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the candidate has acquired the specified information, and the required
payments have been made, a four-nights' preparation takes place,
during which he takes four sweat-baths. At dawn of the day of ini-
tiation he repairs to the sweat-lodge, clad in his best clothes, to await
the arrival of his preceptor and the four officiating priests.

The initiation ceremonies which follow are the same for the second,
third, and fourth degrees in almost all details, except that those for the
fourth are more elaborate. The first degree is like the others in its
possession of a shooting ceremony and general speeches, but differs
in elaboration and symbolism of the ritual.

The shooting is performed by the four officiating mide; but it is
only the leader of these four who succeeds in rendering the candidate
unconscious. A candidate for the first degree is shot in the breast;
one for the second, in the joints; and one for the third and fourth,
in the joints and forehead. After he has been initiated, the candidate
tries his power on all the members present. Indiscriminate shooting,
as described among the Winnebago, only occurs at the initiation into
the fourth degree.

To the Ojibwa the Midewiwin is the dramatization of the struggle
of the bear-spirit with the evil spirit, bear, serpent, panther, etc.
The candidate impersonates the good bear-spirit, and some mide
sometimes take upon themselves the impersonation of the evil spirits. 1
In the ritual of the fourth degree, representing the complete initiation,
the dramatization and its symbolistic interpretation are best shown.
He who succeeds becomes correspondingly powerful in his profession.
Hunters, warriors, and lovers have occasion to call upon him, and
charms to counteract the evil effects of an enemy's work are some-
times sought. 2

The Ojibwa interpretation of the Midewiwin is seen in all its details
in the birch-bark records. 3 A mide of the second degree can look
into futurity; can hear what is transpiring at a distance; can touch,
for good or for evil, friends and enemies at a distance, however remote;
and has the ability to traverse all space in the accomplishment of his
desires or duties. 4 A bad mide of this degree has the power of assuming
the form of any animal. In this guise he may destroy the life of his
victim immediately, and then resume his human form and appear
innocent of the crime. A "fourth-degree mide" is presumed to be

1 Annual Report of the Bureau of American Ethnology, vol. vii, pp. 245, 255-274.
2 Ibid., p. 257.
3 Ibid., pp. 167-181.
A lbid., p. 168.

The Ritual of the Winnebago Medicine Dance 167

in a position to accomplish the greatest feats in necromancy and magic.
He is not only endowed with the power of reading the thoughts and
intentions of others, but also of calling forth the shadow (soul) and
of retaining it within his grasp at pleasure.

From the above it will be seen that the Midewiwin covered prac-
tically all the religious and the shamanistic ideas of the Ojibwa.


Among the Menominee, initiation generally takes place as a sub-
stitution of one individual for one who has died, although any person
who gives proof of eligibility is accepted. The former is by far
the more common method. Generally a person makes the promise
of procuring a substitute for some deceased member, and a favorite
relative or dear friend of the deceased may be elected. There are
four mide-priests who determine upon the candidacy and appoint an
instructor. The instruction the candidate receives is confined to
the knowledge of the remedies known to the instructor. 1 Each remedy
must be paid for separately. The four mide-priests select two sets
of assistants and two ushers, who all play a prominent part in the
ceremonies proper. 2

When a candidate is taking the place of a deceased member, the
ceremonies begin at the grave of the latter, 3 and, after a service which
lasts from dusk of one day to dawn of the next, all proceed to the
Midewiwin lodge. But only the four highest officiating medicine-men
enter. After a ritual which consists of chants and speeches of welcome,
and the passing of the drum from the first to the other three mide,
the other members who are to take an active part enter. A short ritual
then takes place, after which the second set of mide enter and another
ritual follows. Then the ordinary and visiting mide enter, the former
taking seats according to the phratries to which they belong; and the
candidate, his nearest relations, and he who had promised to give the
feast, enter with them and take seats near the mide of the first group.
Finally the third set of mide enter. The seating in the lodge is,
candidate, friends, etc., near the eastern end; first four mide, next
to them; second set, on northern side near western entrance; and third
set of mide, at the middle of the southern side.

