The Descent of the Drum

Version 1

by Jasper Blowsnake


Jasper Blowsnake

Hočąk-English Interlinear Text


(190) The one whom they call "Nephew" accomplished Life for us. We understand that when he whom they call "Nephew" accomplished the Creation Lodge, the lodge was completely full, all of everything then. And whenever creation started, there the Creator looked down. His creation lay calm and quiet. They concentrated their minds upon the center of the lodge. The light was shimmering and sparkling. And he pondered and thought, (191) "It would be good if they associated with something," he thought. From his side, his right side, he took and made something with his own hands. A man he made, and he made him well. He made his voice nice. He painted his body. He made his body yellow and he put Light and Life atop his head. Thus he did, and he turned him loose. Howsoever many days from above to when he was placed in the center, when that one reached that amount, he came shaking the day as he descended. For four days he came through the center and as he reached one (world), he caused the day to shake. Not even here at Our Grandmother did he stop. He went through with force to where Earthmaker had a chief. It was now very quiet. The Waterspirit was aware of him. Earthmaker had placed him there by the power of his thoughts. He was thankful, and thought of him as like one of those who bestow life. He began with his own hands. Earthmaker did well, but he made him better still. Thus he did, but better still. (192) Whatever he had put him in charge of, it was Earthmaker who had made him. Thus, here at the Creation Lodge Earthmaker did just that way, as the chief was not going there to the Creation Lodge, so he made his mind place him there for him. He made him for that. At the Creation Lodge, what he also is in charge of would be used there for what it was made for. He fashioned him well, painting his face blue.

Thus he did, and starting out towards the Creation Lodge, he stepped in four steps. There he gave a whoop. His voice was heard. As he went along Our Grandmother, he swept all away. As he went along, everything on top of Our Grandmother, all of it, absolutely all the bad flakes of debris, they were made clean. Light and Life came to increase. Then when he came walking, he stepped in four steps. (193) There as he gave a whoop, again a second time his voice was heard. As he went along Our Grandmother, suddenly everything seemed like condensed vapor. All of the trees, every one of them, had whites spots (blossoms) on them. Thus he did and when he came walking for a third time, after he took his steps to step in the four, he gave a whoop there. His voice was heard. As he walked along Our Grandmother, everything became green. Then as many trees as there were, all of them, absolutely all of their leaves were green. They were nice, and he walked on. After he stepped four times, he gave a whoop. There as he gave a whoop, (194) for the fourth time Light and Life suddenly burst through to the center of the Creation Lodge. There his voice was heard. As he walked along Our Grandmother, everything became green. Just as Our Grandmother's hair should be, that way she became. All the trees that there are, as their leaves should be, so they were. The twisting blaze which stands in the center of the lodge could not be bent. That is the way he made it. The light of the Creation Lodge began to sparkle all the more. Then as the light was, it was made to become the more so. Nowhere did the wind blow. That's the way he made it. How the spider made what he alone tended was uncertain. Then the Announcer became truly audible. They could hear it throughout all of the whole of creation. (195) As they sat they could hear the utterance of a man. Up above where the Creator is, there that far away, even that far it was that he could be heard. He sat there happy.1


Descent of the Drum

Version 2

by Jasper Blowsnake


Hočąk-English Interlinear Text


(XX) From above he made as many Messengers as there are. He made the Messenger with his own hands so that it might stand. Then he would make it come to earth. He would make it come here so as to appear in the Creation Lodge. It came from above. (XXI) The Light and Life came with a roar. Of the four lights that he placed one within the other, as it came to one, Light and Life walked through, arriving with a roar. Nor did it stop here on Our Grandmother upon whom we live. When it came through the day began to shake. It arrived with a roar. It pierced through as it went. He had placed a chief in the middle of the earth, to quiet Our Grandmother. That one did not add his thoughts at the Creation Lodge. If it were thus, then he could send his thoughts in. That's why he did it to him. He made him land in the center of the lodge. Here the Waterspirit seized him. He had already been made well, but as good as he was, however, he made him better still. He used the daylight on his face. Then he was sent towards the Creation Lodge. Four times he shouted. And it burnt forth from the center of the lodge with piercing light. There his voice was audible. And such bad clouds as there were, every one of them, he swept them away in the direction of the bad place and (XXII) they suddenly heard it throughout the whole of creation, howsoever distant they were. From above as many as started to go out also suddenly heard it. They heard it as someone who was making announcements. They were able to do what they desired in the Creation Lodge. In this way he made announcements. Everyone of them came to know it. And every time it happened, Our Grandmother suddenly became green. And the flames of He who Stands in the Middle of the Lodge became very straight. They could not be deflected. And the Light and Life in the lodge of the ancestors became resplendent. And from above the Creator looked upon as much as there was of his own creation. Their faces were lit up by the reflection from one another. The creation was nice. The Announcer began to be audible.

