Total pageviews

Sunday, November 4, 2012

Teachings of the Eagle Feather, part 4

"A Prayer to the East"

-Updated July 18, 2019

Oshkigin white gold wedding bands
Click on image to view details

“When we are looking back it is always towards the east. All your attention should be on your own road to raise your children that way.”

- Jim Dumont, Chief of the Eastern Doorway of the Three Fires Midewiwin Lodge.

Boozhoo! Biindigen. Welcome to part 4 of a blog series connecting my eagle feather jewelry designs (and stunning work by kindred artists) with the Seven Grandfather teachings of the Anishinaabe People.

This blog post, like most of my teaching stories, holds lessons that are particularly based on the Midewaajimowinan and Waabanowaajimowinan, the teaching concepts from the lodges of the Midewiwin and Waabaanowiwin of the Anishinaabe Peoples.

Jewelry by the author and artwork by NakawÄ“-Anishinaabe artist Simone Mcleod (Fisher Star Creations). 

Simone is an
 Anishinaabe artist, born in Winnipeg, Manitoba in 1962 and a member of Pasqua First Nation in SaskatchewanSimone's work has been appreciated by several art collectors and educational and health care institutions from Canada, as well as by many art lovers from the UK, Austria, France, the Netherlands, Greece, South Africa, Japan, India, and New Zealand.


No ordinary wedding rings  

Today I will share a teaching story that is spun around a stunning new painting done by my good artist friend Aki-egwaniizid (Simone Mcleod), and a pair of white gold wedding rings of my own making.

Let us first look at the wedding rings.

Like all wedding rings, the rings displayed in the image are circular, made of gold, usually worn on the left hand and on the fourth finger, and symbolize a promise that lasts forever. In other words: perfect symbols for undying love.

ZhaawanArt wedding rings
These particular wedding rings, however, are not like any other set of wedding rings; they tell a story that, I like to believe, goes much deeper than the stereotyped symbolism of the mainstream matrimonial industry.

The rings on this page tell a story that has been told throughout history, its sacred meaning deeply rooted in the traditions of the Midewiwin and the Waabanoowiwin – the two Medicine Lodges of the Anishinaabe People.

They link the symbolism of human love and the need for humbleness and spiritual growth with the powers of the sun, the healing of the earth, the purity of the waters, the music and wisdom of the four winds, and the breath of life itself.

They acknowledge the spirits and the grandfathers who await, unseen, yet – if we pay close attention – whose voices can be heard in the Winds that Blow to the East.

They honor our ancestors that walked before us and passed on to us many valuable teachings, some of which I am about share with you here.

They link us to the eastern direction, the direction of sunrise and springtime, where we begin our journey as human beings coming from the spirit world, as Gichi Manitu or GICHI-MANIDOO (the Great Mystery, the One-Who-Created-All) breathes its breath of life into us and our beings transform from an incorporeal to a physical nature. It is to the East that we turn ourselves to look for the lessons of our childhood so that we can recover the internal state of the child and see the world through his innocent eyes again.


Waabanong onji-maajitaan babaandawaabiiyan. Mii’iwedi waabanong baa’onjishkaag bimaadiziwin…..Endaso giizhik ishpendamowin biionji-ombakone waabanong. Gaawiinina gidishpendanzii bimooko’ag gimishoomisinaan? Gaawiin ina giibiidamanjitoonsiin nawajgegoo ishpendaagwak. Na’endan gidinaamaagenimoyan gaye agaasenimoyan. Nawaj jina’endaman epiitenimoyan.

Begin your journey in the spring, in the east. East is where all life begins…..Every day, the beauty and power of creation are ignited in the east. Are you not humbled by the strength and brilliance of the rising sun? Can you not sense that there is something much stronger than you out there? Accept how small and insignificant you are. For the betterment of yourself and all Creation, strive to be humble.

-  A Seven Grandfathers teaching about the East and the virtue of humbleness


The Sum of all mystery

Of course, both name and design of the rings – constructed of 14K white gold, 14K yellow gold, and topped with an elegant marquise-cut diamond -, refer to the physical and spiritual bond that exists between two partners for life. No mystery so far.

Wedding rings
In a broader sense, however, the rings symbolize the organic connectedness that exists between  life partners and the physical nature. But most of all, they epitomize the relationship and interdependence between us human beings and the omnipresence of manidoo, or mystery - a spiritual dimension that, although we are not always aware of it, is inseparably linked to human life and existence.

