Lice ()

by Richard Dieterle

The Body Louse
Pediculus humanus humanus

Even the lice have their own spirit chief. He is most famous for an adventure that he had when he took human form. When he came into being as a human, he lived in a cave as a child with three other children. A princess was fleeing an evil animated skull who had killed her three companions, and she chanced upon this same cave which she sealed behind her with a rock. One child after another came up to her, but she set each of them outside. When the Lice Spirit came to her, she decided to adopt him as her own. He told her that when the skull reached the cave, she should roll the stone towards him, and when this happened, the stone grew so big in its descent, that it flattened the skull. The princess and the lice-child lived together, and he grew to adulthood, although he was rather smaller than other men. He went away and married a princess in a nearby village. While he was living in his bride's village, he made a strange request of his brother-in-law: could he defecate on his blanket? Surprisingly, his brother-in-law freely consented when no one else would. The Lice Spirit then defecated pure white wampum, which he gave to no one but his brother-in-law. When he returned home with his new wife, his earthly mother and the newlywed couple decided to go back to the mother's village. There they were under siege by the Giants. The Lice Spirit had befriended the human avatar of Morning Star, who had been taught hunting skills by the diminutive Heroka. Together they challenged and beat the Giants in every game they played. The Lice Spirit brought great bounty to the village, since he is a spirit of fecundity. They say that inasmuch as the lice only thrive when humans are well fed, they always do their utmost to see that their hosts have plenty to eat.1 We see from this waiką that Lice Spirits supply the blessings of good hunting, much like the Heroka, while yet being the pardoxical objects of hunts by those whom they infest.

The Head Louse
Pediculus humanus capitis

Once a nit (a head louse) encountered Trickster and his two friends, a fox and a blue jay. They were looking for a good place to live, and invited the nit along, since he too was looking for a place to live. They found a good area to make their lodge, but when winter arrived, they were on the verge of starvation. Trickster said that he knew of a village where the chief's son was looking for a wife, and that if he could present himself as a female, they would all have plenty to eat. He made a vagina out of an elk's liver, and the nit and his two friends had sex with him to try it out. They each made Trickster pregnant, however. Trickster married the chief's son, and had three children in all. One day Trickster jumped over the roasting corn pit, and something rotten fell into it. Then and there they all realized that it was Trickster, and the nit and his other friends had to flee for their lives.2

The Thunderbird known as "Ocean Duck" was walking along the shore of a lake when he encountered the dwelling of an old woman. She was out to kill him. She was going to wrestle with him, but decided to offer him a meal of rice first. Ocean Duck saw that the "rice" was really a bowl full of lice, so he threw the lice into the fire. It was then that she knew for certain who he was.3 When a dead person reaches Spirit Woman on the path to Spiritland, she makes him ;a meal of rice. After he eats some, his head begins to ache. Spirit Woman than cracks open his skull and scoops out his brain. Thereafter, the rice becomes lice, the eating of which causes him to set aside "all bad things."4

  The Crab Louse
Pthirus pubis

While lice are clearly a pest which people try to avoid, they are just the same a pest that only the well off have to endure. Therefore, those who have them are really blessed.

Links: Wąkpanįgera, Giants, Morning Star, Heroka, Foxes, Blue Jay, Trickster, Thunderbirds, Bird Spirits.

Stories: mentioning lice (and nits): Little Human Head, Trickster Gets Pregnant, The Spotted Grizzly Man, Ocean Duck, Journey to Spiritland (v. 8).

Themes: an old woman cooks a meal of rice which turns out in reality to be lice: Ocean Duck, Journey to Spiritland (v. 8).


1 Paul Radin, "The Man's Head," Winnebago Notebooks (Philadelphia: American Philosophical Society) Notebook #51: 1-61 (English only); Winnebago V, #13: 1-21, 26-61, and Winnebago V, #10: 22-25. The last citation was from what had been an unidentified sylllabic text which proved to be the missing pages to Winnebago V, #13.

2 Paul Radin, The Trickster: A Study in American Indian Mythology (New York: Schocken Books, 1956) 21-24.

3 Paul Radin, "Ocean Duck," Winnebago Notebooks (Philadelphia: American Philosophical Society) #13: 1-77.

4 Paul Radin, Winnebago Notebooks, Freeman #3897 (Philadelphia: American Philosophical Society, n.d.) Winnebago V, #24: 75-81 (Hocąk syllabary), 75-81 (English translation) [79]. This has been published in English translation in Paul Radin, The Winnebago Tribe (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1990 [1923]) 95-96.