"The First Feather"- Updated: February 15, 2022
Boozhoo! Biindigen miinawaa nindaadizooke wigamigong; enji-zaagi'iding miinawaa gikendaasong. Ninga-aawechige noongom giizhigad!
Hello! Welcome back in my Storytelling Lodge where legends and teachings are shared. Let’s tell a teaching story today!
These Grandfather Teachings, kept safe for thousands of years by countless generations of Medicine People of the Midewiwin lodge of the Anishinaabe Peoples, are passed down orally and from the sacred birch bark scrolls that still exist today.
Today's blog story features not only a pen drawing, a painting, and jewelry of our own making but also graphic art by two Ojibwe Medicine Painters, the late Norman Knott and the late Norval Morrisseau.
NORMAN KNOTT (1945-2003) was a gifted Medicine Painter from Curve Lake First Nation in southeastern Onario, noted for his outline drawings reflecting his personal spritual beliefs.
In the Beginning
|Manidoo Nagamo (The Spirit Sings), gold overlay pendant designed and handcrafted by Zhaawano Giizhik. Visit the website to view details of the pendant.|
Many moons ago, when the World was not yet born, there was only something, a Great Mystery that perhaps comes close to what we would call a Dream.
This Dream, or Vision, was filled with a vast sky filled with many stars and the day-sun and the night-sun, and beneath it was the earth in the form of a giant sea turtle.
These substances were born spontaneously, seemingly out of nothing, and into each was breathed a sacred life breath that is often called
GICHI-MANIDOO (Literally: Great Mystery, or sum of all Mysteries).
So it is understood that from these four sacred substances, each gifted with a different soul and spirit and nature and shadow, was created Cosmos, or Order. This brand new Order was filled with the sun, the stars, the night-sun, and the earth, and all these beings were animated by this vital life force named GICHI-MANIDOO.
Into the day-sun GICHI-MANIDOO breathed the powers of light and heat and rays to warm the earth.
Into the night-sun GICHI-MANIDOO breathed the powers of light and the power to watch over the earth and all her children at night.
Into the earth GICHI-MANIDOO breathed the power of growth and healing, and on and beneath her surface were formed hills, mountains, plains, valleys, lakes, rivers, streams, bays, wells, ponds, and even underwater streams. These waters were given the twin powers of purity and renewal. The wind was given music-making qualities and it was infused by the same power of breath of life as GICHI-MANIDOO's.
When the Great Nation of Waabanaki was first created, they were placed along the shores of the Great Salt water (Atlantic Ocean). Here, in Waabanakiing (the Land of Dawn) the great nations of the Lenni-Lenape, Abenaki, Mi’kmaq and Algonquin lived a long time in peace and prosperity when Niizhwaaswi Mishoomisag (seven prophets, grandfathers) came among them in the form of seven Miigis shells who taught the Midewiwin way of life to the Waabanakiing peoples and brought them a system of odoodeman (totemic clanship). These clans, based on animals, were instrumental in traditional occupations, intertribal relations, and marriages.
This sterling silver hairpin, symbolizing the newly-formed Earth in the shape of a Snapping Turtle, is adorned ith five turquoise, and six red coral cabochons. The turquoises, three mounted on the silver turtleback and two on the head representing the turtle’s eyes, are emblematic of the five main odoodemag (animal totems) of the Anishinaabe Peoples: Ajiijaak (Crane), Makwa (bear), Waabizhesh (Marten), Maanameg (Catfish), and Mikinaak (Snapping Turtle). These (archaic) totems denote the five needs of the People and the five elementary functions of society. MEDICINE, represented by turtle and symbolized by the oval turquoise stone in the center, is flanked by LEARNING (Catfish; top) and SUSTENANCE (Marten; bottom); the turquoise eyes signify LEADERSHIP (Crane) and DEFENSE (Bear). The red coral cabochons symbolize the six animals that make up the MEDICINE DOODEM: Mikinaak (or Mishikenh, the turtle) Nigig (otter), Omakakii (frog), Midewewe (rattle snake), Omisandamoo (water snake), and Niibiinaabe(kwe) (mermain or mermaid). The stamped designs on the domed turtle’s back symbolize the flora and fauna, fishes included. The rim of braided silver wire placed around the oval turtle shield represents the strong clanship ties (odoodeman) and the unity and survival strenght of the Anishinaabeg as a people.
