger he felt himself to be in was such, that he was alarmed and gave up this practice also.
He detailed some providential trials which he had been recently exposed to. He had observed, he said, that those of his people who had professed piety and had subsequently fallen off, had nevertheless prospered in worldly things, while he had found it very hard to live. He was often in a state of want, and his lodge was so poor and bad, that it would not keep out the rain. Both he and his wife were feeble, and their clothes were worn out. They had now but a single blanket between them. But when these trials came up in his mind, he immediately resorted to God, who satisfied him.
Another trait in the character of his piety, may here be mentioned. The autumn succeeding his conversion, he went over to the spot on the island where he had planted potatoes. The Indian method is, not to visit their small plantations from the time that their corn or potatoes are hilled. He was pleased to find that the crop in this instance promised to yield abundantly, and his wife immediately commenced the process of raising them. " Stop !" exclaimed the grateful old man, " dare you dig these potatoes until we, have thanked the Lord for them ?" They then both knelt in prayer, and afterwards gathered the crop.
This individual appeared to form a tangible point in the intellectual chain between Paganism and Christianity, which it is felt important to examine. We felt desirous of drawing from him such particulars respecting his former practice in necromancy and the prophetic art, as might lead to correct philosophical conclusions. He had been the great juggler of his tribe. He was now accepted as a Christian. What were his own conceptions of the power and arts he had practised ? How did these things appear to his mind, after a lapse of several years, during which his opinions and feelings had undergone changes, in many respects so striking ? We found not the slightest avoiding of this topic on his part. He attributed all his ability in deceptive arts to the agency of the Evil Spirit; and he spoke of it with the same settled tone that he had manifested in reciting other points in his personal experience. He believed that he had followed a spirit whose object it was to deceive the Indians and make them miserable. He believed that this spirit had left him and that he was now following, in the affections of his heart, the spirit of Truth.
Numerous symbols of the classes of the animate creation are relied on by the Indian metays and wabcnos, to exhibit their affected power of working miracles and to scrutinize the scenes of futurity. The objects which this man had appealed to as personal spirits in the arcanum of his lodge, were the tortoise, the swan, the woodpecker and the crow. He had dreamed of these at his initial fast in his youth, during the period set apart for this purpose, and he believed that a satanic influence was exerted, by presenting to his mind one or more of these solemnly appropriated objects at the moment of his invoking them. This is the theory drawn from his replies. We solicited him to detail the modus operandi, after entering the juggler's lodge. This lodge resembles an acute pyramid with the apex open. It is formed of poles, covered with tightdrawn skins. His replies were perfectly ingenuous, evincing nothing of the natural taciturnity and shyness of the Indian mind. The great object with the operator is to agitate this lodge, and cause it to move and shake without uprooting it from its basis, in such a manner as to induce the spectators to believe that the power of action is superhuman. After this manifestation of spiritual presence, the priest within is prepared to give oracular responses. The only articles within were a drum and rattle. In reply to our inquiry as to the mode of procedure, he stated that his first essay, after entering the lodge, was to strike the drum and commence his incantations. At this time his personal manitos assumed their agency, and received, it is to be inferred, a satanic energy. Not that he affects that there was any visible form assumed. But he felt their spirit-like presence. He represents the agitation of the lodge to be due to currents of air, having the irregular and gyratory power of a whirlwind. He does not pretend that his responses were guided by truth, but on the contrary affirms that they were given under the influence of the evil spirit.
We interrogated him as to the use of physical and mechanical means in effecting cures, in the capacity of a meta, or a medicine man. He referred to various medicines, some of which he thinks were autibilious or otherwise sanatory. He used two bones in the exhibition of his physical skill, one of which was white and the other green. His arcanum also embraced two small stone images. He affected to look into and through the flesh, and to draw from the body fluids, as bile and blood. He applied his mouth in suction. He characterized both the meta or medicine dances and the wafeeno dances by a term which may be translated deviltry. Yet he discriminated between these two popular institutions by adding that the wield included the use of medicines, good and bad. The wabem, on the contrary, consisted wholly in a wild exhibition of mere braggadocio and trick. It is not, according to him, an ancient institution. It originated, he said, with a Pottawattomie, who was sick and lunatic a month. When this man recovered he pretended that he had ascended to heaven, and had brought thence divine arts, to aid his countrymen.
