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The ritual and significance of the Winnebago medicine dance online

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pause, rises, speaks, and sings again. This smoking ceremony occurs
after each entrance ceremony of IV (a) and (b), and before both feasts
of IV (a) and (b).

(4) Presentation-of-Food Ritual (Part IV, a and b). — The leader of
the East Band rises, and brings meat, berries, wild potatoes, etc., to
the ancestor-host, delivering a minor speech at the same time. Each
of the other leaders repeats the same ceremony. When all have
finished, the ancestor-host rises and thanks them.

158 Journal of American Folk-Lore

(5) General Shooting Ritual (Part IV, a and b). — The leaders of
the East, North, West, and South Bands, holding their otter-skins in
their hands, rise, and, taking three men with them, make a complete
circuit of the lodge. They first speak in undertones to these three
men, giving them directions. At each end the leader of the East
Band speaks, and then, singing, walks toward the west end, saying
" yoho-o-oya-a " three times, and ending with a long-drawn-out
"yo-ho." At the west end both he and the leader of the South Band
speak. Then chanting "yo-ho" again, they all walk towards the
east end. Here the leader of the East Band speaks twice. Now all
place their otter-skins on the ground in front of them. East then
speaks again. At the conclusion of his speech, all kneel in front of
the otter-skins and cough, at which the sacred shell drops from their
mouths upon the otter-skins. They thereupon pick it up, and holding
the shell in one hand, and the otter-skin in the other, make a circuit
of the lodge four times, increasing their speed with each circuit, and
singing. All this time the shell is held in full view of the spectators,
on the outstretched palm of their right hand. As they near the east
end of the lodge, toward the end of the fourth circuit, standing in
front of the Ancestor-Host's Band, they supposedly swallow the shell,
and fall down instantaneously, head foremost, as if dead. Finally
they come to, and, coughing the shell up, they put it into their otter-
skin bag, and, making the circuit of the tent, shoot four members
of the Ancestor-Host's Band, four of the East, four of the North, two
of the West, and two of the South Band. Each person, as he is shot,
falls prostrate on the ground, but, recovering after a few moments,
joins those making the circuit of the tent. Each leader now takes his
drum and gourds to the fireplace. Then the general shooting com-
mences. Every person possessing the right, shoots one individual,
until all the members have been shot. As each person is shot, he
falls to the ground, feigns unconsciousness, and then slowly recovers.
The slowness or speed of his recovery depends exclusively upon the
privileges he possesses, and the number of years he has belonged to
the society. As soon as the person shot recovers, he falls in line im-
mediately after the last one shot. While all are thus walking around,
the half-dozen people at the fireplace sing shooting-songs to the
accompaniment of drum and gourds. The amount of noise at this
point is quite considerable.

(6) Initiation Ritual (Part IV, b) . — All the members of the Ancestor-
Host's Band, and the candidate, make one circuit of the lodge, taking
their otter-skins along with them. As they pass around, they gently
touch the heads of the members with the mouth of the otter-skin,
saying, "yoho'-o-o, " to which the members respond with "ho-0-0."
After the circuit, all return to their seats with the exception of the

The Ritual of the Winnebago Medicine Dance 159

candidate, who remains at the east end, in front of the fireplace.
After a pause, the ancestor-host joins him again, and delivers a speech
of the admonition type. The candidate first faces the south, and
then the north. During his speech, the ancestor-host touches him
on his head and on his chest, and makes him face first south, and then
north. When the speech is over, the ancestor-host sings, and takes
the candidate to the west end of the tent.

