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of the society. It makes no difference into which of the five bands
he is initiated. The knowledge he obtains will, to all intents and
purposes, be the same, excluding certain songs. This does not mean,
of course, that there may not be information belonging to the member
as an individual, which is taught to the novice; but it is understood
that any powers belonging specifically to an individual, and which
the novice wishes to purchase, have primarily no connection with the
society. As every leader is likely to be a prominent shaman as well
as a member of the Medicine Dance, it would be quite impossible to
draw a hard and fast line between what belongs specifically to him as
a shaman, and what belongs to him as a member of the Medicine
Dance. However, it is generally understood that a leader is initiating
an individual into those powers that are the special property of the
society.

As among the Ojibwa-Menominee, initiation is accompanied by a
formal transfer of a "shell" and of an otter-skin bag. Externally
the general ceremony of the Medicine Dance might consequently be
regarded as similar to the semi-public ceremony of the Midewiwin.
There are two features, however, which stand out prominently in the
general ceremony of the former, which must be explained before we
can accept this external similarity as real. They are, first, the peculiar
position of the initiation ritual of the general ceremony; and, secondly,
the presence of another ritual, the basic ritual, and the importance
it assumes.

Precisely the same ritual that we found among the Ojibwa-Menomi-
nee — the initiation-shooting complex; that is, initiation associated
with shooting, the transference of the otter-skin bag and of a shell,
plus a number of incidental elements — occurs in the general ceremony.
This complex intervenes between the performance of the basic ritual by
the North and West Bands. There is absolutely nothing in the ba ic
ritual preceding or following the initiation that could possibly be inter-
preted as a preparation for the latter. As it is found there, the initiation
seems quite out of place, and conveys forcibly the impression of being
intrusive. The general ceremony is by no means terminated when
initiation is over; but the West Band continues with its performance
of the basic ritual as though there had been no interruption, even
though the interval between North's and West's performance of the
basic ritual generally lasts a number of hours. The initiation ritual
is, on the whole, treated as an incidental feature. It ran certainly



1 84 Journal of American Folk-Lore

not be the main or most important ritual of the general ceremony.
As a matter of fact, it occurs only in the day ritual of that ceremony.
In the night ritual it is absent. A ritual of which shooting is one of
the essential features occurs in the latter, but, as we shall see later,
this has nothing to do with the initiation.

That the shell and the shooting are unquestionably considered
necessary and essential for initiation, is borne out conclusively by
the numerous references in the speeches. We must therefore not
permit the position of the initiation ritual in the general ceremony
to interfere with its interpretation as a real initiation into the society.
However, this position may have been due to secondary causes. It
is quite impossible to determine them definitely now; but it is possible,
by studying the significance and nature of the basic ritual, to explain
to a very large extent the reason for the position of the initiation ritual.

The basic ritual is a definite ceremonial complex, which constitutes
the most conspicuous unit of the Medicine Dance. Both in the
night and the day ritual of the general ceremony, each individual
band repeats it, and in both cases the ceremony terminates as soon
as the last band has finished it. A number of other rituals separate
the various performances of the basic ritual, and even intervene be-
tween the separate constituent elements of the ritual itself. In each
case, nevertheless, the basic ritual is continued as soon as the disturbing
ritual has been removed. It is for these reasons that it seems to me
unquestionable that we are dealing here with the essential ritualistic
unit of the general ceremony. What strengthens this impression is the
fact that a ritualistic complex similar in its general nature, although
not in the component elements of which it is made up, is found in
almost all the other societies of the Winnebago. In the Buffalo,
Grizzly Bear, Ghost, and Night Societies, there is a basic ritual of
essentially the same functions and significance. In all these societies,
likewise, objects of specific value to the members are passed from one
individual to another; and this "passing" is accompanied by songs,
speeches, and ritualistic details. Although the complex differs for
each society, it nevertheless presents a definite ritualistic unit, which
must be repeated by each person, or each band belonging to the
society, as the case may be.

