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which the magical power was associated with a shell. The same
power might, in the case of another individual, be associated with
a drum, a flute, a gourd, a stone, or what not. Apart from dif-
ference in ritualistic detail, and in the nature of some of the elements
that go to make up the general ritualistic complex, it is this association
of magical powers with one object in one case, and with another in
another case, that constitutes the difference between the various
Omaha societies.

To illustrate how general is the magical power of the shell in the
Shell Society, and how essential is the specific object possessing the
magic, we will give the following instances. In the origin myth,
shooting is supposed to kill the "children;" in the general ceremony
it probably serves to strengthen powers already acquired; in the
ceremony for punishing offenders, of which we shall speak later, it is
merely an example of sympathetic magic.

Together with the magic specifically associated with the shell, the
members exercised individual magic; as, for example, killing a horse
because its owner had offended him, or killing another member by
magically having a snake hidden near the place where the other was
accustomed to work. These instances of the exercise of magic must
not, however, be considered as specific of the society.



192 Journal of American Folk-Lore

In addition to the association of the Shell Society with magic in
its more general aspect, and also in its application to some specific
object, we find it associated with general shamanistic practices, with
conceptions relating to life after death, and with a magical ceremony
for punishing offenders. The shamanistic practices have been dwelt
on before. All that can be said about the connection of the society
with ceremonies performed upon the death of a member is, that the
deceased is carried to a tent in which the regular ceremonial is gone
through. 1 Whether this ceremony has any definite connection with
ideas relating to the journey of the soul to the future world, is not
known.

By far the most interesting ceremony associated with the Shell
Society is that for punishing offenders. 2 The main purpose seems to
be the punishment of an individual "in order to keep the people in
order and check crime, such as molesting wives or daughters and
destroying property and so causing mischief in the tribe." This was
effected through a sacred figure supposed to represent the society. . . .
"The arms contained poisons for punishment, and the leg the magic
shells which made it possible to administer this punishment. . . . When a
man committed an offence that seemed to demand punishment, the
society met at night, and if it had determined to punish the man, then
this figure was brought out." 3 Now, it must be borne in mind that
there is here no suggestion of any legal procedure, but merely, as
we shall see, an application of the magical powers of the society to a
very specific social purpose. Punishment consisted in causing the
offender to become sick through the application of poison to a figure
supposed to symbolize him, which is drawn on the earth. This figure
was subsequently shot at. When the ceremony was over, the leaders
waited until they had been informed that the offender had become sick,
when they assembled in a tent and sang until the man died.

In this ceremony we have again a shamanistic practice which was
probably exercised by many members of the tribe, associated in one
of the societies with a definite and specific function. But this specific
function, plus the other traits that have been enumerated as charac-
teristic of the society, go to make up a complex that is looked upon
as a definite unit.

4. Pebble Society. — The remarks made on the purpose of the Shell
Society are, generally speaking, applicable to the Pebble Society.
Instead of being attached to a shell, the magical powers are here
attached to a translucent pebble. The possibility for a greater varia-
bility in the nature of the powers obtained was given by the fact that all

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

2 In the Cheyenne Medicine Arrow Society a similar association occurs.

3 Miss Fletcher, in Annual Report of the Bureau of Ethnology, vol. xxvii.






The Ritual of the Winnebago Medicine Dance

those who had had a vision of water, or its representative, the pebble
or the water-spirit, could become members. The water-spirit was
always associated with the granting of knowledge relating to medicinal
herbs and the power of healing sickness generally; and we find in the
society, consequently, a large preponderance of individuals with such
powers. The association between these powers and some definite
object, in this case the pebble, is not as intimate as that found to
exist between corresponding powers and a similar object in the Shell
Society; in other words, the shaman, as an individual, is more promi-
nent.

The most important association of the society is that connected
with the curing of disease. It would be erroneous to consider this
function as a secondary association, as it is conditioned by the fact
that the visions from the water-spirit would necessarily be connected
with "the powers" relating to medicinal herbs and their healing
virtues.

5. Medicine Dance. — The Medicine Dance, looked upon in its
entirety, is composed of a long course of preparation (now discon-
tinued), the Four Nights' Preparation, the sweat-bath ceremony, the
night and the day divisions of the general ceremony, and the secret
brush ceremony. These ceremonies have all become amalgamated
into a more or less firm unit, whose individual characteristics we have
touched upon before.

The society is known in Winnebago as Manka n 'ni, the word manka n ' ,
meaning "medicine" in its medicinal aspect, as opposed to wasi',
meaning "medicine" in its magical aspect. As far as can be seen
from a detailed study of the rituals, no prominence seems, however,
to be given to the therapeutic or herbalist aspect. There are, it is
true, medicines for general therapeutic practice and for hunting, fish-
ing, love, and especially for "bad" purposes. But in the ceremony
as given to-day, and as described by those well versed in the ritual of
the society, these medicines find no place.