Gichi-manidoo, or Gitchi Manitu, the sum of all mystery, was the name my ancestors commonly used to denote this mysterious life source that was considered deeply mysterious beyond the range of ordinary knowledge or human grasp. What little they knew of this unseen force was known through Gitchi Manitu’s creations: the physical world of sun, stars, moon, and earth; the rivers and the lakes; the mountains and the valleys; the grasslands and the forests; and a myriad of other natural phenomena manifested in time and space.

Anishinaabe worldview

The Anishinaabe word for dream or vision, depending on the context, is IZHINAMOWIN; literally: the act of seeing the world in a certain manner. The concept of izhinamowin does not so much refer to vision with the eyes, but rather to ideas associated with mental perception; of course, the eyes may be the gateway for that mental perception.

From of old, ANISHINAABE IZHINAMOWIN interprets the countless phenomena, forms, and forces of the natural world specific to man’s immediate environment purely in a cosmological context. An equally great respect is manifested for all entities within the cosmos, even those that are more remote to mankind. All life forms are considered animated and inter-related “persons” or “relatives” (called indinawemaaganag) possessing a consciousness, rationale, and a will of their own.

This means that the world is seen as one gigantic web of social relations, an extended family where the relationship between humans and the nonhuman and spirit world is one of continuous interfusion and reciprocal exchange. All these indinawemaaganag or “next of kin persons” are often described as gakina gegoo, “everyone and everything” or “all living things” (pronounced gu-ki-nu gay-goo). 

In the context of this blog story the concept of gakina gegoo could be formulated as follows:

  • oniizhoogaadeg = the two-legged ones (humans);
  • oniiyoogaadeg = the four-legged ones (quadruped animals);
  • oningwiiganiig = the winged ones (birds);
  • bemaadagaajig = the swimmers (fishes);
  • memichaakamigaajig = the creatures on the ground (plants, rocks, the insects and worms);
  • manidoog = the spirits of the incorporeal worlds that exist in all layers of the Universe;
  • aadizookaanag = the grandfathers of the nonhuman category, shapeshifters and spirit helpers, often protagonists of the sacred stories.

Simone Mcleod Earth Blanket Creations

Keepers of the Eastern Door

So, the wedding rings, which I named “New Growth,” tell a story about the connection that we as humans have with gakina gegoo. Besides telling a story, the ring set represents a special invocation prayer to the aadizookaanag or aya’aabitameg waabanong, the spirit guardians that reside and dwell to the East.

Through the rings, a prayer is said to the morning star and the sun because they illuminate the world and bring us every day light and warmth and new beginnings, and to the spirit of MIGIZI, the white headed eagle, because she brings us vision, strength, and courage. In addition a prayer is said to MAKWA, the spirit  of the Bear, who guards the eastern door of the midewigaan, the ceremonial lodge of the MIDEWIWIN, as he protects the healing ceremonies and sacred rituals that are being performed inside the lodge. 

Ogimaa Migizi, the Eagle spirit of the Eastern Direction, is considered by the visionaries of the Midewiwin as one who looks after the People and ascertains Gichi Manitu each morning that the women of the nation are honoring the path of life with their asemaa (tobacco) and their nibi waaboo (water song).

According to tradition, the great Migizi (Eagle manidoo) as she swooped down from the spirit world, left her imprint at the Mide lodge door where Makwa the bear sat – which is the entrance for the Mide people to enter their lodge. Makwa sits between the East and the North (inhabited by dream-bringing spirits). The East is the direction of the rising sun and the North is inhabited by dream-bringing spirits, which makes Makwa the symbol of birth and new life, and the bringer of dreams about new beginnings. Some members of the Midewiwin, who dream of him as offering to give herbs for healing purposes, even “follow The Bear Path” in proceeding from a lower to a higher degree in their society. Since there also has to be a west door for the Mide people to leave this life when their time comes, Makwa is not only charged with guarding the eastern entrance that lets in the light but also the exit to the west that leads into the darkness.

An autumn  prayer to the East

The following is a fragment of an old invocation prayer* by the WAABANOOWIWIN (The Dawn Society) to the waabanong aadizookaanag, the grandfather spirits that live in the East. The prayer is part of an annual autumn ceremony that celebrates the life and health of the People. Waabanoowiwin, which is  the counterpart of the MIDEWIWIN, is a distinct Anishinaabe society of visionaries who conduct their healing rituals under the cover of night and conclude them at dawn. Oral traditions trace the origin of the Waabanoo lodge – which is believed to have been established shortly after the creation of Turtle Island -  to the original teachings of Wiinabozho.

