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THE RITUAL AND SIGNIFICANCE OF THE WINNEBAGO

MEDICINE DANCE



BY PAUL RADIN



Dissertation Submitted in Partial Fulfilment of the
Requirements for the Degree of Doctor of Philo-
sophy in the Faculty of Philosophy,
Columbia University.



Reprinted from The Journal of American Folk-Lore, Vol. XXIV, No. XCH,

April-June, 191 1



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TO THE MEMORY OF

EVELYN R. BRESLER



[Reprinted from The Journal of American Folk-Lore, Vol. XXIV., No. XCII.,

April-June, 1911.]



THE RITUAL AND SIGNIFICANCE OF THE WINNEBAGO
MEDICINE DANCE

BY PAUL RADIN

CONTENTS

Page

A. Description of the Ritual of the Winnebago Medicine Dance .... 149
I. Organization of the Bands 150

II. Prescribed Duties of the Bands 151

III. Division of the Ceremony 153

IV. Types of Component Elements of the Ceremony 154

1. Types of Speeches 154

2. Types of Songs 156

3. Types of Action 156

4. Types of Ritual 156

V Ceremony as a Whole 161

B. Description of the Ojibwa Mide'wtwtn 165

C. Description of the Menominee Mide'wtwtn 167

D. The Significance of the Ritual 168

I. The Common Elements 168

II. The Interpretation of the Common Elements — Schurtz's Theory .... 169

III. The Shooting Ritual 175

IV. The Initiation Ritual 179

V. The General Ceremony 186

VI. The Complete Ceremonial Complexes 188

VII. Resume and Conclusion 198

A. DESCRIPTION OF THE RITUAL OF THE WINNEBAGO MEDICINE

DANCE 2

The Medicine Dance is a society, admission into which is gained
by purchase. The Winnebago suppose it to be a repetition of a
ceremony originally instituted by the Rabbit, when he initiated the
first man into its secrets. The society consists of five bands, which,
during the ceremony, are known respectively as the Ancestor-Host's,

2 The description of the ritual is based on material collected by me, and now in the
possession of the Bureau of American Ethnology. The full description will appear as a
memoir of the Bureau.

vol. xxiv. — no. 92. — 11 149



150 Journal of American Folk-Lore

the East, North, West, and South Bands. These five bands are also
known by the names of their leaders. Any band may act as host,
and the position of the others in the lodge is dependent on the order
in which they are invited by the band acting as host. It thus fellows
that each band must know the entire ceremony of the society.

I. Organization of the Bands. — For purposes of description it
will be best to divide each band into three parts, — the leader, his two
assistants, and the rest of the band. Leadership depends upon a
thorough knowledge of the ceremony and its complete esoteric signifi-
cance, which is in the possession of only one individual in each band.
This knowledge can be obtained solely by purchase and religious quali-
fications. These religious qualifications, to which might be added moral
as well, play little part at the present day, but there can be no doubt
that they were essential in the past. The leader likewise often pos-
sessed other characteristics, such as those of warrior and shaman,
but they were not essential for his position.

The two assistants were generally men who had purchased sufficient
information and privileges to entitle them to help the leader in certain
details of the ceremony. The drummers, rattle-holders, dancers, etc.,
were always recruited from their ranks. Eventually they became the
leaders. Those who were neither leaders nor assistants possessed a
knowledge varying from that of elementary information, required for
admission, to such as would entitle them to the position of assistant.

There is a priority of position in the lodge depending on priority
of invitation. The band invited first, occupies the east position; that
invited second, the north; that invited third, the west; and that in-
vited fourth, the south. The east is the position of highest honor;
the south, that of the lowest. Between the bands, there exists an
order of invitation based on tradition, the exact nature of which is
unknown. According to one informant, if one band invited another,
the latter in turn would be obliged to give it the position of honor; but
as there are five bands, this can apply only to special cases. Whatever
may be the order, it is certain that each band has ample occasion to
occupy all five positions.