The ceremonies begin by calling the candidate forward to stand
before the mide of the first group. His family and friends stand
around him in a semicircle, dancing in time to the chanting and
drumming. One of the mide begins a chant, at the end of which a
pause occurs, and the candidate and friends resume their seats. The

1 Annual Report of the Bureau of American Ethnology, vol. xiv, p. 69.

2 Compare diagram, ibid., p. 75.

3 Ibid, p. 75-

1 68 Journal of American Folk-Lore

drum is passed in rotation to the second, third, and fourth mide. As
they chant, the candidate, etc., stands before them. The last of the
four then chants the origin myth of the Midewiwin. The drum is
now passed to the mide who had chanted first. He continues the
narration of the ritualistic myths. Drum and gourds are then passed
from one mide to the other, and from the first set of mide to the third,
until the circuit has been made.

These ceremonies are continued through the night, although only
the three sets of mide remain in the lodge all that time. Shortly
after sunrise, almost all leave the lodge. When they return, prepara-
tions are made for the initiation. The shooting of the candidate is
performed by the second set of mide. The candidate, after recovering,
makes the circuit of the lodge, shooting whomsoever he desires. The
characteristics of this shooting ceremony are practically identical with
those of the Winnebago.


I. The Common Elements. — The common elements in the forego-
ing ritualistic complexes are both general and specific in nature. We
have, as general, an initiation ritual; and as specific, a shooting ritual.
There are in addition, in the Central Algonkin and Winnebago group,
other resemblances, such as similarities in the ethical teaching, in the
details of the shooting ritual itself, and in the presence of the secret
brush ritual. To the above must be added the fact that the songs
of the Winnebago ceremonies are to a large extent in some Central
Algonkin dialect.

The meaning of these general similarities will be touched upon later.
What I wish to insist upon here is, that if the ritualistic complexes
are at all to be regarded as identical, this is so by reason of the presence
in each of a shooting ritual. This identity is strengthened in each
case by the association of this specific shooting ritual with the more
general feature of initiation. The most dramatic phase in the main
ceremony is this initiation and shooting complex; and it seems, there-
fore, quite intelligible why the number of similar details thus asso-
ciated together should have been interpreted as the historically pri-
mary and basic elements.

To postulate an historical identity, however, on the basis of a
number of common elements, in the face of numerous and important
differences, implies a specific attitude toward the nature and signifi-
cance of the common elements in these ceremonies. We know, indeed,
that almost all theoreticians place greater insistence upon the simi-
larities than upon the differences in cultural phenomena. There is
perhaps a natural tendency to do so. But quite apart from this
tendency, there must likewise be certain definite reasons for such an

The Ritual of the Winnebago Medicine Dance 169

interpretation. It is essential, consequently, to understand at the
very outset the theoretical justification of this position.

II. The Interpretation of the Common Elements — Schurtz's
Theory. — This question has been taken up in extenso by Schurtz, 1
in his work on "Age Classes and Men's Societies." Here, as well as
in previous theoretical discussions, the presence of a number of simi-
larities has been considered sufficient for establishing the identity of
a group of ceremonies that admittedly possess a large number of
specific peculiarities. But Schurtz gives us a detailed psychological
exposition (and in this lies perhaps his superiority over others who
have discussed the same subject) of the reasons which have prompted
him to take a certain attitude toward these "similarities." If
Schurtz's work is therefore selected in preference to that of others,
it is because of the fact that, in addition to practically taking the same
position as most of the other theoreticians, he has most clearly defined
some of the assumptions underlying their position.