With respect to the opinion steadfastly maintained by this venerable subject of Indian reformation, that his deceptive arts were rendered effectual in the way he designed, by satanic agency, we leave the reader to form his own conclusions. In his mode of stating the facts, we concede much to him, on the score of long established mental habits, and the peculiarities arising from a mythology, exceeding even that of ancient Greece, for the number, variety and ubiquity of its objects. But we perceive nothing, on Christian theories, heterodox in the general position. When the truth of the gospel comes to be grafted into the benighted heart of a pagan, such as Chusco was, it throws a fearful light on the objects which have been cherished there. The whole system of the mythological agency of the gods and spirits of the heathen world and its clumsy machinery is shown to be a sheer system of demonology, referable, in its operative effects on the minds of individuals, to the "Prince of the power of the air." As such the Bible depicts it. We have not been in the habit of conceding the existence of demoniacal possessions, in the present era of Christianity, and have turned over some scores of chapters and verses to satisfy our minds of the abrogation, of these things. But we have found no proofs of such a withdrawal of evil agency short of the very point where our subject places it-that is, the dawning of the light of Christianity in the heart. We have, on the contrary, found in the passages referred to, the declaration of the full and free existence of such an agency in the general import, and apprehend that it cannot be plucked out of the sacred writings.
The language of such an agency appears to be fully developed among the northern tribes. Spirit-ridden they certainly are ; and the mental slavery in which they live, under the fear of an invisible agency of evil spirits, is, we apprehend, greater even than the bondage of the body. The whole mind is bowed down under these intellectual fetters which circumscribe its volitions, and bind it as effectually as-with the hooks of steel which pierce a whirling Bind's flesh. Whatever is wonderful, or past comprehension to their minds, is referred to the agency of a spirit. This is the ready solution of every mystery in nature, and of every refinement of mechanical power in art. A watch is, in the intricacy of its machinery, a spirit. A piece of blue cloth-cast and blistered steel-a compass, a jewel, an insect, &c., are, respectively, a spirit. Thunder consists, in their transcendental astronomy, of so many distinct spirits. The aurora borealis is a body of dancing spirits, or rather ghosts of the departed.
Such were the ideas and experiences of Chusco, after his union with the church; and with these views he lived and died, having given evidence, as was thought, of the reception of the Saviour, through faith.
To give some idea of the Indian mythology as above denoted, it is necessary to conceive every department of the universe to be filled with invisible spirits. These spirits hold in their belief nearly the same relation to matter that the soul does to the body : they pervade it. They believe not only that every man, but also that every animal, has a soul; and as might be expected under this belief, they make no distinction between instinct and reason. Every animal is supposed to be endowed with a reasoning faculty. The movements of birds and other animals are deemed to be the result, not of mere instinctive animal powers implanted and limited by the creation, without inherent power to exceed or enlarge them, but of a process of ratiocination. They go a step farther, and believe that animals, particularly birds, can look into, and are familiar with the vast operations of the world above. Hence the great respect they pay to birds as agents of omen, and also to some animals, whose souls they expect to encounter in another life. Nay, it is the settled belief among the northern Algonquins, that animals will fare better in another world, in the precise ratio that their lives and enjoyments have been curtailed in this life.
Dreams are considered by them as a means of direct communication with the spiritual world ; and hence the great influence which dreams exert over the Indian mind and conduct. They are generally regarded as friendly warnings of their personal manitos. No labor or enterprise is undertaken against their indications. A whole army is turned back if the dreams of the officiating priest are unfavorable. A family lodge has been known to be deserted by all its inmates at midnight, leaving the fixtures behind, because one of the family had dreamt of an attack, and been frightened with the impression of blood and tomahawks. To give more solemnity to his office the priest or leading meta exhibits a sack containing the carved or stuffed images of animals, with medicines and bones constituting the sacred charms. These are never exhibited to the common gaze, but, on a march, the sack is hung up in plain view. To profane the medicine sack would be equivalent to violating the altar. Dreams are carefully sought by every Indian, whatever be their rank, at certain periods of youth, with fasting. These fasts are sometimes continued a great number of days, until the devotee becomes pale and emaciated. The animals that appear propitiously to the mind during these dreams, are fixed on and selected as personal manitos, and are ever after viewed as guardians. This period of fasting and dreaming is deemed as essential by them as any religious rite whatever employed by Christians. The initial fast of a young man or girl holds the relative importance of baptism, with this peculiarity, that it is a freewill, or self-dedicatory rite.