There are two ways in which a man can join the Medicine Dance.
He may simply apply for admission to any of the five leaders, or he
may take the place of a deceased relative. In the former case, if
his payment is satisfactory, and he has the other qualifications, he is
accepted. In the other case, he or his relatives decide to have him
take the place of a deceased relative. This latter form of candidacy
is by far the commoner. At the present day, initiation requires the
payment of about three hundred or four hundred dollars, in the form
of goods and tobacco. Of this, a portion is given to the leader of the
Ancestor-Host's Band during the Four Nights' Preparation, and the
r est to the leaders of the other four bands during the ceremony proper.



The Ritual of the Winnebago Medicine Dance 151

Exactly how much information an individual obtains on entering,
cannot be determined. This would depend on the amount of the
payment. The minimum of knowledge would be an acquaintance
with the bare externals of the ceremony, its general significance, and
such knowledge of the legendary origin of the Lodge as a single recital
could give. The new member is not initiated into the symbolism of
the ritualistic myths, and consequently a large portion of the same
must be unintelligible to him. What he obtains is practically only
the right to hold the otter-skin bag and to use it in a certain way.
He cannot take part in any of the forms of dancing or singing, nor
can he even shoot at will. He very rarely remains in this condition
long, but takes the first opportunity to purchase additional knowledge
and privileges.

There are three kinds of members, — mature men, women, and
children. The privileges of women differ from those of the men, in
that the women do not have to partake of the sweat-bath, may never
become assistants, and are privileged to dance in a certain way. In
other respects they have equal privileges with men. In practice,
there are certain privileges that women never have, but this is due to
the fact that either they do not care or they are not in a position
to buy them. Children belong to a quite different category. Al-
though they possess an otter-skin, they have not even the power of
making it effective, and, in order to do so, must have it guided by
some older member. There does not seem to be any evidence indicat-
ing that women were ever excluded from membership.

II. Prescribed Duties of the Bands. — The duties of the host,
who is known as x'okera, 1 and whose band is called Minank'ara-
k'onangire'ra, 2 are as follows:

1. To rehearse the songs and rituals with his band four nights
previous to the ceremony proper. At this rehearsal the candidate
(ha"birok'aragu'-inera, literally " the one for whom they seek life ") is
always present, and instructed in the ceremony.

2. To send out invitation-sticks and tobacco to the leaders of the
other four bands. The messengers are always his sisters' sons.

3. To begin the Four Nights' Ceremony preceding the ceremony
proper.

4. To receive the leaders and assistants of the other four bands
before the sweat-lodge ritual, and to begin the same.

5. To begin the ceremony proper.

'X'okg' means literally "root" or "ancestor." "Ancestor-host" will be used as its
equivalent.

2 This word means literally "he who puts himself in the place to benefit his relatives."
The reference is to the Rabbit, who, at the first performance of the ceremony, acted as
host and initiated his relatives; i. e., the human beings.



152 Journal of American Folk-Lore

6. To take part in the following portion of the ceremony proper.

(a) To welcome the four bands.

(b) To lead the candidate to the secret brush and instruct him in
certain precepts.

(c) To act as preceptor of the candidate before he is shot with the
sacred shell.

(d) To turn the candidate over to the charge of the leaders of the
East and North Bands.

(e) To relate certain of the myths.

(/) To deliver certain speeches and to perform certain actions that
constitute the basic ritual of the ceremony proper. This will be
discussed later.

The East Band is known as Tconi mina'ngera (Those-who-sit-first),
Ha n p'ogu homina'ngere (Where-the-day-comes-f rom) , Wiayephu-
regi (Where-the-sun-rises). All these terms are used frequently.
The duties of the leader are —

i. To assist the ancestor-host in passing upon the eligibility of a
candidate.

2. To take part in the following portions of the ceremony proper.

(a) Accompanied by his two assistants, to take part in the brush
ritual.

(b) To take charge of the candidate after he has been handed over
to him by the ancestor-host.

(c) To shoot the sacred shell into the candidate's body.

(d) To relate certain of the myths.

(e) To perform the basic ritual.

The North Band is known as Siniwagu mina'ngera (Where-the-cold-
comes-from). The leader has the same duties as those of the East
leader. The myths recited are of course different.

The West Band is known as Wioi're mina'ngera (Where-the-sun-goes-
down). The leader has the duty of reciting certain myths and per-
forming the basic ritual.