There is, however, a very persistent exoteric interpretation of the
Medicine Dance, according to which the members are regarded pri-
marily as powerful shamans concerned preferably with the practice
of "bad" magic. In this practice they are greatly aided by the fact
that their membership in the society increases their magical powers,
especially that connected with the ability to transform themselves into
all kinds of animate and inanimate objects for the furtherance of their
evil designs. The most feared shamans — those who are distinguished
from all others by the possession of the iron moccasins (ma n zua'gudj$)
— belonged to this society. This exoteric interpretation does not,
however, seem to tally with the designation mankcf'ni. Personally
I think this term is a popular one, and has no real significance as a



194 Journal of American Folk-Lore

characterization of the functions of the society, at least to-day. This
exoteric interpretation is in all probability true to a certain extent.
It would, however, be essential to determine whether these shaman-
istic powers are characteristic of members as individuals, and only
secondarily connected with them as members of the society, before we
can properly understand their significance. That membership was
connected in any way with an increase of shamanistic powers, is
certainly improbable. These powers are unquestionably identical
with the general shamanistic and magical practices mentioned pre-
viously in the Shell and Pebble Societies.

In other words, the general shamanistic and magical beliefs of the
tribe are found present in this society, as they are found in other
societies.

What would tend to minimize our considering these features as in
any way significant of the Medicine Dance, is the fact that there has
been no tendency to develop or emphasize any specific aspect of magic,
and that shamanistic practices are absent and appear entirely dis-
associated from the society.

The purpose of the Medicine Dance is in part the desire to attain a
long life, a safe journey to the next world, and the possibility of
a return to this life again, preferably in human shape. All these
benefits may be obtained by taking an active part in the ceremony,
and by performing to the best of one's ability all the duties of a
member. Although it is essential to participate in the entire ritual in
order to obtain these benefits to the fullest extent, nevertheless the
phenomena of shooting and being shot at play an especially important
role in this connection.

Long life means essentially the life consisting of a normal length of
years, with all the possessions of wealth, social and intellectual dis-
tinction, that would naturally be included. Among the Winnebago,
this concept of years is very definite, because they believe that to
each individual has been assigned a life containing a certain number
of years, a certain amount of wealth, a certain number of enemies
killed on the warpath, etc. If a man, therefore, dies before he has
reached the end of his "predestined" life, the residue, it is hoped,
will be distributed among his relatives.

When in the Medicine Dance they pray for long life, what they mean
is the ability to surmount the crises of life. Whatever may be the
nature of these crises, — whether they relate to family disasters, sick-
ness, old age, etc., — it is expected that they will be overcome by mem-
bership and active participation in the society. There seems to be no
suggestion that this is attained through the influence of magic. It is
mere membership and obedience to the society's teachings, ambition to
raise one's status by purchasing more and more privileges, that accom-



The Ritual of the Winnebago Medicine Dance 195

plish the desired end in view. The safe journey to the future world
and the belief in transmigration may be obtained in a similar way. If
one performs his duties and rises to the highest distinction, he will
have no difficulty in attaining his object and in successfully overcoming
all the obstacles to his passage.

The prayer for long life is specifically addressed to the Rabbit,
the mythical founder of the society, and indirectly addressed to Earth-
Maker (ma"" una), the spirit who sent him to clear the earth of the
obstacles to man's progress. It is the only prayer ever addressed to
him. No supernatural communication is possible. As a matter of
fact, it is only in this and in the Winter Feast that Earth-Maker is
associated with this specific power of granting long life.

It would be quite erroneous to imagine that the prayer for long life,
passage to the next world, and transmigration, are ideas specifically
connected with the Medicine Dance. As a matter of fact, they con-
stitute the characteristic cultural traits of the Winnebago, and crop
out everywhere in the folk-lore and in the general rituals. The
question of the safe passage to the next world is perhaps even more
specifically associated with the Four Nights' Wake. The purpose of
the wake is to enable the deceased to successfully overcome the four
great obstacles on the road to the spirit home of his clan. This is
accomplished, first, by the performance of a definite ritual; and,
secondly, by some warrior relating one of his exploits on the war-
path and putting at the disposal of the deceased the spirit of the man he
had killed, to act as a servant to him. The close relation between the
ethical worth of the deceased and of the one who relates the exploit,
on the one hand, and the safe journey to the spirit world, on the other,
comes out as strongly here as it does in the Medicine Dance; but it
seems unnecessary, for that reason, to predicate any historical con-
nection between the two. They both reflect the cultural background
around them.

