Cosmography (Weltbild)

by Richard L. Dieterle


There are five levels or worlds that make up the cosmos. The highest of these is where Earthmaker and the greatest spirits live.1 Earthmaker's village is a place of natural wonder, where the trees and grasses are resplendent in their luxuriant growth and perfection of form.2 Upon the face of this land never falls the shadow of night; no evil wind bestirs the air, nor floats over it any cloud portending evil. There no person toils, there no person wants for any kind of food; there all is pleasant and delectable.3 A few men who have fasted and made themselves holy have seen it in their visions.4 Earthmaker has a great long lodge there,5 with a sentry posted in front of its door.6 It is said that right next to Earthmaker's lodge is another great lodge belonging to his evil counterpart, Herešgúnina. Attached to it is a sweat bath lodge made completely of iron that can be heated red hot.7 Beneath Earthmaker's world is another paradise where all those who have died a natural death live under the rule of Trickster (Wakjąkaga). Hare, who founded the Medicine Rite, is the spiritual governor of the earth itself. The warrior spirit Turtle rules over an underworld paradise where only those killed in action may choose to reside. Finally, the deepest underworld is governed by Bladder.8

The earth was created from some of the substance upon which Earthmaker sat when he awoke into consciousness.9 The new earth was as flat as a sheet of ice, so that people could not keep their footing. Some say that Earthmaker's tears, shed in pity for his creatures, formed valleys, ravines, and courses of water that made the surface of the earth uneven as we find it today.10 Others say that the Thunders tread the ground underfoot and struck it with their warclubs, creating the hills and valleys.11 The earth is an island, and at its corners are Island Weights, great Waterspirits who help prevent the world from moving about. In this task they are aided by four giant serpents who cut through the earth like leather thongs to keep it tied down.12 Also the four great Bear Spirits act as Island Weights at the cardinal points, where they cause the four directional winds to blow.13 Of the four Waterspirit Island Weights, the youngest was moved down to Long Lake at Maničóros (Blue Clay Banks = St. Paul). This Waterspirit's son, known as "Traveler," has a lodge at the very center of the world. He can access the surface through Holy Lake (Devil's Lake), said to be "the window of the world," since its waters have no bottom.14

The earth is flat, and the sun revolves around it so that at night it traverses the antipodes. The sun itself is a ball of fire much smaller than the earth.15 At the rim of the world, where the sky meets the earth, there is a tremendous crashing noise caused by the sky banging against the edge of the earth. The rebounding of the sky creates a gap making it possible to run across to the other side. On the far side are celestial spirit villages whose inhabitants occasionally get through to earth by the same means.16

At the four cardinal points are celestial villages with others scattered about the Milky Way.17 The Thunderbirds have a spirit village in the west, and on the opposite eastern horizon lies the spirit village of their friends, the Nightspirits.18 The spirit village of the Thunderbirds is reached by walking in the air. Mortals can enter this realm alive only if they step in the first four footprints of a Thunderbird who is going that way.19 Those seeking the Thunderbird land must first traverse the Ocean Sea that surrounds the earth. After traversing flatlands, the traveler comes to cliffs so high that their summits cannot be seen. They are formed of perfectly smooth rock, which makes it impossible to scale them.20 Once these cliffs are surmounted, the spirit abode of the Thunderbirds is found in a forest far off in the heavens, a forest like that of the Wazija.21 This region in which the Thunders live, forms a plateau. The only high hill in the region, which lies to the east, is where the Thunder known as "Sleets as He Walks," lives. He was cast there for stealing the mink blanket of one of the Twins.22 The Nightspirits live at the ends of the earth across the eastern part of the ocean that rings the earth. They sometimes cross over to the earth by simply walking on the ocean waters.23 In the spirit village of the Nights stands a tree, all of whose leaves are perfect, remaining always green without a single blemish. By this tree stands the Soldiers Lodge full of the offerings of white feathers made to them.24 From the Creation Lodge in the Spiritland of the Nights they dispense the wealth with which they have blessed people in their fasting dreams.25