The South Band is known as Nanguojedja" minangera (He-who-
sits-at-the-end-of-the-road) or Horotcu'fidjeregi (Where-the-sun-
straightens). The duties of the leader are the same as those of the
leader of the West Band, except that the myths he recites are
different.

The distribution of the gifts to the different bands is the following:

The leader of the East Band receives one-half of the number of
blankets, the upper half of the new suit worn by the candidate, and
one-quarter of the food.

The leader of the North Band receives one-half of the blankets,
the lower half of the suit, the moccasins, and one-quarter of the food.

The leaders of the West and South Bands receive each three yards
and a half of calico and a fourth of the food.



The Ritual of the Winnebago Medicine Dance 153

The ancestor-host receives various gifts of food and tobacco from
the leaders of the other bands. He receives his payment from the
candidate before the ceremony proper.

The candidate is present at the Four Nights' Ceremony of the
ancestor-host's band preliminary to the ceremony proper. At the
latter ceremony he sits to the right of the ancestor-host's band. He is
not dressed in his new suit until after the secret ceremonies in the
brush.

There are facial decorations distinctive of the different bands. The
host's band and the candidate paint a blue circle on each cheek, but
its significance is unknown to me.

The regalia used are simple and few. They consist of eagle, hawk,
squirrel, weasel, beaver, and otter skin bags, a drum, gourd rattles,
and invitation-sticks. The otter-skin bags are always beaded and
contain the sacred shell and various medicines. A few red feathers
are -always inserted in the mouth of the otter-skin bag. The gourds
contain buck-shot at the present day. They are painted with blue
finger-marks.

III. Division of the Ceremony. — The Medicine Dance is divided
into five well-marked parts. The first part (I) consists of the Two
Nights' Preparation preceding the sending-out of the invitation-sticks.
This takes place at the home of the ancestor-host (x'okera), in the
presence of the members of his band and the candidate. The second
part (II) consists of the Four Nights' Preparation preceding the sweat-
lodge ritual. Each band has its own Four Nights' Preparation,
although that of the ancestor-host begins before the others. The
third part (III) consists of the rites held in a sweat-lodge specially
constructed for this purpose near the medicine-lodge, on the morning
after the Four Nights' Preparation. The participants are the ancestor-
host; the leader of the East, North, West, and South Bands, each
with his two assistants; and the candidate. The fourth part (IV)
consists of the ceremony proper, which in turn must be divided into
the night ceremony (a) and the day ceremony (b). The fifth part
(V) consists of the rites held in the brush, at which the secrets of the
society are imparted to the candidate. Special guards are placed on
all sides of the brush to prevent the intrusion of outsiders. The
participants are, beside the candidate, the ancestor-host, the leaders
of the East and North Bands, each with his two assistants, and all
other individuals who have bought the privilege of attending. These
ceremonies take place at the dawn preceding the day ceremony.

Two feasts and one intermission interrupt the main ceremony. The
feasts always take place at the end of the ritual of the East Band; i. e.,
generally at noon and at midnight. The intermission generally lasts
from the dawn preceding the day ceremony until 7 or 8 A. m. The



154 Journal of American Folk-Lore

intermission begins as soon as the drum and gourds have been returned
to the ancestor-host, and ends as soon as the people return from the
brush ritual.

The first and second parts are concerned entirely with a recital of
certain ritualistic myths, and a rehearsal of the songs and the specific
ritual of each band, used during the remaining parts.

IV. Types of Component Elements of the Ceremony. — For
purposes of greater clarity, the speeches, songs, and types of action,
will be carefully differentiated, and referred to by some designation
characterizing their essential traits. These speeches, songs, and types
of action, together form complexes which can be regarded as units,
and I will therefore also refer to these by some designation characteris-
tic of their function.

i. Types of Speeches, (i) Salutations. — No formal salutation is
used during Parts I and II, the individuals being addressed by their rela-
tionship terms. In Parts III, IV, and V the salutations are invariably
the same. The ancestor-host and his band are addressed as follows:
"The-one-occupying-the-seat-of-a-relative (deceased) (some relation-
ship terms) -and-you-who-sit-with-him, I salute you!" The East is
addressed, " You-who-represent-the-place-where-the-sun-rises;" the
North, " You-who-represent-the-place-where-the-cold-comes-from ;"
the West, " You-who-represent-the-place-where-the-sun-sets;" and the
South, " You-who-represent-the-place-where-the-sun-straightens " or
(preferably) " You-who-represent-the-end-of-the-road."