Similarly the various elements that make up the life which the
members of the Medicine Dance pray for, — the food-supply, the
power of healing, success on the warpath, a normal quota of years, —
these are all definitely associated with spirits and ceremonials. Suc-
cess in war is associated, not with one society, but with a number of
societies. It would, however, be manifestly erroneous and unnecessary
to claim that it belongs essentially more to the one than to the other
society, unless direct historical proof for such a statement were forth-
coming.

6. Summary. — We are now in a better position to see in what the
nature of the complete ceremonial complex consists. The unit it
consists of is loose in the Ojibwa-Menominee, and strong in the Shell
and Pebble Societies and in the Medicine Dance. The specific com-



196 Journal of American Folk-Lore

ponent elements are to a large extent different in each. It is
utterly impossible now to discover the origin of the differences in
the individual component elements; but it is quite clear that the
forces tending to develop the larger ceremonial complexes have been,
not those of a dissociation, but distinctly those of an association, of
elements.

These associations may be of the most diverse kind. Certain fea-
tures may always have been associated with certain other elements,
such as medicinal herbs and medicines with the water-spirit, as in
the case of the Omaha and Winnebago. This, then, is for all practical
purposes an ultimate unit. If, consequently, we find an intimate con-
nection between a vision from the water-spirit and the practice of
medicinal herbs, we must not consider this as a secondary association
that has come about through the influence of a ceremony.

In the same way, the connection of the buffalo with the magical
renewal of the food-supply will probably have to be looked upon as
such an ultimate unit.

Our first object, therefore, when we find certain elements associated,
is to determine whether there is any reason for believing that we are
dealing with some such ultimate complex or unit.

On the other hand, when we find a magical ceremony for punishing
offenders (viewed from its social aspect) associated with the Shell
Society, or mortuary ceremonies associated with the Menominee
Midewiwin, these associations cannot be considered as being ultimately
connected with any particular aspect of the society's function, as the
complexes which they form exhibit an extreme variability. Their
presence in various societies must be interpreted as secondary asso-
ciations of some kind. As secondary associations, however, they
may have been conditioned either by their specific nature or by the
specific development of the society. As such we might, for
instance, view either certain aspects of the shamanistic practices
of the Ojibwa Midewiwin, or the mortuary ceremonies connected
with the Menominee Midewiwin, or the punishment of offenders in
the Shell Society.

When, however, we find cultural phenomena, which are generally
possessed by a tribe, associated in varying degrees with this or that
ceremonial, this association must be looked upon as due to the influ-
ence of the cultural environment. This influence may be conceived
as setting in at any time during the historical development of the cere-
mony, while the ceremony itself remains passive; as, for instance, if the
journey to the spirit land is connected with the Medicine Dance, or with
the wake, with the telling of truth, or with membership in a clan.
Here it is obviously the cultural environment that has been active.
If, however, the mide, united in an organization, develop certain



The Ritual of the Winnebago Medicine Dance 197

phases of this general cultural environment, such as magic and shaman-
istic practices, in a specific way, we have a right to credit this develop-
ment as due to the activity of the society, and we have consequently
a real secondary association of definite practices with an historically
older organization. Of course, a good deal in this particular case
would be caused by the fact that the members are mide; but after
this historically preliminary stage, the Midewiwin became an active
unit as a society; and in this sense, if it then specifically utilizes
certain beliefs in a special manner, it can be said to be secondarily asso-
ciating them.

It is thus seen that the mechanism of the association is both psy-
chologically and historically highly complex. One thing, however,
seems to be quite demonstrable; namely, that there is always one
constant element, — the specific cultural background or type of each
tribe.

Bearing this in mind, the similarities in the association of the Mide-
wiwin of the Ojibwa-Menominee, the Medicine Dance of the Winne-
bago, and the Shell and Pebble Societies of the Omaha, do not neces-
sarily indicate an historical relationship, but would most likely tend to
show that a number of ideas and customs were common to a large cul-
tural area. This does not of course interfere in the least with the
possibility of an historical connection, but this historical connec-
tion must in each case be demonstrated. However, even if it
were proved, an historical connection alone cannot possibly explain
the entire phenomenon; for the cultural environment, if it is the
same, will condition general similarities and resemblances in cere-
monies that historically are quite unrelated, so that the convergent
evolution thus resulting will completely obscure at times the indi-
vidual history of a ceremony. It is, for instance, possible that his-
torically the journey to the spirit land was connected with the wake
among the Winnebago. The general prevalence of the same idea
among so many social and ceremonial groups to-day, however, makes
it unjustifiable to assume such a connection in the absence of any
direct historical data; so that, although there is to my mind little
doubt that these associations are all historically different, owing to
the influence of certain general cultural ideas, they present to-day
the same picture.

