by Richard L. Dieterle
Fire is a spirit to whom tobacco offerings are made and blessing received.1 They call the fireplace, "He who Stands in the Middle of the Lodge" (Ciokiságonąjį́na), and it is said that when they pour tobacco in it, they pour it upon his head.2 Fire is the messenger to the spirits, transmitting the offerings and prayers of mortals by means of smoke,3 whose rising into the heavens the spirits view as a great honor.4 Thus it is said, "... fire is the mediator between the people and the spirit. The fire tells the spirit the wishes of the people and is, in general, in charge of the members of the tribe."5 "Prayers are all made through fire. Fire carries the message to the spirits. This is because fire was given by great spirit to act as mediator to spirits."6 Flames that stand upright are most propitious and indicate the acceptance of the offering, but flames that flicker and wave leave the matter in some doubt.7 The likely reason for this is that an updraft causes the flames to stand vertically, and an updraft is air rushing in the direction of the spirits of heaven. In ritual offerings, Fire is given a white buckskin decorated with images of flames [inset].8 On earth, fire is the sacred possession of the Thunderbird Clan, and was originally given to those Thunders who first descended to earth.9
Fire is imbued with great spiritual power, and in the days before warbundles were acquired from the spirits, men used to go on the warpath strengthened with the power of fire alone.10 In early times when Bluehorn (Evening Star) struggled with Herešgúnina, he was rescued by the Twins. They killed that form of Herešgúnina and burnt him utterly in the fire. Ever since that time the fire has been affected by anger. When the fire becomes angry, it becomes a prairie fire which can consume whole towns. It is not driven by wind, as some think, but by its own emotional fury. White people have made fire work hard for them, yet they have not offered Grandfather any tobacco or food, and this has led to the fire's destructive anger.11
It is said by some that Earthmaker once sent both Fire and Sun to earth to rid it of evil spirits.12
Links: Earthmaker, Thunderbirds, Sun, Bluehorn (Evening Star), Herešgúnina, The Twins.
Stories: 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, The Message the Fireballs Brought, 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 Descent of the Drum (v. 2), The Man Whose Wife was Captured (v. 2), Red Cloud's Death, see Young Man Gambles Often (Commentary).
1 Paul Radin, The Winnebago Tribe (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1990 ) 118, 164.
2 Radin, The Winnebago Tribe, 411 and note 37.
3 Radin, The Winnebago Tribe, 118, 164.
4 Oliver LaMère and Harold B. Shinn, Winnebago Stories (New York, Chicago: Rand, McNally and Co., 1928) 114. Informant: Oliver LaMère of the Bear Clan.
5 Radin, The Winnebago Tribe, 277; cf. 493.
6 W. C. McKern, Winnebago Notebook (Milwaukee: Milwaukee Public Museum, 1927) 91, cf. 129.
7 Paul Radin, The Evolution of an American Indian Prose Epic. A Study in Comparative Literature, Part I (Basil: Ethnographical Museum, Basil Switzerland, 1954) 10; Paul Radin, The Road of Life and Death: A Ritual Drama of the American Indians. Bollingen Series V (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1973 ) 14-16, 293-294; 312.
8 Radin, The Winnebago Tribe, 200, plate 47.
9 Radin, The Winnebago Tribe, 164.
10 Radin, The Evolution of an American Indian Prose Epic, I.40-41.
11 Radin, The Winnebago Tribe, 251-252.
12 Radin, The Winnebago Tribe, 392.