The Girl who Refused a Blessing from the Wood Spirits

retold by Richard L. Dieterle


One summer the daughter of Mąk’erexka began her puberty fast. After a time, she reported to her father that in her "dream" (fasting vision) the spirits promised her that she would make a feast of a large deer that would be caught swimming across the waters of the lake. Her father said, "It is good," and permitted her to receive the blessing. However, when the deer appeared, others killed it and she did not have a share in the feast. So she fasted again for nine days and told the spirits how her blessing had been taken by others. The spirits were moved to pity and blessed her anew. Finally, near starvation, she struggled to the shore of the lake and beheld another deer swimming in its waters, so she called her father, who killed it. Her uncles Wolf and Elk were invited to the feast, and Wolf said that in his youth he too received a blessing of life from the spirits, and with this "dream" he would now bless her in turn. Elk said that the spirits had blessed him with complete control over all his actions, and that he would now bestow upon her this "dream," so that she would be able to do whatever she willed.

After the feast, her father took her aside and asked her what her "dream" had been. She said that after eight days of fasting, the chief of the spirits called Wak’aįčų, who lives within the earth, blessed her and told her that if she left offerings south of the Big Eddy and downstream, that the spirits would reveal to her the blessings that she was going to receive. The Chief of the Wak’aįčų said to her that he had been created by Earthmaker himself, and that he had been given charge over the powers of life. He said, "In four days I will appear before you, and the day will be a perfect day. You have moved me to pity with your self-denial, so I bless you and your descendants with life. Whatever you wish will be yours. You can make implements from my body." When she had finished her story, Mank’erexka said, "This dream is from an evil spirit, you should not accept his blessing, for these spirits are trying to deceive you." Nevertheless, she gained his consent to at least offer tobacco, red feathers, and a white buckskin. When all this had been accomplished, the Chief of the Wak’aįčų appeared before her as promised. She told him what her father had said, and how she could not accept his blessings. "Your father was right," replied the spirit, "for one side of my body dispenses evil, although the other side is a source of good. This is how Earthmaker made me." Then she watched as the spirit crossed into the middle of the lake where there stood a single tree growing out of the water. He climbed into the crown of the tree and wrapped himself around it. Then he shot the tree with a tooth, and the tree fell into the water. "Had you accepted my blessing," declared the spirit chief, "you would have been able to do as much yourself. You would have been famous for your cures of weak and nervous people; but now it is not to be."1


Commentary. "Mąk’erexka" — this appears to mean "He who Punctures a Drum (or Kettle)." This would be from mąk’e, "to break with a pointed instrument"; rex, "drum, kettle, pot"; and ka, a definite article usually used to indicate personal names.

"Wak’aįčų" — this word (see variant, Wakąčųna) is attested in Jasper Blowsnake's version of the Twin Cycle, where is clearly denotes the Wood Spirits, a tribe of dangerous spirits who inhabit trees. This explains his power over the tree mentioned in the symbolic representation of his blessing (see below).

"the middle of the lake" — the symbolism seems to be this: the weak or nervous person is isolated like a tree growing in the middle of a lake, and the spirit will effect the cure by enwrapping his power around the victim. The "shooting" of the tooth is presumably a spitting out of part of the spirit's body. This finds an exact counterpart in the Medicine Rite, where the medicine man shoots a seashell out of the mouth of a beaver, whose body has been converted into a pouch or bladder. The person struck with the shell falls to the ground "dead," only later to arise again, reborn to a new life. This is what happens to the "tree": it is shot from the mouth with a hard, white, quasi-organic object and collapses. The vision, however, does not show a rebirth, but its symbolism is clearly of that context. In fact the name Wak’aįčų sounds as if it had come from Wak’ąhičų which means, "Having a Holy Tooth." Radin believes that the faster had encountered Disease-Giver, since he is most noted for having a body that is split into a good and an evil side, like the spirit chief of the Wak’aįčų.


Links: Wood Spirits, Elk, Thunderbirds.