It is quite safe to assume that, just as we have shown that the shoot-
ing ceremony in the Medicine Dance is the borrowed initiation ritual
of the Midewiwin, so it would be possible to demonstrate, were we in
the possession of fuller historical data, that other elements have been
borrowed. However, when we have demonstrated the borrowing of a
certain element, we have only partially, and often only inadequately,
explained it. Its further explanation is possible only in terms of the

VOL. XXIV. NO. 92. 14



198 Journal of American Folk-Lore

specific type of ceremony, and of the general cultural environment with
which it has been associated. Both of these may change. It does
not follow that because, among the Winnebago to-day, all the societies
are practically associations of individuals who have obtained super-
natural communication from this or that spirit, this was therefore
always the basis of the societies. To-day the Medicine Dance and
the Night Spirit or Sore-Eye Dance have a different type of organiza-
tion. Originally the latter had the former type, and the Medicine
Dance may have had it. It is, for instance, barely possible that we
may in this case be dealing with the beginning of a change of type of
organization, and that, similarly, types of organization preceded that,
whose essence to-day lies in the possession of common visions.

We have now finished the examination of a number of definite
ceremonies. Our object in analyzing them was to determine in what
.the significance of the common elements lay, and what general his-
torical and psychological tendencies were operative in their growth.
We may now examine the results of our study in the light of Schurtz's
theory, and examine the data upon which Schurtz based his theory
in the light of the leading points of view emphasized above.

VII. Resume and Conclusion. — The main thesis Schurtz sought
to establish was the demonstration of the parallel historical develop-
ment of society as determined by certain psychological tendencies
of the race. It is of prime importance to remember that he claimed
to have found certain survivals by means of which he was able to
reconstruct the stages in the history of society. Initiation degrees,
the exclusion of women, etc., he considered "symptomatic" of these
stages. His main object was to prove the existence of these symp-
toms. Wherever he found them, he was satisfied that he was deal-
ing with vestiges of the stages through which society had passed. All
these symptoms, according to Schurtz, had definite and specific conno-
tations, and were associated with definite and specific stages in the
development of society.

We have seen, in the analysis of the ceremonies of a limited area,
that the common elements which were supposed to be symptomatic
of historical relationship had no such value, and that they entered
into a number of cultural complexes historically distinct one from
another. In the same way we will now examine the more fundamental
symptoms — initiation, degrees, and the exclusion of women — to see
whether any specific significance attaches to them, and whether they,
too, have not become associated with a number of cultural complexes
historically distinct. If they have thus become associated, then their
value as criteria for definite stages of social evolution is nil.



The Ritual of the Winnebago Medicine Dance 199

1. Initiation. — It was our main purpose, in analyzing the above
ceremonies, to examine them quite apart from any theoretical pre-
suppositions. In so proceeding, we obtained as a resultant the
fact that initiation connoted psychologically and historically a num-
ber of different things, and that this difference seemed dependent
upon the historical and psychological individuality of each tribe. To
Schurtz, however, initiation meant primarily an initiation into puberty,
and into that social status with which puberty has been so long and
closely associated, — an association that seemed, historically speaking,
almost an ultimate complex; namely, initiation into the tribe. He
assumes that if it is found to mean anything else, then this new mean-
ing is either a secondary association, or, preferably, an historical
development from the first conception. Carried out logically, we
should therefore have to consider initiation into a masonic order or
into a college fraternity as a transformation of an original tribal
initiation. To this, I think, Schurtz would have taken serious ex-
ception, on the ground that we are here dealing with a purely rational
and artificial social group. But are we not to a certain extent dealing
with the same phenomenon in the primitive societies discussed?

In examining a phenomenon such as initiation, we must not forget
that it is, in a general way, absolutely conditioned by the specific
individuality of one man as opposed to that of another. The desire
of one man for participation in the possessions of another, or in those
of some differentiated group, is an ultimate fact for which we need
give no explanation. What is essential for our discussion is the realiza-
tion that the methods of this participation are infinite, depending
entirely upon the influence of cultural factors in the development of
specific areas, and of institutions within them. Thus initiation into
the Midewiwin is the transfer of certain mide powers; into the Pebble
and other Omaha Societies, a common vision; into the Medicine
Dance, the transfer of certain knowledge. This transfer or initiation
is in no way different from that which takes place between two indi-
viduals, except that in the former case we are dealing with phe-
nomena between an individual on the one hand, and a group of
individuals on the other. This conception of initiation has become
associated everywhere with social and ceremonial groups. One may,
for instance, be initiated into a clan, into a name, into a family, etc.

To Schurtz, however, the concept of initiation is primarily associated
with puberty. His argument is that puberty is a physiological stage
through which every one must pass. The change to sexual maturity
is so important a fact, that it cannot possibly have escaped any tribe.
It follows that this physiological change must have been correlated
with a change in the position of the individual in the tribe. He will,
for instance, among other things, be less subjected to the influence
of his mother, and more to that of his father, etc.


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Online LibraryPaul RadinThe ritual and significance of the Winnebago medicine dance → online text (page 6 of 7)