The Seer

by R. F.


Hočąk-English Interlinear Text


(1) When a man saw a lake sitting there, it very much appeared to him to be a very holy lake. The hills around the shore stood perpendicular, and pines abounded upon the surface of the shore. "This lake is very much a sacred lake; what ones of the various spirits who preside over the lake, being in control over it, they must be very great ones among the various spirits. Would that I were young again; right here I would fast, and I know I would try it. Then he said, "What am I saying? I shall make my son fast here," he thought. Once he arrived he set about it. He constructed a fasting lodge for his son to stay in at the lake. And he strongly encouraged him, and then he, at least, went home. There he fasted all winter long. (2) He would come to see him, but as yet he had not learned a single thing. The young man fasted there for three years, but he never dreamt anything. During the fourth year, then again when he fasted there, finally, the father came to see his son. He said, "Father, at last I have received something. However, the spirits asked for four offerings, tobacco, feathers, a dog, white deerskins, these and then they asked in addition that I be the fifth offering." That old man expressed his gratitude profusely. When spring came, the day was to be arranged. "There I shall behold the one who is in control of this sacred lake, I was told. There you are to bring your offerings," he said to him. He was very happy, and went home.

It was now the appointed day. The offerings were taken there. Having done that, the lake began to become turbulent. Then an object would emerge. "There it is, perhaps," he thought, "this is not the way it would be." (3) Very many things came up. Every one of the attendant entities, as many as there were, appeared. Finally, there suddenly appeared rising up a burning log, smoking. And when it suddenly quieted down, it was then that they two saw it. It was a very white chief. And this Waterspirit was not to be butchered with an ordinary knife. Therefore, he made himself a red cedar knife, and by means of this he did his own, this Waterspirit, he caused to be done, and he cut up the Waterspirit. Then he began to make himself weapons. He cut off a piece from its body saying, "With this I am going to make a drink." And again he cut off a piece and said, "I am taking this medicine to use in war." He took some of the blood and made paint. He could do anything he wanted to a man in the very midst of his lodge. And the people would love it and if they used that, they would not fail to accomplish a single thing. Then again, he made poisons so that people would not make his heart ache by making fun of him. With that he could abuse people. He could cause one of the people to die and on any day where he drank the medicine, there he would die. Indeed, to think of him would cause him to suffer, and also he would be sick a very long time and suffer very much. He could, (4) with that kind of medicine, by merely thinking of someone, take it away, driving him crazy. Then again by merely thinking of someone, he could deprive him of his soul. If someone were very far away and he uttered his name and said, "Let him die," then he would die. That kind of medicine he created there. The old man did not take anything good, but took strictly poisons alone. Then he made the offerings, the Waterspirit offerings, and then he did it. The old man said, "My dear son, let me be one of the offerings." You said, "Whenever it will be." "Father, now in time when you are old and the time for death has come to you, then the Waterspirit and you shall live together," he said. "I shall comply," he said, speaking to him. The old man said, "My dear son, yet if it happened now, I should be satisfied, and so I am." "Father, in time when you die, you shall live at this sacred lake. As long as the whole earth lasts, that long you shall reside, that far in time you shall remain there." And that's the way it was.

(5) And after they went back to their people, the old man, the witch, was quite something. He had destroyed all the children who had been held in honor. The old man destroyed all the people who were popular. And in the course of time, the Waterspirit there had beckoned the youthful seer to come to him. "Why is your father doing this?" he said, and "they pulled back the curtain. There they were, the men and the children, all, everyone of them, poisoned." The Waterspirit said, "This is not good. Forbid your father. If he does not desist, he will become a stone," he told him. "The Creator did not create me for this purpose, and if this continues, he would be displeased," he said. And so the one he had for a son, when he got back, he forbade his father. But he said, "Son, even though they have taken me by the wrist, I cannot desist from doing it," he said. In the morning, the old man did not move anywhere — when they looked at him, he was solid rock.1


Commentary. This story is said to be a worak in Radin's field notes of 1908.

"sacred lake" — the Hočąk is te wákąčąkiàre. The description given above of a pine forest and steep perpendicular cliffs suggests Te Wákąčąka, Devil's Lake. However, great pains are taken not to use a proper name for the locale, and we know from other stories that this particular lake is governed by a green Waterspirit rather than the white one that we see portrayed in this story.

"the attendant entities (waixgira)" — the word waixgiwani is defined by Marino (from Radin) as, "attendant beings around the main one." The suffix -wani means "his" and makes reference to inanimate things (Gatchet). So the waixgira are the objects that accompany, in this case, a spirit being. When Waterspirits arise, and wish to put on a display, they do so by causing many things to rise to the surface as a kind of symbolic and material fanfare presaging their own appearance. In blessings, human being are often represented as logs, which is the basis for Radin saying that the smoking log is a representation of the human sacrifice about to be requested. Smoke, in sacrifice, is the connecting medium to the spirit world, so much emphasis is placed on it.