The spirit villages where the souls of the dead (wanąǧi) dwell also lie in the west.26 Where the sun sets stands Red Bear, a great ursine spirit who controls the gateway to the Beyond.27 On the road that the dead take to Spiritland, there is a fork, the right branch leads to the realm of the bad spirits, the left leads to the realm of the good spirits.28 Bear clansmen on their final journey actually reach the lodge of Herešgúnina, but take a path to the right, following the luminescent "foot prints of the Day" which ascend into the blue sky. They soon come to a great Spiritland forest, the forest of Waškeją, a land of incomparable beauty not far from the abode of Earthmaker.29

The journey of the souls of those who belong to the Medicine Rite is through a land full of illusions. First they come to a deep and uncrossable ravine that stretches from one horizon to the other, but if they jump right into it, they soon find themselves on the other side. Souls who travel on soon find a path with the tracks of those who came before them. At the end of this is a seemingly impassible thicket of briars and thorns, but this too is an illusion. Passing on, the soul comes to a place where thousands of birds roost, the chatter of which is almost deafening. Beyond that lies a place where it rains phlegm. The road eventually runs to a place where an enormous fire rages for as far as the eye can see, but souls are able to pass right through this as well. The last land on the otherworld itinerary is fronted by precipitous cliffs, but the soul can also scale these. From here the road to Earthmaker goes up a hill on the other side of which is a forest of scrub brush. Beyond the scrub forest is a hill of beautiful red stone. Then the road leads on to another hill covered in red reeds and red willows. Finally the road comes to a forth hill after passing through a forest of white poplars (Waškeją?). At the end of this road through Spiritland, the soul comes to a ladder leading into the sky. This ladder leads to the abode of Earthmaker (see above).30 Another sojourner in Spiritland reached a knoll after much traveling. The next day he encountered a giant river whose opposite bank was almost out of view and whose current was faster than the fastest rapids; but when he jumped, he landed on the other side. Looking back, he saw only a rivulet. At least two days journey hence is the hill upon which the great village of ghosts is situated.31

Those who are killed in action take the path to Earthmaker's lodge. On the way they pass through three ghost villages, each one a greater paradise than the one before. The second of these is the Thunderbird Clan ghost village. Then the road turns east, and leads to the ghost village of Earthmaker. The people who dwell there are called "Earthmaker's people" (Mą'ųra wąkšik-wanína). From this village it is not far to where Earthmaker himself lives.32


Links: Cosmic Ages of the Hočągara, Spirits, Nightspirits, The Sons of Earthmaker, Sun, Red Bear, Thunderbirds, Hare, Turtle, Ghosts, Island Weights, Bladder, Earthmaker, Herešgúnina, Trickster.


Stories: containing references to cosmography: The Journey to Spiritland, Ghost Dance Origin Myth II.


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


Notes

1 Paul Radin, "A Wakjonkaga Myth," Winnebago Notebooks [unpublished MSS], #37: 66-70.

2 Walter W. Funmaker, The Bear in Winnebago Culture: A Study in Cosmology and Society (Master Thesis, University of Minnesota: June, 1974 [MnU-M 74-29]) 48. His informant is Walking Soldier (1900-1977) of the Bear Clan.

3 Paul Radin, "The Journey of the Ghost to Spiritland: As Told in the Medicine Rite," The Culture of the Winnebago as Described by Themselves (Baltimore: Special Publications of the Bollingen Foundation, #1, 1949) 60-72. Informant: Jasper Blowsnake.

4 Funmaker, The Bear in Winnebago Culture, 48.

5 Paul Radin, The Evolution of an American Indian Prose Epic. A Study in Comparative Literature, Part I (Basil: Ethnographical Museum, Basil Switzerland, 1954) 93-94. Informant: Sam Blowsnake of the Thunderbird Clan, ca. 1912.

6 Paul Radin, "The Lame Friend," Winnebago Notebooks (Philadelphia: American Philosophical Society) #66, Story #7. Informant: Xadenicaraka (John Hazel Hill).

7 Radin, Evolution of a Prose Epic, 93-94.

8 Radin, Evolution of a Prose Epic, 66-70; Paul Radin, The Trickster: A Study in American Indian Mythology (New York: Schocken Books, 1956) 52-53.