The appellations of the bands, as before stated, refer to the creation
myth and the four guardian spirits whom the Rabbit visited for the
purpose of inquiring into the necessity and meaning of death. He was
compelled to travel around the earth, which is conceived of as an
island, and received no answer until he came to the spirit at the
end of the road. In the dramatic performance of the medicine dance
the lodge typifies the earth, and the four bands and their leaders
typify the four spirits. The ancestor-host's band typifies the ancestor
of the Winnebago, their leader being known as x'okera (literally "root,"
metaphorically "ancestor").

(2) Speeches. — Under this head will be treated (a) speeches of
welcome; (b) speeches of acceptation; (c) speeches of presentation;
(d) speeches explanatory of the significance of the ritual; and (e)
speeches of admonition, addressed exclusively to the candidate. This
does not exhaust all the speeches. There are many others, generally
short, that can hardly be classified. It must be understood that in
their content, as well as in the order of their succession, the speeches
must follow a traditionally determined sequence. In practice this is
certainly not always true, but to the mind of the Winnebago these
speeches appear as old as the ceremony. It is their firm belief that



The Ritual of the Winnebago Medicine Dance 155

any departure from the accepted norm will interfere with the efficacy
of the ceremony.

(a) Speeches of Welcome. — When the leader of the East Band enters
after the ancestor-host has begun the main ceremony (IV, b), he
addresses him as follows: "It was good of you that you condescended
to invite me to this dance. I am a poor pitiable man, and you be-
lieved me to be a medicine-man. But I know that you will show me
the true manner of living, which I thought I possessed, but which I
did not." In this strain he continues, weaving into his speech refer-
ences to the ritual connected with his band, and giving words of
thanks for the beautiful weather (should it be a clear day). In con-
cluding, he thanks all again, and informs them that he will sing a
song. With slight alterations, the leaders of the other bands address
the ancestor-host similarly. The ancestor-host's answer of welcome is
as follows: "Whatever I desired, you have done for me. All night
have you stayed with me, and by your presence helped me in the proper
performance of this ceremony. I am ready with a dancing-song; and
when I have finished it, and sit down, I shall pass unto you tobacco
and the other means of blessing (the gourds and the drum). You
all, who are present, do I greet."

(b) Speeches of Acceptation. — After the ancestor-host has been pre-
sented with food, he thanks the donors as follows: "You have had
pity on me. You have been good to me, and have given me to the
full whatever I might have desired. You have made my heart full
of the blessing of thankfulness. In return I give you a blessing. Here
is some food for you. It is not anything special, nor is it as much as
it ought to be, and I know you will remain hungry. It was prepared
for the spirits of the four quarters (whom you represent), but it is
lacking in all those qualities which would have made it acceptable
to them. Such as it is, however, may its presentation be a means of
blessing to you!"

(c) Speech of Presentation. — East presents the food to the ancestor-
host with the following words: "I have not very much to tell you,
because I am too poor, but our ancestors told us to give food to you.
This little that I give you is all that I can do, being a person of so
little importance."

(d) Explanatory Speeches. — These are of so specific a nature that
no single one can be considered typical.

(e) Speeches of Admonition. — "Nephew, now I shall tell you the
path you must walk, the life you must lead. This is the life the Rabbit
obtained for us. This is the only kind of life, this that our ancestors
followed. Listen to me. If you will always help yourself, then you
will attain to the right life. Never do anything wrong. Never steal,
never tell an untruth, and never fight. If you meet a woman on the



156 Journal of American Folk-Lore

left side of the road, turn to the right. Never accost her, nor speak
familiarly with a person whom you are not permitted thus to address.
If you do all these things, then you will be acting correctly. This is
what I desire of you."

