How I navigate on Life's Undercurrent
Today's blog story, the third in a series called "Teaching Stories", features a brand new set of bicolor gold wedding rings that I made by hand in my studio in the Netherlands. I designed the rings in the pictographic style of mazinaajimowin: the spiritual imagery that my ancestors carved in a ritual context in copper, in animal hide, and in birch bark scrolls; also, still many of these 'spirit writings' can be found on cliff walls and rocks in remote places in the vicinity of Gichigamiin, the Great Lakes of the Turtle Island continent (North America).
Both wedding rings feature a meandering river connected by stylized images that represent mino-bimaadiziwin, the lessons of the Midewiwin* leading to living a good, wholesome, and balanced life.
The river design symbolizes an undercurrent, suggesting a strong awareness of the omnipresence of life's energy and a sense of nearness of our ancestors and all other relatives, either seen or unseen, who surround and guide our lives and infuse the very air we breathe and the land we walk on.
The Seven Grandfather teachings of the Midewiwin are to be seen as central principles that outline the purpose, structure, and limits of traditional Anishinaabe society.
Before they are to learn of those gifts, however, Anishinaabe niijaanisag (children) are taught that there are also seven opposites to these lessons.
How does one recognize those divergent paths? How does one avoid the human weaknesses and luring temptations that will take you off of the road - that sacred road that leads you to mino-bimaadiziwin, “a good way of life”?
I consider the principle of mino-bimaadiziwin, or the travelling of the Good Life Road - or, as I often use multiple learning metaphors, the 'River of Life' - the central theme of my jewelry. I sail on the River of Life, navigating on its undercurrent, and my jewelry reflects my journey-through-life.
It's a journey filled with many lessons.
The Elders of our People teach the following lesson to those who are learning to walk the Road to Wisdom:
“Inaabin zaaga’igan gawaakamig. Gaawiin gii-waabandanziin gimazinaatebiigishinowin. Giiwaabandaan igiwe aazha gaapime ayaawaad. Gakina gidiniwemaaganag o’owe nibwaakaagewin. Gigayaabijitooyan gimiinigoowiziwinan ji-gwayak-goshkaag ji-ani-bimaadiziyan. Gego wiin apane andawendagen gaa-inaadizisiwan. Bizaan weweni bimaadizin. Giishpin gimiinigowiziyan nagomonan, nagamon. Giishipin niimiigowiziyan niimiwin, niimin.”
“Look into the clear lake. The image you see in the water is not yours. What you see is the reflection of your ancestors. Through All Your Relations and this Teaching of Wisdom, you will come to use your gift to direct your life’s journey. Do not live based on what you wish you were. Live on what you are. If you have been given the gift of song, then sing. If yours is the gift of dance, then dance.”
It is these very words that inspired me into designing the above wedding rings, which i titled bimaadiziwin anaami-waajiwan (the undercurrent of life).
Miigwech, thank you.
*Midewiwin: "Society Of Those Who Are In A Sacred, Or Unseen, State." Midewiwin is a prestigious, thousands of years old 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.
Wedding rings image:
Bimaadiziwin Anaami-waajiwan: "Undercurrent of Life". Overlay wedding rings by ZhaawanArt. 14K palladium white gold, 14K red gold.
About me and my sources of inspiration:
As an artist and jewelry designer, I like to draw on the oral and pictorial traditions of my Ojibwe Anishinaabe ancestors from the American Great Lakes area. The MAZINAAJIMOWIN or ‘pictorial spirit writings’ - which are rich with symbolism and have been painted throughout history on rocks and etched on other sacred items such as copper and slate, birch bark and animal hide - were a form of spiritual as well as educational communication that gave structure and meaning to the cosmos. Many of these sacred pictographs or petroforms – some of which are many generations old - hide in sacred locations where the manidoog (spirits) reside, particularly in those mystic places near the coastline where the sky, the earth, the water, the underground and the underwater meet.