The naming of children has an intimate connection with the system of mythological agency. Names are usually bestowed by some aged person, most commonly under the supposed guidance of a particular spirit; They are often derived from the mystic scenes presented in a dream, and refer to aerial phenomena. Yellow Thunder, Bright Sky, Big Cloud, Spirit Sky, Spot in the Sky, are common names for males. Females are more commonly named from the vernal or autumnal landscape, as Woman of the Valley, Woman of the Rock, &c. Females are not excluded from participation in the prophetical office or jugglership. Instances of their having assumed this function are known to have occurred, although it is commonly confined to males. In every other department of life they are apparently regarded as inferior or inclusive beings. Names bestowed with ceremony in childhood are deemed sacred, and are seldom pronounced, out of respect, it would seem, to the spirit under whose favor they are supposed to have been selected. Children are usually called in the family by some name which can be familiarly used. A male child is frequently called by the mother, a bird, or young one, or old man, as terms of endearment, or bad boy, evil-doer, &c., in the way of light reproach ; and these names often adhere to the individual through life. Parents avoid the true name often by saying my son, my younger, or my elder son, or my younger or my elder daughter, for which the language has separate words. This subject of a reluctance to tell their names is very curious and deserving of investigation.
The Indian " art and mystery" of hunting is a tissue of necromantic or mythological reliances. The personal spirits of the hunter are invoked to give success in the chace. Images of the animals sought for are sometimes carved in wood, or drawn by the metas on tabular pieces of wood By applying their mystic medicines to these, the animals are supposed to be drawn into the hunter's path ; and when animals have been killed, the Indian feels, that although they are an authorized and lawful prey, yet there is something like accountability to the animal's suppositional soul. An Indian has been known to ask the pardon of an animal, which he had just killed. Drumming, shaking the rattle, and dancing and singing, are the common accompaniments of all these superstitious observances, and are not peculiar to one class alone. In the wabeno dance, which is esteemed by the Indians as the most latitudinarian co-fraternity, love songs are introduced. They are never heard in the medicine dances. They would subject one to utter contempt in the war dance.
The system of mamto worship has another peculiarity, which is illustrative of Indian character. During the fasts and ceremonial dances by which a warrior prepares himself to come up to the duties of war, everything that savors of effeminacy is put aside. The spirits which preside over bravery and war are alone relied on, and these are supposed to be offended by the votary's paying attention to objects less stern and manly than themselves. Venus and Mars cannot be worshipped at the same time. It would be considered a complete desecration for a warrior, while engaged in war, to entangle himself by another, or more tender sentiment. We think this opinion should be duly estimated in the general award which history gives to the chastity of warriors. We would record the fact to their praise, as fully as it has been done ; but we would subtract something from the motive, in view of his paramount obligations of a sacred character, and also the fear of the ridicule of his co-warriors.
In these leading doctrines of an oral and mystic school of wild philosophy may be perceived the ground-work of their mythology, and the general motive for selecting familiar spirits. Manito, or as the Chippewas pronounce it, monedo, signifies simply a spirit, and there is neither a good nor bad meaning attached to it, when not under the government of some adjective or qualifying particle. We think, however, that so far as there is a meaning distinct from an invisible existence, the tendency is to a bad meaning. A bad meaning is, however, distinctly conveyed by the inflection, osh or ish. The particle wee, added in the same relation, indicates a witch. Like numerous other nouns, it has its diminutive in os, its plural in wug, and its local form in ing. To add " great," as the Jesuit writers did, is far from deciding the moral character of the spirit, and hence modern translators prefix gezha, signifying merciful. Yet we doubt whether the word God should not be carried boldly into translations of the scriptures. In the conference and prayer-room, the native teachers use the inclusive pronominal form of Father, altogether. Truth breaks slowly on the mind, sunk in so profound a darkness as the Indians are, and there is danger in retaining the use of words like those which they have so long employed in a problematical, if not a derogative sense.