The tent is now prepared for the initiation proper. Two long
strips of calico are stretched from the west to the east end of the lodge.
They are about a foot and a half wide, and are separated from each
other by the fireplace. At the west end a much shorter strip of the
same material is stretched along the width of the lodge, across the
two long strips. Upon this the candidate is placed. When these
preparations are completed, the ancestor-host rises, and, going to each
of the four leaders, speaks to them in an undertone. He then returns
to his seat. The leaders of the East and North Bands now rise and
make the complete circuit of the lodge. The former now speaks,
then the latter. He, in turn, is followed by the former, who speaks
twice. Then the leader of the North Band delivers another speech,
and, together with his partner, walks to the west end of the lodge, where
the candidate is kneeling. The two leaders here speak again. Both
now take their sacred shells, swallow them, and walk to the east end.
Here they speak again. Now they hold their otter-skins in readiness
for the shooting, but first jerk them forward twice towards the four
cardinal points, saying "dje-ha-hi, dje-ha-hi," and concluding with
"e-hohoho." Standing upon the two long calico strips in a slightly
bent position, and holding their otter-skins tightly in their hands,
both run rapidly toward the reclining form of the candidate, making
loud, threatening sounds in a quavering voice, and strike his body
twice with the mouth of the otter-skin, ejaculating, as they do this,
two short sounds, as of an animal who has succeeded in capturing his
prey. The candidate falls prostrate to the ground instantaneously,
He is immediately covered with a blanket, upon which are placed the
otter-skins of the two leaders. A number of people specially privileged
now gather around the covered figure, dance, sing, and shout to the
accompaniment of the shouts of the other members of the society,
all of whom seem to be in a frenzy of excitement. When the noise
has somewhat abated, the blanket is removed, and the figure of the
candidate is shown, still apparently unconscious. He comes to
slowly, but finally succeeds in raising himself and sitting up. He then
coughs violently, and the shell, which has apparently been shot into
his body, falls out of his mouth. After this, his recovery is rapid.
He is then undressed; and all the finery, as well as the new buckskin
suit, moccasins, etc., are distributed to those to whom it is customary

160 Journal of American Folk-Lore

to give them. He now returns to his seat to the right of the Ancestor-
Host's Band, where some female relative, generally his mother, dresses
him in an ordinary suit.

(7) Sweat-Lodge Ritual (Part III). — The East leader rises, and with
his two assistants makes the circuit of the sweat-lodge, during which
time the North, West, and South leaders, each with his two assistants,
join him. At the east end the leader makes four steps with his right
foot, each time saying "wahi-hi-hi." He then makes the circuit of
the lodge four times. After the third circuit, he goes directly to the
heating-stone, "in defiance of the rule," as he himself says, but with
the hope that through this defiance he will gain additional strength.
After he has made the fourth circuit, he seizes the two entrance-lodge
poles, and, shaking them gently, shouts "e-ho-ho-ho." All now sit
down. Now the ancestor-host takes four sticks and smears them with
a special kind of greenish clay, and hands them to the leader of the
East Band. The latter seizes them and holds them tightly with
both hands. By this action he is supposed to obtain strength. The
sticks are then passed in rotation to the leaders of the North, West,
and South Bands, all of whom repeat the same ceremony.

(9) Basic Ritual (Part IV, a and b). — This ritual is that upon which
the ritual of the ceremony proper (Part IV, a and b) is built. In a
certain sense it may be justifiable to consider all the above ritualistic
complexes, with the exception of the entrance and exit rituals, as
parts of this basic ritual. The important religious function of the
Medicine Dance is the " passing of the blessing, " consisting of speeches,
songs, and the blessings which each individual passes from one band
to the other for the greater benefit of both the host and his guests.
These blessings are symbolized by the drum, the gourds, the songs,
the speeches, and the specific actions in which each band participates.
The ceremony begins when the ancestor-host delivers his first speech,
and ends when drum and gourds are returned to him. All that takes
place between the ancestor-host's first speech, up to the time that the
drum and gourds are placed before the members of the East Band,
constitutes the unit that I have called the "basic ritual." Into it
are thrust, as intrusive elements, other rituals; so that it is at times
extremely difficult to discern the basic ritual itself. But it is there,
and remains intact; for as soon as an intrusive ritual is finished, the
thread of the basic ritual is taken up, and continued to the end. Such
a ritual as the general shooting or initiation, or such myths as the
origin myth, require hours; and yet as soon as they are over, the basic
ceremony is continued from the point where it had been interrupted.

