Herešgúnina (the Devil)

by Richard L. Dieterle

Herešgúnina is the evil counterpart to Earthmaker. Inasmuch as evil is a flaw in creation, the evil of Herešgúnina is attributable to some flaw in his make-up. When Earthmaker was assembling the first living things, he accidentally put Herešgúnina's legs on backwards. The defect could not be entirely repaired, leaving Herešgúnina to walk with a limp. Since this first attempt at creating man was a failure, Earthmaker threw it away; and so it was that an evil spirit first entered into the world.1 Herešgúnina landed in the north,2 where ill winds blow all bad things,3 and there he began to imitate Earthmaker's other creations, resulting in the horde of evil spirits which now infest the cosmos.4

Other traditions say that, like Earthmaker, Herešgúnina simply awoke into existence. When he saw what Earthmaker had done, he attempted to imitate him. He tried to make a black bear, but it came out as a grizzly; he tried to make snakes, but they were all venomous. Herešgúnina fared no better in botany: he made all the worthless trees, the thistles, and the weeds.5 Some say that Herešgúnina and Earthmaker live side by side each in his own great lodge. Because the earth would become overcrowded if humans lived too long, Earthmaker put Herešgúnina in charge of shortening human lives. For this purpose he has a book (probably in origin a calendar stick) in which he shortens the marks that stand for individual life spans. Once the Twins, who are more powerful even than Herešgúnina, took the book from him and lengthened the marks standing for human life spans.6

Early on, Herešgúnina visited evil upon the human race in the form of gambling. As he was the spirit in control of gambling, he won virtually everything humanity owned. All women were combined into a single female and Herešgúnina was even able to win her. It was only through the intervention of the good spirits led by Hare that human beings were able to win back what they lost in gambling. Despite their power, it was only through trickery that Hare was able to recapture women from Herešgúnina.7

Like most great spirits, Herešgúnina sojourned on earth where he was known as "One Legged One." He was a great hunter and created a number of devilish things, such as the crawfish, which walks backward like its creator.8 Eventually, this avatar was killed by Bladder, but not before he killed all but one of Bladder's brothers.9

The Bladder story spread among the northwestern Siouan tribes. In his investigation of this story, Meeker discovered the esoteric meaning of Herešgúnina.

In the great duel, the Monster struck off the head of Bladder, and it flew up and up into the Divine Presence, where it asked, 'Shall I kill him' (with reference to his opponent). Receiving no response, it fell upon the neck where it belonged, and was reunited. Bladder then, in his turn, struck off the head of the Monster, and exactly the same thing occurred as to the head of Bladder. These blows were repeated in turn, for the conflict grew out of an Indian ball game. Since Bladder suffered first, he was first to ask permission to kill his adversary for the fourth time, at which he received permission, and while the head of the Monster was in the air, he pushed aside the body. Not falling upon its wonted place, the head of the Monster rebounded and continues to rebound to this day in the form of the sun!10

That Herešgúnina head is the solar disk is a piece of esoterica. The story that goes before this revelation can be told to anyone, "but only old men or wise men are initiated into the secret that the sun is the head of the monster, worshipped in the Sun Dance, instituted by Bladder." The very name of Herešgúnina shows that a great secret lay buried in his identity. The standard form is Herešgúnina. The terminal suffixes -ga, -ra, -na, are all forms of the definite article, and have the force of "the one such that ...". The penultimate suffix is -šguni, which expresses a degree of epistemological hesitation, and is often translated as "perhaps." The stem of the standard version of the name is here-, which is the verb "to be," which also means, "he is." So the name is usually taken to mean, "He who Might Be." However, he has what is presumably an older and more revealing name, Horešgúnira or Horešgúniga.11 Horešguniga ought to represent horé-šgúni-ga, where horé means "to set (as the sun), to go down," and as a noun, it means "west," which is also the meaning of wi-[h]ore-ra, literally, "sun - it goes down - the [place where]." So this whole version of the name ought to mean, "he who is perhaps at the place where the sun goes down," or even, "perhaps the one who sets" as if he were tentatively viewed as being the solar disc itself. We can now see that this tentativeness results from the impulse to keep his identity a secret from the uninitiated.

