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Friday, July 26, 2013

Teaching stories, part 13

Simone McLeod Aki Waaboyaan Ikwe Earth Blanket Creations

"The Spirit Of Sunset"

- Updated November 11, 2018


Zirconium wedding rings by ZhaawanArt Unieke Trouwringen



Today we present part 13 of a blog series connecting our paintings and jewelry with the Seven Grandfather teachings of the Ojibwe Anishinaabe People.

Today's blog story features an acrylic on canvas painting by Simone, and two ring sets that I created at my workbench. The sets belong to a wedding ring line titled Night Sun, consisting of rings fashioned in a basic style and design and made of zirconium, which is a unique, extremely durable material. As I see it, the distinctive, minimalist, and rather mysterious character of the transition metal zirconium - which in essence and nature is as much a stone as it is a metal - provides a link with the traditions of my Native ancestors from the North American Great Lakes.

These zirconium rings I crafted using a highly polished gray/black zirconium-based ceramic. This compound is one of the hardest, strongest ceramics on the market and it guarantees durable and scratch-free rings of a beautiful clean and sleek appearance. 

The rings hold a lesson that is based on the traditions that for thousands of years have been kept safe by and passed on by the lodges of the Midewiwin and Waabanoowiwin of the Anishinaabeg Peoples. Both are age-old animistic-medicinal institutions conserving the ancient teachings on human conduct and a spiritual way for living.

It was in the spirit and in dedication of these Grandfather teachings that I created and designed these simple, yet beautiful wedding rings of magic gray and black zirconium.

I specifically dedicate this blog story to my artist friend and co-blog writer Simone McLeod, not only because she looks great dressed in black; she also understands 
the importance of black in her own work - without the black-outlined imagery that she uses, her paintings and drawings would not have that same dramatic effect (see the above image: detail of "Women's Healing Journey," acrylic on canvas 2012).


Black Spirit Sunset wedding rings


Makade Manidoo Bangishimog ("Black Spirit Sunset") wedding rings. The ladies' ring is made of highly polished black zirconium. The men's ring has a polished inside and a matted gray exterior and features a brilliant-cut black diamond.

The Circle of Life


Before we get into the symbolism of the rings, let us first tell you something about what we know of the concept of the circle, as it is explained in the traditional context of the Native American Medicine Wheel.

Medicine Wheel

Mashkiki waawiyeyaatig, the medicine wheel, is a sacred symbol. Originally represented by grandfather-stones or pebbles laid down on the earth in a circular form, a medicine wheel is basically a cross within a circle. This cross symbolizes the concept of quadrinity of all life that lies at the base of Creation, or the Cosmos. The circle of the wheel is WAAWIYEKAAMIG, the Universe itself. 

The medicine wheel, or rather the schematic, graphic representation that we often see today containing four differently colored quadrants (called "circles"), is not a symbol that is native to the Anishinaabe peoples, but the idea behind it certainly is. In the old days the concept of medicine wheel was referred to as wayaawiyeyaag bimaadiziwinining (the Circle of Life), symbolizing the natural cycles of birth, growth, death, and regeneration. This is the meaning of quadrinity as our ancestors perceived and understood it: everything in life comes in fours and every living being exists of four parts.

Mirror of Nature

The four human races, the animals (two-legged ones and four-legged ones), the winged ones, the swimmers (fishes), the creatures on the ground (plants, rocks, the insects, and worms), the spirits, and the celestial bodies are all represented by a stone in the big circle. Each stone or pebble tells a part of the big story. The circle of the wheel stands for all cycles that exist in nature: day and night, ebb and flood, the seasons, the moons (months), the cycles of human life, and the orbits of the moon and the planets. In a metaphorical sense, a medicine wheel is a physical instrument, a life-guiding compass, and a mirror of nature reflecting all aspects of human life.

The Four Directions

Medicine wheel

Each direction of the medicine wheel is defined by a color, a season, a gender, and a quality. One quadrant of the circle for example, representing the east, stands for ziigwan (the spring) and maple sugaring; the southern quadrant stands for niibin (the summer) and gardening, berry picking, and fishing; the western qudarant is for dagwaaging (autumn) and wild rice harvesting; finally, the northern quadrant stands for biboon (winter) and hunting and spear fishing. Traditionally, the four cardinal points or quarters of the earth are each represented by a certain color and a sacred plant species: yellow for waaban (the east), red for zhaawan (the south), black for bangishimog (the west), and white for giiwedin (the north). Asemaa (tobacco) represents the east; giizhik (northern white cedar) represents the south; mashkodewashk (sage) represents the west; and wiingashk (sweetgrass) represents the north. A medicine wheel, or the four circles of the medicine wheel, are always viewed in a clockwise direction, starting in waaban, rotating to zhaawan and bangishimog, and arriving at giiwedin, the north circle on top.