Giinawaa aya’aabitameg waabanong, g’maamoyaawimigoom, g’mamajigoom gaye.

To you, spirit beings that dwell to the East: we thank you and we honor you.

Abi waasheshkaameg n’d’akiiminaan, gakina gego g’abi aabiziishkaamaawaa: w’ga nibaamigag.

With your light you revive all that exists from sleep to life.

G’d’aabiziishkawaawag binesiwag ge ningamdaagayeg
g’d’aabiziishkaanaawaan waakonen ge ishpooshkaagin

You revive the birds who praise you with their songs and the flowers who unfold their petals;

G’d’aabiziishkawaawag ajijidamoog agongosensag ge daminoojig;

You revive the squirrel and the chipmunk so they will play;

G’d’aabiziishkawimim ji bamiikamaang wegidaagwen anook
iiwin ge digooshinoomigadagwen;

You revive us so that we can work refreshed and renewed toward a new day;

G’d’aabiziishkawaawag niniijaanisinaanig washame ji kishkiyewiziwad wii mino-doodamowad.

You revive our children so that they will have increased strength to do good deeds.

G’waaseyaashkaanaawaa aki gaa ipshogiishkamigag; g’gii zaagijininiwezhiwim aandi gaa danii’aang aapitanebawinaang.

You make light the earth that is wrapped in darkness; you bring mankind back from the sphere of half-death to the upper world where there is light.

Azhi waaseshkameg aki, apegish gaye niinawind izhi giikimangit n’d’abinoojiiyag ji maamenowaabandamowad.

As you already illuminate the world for us, it is our wish that we enlighten our children so that they can see clearly the path that is ahead of them.

Inenimishinaang ji aanikenimangdowaa gikendamowin n’mishoomisinaabaniig, n’ookomisinaabanii ga aanikenimaaki’aangiban, ji nibwaakaawad, ji zhawenjigewad ji zoongide’ewad, ji gishki’aawiziwad gaye. Inenim ji waaseyaabindamowad, ji mino-doodamowad gaye.

Enable us to pass to them the teachings of wisdom bequeathed on us by our forefathers and foremothers, so that the young, too, may grow strong and wise, so that they may show compassion, and so that they may be brave.  And enable them to have life-guiding visions that will lead them to doing good deeds.

Gego inenimishkaangen ji wi-ineniminangid niniijaanisinaanig megwaa debagwendamaang. Nindapenimigonaan ji gayek inaginige’aang, azhi apenimongidowaa. Mii ezhi-bagidinamiwangid. Apegish mino- odaapinamaawaad, gaa-ginaawidowaad.
Don't consider this matter too long as we think of our child in a hopeful manner. They rely on our valued judgment, just as we rely on them. This is our gift to them.  Hopefully, this gift is well-accepted in everything they do.

Zhawenimig gaye nindowemaanaan. Dibishkoo ga izhi aabizishimishinaang, aabizishimig. Geyaabi w’da mino-doodam.

Also have pity on our relative.  As you awakened us from deep sleep, let her be healthy again.  She has still much good to render to the world.

Inenimishinaang ji mino-doodamaang noongom giizhigak, waabang, minik gaye geyaabi ge abi waabanangwen.

Enable us to do good on this day, and tomorrow, and when the morning star rises after the day of tomorrow.


Simone Mcleod painting

The symbolism of the painting

The painter, Simone Mcleod, named this 26 X 30 inch acrylic painting – which is her contribution to this blog post -, “Babaamaadiziwin Waabanakiing” (Journey to the Dawn Land). The painting, which she did in 2012, is very personal and, as it is rich with symbolism, contains several layers of meaning. It is a creation story combining the notions of birth, rebirth, and new beginnings and it reflects a strongly-felt sense of homecoming and a new spiritual direction.

As an artist, Simone, who listens to the spirit name of Aki-egwaniizid (Earth Blanket), paints in the great northerly tradition generally called New Woodland Art. This means that she, like all Medicine Painters, follows and reflects the ways of the spiritual elders of her community, thus retracing the footsteps of her Anishinaabeg ancestors. From of old, painting is the sole domain of those who are trained and disciplined in the sacred teachings of the Midewiwin; the petroglyphs and pictographs the ancestors have left scattered on the rocks and inscribed in birch bark scrolls are the silent witnesses of this. Although she is not Mide herself, it is in this ancient tradition that Simone’s personal approach to life and her growing knowledge about the history of her people are to be found.