When it is time for the main dance songs, then I will let the one who bought drumming from me try himself.2


Commentary. "the one whom they call 'Nephew'" — Hare, because of his birth from a human virgin, is a nephew to all human beings.

"center" — the center of a lodge is where its fireplace lies.

"a man" — this man is the embodiment of the drum.3

"yellow" — the top of the Medicine Rite drum is painted yellow. Here the color probably represents Hąp, "Light and Life."

"Our Grandmother" — this is the Earth itself.

"had a chief" — this was one of the Waterspirits that Earthmaker had put on earth in order to stabilize his creation, which at first spun and rocked. Waterspirits reside beneath the earth's surface in white caves.

"blue"čo (blue/green) is the symbolic color of the Waterspirits, representing not only water, but the blue sky. The lower half of the drum of the Medicine Rite is pained blue.

"his voice was heard"; (2); (3); (4) — after these words are recited during the enactment of the Medicine Rite, the drum is sounded once.

"like condensed vapor" — the Hočąk is howaxį́nį-nisge (in this MS, howaxíni-nisge), which Miner gives as meaning, "tingling sensation; hot, steady, annoying pain." This last definition is the one appropriate to the term here, as Radin is cognizant that the oppressive heat is a reference to the steam bath, a purifying agent in the ritual process of rejuvenation.

"Our Grandmother's hair" — a reference to the foliage that covers the earth during the seasons of growth.

"twisting" — circular motion is sacred. When the earth was first created, the sacred power of its origins kept it spinning like a top.

"could not be bent" — only flames that shoot straight up are propitious.

"that is the way he made it" (žesgá jijehíže) — this expression is never translated as such in The Road of Life and Death. Instead we find, "Then he spun the Creation Lodge around by the force of his words and the pole in the center became unbendable."4 We are even given a clarifying footnote: "That is, the poles in the centre of the lodge became firm and fixed. The man is the drum."5 The problem is that there is no such text in the original MS.

"then as the light was, it was made to become the more so" (Égi hą́berá jasgájegí hijaíra jijehíže) — that is, the light has increased in its sparkle, and now it was increasing even more. Radin translates this as, "when he had finished, the day had become perfect" (where hąbera can mean either "light" or "day").

"the wind" — the wind can be an inauspicious force because it causes the fire to sway rather than extend directly upward as it needs to in ritual sacrifices. Also, inasmuch as the wind moves clouds, it can control the day, which in a ritual context should be controlled by those invested with the supernatural power to do so.

"the spider" — Radin has a note elsewhere in Jasper Blowsnake's account of the Medicine Rite where he says, "When spider is working it's sign of nice weather."6 This is especially true in the present context since wind makes it very difficult for the spider to spin its web. For the spider, see the Commentary on "The Spider's Eyes."

"the Announcer" (Wijájera), "Messengers" (Wijája) — a title given to the drum. This term ordinarily refers to the village crier, a member of the Buffalo Clan who makes public announcements.

"the four lights that he placed one within the other" — the "lights" (hąbera) are here the four worlds, which are usually thought of as being one atop the other.

"Light and Life" — the expression (Hąp) here refers to the drum as a vehicle of life, where life expressed as a form of luminence (as it was, for instance, in Gnostic Christianity).

"the day" — this is the same term (hąp, hąbera) used to denote light. We think of a day as a temporal unit, but in the Hočąk mind, where the isomorphism of space and time are acutely appreciated, the day is also a spatial entity, the sum of the realm of light in all its aspects — the clouds, the air, the winds, the rays of light, the vault of the sky. It is the motion and disposition of these things that can be controlled by supernatural power, and when this is accomplished, the agent responsible for it is said to "control the day."

"to quiet Our Grandmother" — the earth personified is a grandmother. When the earth was first formed by Earthmaker it was not stable, but rocked and spun and had to be stablized by four great Waterspirits at the cardinal points and one in the center.