AkiWaabooyaanIkwe Earth Blanket Creations


"Women's Healing Journey" acrylic on canvas by Anishinaabe artist Simone McLeod (Aki-egwaniizid). Simone  uses her art for healing purposes, addressing the topic of cultural and social oppression on - and the ongoing sexual and mental abuse of women and children within - Native (First Nation) communities. The painting depicts three generations of women against the background of Bangishimog, the land in the west, the abode of the Grizzly Bear Nation and the deceased who arrive there via jiibay-miikana, the Path of Souls. Here, at the end of each day, Gimishoomisinaan Giizis (Grandfather Sun) sinks behind the horizon, as does, at the end of each night, the Evening Star. Ningaabii-anang, the Evening Star, also called "Star Sinking In Waters" or "Women's Star", is a powerful aadizokaan (grandfather), a wise medicine man and patron of all women, teaching healing and the need for moderation and patience. It is to him and Grandfather Sun sinking behind the western hills and to the spirits of the ancestors and the spirit of the Bear that the women turn to in search for healing and wisdom and strength. 


The Land of the West

Bangishimog, the land in the west where at the end of the day Grandfather Sun sinks behind the horizon, is ruled by E-bangishimog, or Ningaabii'ani-noodin, the mighty West wind and the Father of all Winds; it is also the abode of his eldest son Majiikiwis who is the chief of the Grizzly bear nation, and of Ningaabii-anang, the star that sinks in the waters (the evening Star). According to tradition it was also here, on an island in the west, that two of E-bangishimog's illegitimate sons, half anishinaabe (human)-half manidoo (spirit) WIINABOZHO and his brother MA'IINGAN (wolf), found their last resting place, and a giant giizhikaatig (northern white cedar tree) is said to still grow from Wiinabozho's head...




Spirit Sunset #1 wedding rings. Both rings are made of highly polished black zirconium. The ladies' ring  features a brilliant-cut white diamond. Visit the website for details of the ring set.


The Gift Of Life

The color black as symbol of the West is a reminder of how fast the day passes and how short our life on earth really is. Therefore we, as did our ancestors before us, should greatly value life from youth till old age and see it as a cherished gift; beholding a sunrise and a sundown each day is nothing short of a blessing that should never be taken lightly or for granted.


Black Spirit Sunset zirconium wedding bands by Zhaawano Giizhik


The shape of these wedding rings (round like an orbit, with a beautiful smooth and flat surface that contrasts dramatically with the rounded interiors of the rings) and the gray/black colors of the zirconium testify of the depth and scope of the above mentioned worldview of my ancestors. Their spiritual beliefs - the Evening Star, symbol of wisdom, is represented by the sparkling, brilliant-cut  diamond - originated at the northern shores of the Atlantic ocean, and I like to believe that today, many thousands of years later, they haven't lost any of their universal expressiveness and gracious wisdom...


Giiwenh: this is how far the story goes. The next blog story will be about how Migizi, the white-headed eagle from the East, returned the old ways and the ancestral language to the Anishinaabe People. Miigwech for reading and listening and giga-waabamin: see you later.

Read the next episode in the Teaching Stories series: Giigoonh, the Silent Spirit of Lakes and Streams.

Images of painting: "Women's Healing Ceremony," acrylic on canvas by Simone McLeod, 2012. Jewelry by ZhaawanArt Unieke Trouwringen. Copyright by Simone McLeod and Zhaawano Giizhik, Fisher Star Creations. 


Aki-egwaniizid miinawaa Zhaawano Giizhik/Wenoondaagoziwid Webaashi


About the authors/artists:

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 and a member of Pasqua First Nation in SaskatchewanShe belongs to he Name doodem (Sturgeon clan). She feels much kinship with her mother's people, the Azaadiwi-ziibi Nitam-Anishinaabeg (Poplar River "#16" First Nation) of Manitoba. Simone 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.

Zhaawano Giizhik, an American currently living in the Netherlands, was born in 1959 in North Carolina, USA. Zhaawano has Anishinaabe blood running through his veins; the doodem of his ancestors from Baawiting (Sault Ste. Marie, Upper Michigan) is Waabizheshi, Marten. As an artist, a writer, and a designer of  jewelry and wedding rings, Zhaawano draws on the oral and pictorial traditions of his ancestors. In doing so he sometimes works together with kindred artists. He has done several art projects with Simone and hopes to continue to do so in the future.


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