The top half of the painting the artist did in gold with shades of yellow and red running through it, giving it a sky-burnt sheen. The gold refers to the material I often work with to create my jewelry; as Simone puts it, it honors the notion that, despite the differing disciplines, Simone and I are kindred artist spirits as our creations draw on the same source.

Simone Mcleod ceremonial Midewiwin cloth and ribbons

The rich green color, which in nature throughout the seasons of the year becomes respectively yellow, gold, and brown, represents youth and transition, and the life-giving qualities of Nimaamaa-aki, our mother the earth.
Green is the color of the northern white cedar, the pine, and the spruce withstanding the cold of the winter, thus symbolizing life continuity and holding a promise for the future. 
The blue color stands for the rivers leading into the Great Lakes. It also stands for seeking and finding a life-guiding vision, and the artist’s recent 
vow to follow her dreams – like the sturgeon who dives for the deepest blue of the lake or the eagle who seeks the deepest blue of the sky. In a metaphorical sense, therefore, the blue river stands for following Mino Miikana Bimaadiziwin, the good path of life.

The four bears are walking the Mide makomii waabang, a sacred bear trail leading toward the East, bringing healing and dreams about new beginnings. The colorful ribbons in the painting are heading East too, honoring all life. Yellow is for the East where the sun rises, green is for the South, the source of warmth, rain and abundance, red is for the West, where the sun sets and the sacred fire awaits when it is time for us to leave this world, and black is for the North, the direction of sickness and death, but also where one can seek self-reflection and purification of the spirit and the mind. The sturgeons swimming towards the lakes refer to Simone’s clan, the Name Doodem, which belongs to the Nakaweg/Saulteaux/Plains Ojibweg People of her father. Name, who is one of the patrons of the Mide Society, is  charged with Medicine and Science and with helping children develop skills and healthy spirits.

Earth Blanket Creations Simone Mcleod

The metaphor of the mide nameg (medicine sturgeons) swimming toward the East refers to a spiritual and mental journey the artist has recently begun. The fish imagery refers to manidoo-mikwendamowinan minawaa manidoo-minjimendamowinan: the remembering of Simone’s doodem relations and honoring them by carrying with her the ancestral knowledge wherever she goes. Symbolically, the sturgeons symbolize Simone’s eastbound journey of homecoming to the land of her mother’s People and her late mother's membership of the Midewiwin, a spiritual and ceremonial journey that progresses through four stages of awareness.

Viewed in a historic context, however, the sturgeons heading east might also symbolize a reversed journey of tribal homecoming. The river symbol that the artist connected to the ovally shaped Great Lakes basin (in which she placed two human figures) represents the westbound journey by canoe and by foot that Simone’s People undertook hundreds of years ago from Baawiting, situated near the rapids of St. Mary River on Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, which is still considered to be the political center of ANISHINAABE AKI (the ancient empire of the Anishinaabe Peoples). It is here where the descendants of my own ancestors, the Baawitigowininiwag or People of the Rapids, still live; their official name is Sault Ste. Marie Tribe of Chippewa Indians.

After many wanderings along a myriad of northern waterways these daring migrants arrived during the late 1700s at a land situated alongside the eastern shores of Lake Winnipeg, and which would become known as AZAADIWI-ZIIBI AKI (Poplar River Land). So, in a way, the sturgeons that swim to the east symbolize a journey back to the ancestral lands of the People (the Great Lakes). However, the sturgeon to the right, whose tail is still slightly visible, suggests a continuation of the journey, away from the lakes. This implies that the journey can even be traced back to a source thousands of miles farther to the east, called WAABAN-AKI, the Land of Dawn; it was here, in the northern Atlantic maritime woodlands, that the Anishinaabeg began their many centuries-lasting, legendary migration that would eventually lead them, via the Place of The Rapids in the Great lakes area, to the beautiful shores of Lake Winnipeg and beyond.

Earth Blanket

If you step back and look at the whole painting, you will find that the element of the painting standing out the most is the blue oval circle containing two human figures. 

