Death Enters the World1

by Jasper Blowsnake
translation by Richard L. Dieterle

Jasper Blowsnake

Hocąk Text — Death Enters the World

Original Texts: | 18 | 19 | 20 | 21 | 22 | 23 | 24 | 25 |

(18) Four men lived in a large oval lodge, and there they were. They talked all day until sunset. For as many land animals as existed, he made names for all of them. As many birds as there were as well, for all of them he made names. Of the many kinds of plants there are, he himself gave names to all of them. And then he also gave names to all of the various trees. (19) And then the body, every aspect of how we are, he made it possible to name. Then he sat contemplating the animals, and what name each was to have, and named every one of them. All the varieties of insects on earth, to each he gave a name. What he was going to decree, he passed on to his own (people). As many as there are underwater, of them he also told. He bestowed names upon all of them, every kind of thing there, every thing that existed. Once he will have said it, he would start in on his own.

When he was done, his body was not to be thereafter. At daybreak, he laid still. His brothers waited for him to move, but he did not. When they knew that he was truly motionless, (20) they placed him on a scaffold outside the entrance. When they went out, they didn't like seeing him. They left with their heads under their blankets, when they reached a lonely spot out of sight, they uncovered their heads. And they inquired, each of the other. They asked the oldest one first, "Dear brother, do you know anything about this?" they asked. "I am sorry but I don't know anything about this," he said. Of the second one, they again asked, but he answered, "I know nothing about it." Then likewise they asked the youngest one, the last of them, "Dear youngest brother, do you know anything?" they asked. He said, "Beloved older brothers, I do know something. Get ready," he said. They got ready.

Then a pipe their dead brother had had, (21) they filled, and that they took along, and they started out going east, weeping. They didn't go far. They saw a large oval lodge in the distance. There again they raised their weeping greatly. The lodge was the one in light, without any darkness, nor did any evil wind pass over it. Where there should have been a door, there was no door to shut, the entrance was wide open. They went over and entered. They extended the stem of their pipe to him, but he did not smoke it. "Our older brother became still, he did not move. Since then, he has not moved," they told him. "Hehé, my friend, I know nothing of this. Go on to the second one who sits here in front. Again go towards there." They looked at each other, (22) but their bodies were not as they had been before. Their bodies felt refreshed.

Then they didn't go anywhere far. They came to a large oval lodge. They had reached the direction called "north". The edge of the lodge was shining as the whitest light extended over it. When they reached the entrance of the lodge, there was no door there to shut. They extended their pipe. He did not smoke it. "I don't know anything, friends," to told them. "Ahead my brother, perhaps, possibly, he may know something. I do not know anything," he told them.

Once again they started out walking. They looked at their bodies. They were not as they had been before. They felt refreshed. They looked as if they had reached middle age. (23) Then again in the western quadrant was a Great One. The light sparkled and gleamed from his lodge. Never was darkness cast over the lodge, never did evil storm clouds pass over it. A more intense Light extended over it. When they arrived at the entrance, the door was wide open. They entered and spoke, "Our older brother has not moved." "We know nothing of it, that is why we have travelled all this way. We extend to you the pipe." He would not smoke it. "Go on ahead, I have no knowledge," he said.

They started on. It is said that their crying was mighty. They didn't go far. They saw the lodge in the distance. If before they had seen great Life, what they now saw surpassed it. It was a large oval lodge, and (24) near the center of the lodge it was beyond Life. When they got there, they entered crying. The entrance was wide open. They went into the lodge. They extended their pipe. He smoked it. "I have knowledge. I am kindly disposed to what you have come for. You must go traveling the way you have come. I will be there. You will see me. The three surviving brothers looked at one another. All three of them had reached the last stage of life. They were very old little men, looking as if they were wearing swans on their heads.

They strarted back to their lodge. When they saw their lodge, the fire was flickering. They were encouraged. They wished very much to see their brother. They thought it was he. There they went, and there were the four men that they had seen before. The four of them were there. Whence they had come, they made a circuit, giving a ceremonial greeting, after which they took their seats. (25) The first of those that they had seen spoke: "Thus wrought the Creator. Thus will human beings have to be, for he created them this way. He established death, so this is it," he said. All four of them said the same thing. The one on the end, the last, spoke saying, "Since the Creator has so ordained it, thus it is. He caused it to be this way. Here in our Grandmother so deep that evil creeping things cannot get that far deep, that sufficiently deep must you place him. Thus this has come about for that reason."2

Commentary. "four" — four is the number of competeness, representing a whole set of anything. The chief reason for identifying four with totality is the fact that there are four directions. In the present story, each of the complete set of brothers also happens to be associated with one of these cardinal directions.