Schurtz's line of argument seems to have been the following. An
investigation of civilized as well as of primitive organizations has
disclosed a number of similarities. Their historical development is
unknown; but the enormous distance separating them geographically,
precludes the possibility that these similarities have been due either
to borrowing or to dissemination from some one original centre. They
must consequently be explained by assuming that they have devel-
oped independently, as external manifestations of the unity of the
human mind. We are thus led to the assumption accepted by most
ethnologists to-day, that the human mind tends to express itself in
similar modes of thought and action the world over. The variation
in these modes is to be ascribed either to the differences in the nature
of the geographical and social surroundings or to the emotional and
intellectual individuality of different groups of people, or to both.
We are, however, concerned here not so much with the variations as
with the common modes of thought and action. It is consequently
of prime importance to determine first the nature of these modes,
their sequence, and the extent to which this sequence has been con-
ditioned by the modes themselves.

We start at the very outset with an implied assumption; for by
"sequence," Schurtz distinctly understood an ordered sequence. His
work is primarily an attempt to determine what this ordered sequence
has been, and how it has been determined. The norm of organization
in which the human race expressed itself primarily, is, according to
him, the age-group. Owing to the historical development of various
cultural areas, it is no longer possible to detect this " primary element;"
and he consequently finds it necessary to demonstrate its existence
from another point of view, which is essentially psychological.

1 Heinrich Schurtz, Altersk'.assen und M'annerbunde, 1902; cf. especially pp. 1-82.

170 Journal of American Folk-Lore

The development of the age-group has followed a very definite
sequence — definite, because it has been determined by certain in-
herent tendencies of the human mind. These tendencies are "the
instinct for association " l (Geselligkeitstrieb) and "the sexual instinct"
(Geschlechtstrieb). Granting the existence of these two tendencies,
we have then to inquire how they have conditioned the essential
similarities in the evolution of our social life, and the forms in which
that social life has expressed itself.

There are two possible assumptions. We may assume that at a
certain stage of cultural development groups of people possessed no
social individuality sufficiently strong to determine their own develop-
ment, and that the Geselligkeitstrieb and Geschlechtstrieb alone, or
reinforced by other factors, were sufficiently strong to condition devel-
opment along certain lines; or we may, on the other hand, assume that
the primary modes in which people have expressed themselves are
necessarily of so simple and generalized a type, that they always were
the same. Schurtz has practically assumed a stage in human develop-
ment when the individuality of the component units of a social group
was at a minimum; when there was, so to say, a "group mind,"
whose initial development is most easily explained by the influence
of inherent tendencies. It must be said, in fairness to Schurtz, that
the other alternative mentioned above was probably also in his mind.
However, he seems to have elaborated his theory with the first alter-
native constantly before his eyes.

This unexpressed assumption is of the greatest possible moment
in Schurtz's interpretation, because it immediately establishes a
certain fixity for his primary norm; and excluding as it does the
possibility of variation, because the two tendencies, as constants, are
acting upon social groups whose component members have a minimum
of individuality, brings it about that the same primary norm must be
simple and generalized in its nature.

Schurtz has thus given us a psychological milieu, and we must now
proceed to investigate what are the specific norms of development,
the method by which these norms have been determined, the nature
of their sequence, and how this sequence has been absolutely condi-
tioned. The first two of these points become clearer if we attack the
question of sequence first.

It is apparent from Schurtz's work that to him the necessity for
an ordered sequence was self-evident. This acceptance of an ordered
sequence as axiomatic was conditioned primarily by the fact that he
implied at the very outset that the ordered sequence present in the
evolution of biological phenomena was to be found in an essentially

1 Wherever the phrase "instinct for association" is used, it is an attempt to render
the German Geselligkeitstrieb.

The Ritual of the Winnebago Medicine Dance 171

comparable manner in the development of civilization. In the same
way Schurtz's use of the terms "highest" and "lowest" and of "inter-
mediate stages" is only inadequately explained when regarded as
derived from the study of history. Neither can we assume that these
terms were merely a reflection of the conclusion he had drawn from a
comparison of the palpable differences between Europeans and
"primitive" people. His whole treatment of "intermediate stages,"
and of the factors he calls to his aid in explaining them, — such as
divergences due to variations from a type, vestiges, functional changes,
— these are all strictly biological not merely in their terminology, but
likewise in their general connotation.

