"Footsteps of Our Ancestors"
Two generations of Medicine painters, the late Gelineau Fisher and the late Moses Amik, examining the ancient spirit writings at Agawa Rock.
In this blogpost, we are going to dwell a little further on our paintings and silver and gold jewelry and the ancient teaching stories we share along with it. Part 1 of a new series.
These mazinaajimowinan or ‘‘pictorial spirit writings’’ - typically painted on rocks and etched on other sacred items such as birch bark, copper and slate, and animal hide - were a form of spiritual as well as educational communication that gave structure and meaning to the cosmos. Some of the pictographs depicted a series of constellations in the sky, or sacred stories about Wisakejak/Wiinabozho and other aadizookaanag (supernatural beings, grandfathers of an-other-than-human class). Other pictographs expressed the countless adventures the Anishinaabeg experienced during their incredible migrations throughout the northern part of the continent - which eventually led them to gaa-zaaga'eganikag, the ‘‘land of many lakes.’’
==Teachings inscribed in birch bark==
The niigaanaajimowinan (prophecies) and midewaajimowinan (traditional teachings) behind these enigmatic graphic expressions have been passed down for centuries, and as they recount a myriad of scientific knowledge and history, they also contain essential life lessons of the Gichi Gami Anishinaabeg that are still taught today.
==Good Way of the Heart Society==
==Flowing outlines and X-ray anatomy==
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. These outlined figures often have ‘‘spirit lines’’ emanating from the interior or exterior, and sometimes enclose mystic ‘‘inside views’’ (so-called ‘‘X-ray anatomy’’) of images of people, animals, plants and trees, and supernatural beings.
==Birth of a new art school==
A typical example of a modern interpretation of sacred Anishinaabe rock art is shown here to the left: an ‘‘X-ray’’ painting by second-generation Canadian Woodland Painter Brian Marion depicting an antlered medicine person making contact with the spirit world.
==Entering a different world==
As artists who consider themselves part of this new art movement, finding the core of Anishinaabe art forms and at the same time (re)telling an engaging teaching story through our canvases and designs and drawings is always our goal. In the process of doing this, we find much inspiration in tracing back the footsteps of our Anishinaabe ancestors and drawing on their pictorial and oral traditions that spring from pre-dawn time. We consider ourselves modern storytellers. Through the guidance of the sacred records and teachings of olden times we (re)create the ancient symbols and visual language of the pictographs; respectfully we render these traditional elements into our paintings and graphic art and contemporary designs of precious metals and stone. This requires continuous learning from and studying – and sometimes even dreaming about – the ancestral teachings. Sometimes we have to enter a different world where we ‘see’ and ‘hear’ things we would never experience in this reality. However, as we're limited in what we know - or can reveal - about the ancient ceremonies and teachings, the challenge for us lies in creating abstract designs that work on a mysterious level and approach, or (respectfully) represent, the sacred.
==Warriors and teachers==
==Gift of ceremony and health==
Makadeshigan, the Spirit of the Underworld, was the patron of the deep night and bad dreams and although many people feared him during the night, he motivated humankind to live an honest life and strive for noble ideals so that they would have good dreams. Makadeshigan also offered himself in the form of a medicine from the depths of the Underworld that would protect the Anishinaabeg against sickness and also bring them game animals for their sustenance. But mostly important, Makadeshigan presented the People with the gift of ceremony and ritual, thus laying the foundation for the Midewiwin, the Grand Medicine Society of the Anishinaabe People.
Photo at top of page: 'Woodland Spirits.' Still from a documentary (2007), 28 min., DVCPro.
All jewelry photos by Zhaawano Giizhik.
About the authors/artists:
Simone McLeod (her traditional name is Aki’-egwaniizid, which is an Ojibwe name meaning "Earth Blanket") is an Nakawe-Anishinaabe painter and poet, born in Winnipeg, Manitoba in 1962 and a member of Pasqua Nation from Saskatchewan. She belongs to he Name doodem (Sturgeon clan). Simone, who feels a special kinship with her mother's people, the Azaadiwi-ziibi Nitam-Anishinaabeg (Poplar River First Nation) of Manitoba, descends from a long line of Midewiwin seers and healers and artists. Her artwork has been appreciated by several art collectors and educational and health care institutions from Canada, as well as by art lovers from all over the world.