"sunset" — this foreshadows the identity of light and life, but more particularly, the identity of light and enlightenment. When the light of the world goes out, the light of language follows suit.

"on his own" — this seems to mean that he named individual people last of all. It is said that Earthmaker made humanity last of all, and so in keeping with this precedent, the eldest brother names people last of all. The giving of names is therefore a mirror of the creation of their referents.

"at daybreak" — in this story, as in the Medicine Rite generally, life (wąkšígo’į) is identified with light (hąp). Life, ultimately, is dependent upon light and heat for its existence. The birth of light itself, as generator of heat and illumination sufficient for life, takes place at daybreak with the rise of the Sun and the dispelling of darkness. The East is therefore the place of beginnings, and associated with the first born among the brothers. It is this oldest brother who carries the light of enlightenment and who names everything under the sun.

"their heads under their blankets" — the practice of covering the head in connection with the proximity of the dead is a worldwide practice stemming from the theory that the life soul has its dwelling in what the Greeks called muelos (μυελός), the set of all fluids resembling the marrow of bones. This viscous fluid was thought to be the constituent of the brain, and therefore, where the soul had its primary seat.3 The Hocąk word for marrow is wa-horugóp, which is a descriptive term meaning, "that which is scooped out."4 This is in reference to the marrow of animal bones, which must be scraped out to be eaten. The brain is called, nąsu horugóp > nąsurugóp, which is to say, "the (wa-)horugóp of the head."5 The soul's seat is the innermost part of a person's being, which in this case is literally the innermost reaches of a person's bones.

"the youngest one" — ordinarily, strength and vigor are attributed to the youngest, and wisdom to the oldest. This model holds at the beginning, as it is the oldest brother who has the power to name everything. The brothers make a circuit presumably from the Center, then East, North, West, and finally South. The South, as the last visited corresponds to the last brother born, the youngest, so it is he who has knowledge about the circuit. The first born is like the Sun, born in the east, where Light-and-Life originate, making South the land of the fourth and last brother. See the comment "I have knowledge" below.

"weeping" — in order to get a blessing from the Spirits, it was thought necessary to evoke their pity. This was done by crying, which was made mandatory for young people who were seeking their puberty blessings from the Spirits. The Spirits were thought to have been easily moved and would grant what they might in order to mitigate the suffering that induced the supplicant's tearful pleadings. When the brothers wept, it was assumed by them that this would help induce the Cardinal Spirits to take pity on them and grant them the knowledge that they sought.

"they extended the stem of their pipe" — this is the gesture of the supplicant. Accepting the pipe is taken as a symbol of granting their request. His refusal to accept the pipe, therefore, is a refusal to accept the task for whose undertaking he was being petitioned.

"I have knowledge" — the last place visited was the lodge of the fourth and last cardinal point, the South. The South has a particular association with death, since it is where Disease Giver has his abode. It is not surprising, therefore, that South is the one who admits that he has knowledge of death. Also notice that it is the fourth brother who has knowledge of whom to seek, as he corresponds to the fourth direction, South. Given all other things being equal, it is recognized that the youngest is the strongest, as age is debilitating. The South, corresponding to the youngest brother, is the strongest, reflected in the fact that Disease Giver as a dualistic body, from one side emanates life, and from the other side of his body he dispenses death: for he who has power over death also has the power of life, since he can withhold death.

"swans" — one might think that a swan is the first analogue that comes to mind when characterizing the white hair of old age; but this overlooks an interesting psychological association: the word for swan, hex, is phonetically most akin to hek, "buzzard." The buzzard is intimately associated with death, as they eat only the dead. Baldness is also a trait of old age among men, and this was recognized as a conspicuous trait of buzzards (hence the mistake of Gatschet in misunderstanding hek to mean "bald eagle"). So the cranium is mounted by a metaphorical hex just before the whole of the body is fit for the hek.

"a ceremonial greeting" — denoted by the word wakúruhįc. The part of the compound of interest is ruhįc. The ruhįc is the well known Indian salutation made by slowly raising the right hand before the face of the person being greeted.