To judge from the general tenor of the speeches, the purpose of the
ritual in every one of these societies is the "strengthening" of powers
obtained in a vision. Now, the tenor of the speeches in the basic
ritual of the Medicine Dance is precisely of the same nature; and
as we have there, in addition, the characteristic passing of the "bless-
ing," — that is, the passing of the drum, the gourds, and the associate
actions, speeches, songs, and dances; in other words, the means of
assuring the continuance and the strengthening of the specific powers,



The Ritual of the Winnebago Medicine Dance 185

— there can be little doubt that the basic ritual is essentially the
same for all these societies.

Of course, the demonstration that the basic ritual is at present
the main and most important ritual in the Medicine Dance, does not
prove that it is historically primary. There are, however, a number
of facts that speak in favor of this assumption. In the first place,
it is undoubtedly the characteristic ceremonial complex of all Winne-
bago societies, and likewise of a large number of societies among
other Siouan tribes; and, secondly, it is associated with an organization
that is typical of other Winnebago societies. It differs from these
primarily in the fact that membership is purchased, and not obtained
through supernatural communication from some animal. Even the
absence of the customary manner of admission might perhaps be
hypothetically accounted for, for we have an interesting instance of
the disappearance of the "vision" qualification in the Night Dance.
The Night Dance, now known as the Sore-Eye Dance, previously
required for admission a vision from the night spirits. This qualifica-
tion has now disappeared, and its place has been taken by purchase,
pure and simple, as in the case of the Medicine Dance. Now, it is
possible that the same development may have taken place for the
Medicine Dance. In the absence of any such positive evidence,
however, as has been adduced for the Night Dance, this assumption
can only be regarded as a possible explanation.

If the basic ritual is to be regarded as the principal and characteristic
feature of the Medicine Dance and as historically primary, then the
intrusive character of the initiation ritual may be explained by regard-
ing it as secondarily associated. We are of course in no position to say
in what way this association occurred, and we are therefore not in a
position to tell whether the initiation ritual was associated from the
very beginning in such a way as to perform the functions of a normal
initiation into a society, or whether it was at first a purely adventitious
addition with no special significance.

If it was regarded from the very beginning as an initiation, there
seems no reason why it should have been given the position in the
general ceremony that it now possesses. It consequently seems better
to regard its position as older than the references made in the speeches
to its functions as an initiation into this specific Winnebago society.

There can be little doubt that the initiation-complex of the Medicine
Dance was borrowed from the Central Algonkin Midewiwin. We
may consequently conclude that, notwithstanding the present inter-
pretation of the initiation as an initiation into the Medicine Dance,
it is historically really an initiation ritual of one ceremony that has
become secondarily associated with another. In support of this, it
can be pointed out that no initiation bearing the slightest resemblance



1 86 Journal of American Folk-Lore

to this one, occurs in any other of the numerous Winnebago societies,
and that the Medicine Dance really possesses two initiations, — the one
being the purchase of membership; and the other, that mentioned
above. It might also be added that non-members never speak of the
shooting as an initiation. To them the shooting always appears as a
shamanistic practice associated with the "strengthening" of power.
The esoteric interpretation, however, regards this "secondary" initia-
tion as primary.

Summing up briefly the results of the analysis of the three initiations
discussed, we must emphasize again the fact that we are dealing with
initiations essentially different in nature. In the Ojibwa-Menominee
it is evidently a formal transfer of shamanistic powers from one
individual to another, which has subsequently become synonymous
with admission into the social status of a mide and then with admission
into a society. In the Shell Society the transfer of powers is analogous
to the purchase of specific powers by one individual from another;
and as these have become associated with a society, the individual
buying them purchased at the same time admission into the society.
In the Pebble Society, initiation is synonymous with the acquisition
of power through supernatural communication from some animal.
There is no transfer at all, except in so far as the spirit animal transfers
something to the person fasting. Initiation is connected simply with
the individual. No initiation into the society exists. In the Winne-
bago Medicine Dance, whatever may have been the primary method
of initiation, we have to-day a definite initiation like that found in the
Midewiwin. This, however, has been borrowed from another cere-
mony, and secondarily associated. Even now it is not in its proper
organic position in the general ceremony, despite the fact that an
esoteric re-interpretation has transformed it into a specific initiation
into the Medicine Dance.