Once we know that Herešgúnina's head is the solar disk, we can see that he has been adapted to the role of Morning Star. Christian missionaries, trying to discourage the belief in the worship of Morning Star, stressed that his real identity is that of Lucifer, the Devil. Since Herešgúnina was the counterpart of the Devil, some stories express the idea that he must also be Morning Star. The slight incongruities are more evident when we realize that Herešgúnina's head was the sun. The story goes that in primordial times Herešgúnina became jealous of Red Star (the Evening Star) who was also known as "Bluehorn." Indeed, he looked just like Red Star, including the strange row of flint blades that covered both sides of his arms. This identity of appearance was complete, so perfect that Evening Star's sister (the Moon) could not tell the two of them apart. This makes Evening Star's opponent rather obvious — he is his alter ego, Morning Star. One day the Evil Spirit came to the lodge of Red Star, hoping to seduce his sister (Moon). He only succeeded in offending her. Eventually he challenged Red Star to a smoking contest in which each tried to draw so hard on his pipe that he would suck the other right into the fire that lay between them. This is just what happened to Red Star, and the Evil Spirit promptly jumped up and beheaded his opponent. He would run through the heavens with the head tied on behind him, stopping only at the end of the world to drink in the Ocean Sea. So Hare called together all the spirits, and they combined each of them some power that he possessed, and Hare took this to Earthmaker who added his own power. This power was given to Sun who impregnated the sister of Red Star with the Twins. The very fact that it is the Sun who is enlisted as the primary vehicle to defeat Herešgúnina, reveals that the latter cannot be the Sun in this story, despite the fact of his important identity as the solar disk. The Twins, thus generated, were more powerful than any beings in the world. They tracked down the Evil Spirit as he was drinking, and beheaded him. They retrieved Red Star's head and reconnected it to his body. That form of Herešgúnina they burnt up completely, so that he could never return in that form.12

Links: One Legged One, Giants, Earthmaker, Spirits, The Sons of Earthmaker, Bluehorn (Evening Star), The Twins, Gottschall, Bladder, Cosmography, Ghosts, Turtle, Fire, Buffalo Spirits, Heroka, Moon, Sun, Supernatural & Spiritual Power, Ants, Flint, Sleets as He Walks.

Stories: featuring Herešgúnina (the Bad Spirit or One Legged One) as a character: The Creation of Evil, The Creation of the World, The Creation of Man, The Twins Get into Hot Water, The Lost Blanket, The Twins Retrieve Red Star's Head, The Woman Who Became an Ant, The Baldheaded Warclub Origin Myth, The Journey to Spiritland, Šųgepaga, The Spirit of Gambling, Bladder and His Brothers, The Two Brothers, The Origins of the Milky Way, The Buffalo's Walk; see also Black and White Moons, The Shawnee Prophet and His Ascension, The Shawnee Prophet — What He Told the Hocągara.


1 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]) 30. Dr. Funmaker was a member of the Bear Clan of the Winnebago tribe. Oliver LaMère and Harold B. Shinn, Winnebago Stories (New York, Chicago: Rand, McNally and Co., 1928) 75-86. Informant: Oliver LaMère of the Bear Clan.

2 LaMère and Shinn, Winnebago Stories, 75.

3 Sam Blowsnake's Account of the Medicine Rite, in Amelia Susman, Notebooks (Philadelphia: American Philosophical Society, Jan. 17 - 19, 1939) Book 9, 8.

4 Paul Radin, The Winnebago Tribe (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1990 [1923]) 391.

5 Henry Schoolcraft, Information respecting the Historical Conditions and Prospects of the Indian Tribes of the United States (J. B. Lippincott & Co., 1852-1854) 4:230.

6 Paul Radin, Winnebago Hero Cycles: A Study in Aboriginal Literature (Baltimore: Waverly Press, 1948) 147.

7 LaMère and Shinn, Winnebago Stories, 75-86.

8 Paul Radin, "The Bladder," Winnebago Notebooks (Philadelphia: American Philosophical Society) Notebook #27.

9 Paul Radin, "The Woman Who Became an Ant," Winnebago Notebooks (Philadelphia: American Philosophical Society) Notebook #52.

10 Louis L. Meeker, “Siouan Mythological Tales,” Journal of American Folklore, 14 (1901): 161-164.

11 "The Epic of the Twins, Part One," in Paul Radin, The Evolution of an American Indian Prose Epic. A Study in Comparative Literature, Part I (Basil: Ethnographical Museum, Basil Switzerland, 1954) 24-41. The original text is in Paul Radin, Winnebago Notebooks (Philadelphia: American Philosophical Society, n.d.) Winnebago V, #2: 1-123 (syllabic text), 1-38 (English translation). The name is given on pp. 45 and 51 of the syllabic text.

12 Paul Radin, The Evolution of an American Indian Prose Epic. A Study in Comparative Literature, Part I (Basil: Ethnographical Museum, Basil Switzerland, 1954) 24-41.