Links: Earthmaker, North Wind, South Wind.

Stories: featuring North Wind as a character: Wolves and Humans; mentioning Earthmaker: The Creation of the World, The Creation of Man, The Commandments of Earthmaker, The Twins Get into Hot Water, The Twins Retrieve Red Star's Head, The Lost Blanket, Earthmaker Blesses Wagíšega (Wešgíšega), The Man Who Would Dream of Mą’ųna, The First Snakes, Tobacco Origin Myth, The Creation Council, The Gray Wolf Origin Myth, The Journey to Spiritland, The Resurrection of the Chief's Daughter, The Seven Maidens, The Descent of the Drum, Thunder Cloud Marries Again, The Spider's Eyes, The Boy who was Blessed by a Mountain Lion, Hawk Clan Origin Myth, Fourth Universe, Šųgepaga, The Fatal House, The Twin Sisters, Thunderbird Clan Origin Myth, Elk Clan Origin Myth, Deer Clan Origin Myth, Bear Clan Origin Myth, Wolf Clan Origin Myth, The Masaxe War, The Two Children, Medicine Rite Foundation Myth, The Petition to Earthmaker, The Gift of Shooting, Baldheaded Warclub Origin Myth, Bluehorn's Nephews, The Stone Heart, The Wild Rose, Earthmaker Sends Rušewe to the Twins, The Lame Friend, How the Hills and Valleys were Formed, The Hocąk Migration Myth, The Necessity for Death, Hocąk Clans Origin Myth, The War among the Animals, Lake Winnebago Origin Myth, Blue Mounds, Lost Lake, The Hocągara Migrate South, The Spirit of Gambling, Turtle and the Giant, The Shawnee Prophet — What He Told the Hocągara, The Hocągara Contest the Giants, Ghost Dance Origin Myth II, Bird Origin Myth, Black and White Moons, Redhorn's Sons, Holy Song, The Reincarnated Grizzly Bear, The Blessings of the Buffalo Spirits, Man and His Three Dogs, Trickster Concludes His Mission, Story of the Thunder Names, The Origins of the Milky Way, Trickster and the Dancers, Ghost Dance Origin Myth I, East Enters the Medicine Lodge, The Creation of Evil, The Blessing of Kerexųsaka, Song to Earthmaker, The Blessing of the Bow, The Stench-Earth Medicine Origin Myth, The Origin of the Cliff Swallow; pertaining to the Medicine Rite: The Medicine Rite Foundation Myth, The Journey to Spiritland, Holy Song, Holy Song II, Maize Origin Myth, The Necessity for Death, Hog's Adventures, Great Walker's Warpath.

Stories from Jasper Blowsnake's account of the Medicine Rite (The Road of Life and Death) in notebook order: The Shell Anklets Origin Myth (v. 1), Keramaniš’aka's Blessing, The Woman's Scalp Medicine Bundle, The Blessing of Kerexųsaka, Historical Origins of the Medicine Rite, Hare Secures the Creation Lodge of the Medicine Rite, Lifting Up the Bear Heads, East Enters the Medicine Lodge (v. 1), The Creation of the World (v. 12), The Creation of Man (v. 8), Otter Comes to the Medicine Rite, The Journey to Spiritland (v. 4), East Enters the Medicine Lodge (v. 2), Testing the Slave, South Enters the Medicine Lodge (v. 2), The Descent of the Drum (v. 1), The Commandments of Earthmaker, The Coughing Up of the Black Hawks, The Animal Spirit Aids of the Medicine Rite, The Arrows of the Medicine Rite Men (v. 2), East Shakes the Messenger, The Medicine Rite Foundation Myth (v. 4), The Messengers of Hare (v. 2), North Shakes His Gourd, Grandmother's Gifts, South Seizes the Messenger, Four Steps of the Cougar, The Messengers of Hare (v. 1), The Island Weight Songs, The Petition to Earthmaker, A Snake Song Origin Myth, The Completion Song Origin, Great Walker's Medicine (v. 2), Great Walker and the Ojibwe Witches, The Diving Contest, The Sweetened Drink Song, The Plant Blessing of Earth, Tobacco Origin Myth (v. 3), The Tap the Head Medicine, The Claw Shooter, Tobacco Origin Myth (v. 4), Peace of Mind Regained, The Journey to Spiritland (v. 5), A Wife for Knowledge, The Shell Anklets Origin Myth (v. 2), The Descent of the Drum (v. 2), South Enters the Medicine Lodge (v. 1).

