Its OCTOBER my favorite month of the year! I love it! I love watching the leaves an needles turn, the change in the smell of the forest and rotation of the sky … It is also a time of year many gatherings and celebrations are/were held. I’m thinking mainly of HALLOWEEN of course! Halloween has become a wonderful celebration one that connects with a great many cultures. It is why I adore it so much. During one day a year many nations share a common collective frequency. The traditions of Halloween touches us on a level that not many things can do. There is the costume wearing, trick or treating, and storytelling. Some old, some new, some mythical, some true, but it’s the creepy scary ones that shine during this time of year.
Stories are a huge part of a traditional way of life for the Ojibwe. I grew up in this type of environment. A little bit of the obscure still thrives in the forests of the world. The stories I was told as a child are vivid ancient stories of observation; an indigenous cultures way of teaching scientific theory, life lessons, and spirituality. Some of these teachings are full of mysterious riddling songs and phrases. Although much was not being passed down likely out of FEAR. Not very many know more than a few of the general Aadizookanag, stories that when told have “power,” living legends, very spiritual. Many are told in conjunction with the mitigwakik, mide drum or other tools; scrolls, flutes, rattles, places of value, and so on. Telling them in this manner is forbidden, but I have purpose and that is steeped in preservation, exploration, and revitalization. We are in a time where these teachings need to be remembered. Many folks in the scientific communities talk of Aldo Leopold and his “Sand County Almanac.” His way of viewing the world and documenting it so descriptively inspired many to view the world in a different way. Indigenous cultures have done the same for ages, but through oral legends. I feel very fortunate to be born into a family that kept as much as they could alive with in the legends of old.
Do you believe in witches and warlocks, ghosts, spirits, zombies, Vampires, Werewolves, and Wolverines? Yes I said Wolverines. Do you think there is possibly some truth to the myths of some of these spooky tales? Why do we imagine such scary and horrifying creatures? Why have writers and poets written of such beings? Are they all really that terrible? Even if you aren’t a believer in such things as an afterlife, otherworldly dimensions, monsters, or aliens. There are still those dark thoughts that creep into your imagination. Even before your first scary story or movie as a child, you dreamt or had that Inherent thought of terror or doom especially in the dark. Where did that fear of the unknown originate from?
The world I grew up in there are a few legends that talk of some of these beings. The first encounter was with a being called Makade’zhingi’maazhikwe, rough translation a witch. Why a witch, well because of what many think a witch that practices darkness looks like in this present time. The word describes what many already believe they possibly look like and is a word that those who know this legend do not like to speak its name. Literal translation, that black lady thing who has a leaking face (boils) and smells bad. I guess it could also be demon like as well as the legend goes. Either way it is considered majimanidoog, bad spirit. I have wondered for many years if this encounter might be part of the root to why there are many other stories of demons, warlocks, witches, and the devil himself. Fear was not ever spoken of until after this event. No one seems to know the beings true origination. It scared me and I had terrible dreams about it for many nights as a young teen.
The Bright Eyes and the Witch Demon
There was a time when the Anishinaabeg, all nations, lived the good life in harmony with each other and all our relatives. There was a time when we gathered as one. Chi’zagaswe’iwe, the great gathering/council, much like the United Nations does today. There was a time when the Anishinaabeg would gather, celebrate, and share knowledge from the heart in a good way to help each other. My family and those who attend the lodge we are caretakers of speak of this time. There is a song we still sing from this time, “Ombe maa’jaa’daa O’dibaa’konigaade,” come over here, come this way, let’s make some decisions from the heart. This song was sung by the spiritual/medicine men and women who were entrusted with the responsibility of preparing the site for the gathering each nation had a specific gathering area within the lands they lived. The gathering occurred in a cycle that followed the cycles of the moon etched into grandfather turtles back and every 13th full cycle (13 moons in a year, every 13 years) the celebration place was prepared for the gathering. This legend tells of the place where turtles arm rests along the river. This as you will see has to be within the earth peoples lands. I think I may have found the site, but have also wondered about the other nations and their sites.
It was during one of these gatherings that the tribes of the water brought an unknown heaviness with them as they entered the sacred area. No one had ever felt such things at the great celebration. Many felt a warm weighted presence, awaniibiisa, a warm foggy misty rain, but there was none to be seen only felt by the people around the gathering. It was during the great council of the Ogimaa, head men (chiefs), that the people of the water discussed the events that happened in their communities.