The love for mystery and magic which pervades the native ceremonies, has affected the forms of their language. They have given it a power to impart life to dead masses. Vitality in their forms of utterance is deeply implanted in all these dialects, which have been examined ; they provide, by the process of inflection, for keeping a perpetual distinction between the animate and inanimate kingdoms. But where vitality and spirituality are so blended as we see them in their doctrine of animal souls, the inevitable result must be, either to exalt the principle of life, in all the classes of nature, into immortality, or to sink the latter to the level of mere organic life. Indian word-makers have taken the former dilemma, and peopled their paradise not only with the souls of men; but with the souls of every imaginable kind of beasts. Spirituality is thus clogged with sensual accidents. The human soul hungers, and it must have food deposited upon the grave. It suffers from cold, and the body must be wrapped about with cloths. It is in darkness, and a light must be kindled at the head of the grave. It wanders through plains and across streams, subject to the providences of this life, in quest of its place of enjoyment, and when it reaches it, it finds every species of sensual trial, which renders the place not indeed a heaven of rest, but another experimental world-very much like this. Of punishments, we hear nothing; rewards are looked for abundantly, and the idea that the Master of life, or the merciful Spirit, will be alike merciful to all, irrespective of the acts of this life, or the degree of moral turpitude, appears to leave for their theology a belief in restorations or universalism. There is nothing to refer them to a Saviour ; that IDEA was beyond their conception, and of course there was no occasion for the offices of the Holy Ghost. Darker and more chilling views to a theologian, it would be impossible to present. Yet it may be asked, what more benign result could have been, or can now be, anticipated in the hearts of an ignorant, uninstructed and wandering people, exposed to sore vicissitudes in their lives and fortunes, and without the guidance of the light of Revelation ?
Of their mythology proper, we have space only to make a few remarks. Some of the mythologic existences of the Indians admit of poetic uses. Manabozho may be considered as a sort of terrene Jove, who could perform all things whatever, but lived some time on earth, and excelled particularly in feats of strength and manual dexterity. All the animals were subject to him. He also survived a deluge, which the traditions mention, having climbed a tree on an extreme elevation during the prevalence of the waters, and sent down various animals for some earth, out of which he re-created the globe. The four cardinal points are so many demi-gods, of whom the West, called KABEUN, has priority of age. The East, North and South are deemed to be his sons, by a maid who incautiously exposed herself to the west wind. IAGOO (Iagoo) is the god of the marvellous, and many most extravagant tales of forest and domestic adventure are heaped upon him. KWASIND is a sort of Samson, who threw a huge mass of rock such as the Cyclops cast at Mentor. WEENG is the god of sleep, who is represented to have numerous small emissaries at his service, reminding us of Pope's creation of gnomes. These minute emissaries climb up the forehead, and wielding a tiny club, knock individuals to sleep. PAUGUK is death, in his symbolic attitude. He is armed with a bow and arrows. It would be easy to extend this enumeration.