Initiation is thus seen to be both a concept and a ritualistic complex,
varying considerably in different tribes. As a ritualistic complex,
it has entered freely into innumerable associations, which can only
be determined by a study of each specific ceremony. The same holds
true with regard to the concept of initiation. It is also apparent that
the concept has a marked influence in determining the nature of the
ritualistic complex connected with it, and vice versa. In both cases,
then, we have to examine not merely the nature of these two phenomena
in a given area, but likewise whether they represent historically
primary concepts and complexes, before we can make any attempt
to investigate what are the concepts that underlie all initiations.

V. The General Ceremony. — In the foregoing remarks we have
dealt with the nature and significance of those specific rituals that go



The Ritual of the Winnebago Medicine Dance 187

to make the larger complex we have called the "general ceremony."
We will now proceed to examine the nature and significance of this
general ceremony itself.

1. Ojibwa-Menominee. — The general ceremony of the Ojibwa-
Menominee Midewiwin is to all intents and purposes the initiation
ritual itself. There is really no other ritualistic complex with which
it is associated; nor is there any feature which interrupts in any way
the dramatic progress of events from the beginning, to the actual
initiation of the new member. In reality this general ceremony must
be looked upon solely as the completion of a long course of preparatory
instruction. Nothing, indeed, accentuates the minor part which the
actual "society" aspect of the Midewiwin plays than this slight
development of the general ceremony. The long course of preparatory
instruction, in which the shaman, as an individual, plays the major
part, seems practically to be the main feature.

2. Shell Society. — In the Shell Society the general ceremony
consists of a large number of ritualistic complexes. The basic ritual
runs like a red line through the w r hole, and with this are associated
the following rituals: the passing of the invitation-sticks, the opening
of the pack by the keepers, the circling of the fire "by the four chil-
dren," the filling of the wooden bowl with water, and finally the shoot-
ing. Both the secret and the public ceremonies consist almost exclu-
sively of the shooting, and of the "passing" of the drum and the
ritualistic details associated with it. The meeting terminates as soon
as the last of the five ceremonial bands has finished this basic ritual.

3. Pebble Society. — In the Pebble Society the characteristic passing
of the drum likewise occurs, and with it occur the details connected
with it, as well as the preparation for shooting and the actual shooting.
The number of ritualistic complexes is much smaller than in the Shell
Society. However, this may be due to the meagreness of our informa-
tion. As contrasted with the marked unity of action displayed in the
Shell Society, we find here a marked tendency for individual develop-
ment, that is perhaps to be expected, considering that the bond of
union (namely, the powers obtained through common visions) is a
rather vague one from the point of view of organization.

4. Medicine Dance. — In the Medicine Dance the general ceremony
includes, in addition to the basic and initiation rituals, a secret cere-
mony that takes place outside of the lodge itself. As in the Shell
and Pebble Societies, there are here also two sessions, but both seem
to be secret.

The significance of the general ceremony mentioned is the perform-
ance of a ritual for a variety of purposes, the principal of which
are, first, purely the perpetuation of the ritual; and, secondly, the
"strengthening" and renewal of certain special powers. These two



1 88 Journal of American Folk-Lore

seem to be pre-eminently the functions of those Omaha and Winnebago
societies that are based upon common visions. In the former the
element of initiation plays no part at all. The meetings of the society
take place at almost any convenient time of the year. For the Winne-
bago the element of initiation is more pronounced. The meetings
are called for two reasons, — either for the purpose of initiating a
member, or for the purpose of acquiring additional powers.

