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Monday, April 22, 2019

The Way of the Heartbeat, Part 5

"Life in the Bosom of the Earth"

- Updated: Baashkaabigonii-giizis, Blooming Moon (June 7, 2021)



‘‘In the old times, admission to Midewiwin, the Lodge of Those Who Are in a Sacred and Unseen State, required knowledge of  plants and herbs and the power of healing. But after some time the Good-hearted Ones - as they were generally referred to - began to feel that mino-bimaadiziwin (how to live a good, upright, and long life) was not to be aquired by knowledge of healing alone. Thus morality was introduced into medicine practice. Possessing integrity, and declaring ones integrity to the plant beings and to the world at large, became essential for both midewininiwag and midekweg, and from that moment on people could become a member by invitation only." 

- The principle of Midewiwin. 

‘‘The temperature rises, and together we go back to the beginning"

 - The principle of the Sweat Lodge ceremony.   


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!)

This blog story is another episode, the fifth already in a series named ‘‘The Way of the Heartbeat." The series features teaching stories that encompass the unique worldview and cultural and spiritual perspective of the Midewiwin and Waabanoowiwin, both age-old Medicine Lodges that until today play a pivotal role in the culture and lives of the Anishinaabe Peoples.

Today's story is actually more a musing than it is anything else. It is woven around a sterling silver-and-turquoise-and-coral bracelet and a matching pendant handcrafted in my jeweler’s studio. In addition, the story is illustrated with images of a beautiful drawing and an acrylic painting by my artist friend Simone McLeod from Pasqua, Saskatchewan and a powerful acrylic canvas by the late Randy Trudeau from Manitoulin Island, Ontario. Simone's drawing, which she made in 2013, is titled Twins in a''Sweat Lodge Womb; the painting, which she did in 2017, is titled Otehimin.” The title of Mr. Trudeau's canvas is “Sweat Lodge.” 

Simone McLeod, born in Winnipeg, Manitoba in 1962, belongs to the Name doodem (Sturgeon clan) of the ᓇᐦᑲᐌ (Nakawē-Ojibwe Anishinaabeg). She is a member of Pasqua First Nation in Saskatchewan.

Simone, who feels a strong spiritual kinship with her mother's people, the Azaadiwi ziibi Nitam, or Poplar River First Nation of Manitoba, is a versatile artist: not  only does she paint, she is also a talented poet and writer. Simone descends from a long line of Ojibwe Midewiwin healers on both parental sides. Her traditional Anishinaabe name is Ahki-ekwanîsit, which means Earth Blanket, or All That Covers the Earth. Although she is considered a Medicine Painter working in the traditon of the Canadian Native School of Woodland Art, Simone definitely holds a unique place in the art heritage of her People.

Randy Trudeau (Randolph Clement Trudeau - April 30, 1954 – November 2, 2013) was a second generation Woodland/Anishinaabe Medicine Painter of Odaawaag-Ojibweg background, born on Manitoulin Island in Ontario. His lyrical artistic style was unexampled and he had his own unique method of depicting spirit beings. Randy Trudeau was a storyteller very strong in his history and in Anishinaabemowin (the language). He was a lifelong teacher and will be forever remembered through his art and through his students.¹

Simone McLeod pencil drawing Twins in Sweat Lodge Womb
"Twins in Sweat Lodge Womb," detail of a pencil drawing by Simone McLeod. © 2013 Simone McLeod

Ceremony of the Sweat Lodge

The Anishinaabe ancestors believed it to be important that a person joined his or her voice on a regular base with the voices of the spiritual world. This concept is called aanji-niigiweshkamong enweying shka-kimi-kweng: ‘‘reconnecting our voice with Creation."

One of the ways to reconnect one’s voice with Creation is to undergo a madoodison, or Sweat Lodge ceremony.
madoodison (called inipi by our neighbours and allies of the Seven Council Fires, the Dakota, Nakoda, and Lakota Peoples) is a domed-shaped and circular structure built low to the ground. Symbolizing the womb of Mother Earth, a madoodison or inipi is a place of purification and refuge and healing but also a sacred place to get answers and guidance by praying to the Aadizookaanag (spirit grandfathers), to the Bawaaganag (guardian spirits appearing in dreams), to the personal doodem (clan) helpers, to Gichi-manidoo (the Great Mystery), and to Nimaamaa-aki (Mother Earth herself).

A Sweat is a sacred commitment to GICHI-MANIDOO, the Great Mystery of Life, and to the true energy of Omizakamigokwe, Our Mother the Earth. 

The Lodge is basically a place where a small group of people combine their spirits ‘‘to create an opening through which this Great Mystery can flow freely." Only those persons chosen, trained, or otherwise specifically directed by qualified tribal Elders are allowed to work with the Sweat Lodge.²

Among the Ojibweg, it is Makwa he bear who guards and protects the midewigaan (Mide Lodge) as wel the madoodison (sweat, or purifcation lodge) – which is where Mide candidates cleanse their bodies and minds before entering the ceremony inside the midewigaan. It was a bear who gifted his hide when the very first Ojibwe madoodison was built; thus, in a symbolic way, his hide served to cover the Anishinaabeg as a People.

Madoodoowasiniig (stones of a sweat lodge) play a central role in the madoodison ceremony. The grandfathers and spirit-helpers are awakened in the stones by heating them in a sacred fire until red-hot. The water and sacred herbs that are poured on the grandfather stones and the steam that is caused by this ritual act are meant to purify those who enter, allowing each of the participants to ‘‘go back to the beginning" and to emerge reborn.  