It was then that the Great Laws of Nature came into existence. These laws bound together every living entity that existed within the great order of the newly-born Universe. These Great Laws of Nature regulated the seasons and all patterns of existence, governing the position and movement of the physical bodies (sun, moon, earth, stars) and the four sacred substances (rock, water, fire, and wind), controlling and safeguarding the rhythm and continuity of birth, growth, decay, and rebirth, ensuring they all lived and worked together interdependently.*
Click here to view details of the above set
Gift of the Eagle Feather
Pondering what could be done to give the humans ways to express their hopes and fears and dreams and build in them a sense of direction and self-worth, the benign forces, those Spirit Grandfathers that had put the humans in the Dawn Land, decided that they would give them the power to dream, and the power of prayer. As these Grandfathers were pondering through which category of beings they could confer these powers on the humans – the rooted ones, the crawling ones, the four legged, the finned ones, or perhaps the spiritual beings? -, GIMISHOOMISINAAN MAKWA (Grandfather Bear) stepped up from his abode in the North and suggested that he, as the embodiment of birth and new life, would be the one to bring the humans dreams about new beginnings, so they would have a powerful medicine with which they could influence their fate and fashion their destiny.
Then GIMISHOOMISINAAN MIGIZI (Grandfather Eagle) came forward from his dwelling place in the East to suggest that he, in order to reassure the insecure humans, would carry their prayers high up into the sky where they would be heard by all the Grandfathers and aadizookaanag (Spirit Helpers).
Hereupon the Grandfathers smiled thinking how bears embody virtues like bravery and spiritual healing and that eagles show strength and vision and clarity of mind. So this is why Mishoomis Makwa was entrusted with the authority to govern the people’s dreams and Migizi with the title of messenger of their prayers.
These Grandfather Teachings were, in chronological order, as follows:
- Zaagi’idiwin (Love)
- Minaadendamowin (Respect)
- Aakode'ewin (Bravery)
- Gwayako-bimaadiziwin (Honesty)
- Dabaadendiziwin (Humility)
The Anishinaabeg were also taught about the importance of zaagi'idiwin; to feel true love is to know and love GICHI-MANIDOO (the Great Mystery) because its very breath is considered the giver of human life. Love given to GICHI MANIDOO is therefore expressed through love of oneself and if one cannot love oneself, it is impossible to love anyone else. Therefore, Grandfather explained, love is an exceptionally important virtue.
Waasa-agone Inde' (A Bright Fire Burns in My Heart), white gold eagle feather rings designed and handcrafted by Zhaawano Giizhik. See the website for details.
Look within yourself for love.
Love yourself, and then love others.
You cannot love another until
you first learn to love yourself.
Migizi the Bald Eagle was chosen by the Grandfathers to represent the Teaching of love because Migizi flies high above the earth and sees all that is true, and is therefore closer to GICHI MANIDOO than any other creature. Love is the most elusive of all virtues and no other creature is so elusive as this mighty spirit-bird, and love has the same light and airy nature as his plumes.
|Click here to view details of the above bracelet|
The Grandfathers also explained that Grandfather Bear and Grandfather Eagle are connected spirits. Doesn't Migizi teach humankind that wisdom and courage cannot exist without each other? Isn't there great wisdom in understanding that one cannot know love unless one is courageous? Isn't it so that one cannot walk the path of life without making changes once in a while and doesn't it take great courage to actually bring about the change?
For this, explained the Grandfathers, the eagle and the bear ought to be honored, always. No symbol is more powerful than an Eagle feather and a Bear paw combined...
The Offering of the First Feather
Upon hearing this, the Anishinaabeg were filled with awe and great gratitude and they soon began to wonder who among them would be the first to receive such a powerful manidoo (spirit) feather. When Grandfather sensed the eager anticipation of the Anishinaabe people he called upon two elderly medicine people of the Midewiwin to step forward, and he presented the Eagle feather to these oshkaabewisag (spiritual messengers) for inclusion in the Mide biinjigwasan (medicine bundle) that one of them carried. Then Grandfather instructed that the teachings of these two oshkaabewisag and the feather itself be passed forward to the next generation, and that the teachings of the successors of the Mide oshkaabewisag be passed to the generation after the next generation, and so on and so on into eternity.
looked up into the blue sky as it suddenly changed colors.
At last, the Eagle Grandfather had come to the world and to this day his feathers enrich the spiritual lives of the Anishinaabeg.
So the story goes. Thank you for listening to us today, for allowing us to tell you about this sacred dream.
>Click here to read the next episode of our "Teachings of the Eagle Feather" series.
>Return to the blog overview page.
Simone McLeod (her traditional name is Aki’-egwaniizid, which is an Ojibwe name meaning "Earth Blanket") is an Anishinaabe painter and poet, born in Winnipeg, Manitoba in 1962. She belongs to he Name doodem (Sturgeon clan) and is a member of Pasqua First Nation in Saskatchewan. Simone, who feels close kinship with her mother's people, the Azaadiwi-ziibi Nitam-Anishinaabeg (Poplar River "#16" 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.