by Richard L. Dieterle
The spirit chief of the mice is female. She once went to earth in the form of a grandmother to help a human hero who was in trouble. All his brothers had gone missing when they tried to track a bad spirit who had eloped with their sister. He found the village in which his sister was living and met an old woman (the spirit chief of the mice) who helped him by telling him everything that he must do to triumph over the evil spirit. Her help was invaluable in his success, so he offered her enough bear meat to last the age. She took this to her spirit abode under the earth.1
In those early days, the mouse was dangerous and combative. When the animals lived together in a single village at the center of the world, Mouse was always starting quarrels. Finally, a general civil war erupted among the animals, and all were scattered except Mouse. For what he did, Earthmaker condemned him to be small and in want. All his brother animals would now hunt him. This is why mice are secretive and fearful to this day. Because the animals had hunted one another, they were condemned to be hunted by humans.2
Mice can be go-betweens for the domestic and the wild, since they are a bit of both. Their devious nature is seen in a Trickster tale. Trickster persuaded Mouse to tell Little Fox to come out into the wild were there was a dead animal he could have all to himself. The fox, being condemned to eternal penury as he was, could not pass up such an opportunity, so Mouse led him to the animal, which Little Fox took to be a cervid. She helped Trickster tie the fox's tail to this animal, which turned out to be a horse. Having startled the sleeping horse, it jumped up and galloped all the way to the village, dragging Little Fox behind. Since then, out of shame, the fox has been more wild and reclusive than even the mouse.3
Even in their diminutive form, mice are often represented as dangerous. An evil spirit tells the children with Ocean Duck that unless they stay close to the fire, the mice will gnaw on them.4 Hare forgot their bad reputation for this when he disguised himself by hiding one of his eyes under a bush. While he was off seducing Grandmother Earth, the mice nibbled on his eye, leaving it blemished.5 The eye may represent the moon with its gray mare. The Dakota have a similar idea, holding that mice cause the decline of the moon by eating away at it when it is full.6 Perhaps something like this is meant by the children's "Mouse Song":
|Who put on earth||can be like me?|
|No matter where they are,||I alone the little sky,|
|I myself touch.||’O’o!7|
[Hočąk-English Interlinear Text]
Links: Earth, Hare, Sun, Moon, Little Fox, Foxes, Horses, Trickster, Thunderbirds, The Twins.
Stories: mentioning mice: The War among the Animals, Trickster Takes Coyote for a Ride, Fable of the Mouse, Waruǧábᵉra, Hare Kills Wildcat, Ocean Duck, The Two Boys, The Lost Blanket; in which Little Fox is a character: Trickster Takes Little Fox for a Ride, Little Fox and the Ghost, Trickster Gets Pregnant; mentioning foxes: Trickster Takes Little Fox for a Ride, Įčorúšika and His Brothers, Redhorn's Father, Trickster's Anus Guards the Ducks, Trickster Gets Pregnant, Hare Recruits Game Animals for Humans, Holy One and His Brother; mentioning horses: The Big Eater, Thunderbird and White Horse, The Orphan who was Blessed with a Horse, Sun and the Big Eater, Rich Man, Boy, and Horse, Hare Recruits Game Animals for Humans, The Horse Spirit of Eagle Heights, Trickster Takes Little Fox for a Ride, James’ Horse, The Boy who was Blessed by a Mountain Lion, The Boy who Flew, Pete Dupeé and the Ghosts, They Owe a Bullet, The Man Whose Wife was Captured (v. 2).
Themes: mice gnawing on (parts of) people: Hare Kills Wildcat, Ocean Duck; a small animal was once dangerous, but was rendered innocuous in primordial times: Little Brother Snares the Sun (dormouse), The Green Man (cricket), Hare and the Dangerous Frog, The War among the Animals (mouse), animals that are not now carnivorous in primordial times sought to eat human flesh: Hare and the Dangerous Frog, The Elk who would Eat Men, The War among the Animals.
1 Paul Radin, "Winnebago Tales," Journal of American Folklore, 22 (1909): 288-300. Emil William Lenders, "The Myth of the 'Wah-ru-hap-ah-rah,' or the Sacred Warclub Bundle," Zeitschrift für Ethnologie, 46 (1914): 404-420. Told by Joseph LaMère, Bear Clan, to Radin in the summer of 1908 and to Lenders in Aug. - Sept., 1909.
2 Jennifer A. Smith, "The Greedy Ones," in David Lee Smith, Folklore of the Winnebago Tribe (Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1997) 95.
3 "Wakdjukaga," in Paul Radin, Winnebago Notebooks, Freeman #3897 (Philadelphia: American Philosophical Society, 1912) Winnebago V, #7: 548-566. A translation has been published in Paul Radin, The Trickster: A Study in American Indian Mythology (New York: Schocken Books, 1956) 50-52.
4 Paul Radin, "Ocean Duck," Winnebago Notebooks (Philadelphia: American Philosophical Society) Notebook #13: 1-77.
5 Paul Radin, Winnebago Hero Cycles: A Study in Aboriginal Literature (Baltimore: Waverly Press, 1948) 104-106.
6 Edward Duffield Neill, The History of Minnesota: From the Earliest French Explorations to the Present (Philadelphia: Lippincott, 1858 [reprint, 1975]) 86-87.
7 Amelia Susman, "Song of the Mouse," Notebooks (Philadelphia: American Philosophical Society, 1939) Book 10, Song 3, p. 84.