The Cosmic Ages of the Hočągara

Just as each of the sons of Earthmaker has his own position in the tiers of paradise in the spatial extension of the cosmos, so each is identified with a particular epoch in the temporal extension of creation. These epochs are in order those of Trickster, Turtle, Bladder, Redhorn, and Hare, the last of whom governs the present epoch, just as he also governs this earth in space. In contemporary Hočąk thought, the Hare epoch is divided into four periods: the White Spirit Age, the Big Knife Age, the Field Dwelling Age, and the Worker Age.

The White Spirit Age began when Jean Nicollet first encountered the Hočągara in 1634 [painting below].

"The Landfall of Jean Nicollet," by Edwin Willard Deming (1904)

The pale skin of the French explorers led the Hočągara to think that they were from the Other World, and to this day they are called "Little White Spirit People." The Hočągara look back upon the White Spirit Age, which concluded with the defeat of the French in North America, as a time of relative peace and moral order, a standard sufficiently high that other powers in America were not able to live up to it.

The Big Knife Age, which began ca. 1760 with the displacement of French power, is the period in which the American whites, called "Big Knives" (Maįxete), used force and threat to gain their ends. Through a series of treaties, the United States government gained hegemony over the lands of the Hočąk nation. Then began a program of assimilation, which saw most of the tribe forcibly removed to Nebraska, where many still reside. However, a large number of traditionalists held out in Wisconsin, and were joined later by the rest of the Bear Clan. The Bear Clan, which has stewardship over the earth, maintains that it did not give its consent to the alienation of the Wazija to the whites in any treaty.

The Field Dwelling Age began ca. 1860 with massive deforestation, which saw most of the hunting grounds eliminated in favor of agriculture and animal husbandry. The Field Dwelling Age has some overlap (leading to a measure of confusion) with the Worker Age, the contemporary period in which the final assault on the Hočąk environment is made by industrial power.1

Some in the Thunderbird Clan have said that the earth will come to an end some day and all the souls of the righteous will return to Earthmaker.2

Comparative Material: The following is a story of the Oglala band of the Teton Lakota. It too shows a symmetry between space and time. "In the morning Okaga rose early as was his wont, to bring wood and water for his father, but when he came to the door of the lodge he found much wood and the water bag was full. The fire burned with hot stones in it and the cooking bag had food in it. The woman was astir but she did not look at Okaga. The father called his sons and all came and each sat in his place. The woman served them with food and it was good. When all had eaten the father told his sons that the time appointed by the Great Spirit was completed and now there would be the fourth period of time. First, he told them, they must fix the directions on the world, but when they returned to his lodge it would be the fourth period; that since they were four brothers they should fix a direction for each of them, and thus there would be four directions; that they should go to the trail around on the edge of the world and travel together until they came to the place for each direction, and there they should pile a great heap of stones to mark the direction forever. He said Yata was the oldest son and entitled to the first direction which must be where the shadows are longest at midday. The direction for Eya must be where the sun goes over the mountain and down under the world when his day's journey is done. The direction for Yanpa must be where the sun comes up by the edge of the world to begin his daily journey. The direction for Okaga must be under the sun at midday. He told them that the journey must be long, that it would be some moons before they returned to his lodge, and that there would be as many moons in the fourth time as had passed from the time they left the lodge until their return. He told them to prepare for four days and start on their journey on the fifth day. For four days they prepared; on the morning of the fifth they went from their father's lodge. When they had gone, Tate mourned for them as for the dead, for he knew they would abide in his lodge no more."3

The Arapaho have four ages:

And Nih’ā́ⁿçaⁿ gave the Arapaho the middle of the earth to live in, and all other were to live around them. since then there have been three lives (generations); this is the fourth. At the end of the fourth, if the Arapaho have all died, there will be another flood. But if any of them live, it will be well with the world. Everything depends on them.4

A "life" is said to be one-hundred years in length.5

The Aztecs also had five epochs.