Stories: about Wood Spirits (Wakąčųna): Visit of the Woodspirit, The Completion Song Origin, The Twins Disobey Their Father (v. 2); mentioning red feathers (as an offering to the spirits): The Red Feather, Bear Clan Origin Myth (v. 4), Big Thunder Teaches Čap’ósgaga the Warpath, The Daughter-in-Law's Jealousy, Eats the Stinking Part of the Deer Ankle, The Elk's Skull, The Nightspirits Bless Jobenągiwįxka, Great Walker's Medicine, The Reincarnated Grizzly Bear, The Twins Visit Their Father's Village, A Waterspirit Blesses Mąnį́xete’ų́ga, The Waterspirit of Rock River, The Were-fish (v. 1), Disease Giver; about fasting blessings: Earthmaker Blesses Wagíšega (Wešgíšega), The Difficult Blessing, The Boy Who Became a Robin, The Boy who would be Immortal, The Woman Who Fought the Bear, The Seer, The Woman who Loved Her Half-Brother, The Nightspirits Bless Jobenągiwįxka, Disease Giver Blesses Jobenągiwįxka, The Blessings of the Buffalo Spirits, The Boy who was Blessed by a Mountain Lion, Ghost Dance Origin Myth I, The Blessing of a Bear Clansman, Aračgéga's Blessings, The Meteor Spirit and the Origin of Wampum, Great Walker's Medicine, Buffalo Dance Origin Myth, Thunderbird and White Horse, The Man who was Blessed by the Sun, Holy Song, A Waterspirit Blesses Mąnį́xete’ų́ga, Paint Medicine Origin Myth, The Plant Blessing of Earth, The Blessing of Šokeboka, Heną́ga and Star Girl, The Tap the Head Medicine, The Sweetened Drink Song, Ancient Blessing; mentioning teeth: The Animal who would Eat Men, Hare Recruits Game Animals for Humans, Hare and the Dangerous Frog, The Two Boys, The Birth of the Twins, The Twins Disobey Their Father, Wears White Feather on His Head, The Dipper, Wolves and Humans, The Commandments of Earthmaker, The Children of the Sun, The Green Man, Holy One and His Brother, Partridge's Older Brother, The Brown Squirrel, Hare Secures the Creation Lodge of the Medicine Rite, The Medicine Rite Foundation Myth, East Shakes the Messenger, Lifting Up the Bear Heads, White Wolf, Buffalo Clan Origin Myth; mentioning feasts: Thunderbird Clan Origin Myth (Chief Feast), The Creation Council (Eagle Feast), Hawk Clan Origin Myth (Eagle Feast), Waterspirit Clan Origin Myth (Waterspirit Feast), A Waterspirit Blesses Mąnį́xete’ų́ga (Mąką́wohą, Waną́čĕrehí), Bear Clan Origin Myth (Bear Feast), The Woman Who Fought the Bear (Bear Feast), Grandfather's Two Families (Bear Feast), Wolf Clan Origin Myth (Wolf Feast), Buffalo Clan Origin Myth (Buffalo Feast), The Blessings of the Buffalo Spirits (Buffalo Feast), Buffalo Dance Origin Myth (Buffalo Feast), Eats the Stinking Part of the Deer Ankle (Buffalo Feast), The Blessing of Šokeboka (Feast to the Buffalo Tail), Snake Clan Origins (Snake Feast), Blessing of the Yellow Snake Chief (Snake Feast), Rattlesnake Ledge (Snake Feast), The Thunderbird (for the granting of a war weapon), Turtle's Warparty (War Weapons Feast, Warpath Feast), Porcupine and His Brothers (War Weapons Feast), Earthmaker Blesses Wagíšega (Wešgíšega) (Winter Feast = Warbundle Feast), Big Thunder Teaches Čap’ósgaga the Warpath (Winter Feast = Warbundle Feast), The Boy who was Blessed by a Mountain Lion (Winter Feast = Warbundle Feast), White Thunder's Warpath (Winter Feast = Warbundle Feast), The Fox-Hočąk War (Winter Feast = Warbundle Feast), Šųgepaga (Winter Feast = Warbundle Feast), The Man Whose Wife was Captured (v. 2) (Warbundle Feast, Warpath Feast), Baldheaded Warclub Origin Myth (Warpath Feast), Kunu's Warpath (Warpath Feast), Trickster's Warpath (Warpath Feast), The Masaxe War (Warpath Feast), Redhorn's Sons (Warpath Feast, Fast-Breaking Feast), The Chief of the Heroka (Sick Offering Feast), The Dipper (Sick Offering Feast, Warclub Feast), The Four Slumbers Origin Myth (Four Slumbers Feast), The Journey to Spiritland (Four Slumbers Feast), The First Snakes (Snake Feast), Spear Shaft and Lacrosse (unspecified), Pete Dupeé and the Ghosts (unnamed).


