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Friday, April 4, 2014

Reawakening of the Medicine People, part 1

Medicine Faces
© Simone McLeod


The Amazing Story Of The Sleeping Medicine People (part 1)

- Updated March 18, 2018


Today's blog story features two new paintings done by Simone, the first in a series of canvases that she titled "Reawakening Of The Medicine People."

The theme of the series is based on a vision that Simone has carried with her through most of her adult life. Gradually, as she was finding her way along her life's path, an image started to form in her mind, of four mysterious people with tattood faces, wrapped in blankets of fog, sitting silently in the dim dawn light of a perfectly soundless Universe. As she watched these blanket people she began to notice that their closed eyes gradually opened, looking around them intelligently, and their eyes curious and alert seemed to perceive and admire a brilliant yellowish-white light that surrounded them

What Simone witnessed was the reawakening of, what she would soon call, "the Medicine People". Her vision, and the series of "dream carriers" (paintings based on dreams and visions) that springs from it, evoke memories of the Seventh Fire Prophecy that was given to our ancestors many hundreds of generations ago; this was when the Anishinaabe Peoples still lived in the Land of Dawn on the northern Atlantic coasts of Turtle Island (North America).

Sleeping Medicine People painting by Simone agnes Geertsema
© Simone McLeod


This prophecy, which had been delivered by a Miigis (Shell) Being that emerged from the waves of the Atlantic Ocean, revealed that in the time of the Seventh Fire the People would live in a world dominated by a white-skinned race. Then a New People would emerge, who would decide to retrace their steps to the Teachings of the Dawn Land and ask their Elders to guide them into finding back mino misko-miikana, the good red road.

 “If the New People will remain strong in their quest the Water Drum of the Midewiwin Lodge will again sound its voice. There will be a rebirth of the Anishinabe Nation and a rekindling of old flames. The Sacred Fire will again be lit…”*

Today, according to some Elders, Anishinaabe people are in the Seventh Fire and major changes on the Earth are to occur soon. Other Elders tell us that the era of the Seventh Fire has already come to pass and another Fire arising from the techings of the Seven Fires prophecy has been lit. This Eight Fire Teaching is said to apply to all Peoples in contact with the Anishinaabeg, and it suggests that if enough people — of all colors and faiths — turn from materialism and instead choose a path of respect, wisdom and spirituality, environmental and social catastrophe can be avoided, and an era of spiritual illumination will dawn.*

Aki-egwaniizid Medicine Face
As Simone moved forward on her life's path she gradually realized that there are Sleeping Medicine People in each of our Native communities - of all different Nations, all over Turtle Island - who just need to reawaken what they have always had inside them. Her vision taught her that although the People are losing many of their elders, they are not being left alone. The old ways have not died.

"We are living in a time when many of our 'Medicine People' are sleeping and now reawakening" she says...

"The old ways live inside of us deeply rooted and will never be forgottenWe just need to go and find our ceremonies again. We must respond to the yearnings in our hearts to seek out that part of us. It is like the the prophecies of the Seven Fires I have heard of, reminding us that the only way humankind can survive and save the planet is by choosing a straight and truly spiritual path."

Simone McLeod acrylic on canvas
© Simone McLeod
This concept Simone expressed in the painting in the form of four figures, wrapped in storytelling blankets that show X-ray vision - which are stylistic representations of spiritual realities that live inside beings and persons. The faces of these Medicine People she depicted in her personal Midewiwin colors, the painted patterns being records of her personal journey, her dreams, and her visions. 

This is what Simone says about the eyes that she painted in the Medicine Faces: 

"The eyes of the Medicine People in this first painting are invisible, still closed, as they have barely woken up, and I pictured them shedding tears - representing the tears of my ancestors who have endured many hardships under the hands of the Europeans, of the Midewiwin Lodge that has been prosecuted for many generations and had to go underground to survive and be able to conduct their ceremonies, and of today's generation that is under great social strain. In the second painting, which I titled 'Medicine Faces: Sleeping Medicine People Part 2' (see the image at the top of the page), their eyes are already slightly open, reflecting the first light of dawn." 

"The painting titled 'Sleeping Medicine People Part 1' depicts Aki, our world, consisting of an underworld, a middle world, and the sky world", she continues. "Four arms – whose hands I modelled after my own hands - reach out from the underworld to the earth of the middle world; through their veins runs the smoke from the four sweat lodges as if it were cosmic lifeblood, transfusing ancient spirit power and energy and memories into the rocks of mother earth. The rocks are Mother Earth’s backbone, this strong foundation left for us by our ancestors to build on."


Bear sweats
© Simone McLeod


Unity symbol
"The circular unity symbol I painted in the sky, connected with the images of the praying men by two rays (lines of communication), is a symbol of hope, of a rekindling of the old ways. The divided circle shows the day-sun and the night-sun holding my personal colors anf the clan symbols of the Sturgeon and the Bear, which, symbolically, stand for all clans of our People." 

Prayers"The red and yellow colors in the day-sun (the right half of the celestial body) reflect the glow of the same fire that we see springing from the purification (sweat) lodges that I painted hidden deeply beneath the earth's surface." 

"Inside the womb of the underworld I depicted four bear sweats; the insides of these purification lodges show fires inducing upwellings of red-hot lava from the deep earth - the same colors I used in the orbicular celestial body that I placed high up in the sky."