Themes: death enters the world for the first time: Holy One and His Brother, The Medicine Rite Foundation Myth, The Necessity for Death, The Thunderbird Clan Origin Myth, Deer Clan Origin Myth; traveling over the whole earth: Deer Clan Origin Myth, The Pointing Man, Trickster and the Dancers, The Medicine Rite Foundation Myth, The Necessity for Death, Spear Shaft and Lacrosse, The Twins Disobey Their Father, The Twins Get into Hot Water, The Twins Cycle, The Two Boys, The Lost Blanket, The Two Brothers, Bluehorn's Nephews; someone travels to each of the four corners of the world seeking help from the spirit who resides there in averting death from his relatives, but each spirit in turn confesses that he can do nothing: Thunderbird Clan Origin Myth, The Medicine Rite Foundation Myth; death viewed in positive terms: The Medicine Rite Foundation Myth, The Necessity for Death, The Four Slumbers Origin Myth, Bear Clan Origin Myth.


1 Radin says in a footnote, "This is a well-known myth and is really concerned with the exoteric acount of the origin of death. It is rather strange that it should have found its way into the Medicine Rite." Paul Radin, The Road of Life and Death: A Ritual Drama of the American Indians. Bollingen Series V (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1973 [1945]) 344 nt. 44.
2 Paul Radin, The Road of Life and Death: A Ritual Drama of the American Indians. Bollingen Series V (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1973 [1945]) 320. Paul Radin, The Culture of the Winnebago: As Defined by Themselves, International Journal of American Linguistics, Memoirs, 3 (1950): 27.305-29.379. For the original interlinear text, see Paul Radin, Winnebago Notebooks, Winnebago III, #4: 18-25, Freeman #3890 (Philadelphia: American Philosophical Library, n.d.).
3 Richard Broxton Onians, The Origins of European Thought about the Body, the Mind, the Soul, the World, Time, and Fate (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1951) 96-100, 123-32, 236-8, 236; Weston La Barre, Muelos: A Stone Age Superstition about Sexuality (New York: Columbia University Press, 1984) 49; Robert L. Hall, An Archaeology of the Soul: North American Indian Belief and Ritual (Urbana & Chicago: University of Illinois Press, 1997) 30-31.
4 See Albert Samuel Gatschet, "Hocank hit’e," in Linguistic and Ethnological Material on the Winnebago, Manuscript 1989-a (Washington, D. C.: Smithsonian Institution National Anthropological Archives, 1889, 1890-1891) s.v. wahúrukop, "marrow"; Thomas J. George, Winnebago Vocabulary, 4989 Winnebago (Washington: Smithsonian Institution, National Anthropological Archives, 1885) s.v. wahurugobera (wah-hoo-du-gobe-er-rah), "marrow"; Paul Radin, Winnebago Linguistic Notes, Manuscript 1800a-e (Washington, D. C.: Smithsonian Institution, National Anthropological Archives, 1908-1909) wahurírugop, "marrow"; Miner, Winnebago Field Lexicon, s.v. hųšéregorugóp (< hųšerek-horugop), "bone marrow" (a nonce), cp. s.v. horugóp, "to scoop out."
5 See Mary Carolyn Marino, A Dictionary of Winnebago: An Analysis and Reference Grammar of the Radin Lexical File (Ph.D. Thesis, University of California, Berkeley, December 14, 1968 [69-14,947]), ss.vv. nąsu horugóp, nąsuragop, "brains"; Miner, Winnebago Field Lexicon, s.v. nąsúrugóp, "brains"; James Owen Dorsey, Winnebago-English Vocabulary and Winnebago Verbal Notes, 4800 Dorsey Papers: Winnebago (3.3.2) 321 [old no. 1226] (Washington: Smithsonian Institution, National Anthropological Archives, 1888) s.v. nasúrugúbara, "the brain"; Marino, A Dictionary of Winnebago, ss.vv. nos’urogobenįk, nosųrogobenįk, "brains"; Charles N. Houghton, "The Orphan who Conquered Death," in Paul Radin, Winnebago Notebooks (Philadelphia: American Philosophical Society, n.d.) Notebook 70, 1-52 [p. 2]: canąsúrogóbenįk, "deer-brains." The -nįk suffixed to many of these examples is a diminutive.