Themes: someone is deceived by a spirit: The Greedy Woman, Earthmaker Blesses Wagíšega (Wešgíšega), The Man Who Would Dream of Mą’ųna, The Meteor Spirit and the Origin of Wampum, The Twins Retrieve Red Star's Head, The Seven Maidens, Big Thunder Teaches Čap’ósgaga the Warpath, Pete Dupeé and the Ghosts, The Lost Blanket; a person who fasts receives blessings from the spirits: The Blessings of the Buffalo Spirits, The Boy who was Blessed by a Mountain Lion, The Nightspirits Bless Jobenągiwįxka, Ghost Dance Origin Myth I, Redhorn's Sons, The Boy Who Became a Robin, The Woman Who Fought the Bear, The Seer, Maize Comes to the Hočągara, The Warbundle of the Eight Generations, The Woman who Loved Her Half-Brother, The Boy who would be Immortal, The Thunderbird, Lake Wąkšikhomįgra (Mendota): the Origin of Its Name, Great Walker's Medicine, Šųgepaga, Earthmaker Blesses Wagíšega (Wešgíšega), The Man Who Would Dream of Mą’ųna, Heną́ga and Star Girl, A Man's Revenge, Aračgéga's Blessings, The Blessing of a Bear Clansman, The Man who was Blessed by the Sun, Buffalo Dance Origin Myth, The Man who Defied Disease Giver, White Thunder's Warpath, A Man and His Three Dogs, The Oak Tree and the Man Who was Blessed by the Heroka, A Waterspirit Blesses Mąnį́xete’ų́ga, The Meteor Spirit and the Origin of Wampum, The Diving Contest, The Plant Blessing of Earth, Holy Song, The Tap the Head Medicine, The Blessing of Šokeboka, The Completion Song Origin, Paint Medicine Origin Myth, The Nightspirits Bless Čiwoit’éhiga, Sunset Point, Song to Earthmaker, First Contact (v. 1), The Horse Spirit of Eagle Heights; a spirit is quoted as he gives someone a blessing: Earthmaker Blesses Wagíšega (Wešgíšega), Traveler and the Thunderbird War, The Nightspirits Bless Jobenągiwįxka, Disease Giver Blesses Jobenągiwįxka, Eats the Stinking Part of the Deer Ankle, The Man Whose Wife was Captured, The Blessings of the Buffalo Spirits, The Boy who was Blessed by a Mountain Lion, Ghost Dance Origin Myth I, The Woman Who Fought the Bear, The Blessing of a Bear Clansman, Aračgéga's Blessings, The Meteor Spirit and the Origin of Wampum, Great Walker's Medicine, Buffalo Dance Origin Myth, Thunderbird and White Horse, The Plant Blessing of Earth, The Completion Song Origin, The Man who was Blessed by the Sun, Thunder Cloud is Blessed, The Difficult Blessing, The Blessing of Šokeboka, A Waterspirit Blesses Mąnį́xete’ų́ga, Bow Meets Disease Giver, Heną́ga and Star Girl, Sunset Point, A Peyote Vision, The Healing Blessing; false promises of blessings from a spirit: The Greedy Woman, Earthmaker Blesses Wagíšega (Wešgíšega), The Man Who Would Dream of Mą’ųna, The Twins Retrieve Red Star's Head, The Seven Maidens, Big Thunder Teaches Čap’ósgaga the Warpath, The Lost Blanket; somatic dualism: Disease Giver, The Chief of the Heroka, Bear Clan Origin Myth, Wears White Feather on His Head, The Red Man, The Forked Man, The Man with Two Heads.


Notes

1 Paul Radin, The Winnebago Tribe (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1990 [1923]) 254-256. The original texts are in Paul Radin, Winnebago Notebooks (Philadelphia: American Philosophical Society, n.d.) Winnebago III, #8: 14-20 (phonetic text only), and Notebook 25, 3-15 (phonetic text with an interlinear translation).