"a very white chief" — a reference to a Waterspirit. They often arise from the waters in answer to offering in the way described here. White is the sacred color par excellance, and is often associated with sovereignty. The Waterspirit Clan is usually said to be the chief of the lower moiety.

 
Eugene W. Donaldson Paul Wray

"butchered" — Waterspirits are unique in offering their own bodies as blessings. The Waterspirit allows itself to be cut up, and the various protions of its physical being are then used as powerful portions and instruments of magic. This is not as unusual as it might seem, given that animals are conceived as volunteering to give themselves up to human hunts in exchange for the offerings that were presented to them in their past lives as spirits in their animal spirit village. The Waterspirit only dies in relation to its present physical existence, but from its native spiritual abode, it is able to regenerate a new physical body for life in the terrestrial realm. Red cedar is a sacred wood whose smoke is used as a purifying incense. Red cedar is particularly sacred to the Thunderbirds, who often kill Waterspirits in the course of their eternal struggle with one another. An actual red cedar knife was found at Spiro.2

"deprive him of his soul" — I think this is just another way of saying what the sentence that follows says, i. e., that he can kill at a distance by the use of thought alone.


Links: Waterspirits, Rock Spirits, Witches.


Stories: in which Waterspirits occur as characters: Waterspirit Clan Origin Myth, Traveler and the Thunderbird War, The Green Waterspirit of Wisconsin Dells, The Lost Child, River Child and the Waterspirit of Devil's Lake, A Waterspirit Blesses Mąnį́xete’ų́ga, Bluehorn's Nephews, Holy One and His Brother, The Nannyberry Picker, The Creation of the World (vv. 1, 4), Šųgepaga, The Sioux Warparty and the Waterspirit of Green Lake, The Waterspirit of Lake Koshkonong, The Waterspirit of Rock River, The Boulders of Devil's Lake, Devil's Lake — How it Got its Name, Old Man and Wears White Feather, Waterspirits Keep the Corn Fields Wet, The Diving Contest, The Lost Blanket, Redhorn's Sons, The Phantom Woman, Įčorúšika and His Brothers, Great Walker's Warpath, White Thunder's Warpath, The Descent of the Drum, The Shell Anklets Origin Myth, The Daughter-in-Law's Jealousy, Snowshoe Strings, The Thunderbird, Hare Retrieves a Stolen Scalp (v. 2), The Two Children, The Twins Join Redhorn's Warparty, Earthmaker Sends Rušewe to the Twins, Paint Medicine Origin Myth, Waruǧápara, Ocean Duck, The Twin Sisters, Trickster Concludes His Mission, The King Bird, The Medicine Rite Foundation Myth, Great Walker's Medicine (v. 2), Peace of Mind Regained, How the Thunders Met the Nights, The Spiritual Descent of John Rave's Grandmother, The Boy who was Captured by the Bad Thunderbirds, The Shaggy Man, The Woman who Married a Snake (?), Hare Secures the Creation Lodge, Ghost Dance Origin Myth I, The Sacred Lake, Lost Lake; about seers: The Shawnee Prophet and His Ascension, Witches, The Shawnee Prophet — What He Told the Hočągara, A Prophecy, Great Walker and the Anishinaabe Witches, The Claw Shooter, The Tap the Head Medicine, The Diving Contest; mentioning witches or warlocks: The Witch Men's Desert, The Thunder Charm, The Wild Rose, Turtle and the Witches, Great Walker and the Anishinaabe Witches, The Claw Shooter, Mijistéga’s Powwow Magic and How He Won the Trader's Store, Migistéga’s Magic, Mijistéga and the Sauks, Migistéga's Death, The Mesquaki Magician, The Tap the Head Medicine, Keramaniš’aka's Blessing, Battle of the Night Blessed Men and the Medicine Rite Men, The Hills of La Crosse, The Shawnee Prophet — What He Told the Hočągara (v. 2), Įčorúšika and His Brothers, Thunder Cloud Marries Again, Paint Medicine Origin Myth, The Woman's Scalp Medicine Bundle, Potato Magic, Young Rogue's Magic; mentioning poisons: Hare Visits the Blind Men, The Creation of Evil, The Island Weight Songs, The Shaggy Man, The Medicine Rite Foundation Myth (v. 3), Thunder Cloud Marries Again, The Shell Anklets Origin Myth (v. 1), Ocean Duck, The Diving Contest, A Wife for Knowledge, Great Walker's Medicine (antedote); 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 Girl who Refused a Blessing from the Wood Spirits, 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, The Tap the Head Medicine, The Sweetened Drink Song, Ancient Blessing; mentioning red cedar (juniper, waxšúč): The Journey to Spiritland (vv. 4, 5) (used to ascend to Spiritland), A Waterspirit Blesses Mąnį́xete’ų́ga (sacrificial knife), Redhorn's Sons (coronet of Thunders, lodge), Aračgéga's Blessings (coronet of Thunders), The Twins Disobey Their Father (trees found on cliffs of Thunders), Partridge's Older Brother (smoke fatal to evil spirit), Hawk Clan Origin Myth (purifying smoke), The Creation Council (purifying smoke), The Dipper (incense), Sun and the Big Eater (arrow), The Brown Squirrel (arrow), Hare Kills a Man with a Cane (log used as weapon); mentioning Rock Spirits: The Big Stone, The Green Man, The Creation of the World, The Commandments of Earthmaker, The Roaster, Wojijé, The Raccoon Coat, The Medicine Rite Foundation Myth, Hare Secures the Creation Lodge, Baldheaded Warclub Origin Myth, Hare Kills Flint, Spear Shaft and Lacrosse, A Woman Turns into a Rock, Eats the Stinking Part of the Deer Ankle.