In each case the general complexes are different, and in each case
they depend upon associations that are both historically and psycho-
logically determined by the specific cultural characteristics of the area
in question.

VI. The Complete Ceremonial Complexes. — The general cere-
mony is only one element in an extremely elaborate complex. Its
position in this complex has been touched upon before. We have
now, however, to examine this complex itself, and to see what are
the ritualistic elements that form it. And in this final complex we
have again to see whether there is a tendency for certain elements to
be associated in a definite manner; and, if this proves to be the case,
how this definite association is to be interpreted.

i. Ojibwa. — The Ojibwa Midewiwin consists of a long course of
preparation, and a formal public initiation into a society containing
four degrees. We have seen that the preparation is entirely shaman-
istic in character, and that the general public ceremony is to all intents
and purposes as much an initiation into the status of a mide as
it is into a society. This interpretation is again strengthened by the
marked association of the general ceremony with shamanistic tricks.
Among the Cree it appears that this function of the Midewiwin is of
prime importance. 1 In the "degrees" we have another confirmation
of its shamanistic character. The four degrees are merely the four
instalments in which an old shaman sells his knowledge and power.
The number 4 has no especial significance, except in so far as it is the
sacred number of the tribe. Miss Densmore 2 found eight degrees among
another division of the Ojibwa; and the number will doubtless be
found to vary from division to division. The requirements for admis-
sion into the second, third, and fourth degrees, are greater payments,
and greater evidences of religious fitness. The possessors of the various
degrees do not form distinct classes. Those of the first degree alone,
possess one degree only. There is no passing from one to another
degree, but simply an addition of degrees, so that an individual with
the fourth degree possesses all the other degrees; in other words,

1 Alanson Skinner (MS.).

2 Frances Densmore, "Chippewa Music" (Bureau of American Ethnology, Bulletin 45).
Washington, Government, 1910.



The Ritual of the Winnebago Medicine Dance 189

degrees are merely marks of increased power. It is for this reason
that an initiation practically the same as that for the first degree is
necessary for the other degrees. The fact that a new initiation into
the society is necessary for each degree, and that the distinctions
represented by the degrees are merely transferences of increased sha-
manistic powers, differing accordingly as they have been obtained from
one or another shaman, emphasizes strongly the specific shamanistic
nature of theMidewiwin.

As we have said before, the Midewiwin is a society, not so much
because it is an association of mide, but because there have come
to be associated with it certain functions of a religious and social
nature, setting it off as a unit. The fact that the members are mide
will, of course, have an enormous influence on some of the functions
that the society is supposed to possess.

The powers of the individual mide are those connected with the
healing of wounds, the curing of disease, the ability to transform one's
self into any animal or object at will, the performance of seemingly im-
possible tricks, and lastly the practice of evil magic. In the teachings of
the individual mide in his role as a member of the Midewiwin, all these
elements are present; but there are, in addition, two other powers
which are specifically Midewiwin functions, — namely, the power to
prolong life, and the power to assure a successful passage to the future
world. The power of prolonging life is not supposed to be an effect
of the shooting. The belief is, that membership in the society, and
the proper observance of the ritual and precepts, will enable an in-
dividual to surmount successfully the crises of life and [the evil
designs of his enemies. Just as the proper observance of ritual and
precepts prolongs life, so it will likewise insure the safe passage of a
soul from this to a future world. According to William Jones, "it
was believed that the soul followed a path to go to the spirit world,
and that the path was beset with dangers to oppose the passage of the
soul; but that it was possible to overcome the obstacles by the use
of the formulas which could be learned only in the Midewiwin." l

To assert dogmatically that these two powers do not come within
the scope of the individual mide, may perhaps be unwarranted; but
at present the evidence among the Ojibwa is certainly negative.
However, the Midewiwin is considered to be intimately associated
with these specific functions. They are not associated with the specific
powers of the mide. In reality, they are the general religio-magical
possessions of the tribe, that have been secondarily associated with
the Midewiwin.