The water nation talked of a time when the rains did not come for many months out of the year. The air was dry and Giizis, the sun, was burning the land. Great fires took many lives. Food was bad before it could be eaten. People were sick with things they could not take care of and asking questions that could not be answered. Their medicine men and women went in search of the cause. They had to find the sources. Undo what had been done. In their search they came upon a small agaasate’igan, small dark house, near the fire mountain. One of the spirit women knew of a young family who lived near the fire mountain. The woman practiced with her, but she had not seen her in many full moons. They found the place poured out with a stench and heaviness. They saw two small spirit homes (graves). A withered man and woman walked up to meet them, both with no spirit to be seen in their eyes. They looked like odaminwaagan, a doll made of jack pine roots and grass, wiry and coarse. Mainly used by those who had bad purposes. Whatever they had in the dark house was the purpose of Giizis scorching the sky. The drying lakes and rivers would bring death to all if they could not fix this cause. Then the Chiefs waved to some men at the back of the great council lodge, lodges built of young saplings covered in boughs. The men ran out of the lodge and soon they carried forth between two chi-mitig, large branches the dark house spoken of and placed it in the center of the council lodge. The people of the water said their medicine men and women tried many times to break through the hardened walls of dirt and rock, but could not. We had not the strength nor knowledge how to see into the darkness. The dark house was majimanidoog.
The great council of men a chatter of whispers came to a quick silence. Then the dark house crumbled and fall away like a rumble of thunder and the witch demon rose like it was born of the earth. It spoke and as it spoke its stench of rotting and its resonating whispered voice filled the air pouring out into the already unseen foggy mist. No ear was untouched, some on the outside of the lodge screamed in pain. It spoke but its mouth was not seen, nor face. It was black, long curling hair with tallness and eyes that were hollow. “You ask, I answer. I come from beyond your sight. I am the beginning. I live everywhere. I am preparing away.” All were bewildered because it spoke and they understood. Then the people of the earth and fire rose from their seat upon the ground and sang like so many songs are sung “bizaani’ayaa neyaabi, be still silent go back to where you come from.” This song is still used in certain ceremonies. The witch demon began to ningizo, pour back into the rubble where it rose from. Quickly some of the people seated near the bad spirit covered it with the rocks and soft pile of dirt, once on top of the witch demon it hardened like a turtle shell and took form again. The whole time it laughed like a teasing woman. Some of them could see its face as they covered it. Some said was neither man nor woman others said it looked more like a women spirit all agreed it smelled bad and face dripped like pitch from the tree. The witch demon went silent. The air around got thicker. Some were pushed down and could not stand.
The Chiefs of the earth people, called for the medicine people to come to the council. The medicine people knew that a bad spirit was brought. When the medicine people entered the lodge each one brought a light that filled the council lodge with a cool drifting wind and the remains of Sky’s hair, Wiingashk, sweetgrass. The sweet smell filled their noses and woke them. The bad spirit did not like this and the dark house shook like a rattled. (This part is very interesting to me because of what the sound of a rattle is to be why we use it.) Some say they could hear it bouncing like a wiigo’bigiw, ball made of tree sap and basswood ties. They instructed that the lodge be taken down and that a smaller lodge be built around the dark house. Sweetgrass was placed around the small lodge and the bad spirit did not speak or move. It was there that the medicine men and woman called to the Waa’waaseyazhig, bright eyes. Many of the medicine people believed the Bright eyes would help as they thought the bad spirit came from the fire mountain. Bright eyes are guardians from the earth who lived within the mountains (like dwarfs) and could not see in daylight. Their eyes were bright white because of the many ages living in the dark within the caverns of the earth. They are a part of the little people nations. Part of those who were here before.
The Bright eyes came at sundown. The medicine people spoke with them and after much talking the Bright eyes walked up to the small lodge and as they approached the people heard a young woman’s laugh and it spoke, “You cannot see me, though I am already at your door.” Again all heard it speak as though it was right at their ear. The Bright eyes lead man struck his bakamaagan, club, to the ground and like a gopher makes his path in the earth it struck the lodge the dark house was in and it snapped like fire and the witch demon hissed like a ginebik, snake. The Bright eyes said, “It cannot stay here Anishinaabeg. Go and live the good life.” The Bright eyes then walked back into the night. At sun up the Anishinaabeg gathered and some decisions were made. The water people were already weakened, it was decided they had already suffered much loss many of their people had begun to lose their minds. Some wandered on their own with no contact for months, some years. All after brining the witch demon into their community. The fire people, stood and talked of their strength in their teachings, and of a very old medicine man who lived in the forest but looked like a young man. All nations then agreed the fire people would take the witch demon and find a way to send it back. If they were unable to send it back it was to be brought back to the gathering place of the earth people.
Four years passed and news from the traveler’s reached every earth nations heart and a sadness grew. The traveler’s began to talk of a warming mist in the sky over gabe’bimaadagaa’kajii, the long cold walk along the ice, to land of the Misaabe, giants, where the people of the fire, water, and wind lived. They also talked of sickness in their land and were afraid to enter where they once traveled on welcoming paths. Another four years passed and news had grown darker. The fire people began to build high walls to keep others out. They were afraid of the forest and they fought each other. The people of the Wind had no losses and the Water people were healing, but the land was not. The people of the earth grew more concerned for the people of fire. No travelers had been sent from those lands in many years. The time of the great gathering had come. The nations began to gather. The Giants and Bright eyes joined them, but there was no site of the fire people. They waited and on the fourth day they sent out their naandawaag, scouts. But as they were preparing to leave a group of Anishinaabeg entered the celebration carrying with them the dark house. The Chiefs, of the three other nations asked the withered looking men to sing the celebration song of their people, but they could not. They did not remember, they knew nothing of the greetings only that they were given directions by an old man who lived in the dark forest to bring the dark house to a place that would take many moons to travel. That they would have to travel the long cold walk along the ice and that many people would be waiting. The medicine people surrounded the dark house with sweetgrass and sang their songs. The dark house shook and rattled. The chiefs of the other nations asked the men who brought the dark house about their homelands. The men said much of the food is bad before it can be eaten. What is good goes to the chiefs and their families. The animals go too far into the woods where many are afraid to enter. There is bad spirits that take your life if you get lost in the night. They will follow you home and take you and eat you if you scream. They knew nothing of the original teachings no ceremonial songs of greeting, healing, and no stories of the star people, creation, and Sky. They knew nothing of their teachings or where they came from. Then they heard the sound of the mitigwakik and one of the men asked, what is that? It bothers me here and he pointed at his heart.