The East leader rises and speaks, then sits down, and together with
the other members of his band, sings a song (initial song). When
this song is finished, he rises and speaks again, and then sits down and

The Ritual of the Winnebago Medicine Dance 161

commences a song known as the "minor dancing-song." While he
and a few others are singing, drumming, and using the gourd rattles,
other members of his band, as well as members of the other bands,
who care to, and who have bought the privilege, come to his seat and
join in the dancing. When this is over, he and a few others either
from his own or from some other band, who have bought the privilege,
go to the fireplace, where the leader delivers a speech and begins the
major dancing-songs, in which the privileged members participate.
When this is over, the drum is tied to one of the members thus privi-
leged, generally the one who has been drumming, and the circuit of
the lodge is twice made, the leader and his two assistants at the head,
followed by the other members of his band. Two stops are made at
the west, and two at the east, end of the lodge, where songs known
as "completion songs" are sung. Then the lodge circuit is made four
times, all chanting "wahi-hi-hi," slowly at first, but then faster, the
speed of the walking corresponding to that of the chanting. Then,
with a final strong "e-ho-ho," drum and gourds are deposited in front
of the next band. All now return to their seats, where, before sitting
down, the leader delivers a short speech.

This basic ritual is repeated by each band in the manner described.
As it is so often broken up by the intrusion of other rituals, it will be
best to divide it into four parts. These parts are never broken up.
Whenever intrusive elements occur, they either precede or follow.

The first part consists of all that takes place between the first
speech of the leader and the completion of the initial song. The speech
referred to is the one that follows the smoking ritual, which may,, on
the whole, be reckoned as belonging to the introductory ritual, such as
the entrance ritual. The second part consists of all that transpires
between the second speech and the completion of the minor dancing-
song. The third part consists of all that transpires between the speech
at the fireplace and the completion of the major dancing-songs. The
fourth part consists of all that transpires between the completion of
the major dancing-songs, and the last speech the leader makes after
he has passed the drum and gourds to the next band.

The most bewildering intrusion is that which follows the second
part. Before the leader and his assistants go to the fireplace, the
elaborate general shooting ritual takes place. After the specially
designated men of each band have been shot, those specially privi-
leged proceed to the fireplace. Here they sing the shooting-songs
until the shooting ritual is over. The first set of drummers and gourd-
rattle holders are often relieved by a second set. It is only when the
shooting-songs have been completed, that the leader and his assistants
proceed to the fireplace to begin the third part of the basic ritual.

V. Ceremony as a Whole. — As stated before, there are certain

162 Journal of American Folk-Lore

speeches and types of action that cannot be fitted into the above
description. This is especially true of myths; and these, with the
exception of the content of the myth, will now be considered in con-
nection with the description of the entire ritual as related to me by
Blowsnake, and based on the above divisions. The ceremony begins
with an account of the manner in which Blowsnake was induced to
join the society. Upon his acceptance, and payment of the required
amount of material, the ceremony began.

The first two nights consisted of an informal salutation, two ex-
planatory speeches and four myths, the latter in no way connected
with any part of the Medicine Dance. The last three myths deal with
the legendary account of the origin of the Winnebago Medicine Dance,
and its dissemination among the tribe.

At sunset the leader of the band to which the candidate has applied
for admission, gathers together the members of his band, and all re-
tire to a little lodge near his home, in order to begin the Four Nights'
Preparation. It is only after the leader has finished the first song that
the other four bands who are holding corresponding preparations are
allowed to begin. What actually takes place during these four nights
is not positively known, but there is little doubt that they are used as
a general rehearsal of songs, speeches, and other elements of the cere-
mony. 1 In all probability, the candidate who is present in the lodge
of his future ancestor-host is likewise instructed in as many things as
an uninitiated member is allowed to know. This instruction consists
in the teaching of certain myths and types of action.

On the morning after the last of the four nights, the candidate is
given some sacrificial tobacco, and told to go in search of a stone for
the sweat-bath. He selects a stone that he can carry on his back
easily. Before picking it up, he pours tobacco on it. As soon as the
stone is brought to the lodge of the host, it is heated. The candidate
is now despatched for some oak-branches, four pieces of oak-wood
about two feet and a half in length, and some grass. The grass is
used for improvised seats. The oak-wood is used for the four con-
struction poles of the sweat-lodge. They are placed in the east,
north, west, and south points respectively. It is not permitted to
trim the tops of the oak-wood. When all the bands have gathered
near the medicine-lodge, and retired to their improvised lodges, the
ancestor-host and the candidate go to the lodge of the East leader
(that is, to the lodge of the band first invited), and greet him by
touching his head with their hand.