The mental powers of the Indian constitutes a topic which we do not design to discuss. But it must be manifest that some of their peculiarities are brought out by their system of mythology and spirit-craft. War, public policy, hunting, abstinence, endurance and courageous adventure, form the leading topics of their mental efforts. These are deemed the appropriate themes of men, sages and warriors. But their intellectual essays have also a domestic theatre of exhibition. It is here that the Indian mind unbends itself and reveals some of its less obvious traits. Their public speakers cultivate a particular branch of oratory. They are careful in the use of words, and are regarded as standards of purity in the language. They appear to have an accurate ear for sounds, and delight in rounding off a period, for which the languages afford great facilities, by their long and stately words, and multiform inflexions. A drift of thought-an elevation of style, is observable in their public speaking which is dropt in private conversation. Voice, attitude and motion, are deemed of the highest consequence. Much of the meaning of their expressions is varied by the vehement, subdued, or prolonged tone in which they are uttered. In private conversation, on the contrary, all is altered. There is an equanimity of tone, and easy vein of narration or dialogue, in which the power of mimicry is most strikingly brought out. The very voice and words of the supposed speakers, in their fictitious legends, are assumed. Fear, supplication, timidity or boasting, are exactly depicted, and the deepest interest excited. All is ease and freedom from restraint. There is nothing of the coldness or severe formality of the council. The pipe is put to its ordinary use, and all its symbolic sanctity is laid aside with the wampum belt and the often reiterated state epithets, " Nosa" and " Kosinan," i. e. my father and our father.
Another striking trait of the race is found in their legends and tales. Those of the aboriginal race who excel in private conversation, become to their tribes oral chroniclers, and are relied on for historical traditions as well as tales. It is necessary, in listening to them, to distinguish between the gossip and the historian, the narrator of real events, and of nursery tales. For they gather together everything from the fabulous feats of Manebozha and Misshozha, to the hair-breadth escapes of a Pontiac, or a Black Hawk. These narrators are generally men of a good memory and a certain degree of humor, who have experienced vicissitudes, and are cast into the vale of years. In the rehearsal of their tales, transformations and transmigrations are a part of the machinery relied on; and some of them are as accurately adapted to the purposes of amusement or instruction, as if Zoroaster or Ovid himself had been consulted in their production. Many objects in the inanimate creation, according to these tales, were originally men and women. And numerous animals had other forms in their first stages of existence, which they, as well as human beings, forfeited, by the power of necromancy and transmigration. The evening star, it is fabled, was formerly a woman. An ambitious boy became one of the planets. Three brothers, travelling in a canoe, were translated into a group of stars. The fox, lynx, hare, robin, eagle and numerous other species, retain places in the Indian system of astronomy. The mouse obtained celestial elevation by creeping up the rainbow, which Indian story makes a flossy mass of bright threads, and by the power of gnawing them, he relieved a captive in the sky. It is a coincidence, which we note, that ursa major is called by them the bear.
These legends are not confined to the sky alone. The earth also is a fruitful theatre of transformations. The wolf was formerly a hoy, who, being neglected by his parents, was transformed into this animal. A shell, lying on the shore, was transformed to the raccoon. The brains of an adulteress were converted into the addikumaig, or white fish.
The power of transformation was variously exercised. It most commonly existed in magicians, of whom Abo, Manabosh or Manabozha, and Mishosha, retain much celebrity. The latter possessed a magic canoe which would rush forward through the water on the utterance of a charm, with a speed that would outstrip the wind. Hundreds of miles were performed in as many minutes. The charm which he uttered, consisted of a monosyllable, containing one consonant, which does not belong to the language ; and this word has no definable meaning. So that the language of magic and demonology has one feature in common in all ages and with every nation.
Man, in his common shape, is not alone the subject of their legends. The intellectual creations of the Indians admit of the agency of giants and fairies. Anak and his progeny could not have created more alarm in the minds of the ten faithless spies, than do the race of fabulous Weendigos to the Indian tribes. These giants are represented as cannibals, who ate up men, women and children. Indian fairies are of two classes, distinguished as the place of their revels is either the land or water. Land-fairies are imagined to choose their residences about promontories, water-falls and solemn groves. The water, besides its appropriate class of aquatic fairies, is supposed to be the residence of a race of beings called Nibanaba which have their analogy, except as to sex, in the mermaid. The Indian word indicates a male. Ghosts are the ordinary machinery in their tales of terror and mystery. There is, perhaps, a glimmering of the idea of retributive justice in the belief that ghosts and spirits are capable of existing in fire.
Copyright © 1998, -- 2003. Berry Enterprises. All rights reserved. All items on the site are copyrighted. While we welcome you to use the information provided on this web site by copying it, or downloading it; this information is copyrighted and not to be reproduced for distribution, sale, or profit.