Themes: someone fasts a long time without receiving a blessing: The Orphan who was Blessed with a Horse, Earthmaker Blesses Wagíšega (Wešgíšega), The Man Who Would Dream of Mą’ųna, The Boy Who Became a Robin, The Nightspirits Bless Jobenągiwįxka; 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, 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, A Man's Revenge, Aračgéga's Blessings, The Blessing of a Bear Clansman, The Man who was Blessed by the Sun, The Girl who Refused a Blessing from the Wood Spirits, 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, Song to Earthmaker, First Contact (v. 1), The Horse Spirit of Eagle Heightss; many objects float to the surface of a lake just before a Waterspirit rises from the depths: A Waterspirit Blesses Mąnį́xete’ų́ga, The Shell Anklets Origin Myth; a Waterspirit demands a human sacrifice: River Child and the Waterspirit of Devil's Lake, Old Man and Wears White Feather, The Phantom Woman; someone volunteers to offer himself to a spirit: The Adventures of Redhorn's Sons (Thunderbirds), Redhorn's Sons (Thunderbirds); someone is offered to a Waterspirit: The Shaggy Man, River Child and the Waterspirit of Devil's Lake, White Thunder's Warpath, Waruǧápara, Old Man and Wears White Feather; a Waterspirit kills a human: The Shaggy Man, River Child and the Waterspirit of Devil's Lake, Waruǧapara, The Two Children, The Waterspirit of Lake Koshkonong, The Waterspirit of Rock River, The Twin Sisters, The Sioux Warparty and the Waterspirit of Green Lake, The Green Waterspirit of the Wisconsin Dells, The Lost Blanket; someone is blessed with a medicine: A Waterspirit Blesses Mąnį́xete’ų́ga, Fourth Universe, Great Walker's Medicine, Bow Meets Disease Giver, The Seven Maidens, The Blessings of the Buffalo Spirits, The Tap the Head Medicine, The Healing Blessing, A Weed's Blessing, A Snake Song Origin Myth, Young Man Gambles Often, The Elk's Skull, Buffalo Dance Origin Myth, A Peyote Vision, The Sweetened Drink Song; a Waterspirit is killed and his body is used as medicine: A Waterspirit Blesses Mąnį́xete’ų́ga, Great Walker's Warpath, The Tap the Head Medicine; as part of a blessing, a spirit orders the beneficiary to kill him and make magical use of his body: A Waterspirit Blesses Mąnį́xete’ų́ga, White Wolf, Eats the Stinking Part of the Deer Ankle, Paint Medicine Origin Myth, The Elk's Skull; a Waterspirit tells a young man that another man close to him will have immortal life in the Waterspirit's company, but this comes to be denied because the other man fails to abide by the conditions of the blessing: Lake Wąkšikhomįgra (Mendota): the Origin of Its Name; an old man is, or becomes, a rock: The Raccoon Coat, Hare Secures the Creation Lodge, The Big Stone; a person turns to stone: The Twin Sisters, A Woman Turns into a Rock, The Raccoon Coat.


Notes

1 Paul Radin, Primitive Man as Philosopher (New York: D. Appleton Co., 1927) 196-199. The original text is in, "The Seer," in Paul Radin, Winnebago Notebooks, Freeman #3899 [1254] (Philadelphia: American Philosophical Society, n.d.) Winnebago III, #19e: 1-5.

2 Henry W. Hamilton, "The Spiro Mound," Missouri Archaeologist, 14 (1952): 40, 148 plate 24B.