“The praying men on either side of the canvas connected through the rays of the sun/moon high up in the sky are giizisoniimig, or sundancers, they stand with arms held high. They carry up prayers and petitions to the grandfathers of the spirit world. They stand tall and strong like the Sundance azaadi (poplar) tree around which I will soon dance and sing and sacrifice to be reborn again and for the sake of all those out there who need healing, mentally and spiritually as well as physically. Sometimes we have to dance and sacrifice and die a little inside in order to be reborn and rise again as a stronger and wiser version of ourselves...These two giizisoniimig with their arms held high have facial painting inspired on a digital drawing done by my friend Zhaawano, a revised version of an ink pencil drawing he originally made in his early teens. This particular digital version (see below image) depicts an Anishinaabe man performing his morning prayer, watched by two figures in the foreground - possibly prayer helpers, or guardian spirits -, standing in the shadows of a distant past; the mysterious facial paintings of these ancestral beings that Zhaawano depicted I decided to use for my painting." 


Zhaawano Giizhik Tammo Geertsema pen and ink drawing
© Zhaawano Giizhik

"The red and black flowers that I painted on the blanket of the first medicine person - the one whom I placed on the left - are not only a reference to my traditional name which is Earth Blanket, but they also remind us that we must cry and let go of the hurt of the past. The flowers are symbolic of the death of our people’s hearts, yet they also stand for healing, and tell us to never forget." 
"The second medicine person has designs inside of him that I have not been able to fully understand so far. These designs I modelled after a sketch I made in the month of May in 2013, based on a dream I had during that moon. I am still unsure where the designs come from or what they signify. Around the same time I dreamt about these designs my friend Zhaawano dreamt of Norval Morrisseau – or a man who looked like him – painting the same kind of design on a steep cliff wall. Zhaawano seems to believe that the lizard-like designs appearing in my dream might represent Midewiwin Sky persons whom our Anishinaabe ancestors used to paint on rock, or perhaps they represent the Medicine People that I see my vision; they might even be a reference to a star constellation I have been fascinated with since childhood: Orion, or Gaa biboonikaan, the Bringer of Winter, whose presence in the night sky since time immemorial heralds the cold weather. But the fact is I don't know for sure, perhaps, one day, it will become clear to me what the designs mean and why I had to paint them."
Mideg Nibaawag
© Simone McLeod
"The third medicine person in the painting carries, also in the form of X-ray vision, the clan symbols of Na-me doodem, which is my clan, and those of Zhaawano, which is Waabizheshi doodem, the Marten. The design that I placed inside this medicine person relates to a painting I did back in 2013, telling a story about learning, teaching, and reaching out from different worlds. The trees, whose branches represent the realm of air and sky which is marten’s habitat, yet their roots dipping somewhat into sturgeon’s habitat in the deep lake, symbolize a strong and everlasting connection between these two different worlds."
"The figure on the far right, representing the fourth Medicine Person that I see in my vision, shows X-ray vision of the paws of Makwa the bear, as well as footsteps that resemble those of human beings. Bear medicine is powerful medicine, bringing – often in the form of dreams - healing, renewal, and rebirth. The human footsteps relate to a dream I had in July 2013, about Zhaawano and I running together in a forest, helping each other, keeping pace with each other, but we were not alone. We were running with a giant. I had not dreamt of gichi-misaabe since I was a small child. I was always alone and hiding from him as a child. To dream of him now as an adult and to be running with a friend side by side laughing and happy and feeling safe.... running with the giant as opposed to running from I know that I will never have to be afraid of him because he is my spirit helper since childhood. This is why I painted his footprints inside the fourth medicine person, together with the bear’s symbol of healing strength.
"The Sun/Moon in the blue sky", Simone concludes, "was painted first, the foundation of bear sweats was painted second. The image of praying Sundancers, connecting the Medicine People and the Earth that they sit on with the sky world, was incorporated into this piece as well. The Medicine People with their painted faces, wrapped in their storytelling blankets, came last. This painting took me almost five moons to complete…"

Giiwenh. That´s how far this blog story goes. Miigwech for reading and listening!

Bi-waabamishinaang miinawaa daga: please come see us again!

Click here to read part 2 of the series "Reawakening Of The Medicine People".

* Wikipedia

Simone Geertsema painting Sleeping Medicine Faces
© Simone McLeod


If you are interested in purchasing a reproduction of this painting, please fill in the contact form of our website.


About the author/artist and his inspiration:

Zhaawano Giizhik, an American currently residing 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 Baawitigong (Sault Ste. Marie, Upper Michigan) is WaabizheshiMarten.
As a second-generation Woodland artist who writes stories and creates graphic art and jewelry designs, Zhaawano draws on the oral and pictorial traditions of his ancestors. For this he calls on his manidoo-minjimandamowin, or "Spirit Memory"; which means he tries to remember the knowledge and the lessons of his ancestors. In doing so he sometimes works together with kindred artists.
To Zhaawano's ancestors 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 that they felt they were an integral part of. 

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 lake's coastlines where the sky, the earth, the water, the underground and the underwater meet.

The way Zhaawano understands it, it is in these sacred places invisible to the ordinary, waking eye that his design and storyteller's inspiration originate from.

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