"did not add his thoughts" — this is because the chief (hųgé) is the Island Weight of the center and cannot move from his position without jeopardizing the stability of the earth. Radin adds in the MS a footnote which reads, "the creator sent the drum to the huñgé so that he might add his thoughts to it."7

"he used the daylight on his face" — the drum is painted blue and yellow, the colors of the sky and of Light and Life.

"the bad place" — this is the north, so characterized because its farthest reaches see times when the sun never rises, and therefore it is a land without light.

"He who Stands in the Middle of the Lodge" — the ritual name for the fire.


Links: Earthmaker, Waterspirits, Cosmography, Hare, Earth, Day, Island Weights, Fire, Spiders.


Stories: mentioning drums: The Blessings of the Buffalo Spirits, The Buffalo's Walk, The Spirit of Maple Bluff, Tobacco Origin Myth (v. 5), Young Man Gambles Often, Trickster and the Dancers, Redhorn's Father, Ghost Dance Origin Myth II, The Elk's Skull, Ghosts, The Four Slumbers Origin Myth, Great Walker's Medicine, Redhorn Contests the Giants, Buffalo Dance Origin Myth, Soft Shelled Turtle Gets Married, The Medicine Rite Foundation Myth, The Journey to Spiritland (v. 1b), Wolf Clan Origin Myth, Trickster's Anus Guards the Ducks, Trickster and the Geese, Turtle's Warparty, Snowshoe Strings, Ocean Duck, Įčorúšika and His Brothers, A Waterspirit Blesses Mąnį́xete’ų́ga, Hog's Adventures, Pete Dupeé and the Ghosts; in which Waterspirits occur as characters: Waterspirit Clan Origin Myth, Traveler and the Thunderbird War, The Green Waterspirit of Wisconsin Dells, The Lost Child, River Child and the Waterspirit of Devil's Lake, A Waterspirit Blesses Mąnį́xete’ų́ga, Bluehorn's Nephews, Holy One and His Brother, The Seer, The Nannyberry Picker, The Creation of the World (vv. 1, 4), Šųgepaga, The Sioux Warparty and the Waterspirit of Green Lake, The Waterspirit of Lake Koshkonong, The Waterspirit of Rock River, The Boulders of Devil's Lake, Devil's Lake — How it Got its Name, Old Man and Wears White Feather, Waterspirits Keep the Corn Fields Wet, The Waterspirit Guardian of the Intaglio Mound, The Diving Contest, The Lost Blanket, Redhorn's Sons, The Phantom Woman, Įčorúšika and His Brothers, Great Walker's Warpath, White Thunder's Warpath, The Shell Anklets Origin Myth, The Daughter-in-Law's Jealousy, Snowshoe Strings, The Thunderbird, Hare Retrieves a Stolen Scalp (v. 2), The Two Children, The Twins Join Redhorn's Warparty, Earthmaker Sends Rušewe to the Twins, Paint Medicine Origin Myth, Waruǧápara, Ocean Duck, The Twin Sisters, Trickster Concludes His Mission, The King Bird, The Medicine Rite Foundation Myth, Great Walker's Medicine (v. 2), Heną́ga and Star Girl, Peace of Mind Regained, How the Thunders Met the Nights, The Spiritual Descent of John Rave's Grandmother, The Boy who was Captured by the Bad Thunderbirds, The Shaggy Man, The Woman who Married a Snake (?), Hare Secures the Creation Lodge, Ghost Dance Origin Myth I, The Sacred Lake, Lost Lake; 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, 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 Hočąk Migration Myth, The Necessity for Death, Hočąk Clans Origin Myth, The War among the Animals, Lake Winnebago Origin Myth, Blue Mounds, Lost Lake, The Hočągara Migrate South, The Spirit of Gambling, Turtle and the Giant, The Shawnee Prophet — What He Told the Hočągara, The Hočągara 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, Death Enters the World, 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 Origin of the Cliff Swallow; mentioning spiders: The Spider's Eyes, Hare Visits the Blind Men, The Twins Retrieve Red Star's Head, Tobacco Origin Myth (v. 5), Arrows of the Medicine Rite Men (v. 1), East Shakes the Messenger; in which fire plays a role: The Creation Council, Thunderbird Clan Origin Myth, The Warbundle of the Eight Generations, The Twins Retrieve Red Star's Head, Hare Secures the Creation Lodge, The Four Steps of the Cougar, East Shakes the Messenger, East Enters the Medicine Lodge, North Shakes His Gourd, The Man Whose Wife was Captured (v. 2), Red Cloud's Death, see Young Man Gambles Often (Commentary); mentioning Creation Lodges (Wogųzočíra): The Creation Council, Hare Secures the Creation Lodge of the Medicine Rite, The Four Steps of the Cougar, The Nightspirits Bless Jobenągiwįxka, The Boy who would be Immortal, The Medicine Rite Foundation Myth, The Animal Spirit Aids of the Medicine Rite, Otter Comes to the Medicine Rite, East Enters the Medicine Lodge, East Shakes the Messenger, The Arrows of the Medicine Rite Men (v. 1), Peace of Mind Regained, South Enters the Medicine Lodge; 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, see also Other Stories from Jasper Blowsnake's account of the Medicine Rite.