2. Menominee. — Practically all that has been said of the Ojibwa
applies in equal degree to the Menominee Midewiwin. But two impor-

1 Annual Archaeological Report, 1005 (Report of Minister of Education, Ontario), p. 146.



190 Journal of American Folk-Lore

tant differences are noticeable, — first, a member is always succeeded by
a near relative ; and, secondly, not only is the Midewiwin connected with
the function of insuring the safe passage to the future world, but the
ceremony itself begins at the grave of the deceased member as
soon as the mortuary rites are over. They may even be regarded as a
continuation of the same.

3. Shell Society. — In the Shell Society the organization, in contra-
distinction to the Ojibwa-Menominee Midewiwin, is not based on
individuals as such, but on definite ceremonial group units. There
are five to-day, but there seem to have been more formerly.

We find a fourfold designation for the lodges. They are known
to-day as those of the eldest son or sun, second son or stars, daughter
or moon, and youngest son or earth. Sometimes, however, these same
are known in order as Black-Bear, Elk, Buffalo, and Deer Lodge.
The first "old man's lodge" (uju) is also known as that of the Eagle.

The general ceremony has been described before, and we will there-
fore proceed to discuss what appears to be the purpose of the society,
what powers its members possessed, and with what functions it was
associated.

The definite purpose of the society seems to be the performance of a
certain ritual. That in addition there is likewise the desire to increase
or at least strengthen the powers received at purchase, is extremely
probable, but this cannot be definitely stated. What can be definitely
stated, however, is the fact that an absolutely essential condition
for efficacy of the powers obtained is the performance of the ritual;
and in this it is radically distinct from the Midewiwin, for there the
powers obtained from the shaman have no relation to the ritual.
The efficacy then, of the powers, remains always what it was when
taught to the new member.

In discussing what the powers of the members are, it is again essential
to distinguish what they possess by virtue of membership, and what
they possess as individuals. We should most naturally expect that
certain conceptions, certain cultural possessions, belong to a large
body of Omaha. If, then, we find them in a certain society, it is
most natural to assume that they have not been obtained by reason
of membership therein, but that this society will reflect general Omaha
ideas. This or that society may emphasize certain ideas, and may
develop them along certain lines, but it certainly does not originate
them. They have no relation of cause and effect to any particular
society. This has sometimes been assumed to be the case, and such
a view comes out clearly in Miss Fletcher's x statement that all secret
societies among the Omaha dealt more or less with magic as well as
with healing by means of herbs and roots. It is palpably not because

1 Annual Report of the Bureau of American Ethnology (1905-06), vol. xxvii.



The Ritual of the Winnebago Medicine Dance 191

they are secret societies that their members have developed any such
tendencies, but because, as secret societies, they reflected Omaha
customs and modes of thought. For the same reason Miss Fletcher's
conclusion, that because in both the Shell and Pebble Societies shaman-
istic tricks are performed, they may possibly be historically connected,
is unwarranted. The observance of shamanistic tricks is so general a
phenomenon, that all that can be said, when two societies are found
emphasizing them, is that two societies emphasized or developed one
or many Omaha customs. There is no need of assuming any historical
connection unless this has been shown to be the case.

Let us now return to what is distinctive in the powers of a member
of the Shell Society.

The name of the society is "Those-who-have-.the-Shell." It is the
possession of the shell that separates them from other societies.
In the ideas clustering around the powers of this object we are most
likely to find one of the important specific advantages of membership.
As far as can be gathered from Miss Fletcher's account, the shell is
connected with certain magical qualities. It is difficult to say what
specific magical qualities are meant. However, to judge from the na-
ture of the general ceremony and the songs, we are really dealing with
magic in its most general sense, but connected in this case with a specific
object, a shell; that is, we might imagine hypothetically that the
society originated in connection with the vision of an individual, in


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Online LibraryPaul RadinThe ritual and significance of the Winnebago medicine dance → online text (page 5 of 7)