2. Types of Songs. — The songs may be divided into two groups:
(1) those that are sung in connection with myths and after the speeches
of a more general nature, and (2) those that are sung to accompany
definite and specific actions. These latter can therefore be most
conveniently divided into (a) minor dance songs, (b) major dance
songs, (c) initial songs, (d) terminal songs, (e) loading songs, and (f)
shooting songs. The medicine-men distinguish only between four
kinds of songs, — major and minor dance songs, terminal and shooting
songs. Each has a different rhythm and music. For purposes of
description, however, the above division is more convenient.

3. Types of Action, (i) Blessing. — Either hand is held out-
stretched, palm downward, and moved horizontally through the air.
It is always used when entering and leaving the lodge, and on any
occasion where an individual has to pass from one part of the lodge
to another. It is always rendered as "blessing" by the Indians; and
they particularly insisted upon the fact that the "blessing" was not
conveyed by any words used in connection with the action, but by
the action itself. Each person who is thus passed answered with a
long-drawn-out "ho-0-0," and with an obeisance of the head.

A modification of the above is the na n sura ninkuruhintce (or "blessing
of the head"), which consists of a simple laying of the hand upon the
head; both the giver and recipient keeping their eyes fixed on the
ground, and the recipient slightly bending his head. A few mumbled
words accompany this action.

(2) Direction of Walking in the Lodge. — One must always pass con-
trary to the hands of the clock. A person in the East Band must make
the entire circuit of the lodge in order to pass out. In only excep-
tional cases can this rule of passing be broken; and that is when an
old and specially privileged member crosses from his seat to that
directly opposite him, during the shooting ceremony. I was given
to understand that this was an extremely expensive privilege.

4. Types of Ritual. — Parts III, IV, and V can be so analyzed that
they fall into a fairly well-defined number of complexes, consisting
of speeches, songs, and movements. These are nine in number. Arti-
ficial distinctions have been avoided in this division, as far as possible.
The complexes are (1) entrance ritual; (2) exit ritual; (3) fire ritual;
(4) presentation-of-food ritual ; (5) shooting ritual ; (6) initiation ritual ;
(7) sweat-lodge ritual; (8) smoking ritual; (9) basic ritual.

Of these, (3), (5), (7), (8), and (9) are found in Part III; all, except
(7) and (6), in Part IV (a); and all except (7) in Part IV (b); (5)



The Ritual of the Winnebago Medicine Dance 157

does not actually occur in Part III, but is described in detail in
the myth related there. The order in which we will discuss these
ceremonial complexes is not the order in which they follow one another
in the ritual. Some of them are likewise interwoven with one another.
Both these factors will, however, be considered in the description of
the entire ritual, following the description of each ceremonial complex.

(1) Entrance Ritual. — The band enters the tent, makes one complete
circuit, and stops. The leader now delivers a short speech, followed
by a song. They then continue to the west end, where another speech
is delivered and another song sung. After this, they continue again,
and stop, at the east end, where the leader talks and sings. Now all
sit down. After a short pause, the leader again rises, and, walking
over to the ancestor-host, talks to him, and gives him some tobacco.
He then returns to his seat. Each band entering repeats the same
ritual. This applies, however, only to Part IV (a) and (b).

(2) Exit Ritual (Part IV, a and b) . — The East leader rises and speaks,
followed by North, West, and South. They then speak again, and,
singing, walk towards the entrance in such a way that the South,
North, and West Bands make complete circuits of the lodge, thus
enabling the East Band to precede them. Near the entrance all stop
singing, and say "wahi-hi-hi" four times, and pass out. This exit
ceremony differs slightly in the two divisions of IV.

(3) Fire Ritual (Part III). — The ancestor-host rises and goes to the
leaders of the four other bands individually; and after he has blessed
them, they respond; and all rise, make four circuits of the lodge, and
then sit down again. Now the leader of the East Band rises, holding
in his hands the invitation-sticks and some tobacco, delivers a speech,
and, going to the fireplace, kindles a new fire.

(8) Smoking Ritual. — The leader of the East Band pours tobacco
into the fire, first at the east, and then at the north, west, and south
corners. Then he lights his pipe, puffs first towards the east, then
towards the north, west, and south. That over, he passes his pipe to
the leader of the North Band, who takes a few whiffs, and in turn
passes it around to the next member of the lodge. When the pipe has
made the complete circuit, it is placed in front of the fireplace. In the
mean time the ancestor-host has returned to his seat, and after a short


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