The circle not only symbolizes the Great Lakes basin; it also denotes a sacred water circle in the shape of a woman’s womb, where children grow and mature before entering this world. The artist herself describes the circle as follows:

“What is in the blue circle will be a man and woman. Close but not touching in a physical sense. They are close and her mouth is as open as his mouth. He is breathing life into her and at the root of that life grows a giizhik or cedar tree - which is the tree of everlasting life. The life blood of Nimaamaa-aki (our Mother the Earth) is represented by the red. Life is being created in more ways than in a physical sense. They are all interconnected and all organically entwined. The bond they share is so strong that the humility of it needs only to be done in a small area of the canvas...”


Symbolen trouwringen

Symbolism of the wedding rings

In a dream I had in the spring of 2011, a white headed eagle from the east – I think she came from the east as her mighty wings bathed in a brilliant white light - landed in a tree whose slender branches showed blade-tipped leaves sprouting spontaneously. Once the tree was covered with fresh green leaves the eagle spread her wings again and followed the path of the sun along the southern sky. The next morning I sat at my workbench and responded by creating this white gold eagle feather wedding ring set, the elegant marquise-cut 0.23 carat diamond in the ladies’ ring  stylized after the budding leaves from the dream.

As I see it, the clean design of the rings is a contemporary statement of beauty that is at first sight Western-oriented, yet at the same time the feather symbol and the shape and placement of the stone reflect the purity of design of the old Native jewelers from the Southwest and the spirit of wisdom of giiwedinoong-mitigwaakiing nindaayaanikaaj mishoomisag: my own ancestors from the northwoods. I wanted the design to speak eloquently of a time of pure form, a harmony of metals and stone, a synthesis between modern design and Anishinaabe izhinamowin.

Diamant ZhaawanArt trouwringen

The elliptically shaped diamond set in a smooth bezel of yellow gold depicts the slender shape of an oshkibag (spring leaf) that, with the coming of spring and the warmth of the sun, springs from the tender branches and stems of trees and plants that spontaneously swell and open and yield buds, leaves, and fruit.

The brilliance and fire of the diamond symbolize waaban manidoog, the spirits from the east who nourish us each morning with their life-enabling and sustaining energy. The sun spirit who begins his daily ritual dance in the east is represented by the yellow gold bezel – a reference to the sun beams penetrating, and infusing life into, all things of the earth.

The white gold eagle feathers of the rings refer to Migizi the bald eagle, the spirit keeper of the east who carries our thoughts and prayers to Gichi Manitu and teaches us the virtues of courage, vision, and clarity of the mind.

Thus the notions of birth, rebirth, and illumination symbolically merge together in these unique wedding rings. They provide an everlasting bond between two life partners with a spiritual dimension that transcends the physical world and their materialistic experiences with life.

May the story of these rings guide them to the lessons they seek and bring them closer to Gichi Manitu, the Great Mystery, the Father Creator Spirit, the One-Who-Created-All.

Giiwenh. That's how far the story goes. Thank you for reading and listening.

Miigwechiwendan akina gegoo ahaw! Be thankful for everything!


Midewewe'igewag, ininiwag.

Midewewe'igan, nigaganoodamaagonaan.

G'giizhigoongimaani ninandowedaan

Endazhi dani-dabayaan.

The men of the Midewiwin make their drum resonate.

The Mide drum, he speaks on our behalf.

To the sky spirits I look and call

While I sit here.

-  Midewiwin song of petition to the sky spirits**



* Source: Ojibway Ceremonies by Basil Johnston, p. 183, First Bison Book printing 1990. University of Nebraska Press.
**Source: Ojibway Ceremonies by Basil Johnston, p. 101, First Bison Book printing 1990. University of Nebraska Press.


About the author and his sources of inspiration:

Zhaawano Giizhik Tammo Geertsema trouwringen
My name is Zhaawano Giizhik.
As an American artist, jewelry designer, and designer of wedding rings (trouwringen) currently living in the Netherlands, I like to draw on the oral and pictorial traditions of my Ojibwe Anishinaabe ancestors from the American Great Lakes area. For this I call on my manidoo-minjimandamowin, or 'Spirit Memory'; which means I try to remember the knowledge and the lessons of my ancestors.

The MAZINAAJIMOWINAN 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, 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.


  1. I found this blog because I was searching for images of native wedding rings, I saw the most beautiful set I have seen, and it was yours, and lead me to your blog. Thank you. Can you tell me do you sell the rings that I followed here? The rings are beautiful, finding the blog was a bonus,,:)

    1. Hello Baca, I am sorry I missed your comment. Thank you so much for the compliment! Yes, I do sell the above wedding rings, made to custom order. To view pricing and shipment details, please see:

      Thank you!