The justification for equating the processes which have played a
large part in historical and biological evolution seemed, indeed, ap-
parent. In the cultural history of any people, we find elements splitting
up and giving rise to innumerable variations. In this divergence we
meet again and again with two phenomena, — first, that of the general
decay of cultural elements, of their total disappearance in some cases
and of their persistence as vestigial remains in others; and, secondly,
that of the incessant change, of the re-adjustment and re-interpretation
of cultural phenomena, so that elements often take upon themselves
functions which they originally did not possess, while these original
functions are either partially or totally obscured. Numerous other
points, more specific in nature, could be adduced to demonstrate more
fully the essential similarity of cultural and biological phenomena.

The comparability of the data of civilization and biology brought
in its train, however, the natural corollary that the general course of
their development was the same. Such an assumption fitted in
admirably with the psychological presuppositions of Schurtz, and with
the inferences he felt justified in drawing from the historical data.
Neither Schurtz, nor, for that matter, any theoretician of his time,
ever made any attempt to prove that the method of biological evolution
was the same as that of the historical. It was commonly assumed to
have been the same; but, quite apart from this acceptance of a fact
that seemed to need no proof, the similarity in the evolution of bio-
logical and historical phenomena was by implication conditioned by
his psychological assumptions. The number of norms are necessarily
reduced to a minimum when inherent tendencies are acting on a
"group mind," for it would be tacitly admitting a large range for
personal individuality, to assume the existence of many norms; but
if there are only a few norms, or, as Schurtz concludes, one norm, —
that of the age-group, — variations can only have arisen as differentia-
tions of this norm, due to influences either from within or from without.
We are consequently reduced to a condition exactly parallel to
that which we find, according to the theory of evolution, in biology.

172 Journal of American Folk-Lore

Variations are the result of a differentiation of some unit. It is the
object, in the classification of biological data, to demonstrate, by
means of a series of ascending forms, the- evolution of the most
highly differentiated from the least differentiated. In thus arranging
the data, it followed that the least-differentiated forms contained the
simple general manifestations of life, and that at the same time the
most highly-differentiated forms likewise contained all these simple
general manifestations, although they were here, as a rule, so changed
as to be entirely obscured, if not unrecognizable.

In a manner almost exactly parallel to the above, Schurtz sought
to classify the phenomena of social organization. The highest must
contain within itself the simple and general phenomena of the lowest
form. Having thus demonstrated to his satisfaction the existence
and the necessity of an ordered sequence, he turned his attention to
demonstrating that this sequence was psychologically as well as his-
torically conditioned. His line of argument here can best be shown by
analyzing the first few chapters of his book.

At the basis of all social organizations lie two elementary forces, —
the "instinct for association" and the "sexual instinct." The sexual
instinct is primary, because it is obviously an essential condition of
life. The instinct for association is secondary in so far as its expression
in outward form is concerned. It is as old as the sexual instinct; but,
since at the initial stage of human development the sexual instinct
is so strong a force, the instinct of association had no observable
influence on the actions of men.

The forms of social organization which the sexual instinct conditions
are those based upon certain kinds of blood relationship. These forms
are primary. To establish the priority of the forms thus imposed
by blood relationship, we have but to remember that, as the relation-
ship of individuals to one another preceded everything else, so the
social forms based upon blood relationship must have preceded all
other social forms. We are therefore to regard as the earliest stage
of social organization that of groups bound together by blood rela-
tionship. But what has been the force differentiating these groups?
Obviously not the same sexual instinct that has caused the formation of
these primary groups. To explain the factors that have caused this dif-
ferentiation we must call to our aid two phenomena, — first, that of
sexual solidarity; and, secondly, that of the instinct for association.