Sweat Lodge Randy Trudeau_________________________________________________

As the Grandfather stones glow inside the fire pit the midewewe'igan (Sacred Water Drum) sounds and calls forth the aadizookaanag and niiwin inakakeyaa wenaanimak (the Four Directions). At this point water is poured and giizhik aniibiishan (cedar leaves) are sprinkled on the stones; the person in charge keeps pouring and smudging until told by the spirits to stop. In the steaming hot vapor and intense scent released by the stones and herbs the participants begin their prayers, songs, and chants in petition of purification and guidance. There are usually four sessions in which there is song and prayer, presided over by the attending Elders. Traditionally, Sweat Ceremonies play an important role in the coming-of-age rituals for boys - and sometimes girls. Sometimes Sweats are part of longer ceremonies, and they always proceed important ceremonies that may last for several days - such as the Sun Dance.

According to Anishinaabeg izhitwaawin (our cultural belief) and Anang Nibwakawin (our star wisdom) the Madoodison star constellation, besides representing the sweat lodge on earth, is also regarded as a Thunderbird's nest among the stars. Alongside the Sweat Lodge/Thunderbird constellation - which is called Corona Borealis on the Western star maps - are the seven madoodoowasiniig (sweat lodge stones) and the sweat lodge poles shining in the night sky; see the above image. The 7 stars of the Sweat Lodge constellation represent many things to the Anishinaabeg... to some they signify the stones or the poles of the Sweat Lodge, to others the eggs of the celerstial Thunderbird... there are so many stories. One aadizookaan (story) tells of Ode'imin (Heart Berry), the boy who founded the Midewiwin, who one day traveled the Stars and visited the Elders in the celestial Sweat Lodge. It is said that, upon returning to Earth, Ode'imin ogii-waawiyetoon iwe omadoodison: he taught the People to make the sweat lodge round... __________________________________________________________

Odemin heartberry painting by Simone McLeod
"Otehimin" (Heart Berry), detail of acrylic painting by Nakawe Ojibwe (Saulteaux) Medicine Painter Simone McLeod. © 2017 Simone McLeod.


Because of this, in Ojibwe tradition, after the Sweat strawberries (a reference to Ode'imin) are offered to the participants gathering in open air, and in some cases there is a small, shared feast of, for instance, tea, salmon, and blueberries.  


Niigiwin miinawaa Aanji-niigiwin jewelry set by Zhaawano
Click here to see details of the Birth and Regeneration jewelry set.



The jewelry set: A promise of Life and Regeneration

This above set of matching bracelet and pendant, titled Akiiwin Mizakamig (‘‘In The Bosom of the Earth"), belongs to a shadowbox jewelry series named Niigiwin miinawaa Aanji-niigiwin (‘‘Birth And Regeneration"). The highly polished design and the theme of the unique set – note how the turquoise stones are mounted in shadowbox settings; this style is characterized by deep, darkened recesses set with “floating” stones in high bezels - do not just bear witness of my partially Native American background; they're particularly inspired by the ancient teachings of the Midewiwin, the Lodge of Medicine and Ethics of my ancestors, the Anishinaabe Peoples.

The Mide teachings dictate that each person has a path to follow, called The True Path of Life, a journey-through-life that every human being must follow, from their prenatal state to old age and death/passing on. By living through all the stages and living out the visions, a person gains wisdom, which he/she must pass on to those still to walk the path of life.


The oval-shaped turquoise stone in the silver bracelet is mounted in a setting called shadowbox; this dramatic style - originally a Dineh’ (Navajo) silversmithing way of stonesetting - is characterized by deep, darkened recesses set with “floating” stones in high bezels.

In the case of this jewelry set, a high bezel for holding the turquoise cabochon is soldered inside a large oval shadowbox frame that I - with the aid of a jeweler's saw - cut out of the slightly domed pendant and bracelet head. I made the bezel of a slightly smaller size than the shadow box it has to fit into. This consequently leaves a rather narrow “trough” around the bezel. Then the “trough” becomes oxidized in order to highlight the raised bezel, and the shadowbox design is completed. See the website for more details of the set.


The oval turquoise cabochons in the shadowboxes (the oxidized, oval interior segments around the stone bezels) in both bracelet and pendant represent a seed inside a pregnant woman's womb - or a baby inside the mother's womb, in which it is conceived and nourished while developing before birth. The stones, therefore, hold a promise of life and regeneration. The small red coral cabochons that I placed inside of the shadow box refer to the ceremony of madoodison, the Sweat Lodge; the red color represent the glow of madoodoowasiniig, the grandfather stones that play a central role in the purification ceremomy. 

The stylized leaf of an aagimaak (ash tree) with a turquoise cabochon mounted on the tip that I attached to the pendant represents growth and decay, and, in a deeper sense, the cycle and infinity of life. The round hand-hammered wires supporting the head of the bracelet as well as the quadripartite pendant connector symbolize the cardinal directions of the Universe; in conclusion, the balls constructed at the ends of the bracelet wires represent the sun and the moon, the first grandfather and grandmother of all Life on earth.

The way I see it, this set, which I carefully handwrought of sterling silver, has a design that is both quintessentially Native and absolutely modern and provides testimony to the pride I take in my ancestry.

Above all, the story behind the bracelet and pendant celebrate the beauty and wisdom of the world of my Ojibwe Anishinaabe ancestors, which will always be my main artistic inspiration and design source.

Giiwenh. So goes the story about the In the Bosom of the Earth jewelry set; so goes the tale about what the Sweat Lodge means to the Peoples of Turtle Island.  

Miigwech gibizindaw noongom mii dash gidaadizookoon. Thank you for listening to my storytelling today. Giga-waabamin wayiiba, I hope to see you again soon...

¹ Source: Norval Morrisseau blog
² Source: Sweat Lodge Stories


About the author and his sources of inspiration

My name is Zhaawano Giizhik. As an American artist and jewelry designer 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.

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