1 The speeches are not actually rehearsals of speeches to be delivered during the cere-
mony proper, but they refer to the purpose of the Medicine Dance much in the same way
as do some of the speeches in the ceremony proper. A large number of miscellaneous
myths are likewise related.

The Ritual of the Winnebago Medicine Dance 163

He answers with "ho-0-0." The leader of the first band rises, and,
accompanied by his two assistants, goes to the sweat-lodge. The
ancestor-host goes to the lodges of the other bands and greets the
leaders in a similar manner. After the leader and assistants of the
band last invited have entered the sweat-lodge, the ancestor-host,
the candidate, and his assistants enter, and the ceremonies begin.

After the ceremonial salutation and an introductory speech, the
ancestor-host, as the leader of the band giving the Medicine Dance
may now be called, rises, and, taking his invitation-stick and some
tobacco, approaches the leader of each band, and, blessing him,
thanks him for coming, and assures him at the same time to how great
a degree his presence will contribute toward the success of the per-
formance of the ritual. He then returns to his seat. The leaders
thank him in turn. Now follow the fire and smoking rituals, which
in turn are followed by twelve speeches of a general and of an ex-
planatory character. Then comes the "strengthening" ritual; and
immediately after come two exceedingly long myths describing the
initiation of the first man into the secrets of the lodge, as well as the
symbolic meaning of the shooting ritual. All now undress and take
a sweat-bath. Female candidates are excluded. A number of short
speeches follow, and the whole concludes with the exit ritual.

The drum and gourds are used to accompany the song. The basic
ritual is perhaps present, to a certain extent. However, it was im-
possible to witness the ritual, and for this reason the procedure seems
somewhat hazy to the writer.

When the ritual in the sweat-bath is over, there is a slight pause.
The candidate, the ancestor-host and his band, enter the medicine-
lodge, and, after taking their seats, sing a few songs. When the
last song is concluded, the other bands enter in the order of their
invitation. Now comes the entrance ritual followed by the smoking
ritual. Thereupon the ancestor-host rises and delivers the opening
speech of the basic ritual. The ancestor-host does not go through
the entire basic ritual at this time, because he is not permitted to
begin the shooting ritual. Soon after the beginning of the basic ritual
by the ancestor-host, generally after the second speech, gourds and
drum are passed to the leader of the East Band. This one rises and
begins the basic ritual, which he interrupts at the end of the second
part, in order to begin the general shooting ritual. When that is
finished, he continues with the third and fourth parts of the basic
ritual. Then drum and gourds are passed to the North Band. Its
leader now in turn begins his basic ritual, but stops after the second
part, where the presentation-of-food ritual and the smoking ritual
intervene. It is now about midnight, and a feast is partaken of.
As soon as the feast is finished, and the lodge has been cleared of

1 64 Journal of American Folk-Lore

food and eating-utensils, the leader of the North Band continues with
the third and fourth parts of the basic ritual. The leaders of the
West and South Bands perform the basic ritual without any interrup-
tions, except, of course, that of the general shooting ritual between
the second and third parts. The drum and gourds have now reached
the ancestor-host, who goes through the third and fourth parts of
the basic ritual. There is, however, some doubt as to whether this is
always done. Then follows the exit ritual, and all pass out to rest
for a few hours.