Hočąk Aztec
Epoch Deity Deity Sun
I Trickster Black Tezcatlipoca Earth Sun
II Turtle Quetzalcoatl Wind Sun
III Bladder Tlaloc Rain Sun
IV Redhorn Chalchiuhtlicue Water Sun
V Hare Xiuhtecuhtli Present Sun

At the beginning of each epoch, the Aztecs believed that a new sun was created.6

Links: Earthmaker, Cosmography, The Sons of Earthmaker, Trickster, Turtle, Bladder, Redhorn, Hare, Wazija, The Redhorn Panel of Picture Cave. An American Star Map.

Stories: making reference to cosmic ages: Thunderbird Clan Origin Myth (v. 1); mentioning the Wazija: The Hočąk Migration Myth, Trickster and the Geese, The First Fox and Sauk War, The Hočągara Migrate South, Deer Spirits, Waruǧápara, The Creation of Man; about first contacts: The Hočąk Arrival Myth (Hočąk/Menominee), First Contact (French/Hočąk); mentioning the French: Introduction, The Fox-Hočąk War, First Contact, The Shawnee Prophet — What He Told the Hočągara, The Annihilation of the Hočągara I (v. 2), A Waterspirit Blesses Mąnį́xete’ų́ga, How Jarrot Got His Name, Gatschet's Hočank hit’e, Turtle and the Merchant; about the (post-Columbian) history of the Hočągara: The Hočągara Migrate South, The Annihilation of the Hočągara I, Annihilation of the Hočągara II, First Contact, Origin of the Decorah Family, The Glory of the Morning, The First Fox and Sauk War, The Fox-Hočąk War, The Masaxe War, The Shawnee Prophet and His Ascension, The Shawnee Prophet — What He Told the Hočągara, Great Walker's Medicine, Great Walker's Warpath, The Chief Who Shot His Own Daughter, How Little Priest went out as a Soldier, Little Priest's Game, The Spanish Fight, The Man who Fought against Forty, The Origin of Big Canoe's Name, They Owe a Bullet, Origin of the Name "Milwaukee," A Waterspirit Blesses Mąnį́xete’ų́ga, Origin of the Hočąk Name for "Chicago"; mentioning the Big Knives (white Americans): The Shawnee Prophet and His Ascension, The Shawnee Prophet — What He Told the Hočągara, Little Priest's Game, How Little Priest went out as a Soldier, A Prophecy, The Chief Who Shot His Own Daughter, The First Fox and Sauk War, Turtle and the Merchant, The Hočągara Migrate South, Neenah, Run for Your Life, The Glory of the Morning, First Contact, Mijistéga’s Powwow Magic and How He Won the Trader's Store, Migistéga’s Magic, Yellow Thunder and the Lore of Lost Canyon.

Themes: fourfold division of the cosmos (space vs. time): Cosmography, The Descent of the Drum; each son of Earthmaker is appointed to rule over his own paradise: Cosmography, Trickster Concludes His Mission.


1 Walter Funmaker, The Winnebago Black Bear Subclan: a Defended Culture (Ph.D. Thesis, University of Minnesota: December, 1986 [MnU-D 86-361]]) 108-136. Informant: One Who Wins of the Winnebago Bear Clan.

2 Paul Radin, The Winnebago Tribe (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1990 [1923]) 167.

3 "When Wohpe Came into the World," in J. R. Walker, The Sun Dance and Other Ceremonies of the Oglala Division of The Teton Dakota, The Anthropological Papers of the American Museum of Natural History, Vol. XVI, Part II (New York: The American Museum of Natural History, 1917) 171.

4 George A. Dorsey and Alfred L. Kroeber, Traditions of the Arapaho (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1997 [1903]) 16.

5 Dorsey & Kroeber, Traditions of the Arapaho, 16 nt. 2.

6 Charles Phillips, The Mythology of the Aztec and Maya (London: Southwater, 2006) 14a-14b.