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 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), South Enters the Medicine Lodge (v. 1), Death Enters the World.


Themes: spirits meet in a council: The Twins Retrieve Red Star's Head, Black and White Moons, Holy One and His Brother, The Creation Council, The Children of the Sun, Hare Secures the Creation Lodge, Traveler and the Thunderbird War (v. 5), The Gift of Shooting, East Shakes the Messenger, East Enters the Medicine Lodge, South Enters the Medicine Lodge, The Blessings of the Buffalo Spirits, The Petition to Earthmaker, The Boy who would be Immortal; something is of a (symbolic) pure white color: White Bear, Deer Spirits, The Journey to Spiritland (v. 4), White Flower, Big Eagle Cave Mystery, The Fleetfooted Man, Thunderbird and White Horse, The Orphan who was Blessed with a Horse, Worúxega, The Two Boys, The Lost Blanket (white spirits), Skunk Origin Myth, He Who Eats the Stinking Part of the Deer Ankle, White Wolf, A Man and His Three Dogs, The Messengers of Hare, The Brown Squirrel, The Man Who Fell from the Sky, Bladder and His Brothers, White Thunder's Warpath, The Shell Anklets Origin Myth, The Dipper, Great Walker's Medicine (v. 2), Creation of the World (v. 12), Hare Secures the Creation Lodge, Tobacco Origin Myth (v. 5), The Diving Contest, Otter Comes to the Medicine Rite, The Arrows of the Medicine Rite Men, The Animal Spirit Aids of the Medicine Rite, Grandmother's Gifts, Four Steps of the Cougar, The Completion Song Origin, North Shakes His Gourd, Lifting Up the Bear Heads, Thunder Cloud is Blessed, Peace of Mind Regained; fourfold division of the cosmos (space vs. time): Cosmography, The Cosmic Ages of the Hočągara; flames that stand upright and unwaving are propitious: East Shakes the Messenger, The Twins Retrieve Red Star's Head, South Seizes the Messenger, North Shakes His Gourd, Four Steps of the Cougar; a powerful spirit sweeps away evils to the bad place (the arctic north): North Shakes His Gourd, The Buffalo's Walk, East Shakes the Messenger, South Seizes the Messenger, The Four Steps of the Cougar; evil clouds are swept away (to the north): North Shakes His Gourd, The Four Steps of the Cougar, East Shakes the Messenger, The Buffalo's Walk, The Medicine Rite Foundation Myth (v. 4), The Arrows of the Medicine Rite Men (v. 2), South Seizes the Messenger.


Notes:

1 Paul Radin, The Road of Life and Death: A Ritual Drama of the American Indians. Bollingen Series V (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1973 [1945]) 275-277. The original text is found in Jasper Blowsnake, Untitled, in Paul Radin, Winnebago Notebooks, Freeman #3885 (Philadelphia: American Philosophical Library, n.d.) Winnebago II, #6: 190-193 and Winnebago II, #7: 194-195.

2 Jasper Blowsnake, Untitled, in Paul Radin, Winnebago Notebooks, Freeman #3885 (Philadelphia: American Philosophical Library, n.d.) Winnebago III, #2: XX-XXII.

3 Radin, The Road of Life and Death, 343 nt 1.

4 Radin, The Road of Life and Death, 277.

5 Radin, The Road of Life and Death, 343 nt 4.

6 Radin Notebooks, Winnebago II, #7: interstitial page 219/220.

7 Radin in Notebooks, Winnebago III, #2: XXI nt.