A short time preceding dawn, the candidate, the leaders of the East
and North Bands, and the ancestor-host, each with two assistants,
and all other members who are privileged to do so, leave the lodge and
walk to the brush, where the candidate is to be initiated into the
mysteries of the sacred shell and the shooting. Each band must
have one or more of its members present at this ritual. 1 When they
are near the place set aside for the secret ritual, the order of marching,
which up to this time had been of no consequence, changes into that
of single file, the leader of the East Band leading. When they have
arrived at the place, all stop. The East leader now informs those
present that he is going to make a road for the candidate, symbolical
of the path of life, which forms the basis of the sweat-bath and Medi-
cine Dance. Singing, he circles the spot four times. At the end of
the fourth circuit he stops, and all turn around and face east. The
leader of the North Band has also the right to go through this ritual,
but he does not always do it. Repeating the ceremony is in all
probability connected with extra expense. All now sit down, and
the specific rites of the brush ritual begin.

The ancestor-host rises, and, taking the candidate with him, goes
to the leader of the East Band and speaks to him. Then he and the
candidate return to their seats. The East leader now relates to the
candidate a portion of the story of the creation of the earth and of the
first man. The North leader then tells the story of the journey to
the land of the spirits, to the lodge of the earth-maker. When this
is finished, the two leaders teach the candidate how to go through the
actions incidental to the shooting, the swallowing of the shell, and
the recovery from its effects. When they think that he is sufficiently
adept in all these actions, they dress him in his new suit, put on a new
pair of 'moccasins, decorate him with finery, and return to the medicine-

These rites generally last until about eight in the morning; so that
when those who have participated in the brush ritual are returning,
the other members of the Medicine Dance are also about ready to

a This has been contradicted by some of my informants, who claim that only the East
and North Bands have representatives at the brush ceremony.

The Ritual of the Winnebago Medicine Dance 165

begin the day ceremony, the principal one of the entire Medicine
Dance. The ancestor-host again precedes the other leaders in entering
the lodge. Then follows the entrance ritual. During this ritual the
drum is struck four times at stated intervals. The smoking ritual
now follows. When it is concluded, the ancestor-host rises to begin
the basic ritual, which is interrupted at the end of the second part.
Gourds and drum are passed to the East Band, whose basic ritual is
also interrupted at the end of the second part. Now follows, first the
initiation of the candidate into the Medicine Dance, and then the
general shooting ritual. When the East leader has concluded, drum
and gourds are passed to the North Band, whose basic ritual is not
interrupted, as upon the preceding day. At the conclusion of the
basic ritual of the North Band, the food-presentation ritual follows,
then that of the smoking ritual, and finally the feast. After the feast,
the leader of the West Band narrates the origin myth of the Medicine
Dance, which is continued by the leader of the South Band. The
presents are then distributed. After this, the basic ritual is continued
by the leader of the West Band, followed by that of the South Band,
and finally drum and gourds are passed to the ancestor-host. He
either finishes the third and fourth parts of the basic ritual, or takes
drum and gourds to the fireplace. The exit ritual now begins, and
at about sunset the entire ceremony of the Medicine Dance is over.
On the whole, it must be said, that the main difference between (a)
and (b) of Part IV setting aside the initiation, lies simply in the
number of myths told and the greater length of the speeches.


As I shall have occasion to refer frequently to the Midewiwin of the
Ojibwa and Menominee, a short summary of these two ceremonies
will be inserted here.

The Ojibwa Midewiwin is a society of shamans of both sexes.
It is graded into four degrees, special initiation being required for
each degree. The ritual of all the degrees seems to be the property of
five shamans, — the four so-called "mide-priests" and the preceptor.
In the lodge the preceptor occupies a position to the side of the candi-
date and the mide-priests sitting near the western entrance. 1

There are two methods of admission. A man may apply because
in his fasting some manito connected with the Midewiwin has appeared
to him, or he may take the place of an individual who has died while
preparing for initiation. As soon as the candidate's application has
been accepted, a preceptor is selected, whose duty it is to instruct the
new pupil in the mide teachings, and explain to him the meaning and
origin of the regalia, the songs, and the origin of the Midewiwin itself,

1 Annual Report of the Bureau of American Ethnology, vol. vii, p. iSS, diagram.
vol. xxiv. — no. 92. — 12

1 66 Journal of American Folk-Lore

by means of birch-bark records. The time required for this instruc-
tion varies, depending upon the preceptor and the amount of payment.
The knowledge required for each degree is definitely determined, and
is imparted almost entirely during this preparatory instruction. When

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