9 Paul Radin, The Winnebago Tribe (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1990 [1923]) 302-303. Henry Schoolcraft, Information respecting the Historical Conditions and Prospects of the Indian Tribes of the United States (J. B. Lippincott & Co., 1852-1854) 4:229. Informant: Šoǧoknįka, "Little Hill," a chief in the tribe. A variant is given in Ellen Russell Emerson, Indian Myths, or Legends, Traditions, and Symbols of the Aborigines of America (Boston: James R. Osgood 1884) 118. Emily L. Smith (Bear Clan), "Ma-ona and the Creation of the World," in David Lee Smith, Folklore of the Winnebago Tribe (Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1997) 13-14. Oliver LaMère, "Winnebago Legends," Wisconsin Archeologist, ns 1, #2 (1920): 66-68. William Lipkind, Winnebago Grammar (New York: King's Crown Press, 1945) 58. Katharine B. Judson, Myths and Legends of the Mississippi Valley and the Great Lakes (Chicago: A. C. McClung, 1914), reprinted as Native American Legends of the Great Lakes and Mississippi Valley (DeKalb: Northern Illinois University Press, 2000) 31.

10 Keeley Bassette (Waterspirit Clan), "Legend," in David Lee Smith, Folklore of the Winnebago Tribe (Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1997) 149.

11 Charles E. Brown, Wisconsin Indian Place Legends (Madison: Works Progress Administration, Wisconsin, 1936): 5; Paul Radin, The Winnebago Tribe (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1990 [1923]) 166. David Lee Smith (Thunderbird Clan), "How Valleys and Ravines Came to Be," in Smith, Folklore of the Winnebago Tribe, 100-101.

12 Henry Schoolcraft, Information respecting the Historical Conditions and Prospects of the Indian Tribes of the United States (J. B. Lippincott & Co., 1852-1854) 4:229-231; Paul Radin, The Winnebago Tribe (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1990 [1923]) 164, 302-303.

13 Walter Funmaker, The Winnebago Black Bear Subclan: a Defended Culture (Ph.D. Thesis, University of Minnesota: December, 1986 [MnU-D 86-361]]) 47. Informant: One Who Wins of the Winnebago Bear Clan.

14 "The Epic of the Twins, Part Two," in Radin, The Evolution of an American Indian Prose Epic, I.42-58.

15 Mary H. Eastman, Chicóra and Other Regions of the Conquerors and the Conquered (Philadelphia: Lippincott, Grambo, & Co., 1854) 22.

16 Paul Radin, Winnebago Hero Cycles: A Study in Aboriginal Literature (Baltimore: Waverly Press, 1948) 133.

17 Funmaker, The Bear in Winnebago Culture, 32.

18 Radin, Winnebago Tribe, 167, 283, 285-295, 495.

19 Paul Radin, "Winnebago Tales," Journal of American Folklore, 22 (1909): 288-300. E. W. Lenders, "The Myth of the 'Wah-ru-hap-ah-rah,' or the Sacred Warclub Bundle," Zeitschrift für Ethnologie, 46 (1914): 404-420. Told by Joseph LaMère, Bear Clan, to Radin in the summer of 1908 and to Lenders in Aug. - Sept., 1909.

20 Paul Radin, "The Thunderbird," Winnebago Notebooks (Philadelphia: American Philosophical Society) #16.

21 Radin, "Winnebago Tales," 288-300. E. W. Lenders, "The Myth of the 'Wah-ru-hap-ah-rah,' or the Sacred Warclub Bundle," 404-420.

22 "The Epic of the Twins, Part Two," in Radin, The Evolution of an American Indian Prose Epic, I.42-58.

23 Paul Radin, "Mazeniabera," Winnebago Notebooks (Philadelphia: American Philosophical Society) #21: 1-134.

24 Radin, The Winnebago Tribe, 283, 285-295, 495.

25 Paul Radin, ed., Crashing Thunder: The Autobiography of an American Indian (New York and London: Appleton and Co., l926) 25-26.

26 Funmaker, The Bear in Winnebago Culture, 48.

27 Funmaker, The Winnebago Black Bear Subclan, 49.

28 Radin, Crashing Thunder, 99.

29 Radin, Crashing Thunder, 105.

30 Radin, "The Journey of the Ghost to Spiritland," 60-72.

31 Paul Radin, "The Man who Brought His Wife back from Spiritland," The Culture of the Winnebago as Described by Themselves (Baltimore: Special Publications of the Bollingen Foundation, #1, 1949) 47-65. Informant: John Baptiste.

32 Radin, "The Two Friends Who Became Reincarnated: The Origin of the Four Nights Wake," The Culture of the Winnebago, 12-46. Informant: John Rave (Bear Clan).