Sexual solidarity has its roots in the nature of man and woman,
and is possessed by them in equal intensity. The instinct for associa-
tion is, however, a specifically masculine trait. It is found among
women only in a minimal degree. An important corollary follows
from this fact: If women societies are found anywhere, they are to be
considered merely as imitations of men's societies. If women are

Ritual of the Winnebago Medicine Dance 173

found as members in a society, this is to be regarded as secondary and
purely adventitious. These, and some more specific points to be
enumerated later, must be borne in mind continually, as Schurtz
makes a far-reaching use of them.

The instinct for association, he goes on to say, expresses itself,
however, between those of like interests; that is, between those who
would most likely be of the same age. It is not likely, for instance,
to occur between married and unmarried men. We have here two
apparently organically determined classes. In the earliest stages of
social development, however, when the norms of social expression
conditioned by the sexual instinct were still of paramount importance,
insistence was most naturally placed upon the most important stage
of man's physiological development, — the age of puberty. The strong
line of demarcation between the period preceding and following sexual
maturity was so ever-present a fact to the mind of primitive man, that
it found expression in the multitude of initiatory rites. In these
initiatory rites we have another of the specific "symptoms" with which
we shall have to deal afterward.

When the instinct for association developed more strongly, the dif-
ferences due to age, plus the physiological factor, conditioned the
natural formation of two classes, — one of men before puberty, and
one of men after puberty. This natural tw r ofold division was also
strengthened by another factor; for until the age of puberty, boys
were under the influence of women, and were therefore to be reckoned
as one with them.

The three groups — men before puberty, unmarried men after
puberty, and married men — are thus built upon the basis of age dis-
tinction and common interest. They are the norms of primitive social
organization, and, as we have seen, their origin is due to inherited
instincts. By implication Schurtz has here also assumed the existence
of a definite sequence; for the division into pre- and post-puberty groups
is a consequence of the sexual instinct, and is therefore primary.
Differentiation into the groups of married and unmarried men there-
upon followed; but the initiation, which is synchronous with the age
of sexual maturity, has introduced another factor, that of promiscuous
sexual intercourse; and the regulation that this has demanded is
found outwardly expressed in the "men's house." The common
interests that drew men together into groups have thus far been those
conditioned largely by age. In the development of society, however,
interests became more and more diversified, and resulted, first, in the
disappearance of the age factor as the essential element for associations,
and, secondly, in the necessity for more closely organized units with
specific characteristics. To obtain this close organization, one of the
essential elements was secrecy, and thus developed out of the "men's

174 Journal of American Folk-Lore

house" those innumerable clubs and secret societies which we find
so common to-day.

In such manner we have constructed an ascending evolutionary
series. It must not be forgotten that in such a series the highest
stage is but a differentiated lower stage. It must likewise be remem-
bered that there is a tendency for intermediate stages to leave vestigial
remains wherever they developed into higher stages. We may con-
sequently expect to find traces of "age groups" and "men's houses"
all over the world. In addition, we must remember that a number of
"symptoms" — such as "the exclusion of women" from a society, the
presence of "an initiation," of "degrees," and of "secrecy" — have
always been associated with certain stages of growth. They may
serve us for criteria of this growth and of the stages thereof, and they
constitute proofs of historical identity. They will often appear
unassociated with the definite stage assigned to them; but that is
immaterial, for their almost universal presence is a sufficient guaranty
of their significance. It is not necessary to inquire into their indi-
vidual significance among definite societies, because a negative answer
would prove nothing, as differences from the general scheme outlined
can be interpreted most easily in terms of some functional change.

It must of course be remembered that the various points of view
from which Schurtz approached his problem were so inextricably inter-
woven, that it is unwarranted to assume that every position he took
was as distinctly analyzed as I have attempted to show.

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Online LibraryPaul RadinThe ritual and significance of the Winnebago medicine dance → online text (page 3 of 7)