That night the Bright eyes and Giants spoke with the medicine people. They worked with them to try and send the witch demon back to where it came, but they could not. They knew nothing of its origination or how it came to our world. The witch demon laughed, poked fun at them every time they tried saying things “I am the beginning and the end. I will be here long after you leave. I will come back.” One of the young women got too close to the dark house and she curled to the ground. When they reached for her she looked as an old woman. The witch demon got stronger and the dark house began to crack. The Bright eyes and Giants moved quickly. The Bright eyes would take it deep into the mountains to the fire rivers. The witch demon howled like the wolf brothers, then laughed, “You miss him it shakes inside you when he cries. Like him you will not be as one again, I will return and take what is mine time in time.” The Bright eyes blew some seeds taken from the sacred red cedar tree that only grew in Sky’s forest on top of the dark house and sang the words of regeneration given to them from Sky and the Giants poured water from the river over them. All watched as the trees grew to saplings. The dark house shook violently one last time and the witch demon spoke no more. The Bright eyes took the mound and carried it deep into the earth. One family from the earth nations were instructed to keep strong the site and the entry to the Bright eyes world hidden. The Bright eyes left and never returned, but there are those gifted in the recent past and present who say they have been seen. The Giants did not fare so well, but that is another legend.
The gathering site: I think this might possibly be the Old Stone Fort site in Tenseness. It is also documented that the site was used as a ceremonial place only. They at first thought the stone wall and structure of the place was built by Europeans, but upon further review and carbon dating they found the site to be much older and possibly built by the Middle Woodland tribes. I also have noticed that when looking at the area from above to me and some family members it looks like a turtles arm/fin. I want to speculate more based on other findings, but this blog is already so very long and just want to show the possibilities of the legend.
The Bright Eyes: The indigenous nations of the Tennessee area also refer to these beings in their lore as Mooneyes, because their eyes were white and glossy like the moon. Further making the area of the gathering more creditable to me as the possible site of the origination of this legend. A further investigation to the site and speaking to the local tribes would be needed.
The Misaabe (Giants): There is already speculation by many archeologists about them. Ojibwe lore speaks of them residing in the northern colder areas spreading past the Taiga and further… But this would take another blog posting to go in further detail.
The long cold walk: This to me is obviously talking about the Land/ICE bridge theory. My grandfather always taught that we were at one time, one culture, one nation the Anishinaabeg, with one purpose. We lived, adapted, evolved, and became the caretakers our instructions guide us to be. Our ignorance and forgetfulness of these has changed that. There is also reports of DNA testing done that points to some of the indigenous cultures being related to those of European decent. Despite the fact that scientists also know that there were indigenous people already living in the Americas all very interesting and fascinating.
The Witch Demon: Is it still around? That is the lingering question. Within the research of the Old Stone Fort in Tennessee I came across a disturbing haunting that had some similarities to the actions and mannerisms of the bad spirit spoken of in the legend. People dying, hearing voices, not being able to stand and that these haunting’s have been documented for 200 years. Even by some very prominent people over time. The Bell Witch they call it. The legends surrounding it include a cave, a family, and more recently an unearthed grave of a young indigenous woman possibly from the Hopewell tribes. The bones were found all alone uncommon in the area because the tribes buried their dead in mounds. The bones were taken to the Bell Witch cave and locked up. Upon retrieval of the bones to be transported to one of the mounds. The bones were gone nowhere to be found. The Hopewell were they the family (tribe) that were to keep the site strong? Did the Bell family have ancient roots in those that brought the witch demon back to be silence or Hopewell ties? It’s all a bunch of lingering thoughts that need more investigation.
Timescale: I realize timescale is very important, but our legends are thousands of year of observations and some of the legends have to be picked a part because as you can see some of them can get very lengthy some are just short instructional pieces on how to manage an area of the forest. It’s all very fascinating and depends on how you view them and are taught to understand them. There is no right or wrong to them. Just an inherent understand that is felt with in the spirit of oneself.
I would like to thank Mr Jeff Belanger for the information about the indigenous woman’s unearthed grave and missing bones.
Original Art HUGE thank you to my niece Leo.
Other pictures come from Google search Thank you to those who post them.
Links for further research: