The Sore Eye Dance Origins

by Jasper Blowsnake

Jasper Blowsnake

Hočąk Syllabic Text with an English Interlinear Translation

Jasper Blowsnake's Account of the Sore Eye Dance

(77) Both my grandfather and my father told me that this rite was good, they said. (78) The one who earned this rite was called "Little Red Turtle." When he was blessed, he was called Žawánųmitè, having been blessed by those who are called "the Ones with Rounded Wood." (79) He was taught things in the middle of the day. There they taught him everything he was to do. They caused night to fall at a certain place, and there they blessed him. They showed him how to make four circles, (80) and there they taught him songs. It was from that time on that this very rite was started. He was told that he was really blessed, so this rite, he said, should not disappear, it is said. (81) They say that since he liked this rite, he spoke on its behalf. He said that all of the plants and everything that goes with them, are good and useful things, it is said.1

Commentary. "this rite" — the rite whose origin this short account relates is the "Sore-Eye Dance." This ceremony not only involves dancing, but the singing of certain special songs and the performance of a ritual, all in honor of the Night Spirits. The ceremony lasts for five sleepless nights. During the ritual, "Night tricks" are performed. These include being able to stick one's arm into boiling water without being scalded, and to take into the mouth live coals in order to spit them out like sparks. A hint of how this is possible is indicated by Gilmore. Used for this purpose was the narrow-leaved purple cone flower (Echinacea angustifolia).

It was said that jugglers bathed their hands and arms in the juice of this plant so that they could take out a piece of meat from a boiling kettle with the bare hand without suffering pain, to the wonderment of onlookers. A Winnebago said he had often used the plant to make his mouth insensible to heat, so that for show he could take a live coal into his mouth. Burns were bathed with the juice to give relief from the pain, and the plant was used in the steam bath to render the great heat endurable.2

Echinacea was generally used as a pain killer.

"earned" — the word in Hočąk is ruxuruk, "to do, to earn, to accomplish, to be able, to overcome, to conquer." In order to receive a blessing from the Spirits, one must fast to "make oneself pitiable." It is the pity that the Spirits feel towards humans on account of their suffering and their mortality that moves them to grant blessings. To obtain a very great blessing such as an entire religious rite, a person would have to fast long and hard, to "starve and thirst himself nearly to death," as they often would say. Since blessing are obtained through suffering, they are clearly earned. Therefore, the person who founded the rite earned it.

"Žawánųmitè"žawanų́, is the first part of this name, and Helmbrecht-Lehmann renders this as, "medicine person, healer, fortune-teller, prophet (whoever has to do with medicine)." Of mite, nothing could be learned. However, the transliteration in Notebook 69 has mit’e. If we suppose that it derives from žawanų-hit’e, where the latter means "to talk," the /h/ would have been lost from internal sandhi, so that it might be the case that the nasalization of the previous vowel (/ų/) caused an /m/ sound before the succeeding vowel (/i/). If this is the case, then the name would mean, "Medicine Talker."

  BAE 37: Pl. 45
  The Warclubs of the Lower
and Upper Moieties

"the Ones with Rounded Wood"Nąnúgizànį, or Nąrúgizànį, or Norugizáni, from ną-rugis-hanį, where means, "wood"; rugís, "to form or make a circle, to make something round (like a circle), to form a ring out of something" (Helmbrecht-Lehmann); and hanį, "to have." No is an occasional variant of . The nąrųgízᵋra is said to be "of good use in war." This might lead us to think that it is a ball-headed warclub were it not for the fact that the Nightspirits are said to have the hikíxaračkĕ, a flat warclub. The ball-headed warclub is unique to the Lower Moiety and is therefore inappropriate to celestial Spirits. It may be that the rounded wood is the same as the invitation sticks. Its efficacy in war may perhaps be expressed in its inclusion within a warbundle.

"the middle of the day" — usually fasting takes place in the evening, as the supplicant "cries to the spirits." Owing to the rigors of the fast and deprivation of even water, the faster can induce visions, which are called "dreams." That the supplicant is blessed in broad daylight suggests that the Spirits have manifested themselves more forcefully, taking on a concrete presence that transcends the dream state and intrudes within the plane of ordinary reality. Such a concrete manifestation of the spiritual presence is obviously appropriate to an extraordinary blessing, as a whole rite dedicated to the Nightspirits must be considered.

"night to fall" — being Nightspirits, they would not manifest themselves in broad daylight as this is an element antithetical to their natures. Darkness is believed to have been caused by the introduction of a positive element, the blackness of night being as substantial as the light rays responsible to the illumination of the day. So the Nightspirits scatter darkness about as they tread across the celestial dome as the sun sets below the earth. It is therefore possible for them, perhaps even inherent in their presence, to scatter darkness when they appear even at the peak of day.

"a certain place" — Radin's rendering, "a place where the stars touched land," while poetic, is not supported by the text, which makes no mention of stars. Where this happened is merely described as mąwojijeižą, "at a certain place." Radin says in a footnote, "Although literally the word probably means shells, its meaning here is quite different. It refers to places where blessings, such as food, etc, are stored for the faster." Marino defines mą́wojá as "depositories for holy objects." It probably never meant "shell," inasmuch as mą́woja comes from , "earth, ground"; and woja, "to be fruitful." Miner defines it as, "vegetable, root, berry, any edible thing growing in the ground"; and in other texts collected by Radin, it is rendered more generally as, "vegetation," and "the products of the earth." There can be little doubt that mąwojijeižą comes from mą́wojá, however the form of this is problematic. It is probably from mąwoja-hije-hi-ižą, where hijé hi means, "to put, to place, to place something (standing)" (Helmbrecht-Lehmann). In a noun compound, -hijei- would mean, "depository." Given this origin, the word should have been mąwojaijeižą. In many words in this particular account, Jasper Blowsnake left out yi, although in this instance it is only y: m wo tt[y]i tteyi d. Otherwise, it may be a rare sandhi in which the diphthong is foreshortened from /ai/ to /i/. It is nevertheless clear that this is a special place where the Worlds are in communication, what Eliade calls a "Center."3 The location of such places may have been known to but a few.

"plants" — this is translated as "medicines" in both the interlinear text and Radin's published form, but the word here is xawį́hura, "plants."

Radin's Translation. (334) "My father and my grandfather spoke to me of this ceremony, and they told me it was good. They told me that the one who first obtained it was named 'Little Red Turtle.' He fasted and was blessed by those whom he called the Beings-with-round-wood. By these was he blessed at the noon hour, and he was taught what to do. There they taught him all. At a place where the stars touched land they caused it to become night, and there they blessed (335) him and taught him how to make four circles and also certain songs. Since then this ceremony has been performed. He was really blessed, and he was told exactly how everything should be performed. So it is said. As he was very fond of the Night feast, he spoke in its behalf, and told of all the medicines that were associated with it and of the use to which they could be put."4

Links: Nightspirits.

Stories: mentioning Nightspirits: The Nightspirits Bless Jobenągiwįxka, The Nightspirits Bless Čiwoit’éhiga, The Rounded Wood Origin Myth, The Big Stone, How the Thunders Met the Nights, Fourth Universe, Battle of the Night Blessed Men and the Medicine Rite Men, The Race for the Chief's Daughter, The Daughter-in-Law's Jealousy, Ocean Duck, Baldheaded Warclub Origin Myth, Sun and the Big Eater; mentioning the rounded wood (ceremonial object): The Rounded Wood Origin Myth.

Themes: a spirit blesses a man with knowledge of a sacred dance: Ghost Dance Origin Myth I, Buffalo Dance Origin Myth; a spirit blesses a man with knowledge of sacred songs: Earthmaker Blesses Wagíšega (Wešgíšega), Holy Song, Buffalo Dance Origin Myth, The Island Weight Songs, A Snake Song Origin Myth, A Waterspirit Blesses Mąnį́xete’ų́ga, Song to Earthmaker, The Completion Song Origin, The Sweetened Drink Song, The Blessing of a Bear Clansman; 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 Seer, 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 man acquires knowledge of a medicinal plant through a vision given to him by the spirits: The Blessings of the Buffalo Spirits, Great Walker's Medicine, The Plant Blessing of Earth.


1 Jasper Blowsnake, "The Sore-Eye Dance (Hišjaxiri Waši)," in Paul Radin, Winnebago Notebooks (Philadelphia: American Philosophical Society, n. d.) Notebook 23, 1-195 [77-81] (Syllabary with an interlinear translation). Jasper Blowsnake, "The Sore-Eye Dance (Hišjaxiri Waši)," in Paul Radin, Winnebago Notebooks (Philadelphia: American Philosophical Society, n. d.) Notebook 69, 1-37 [12-13] (phonetic text only).

2 Melvin Randolph Gilmore, Uses of Plants by the Indians of the Missouri River Region, Thirty-Third Annual Report of the Bureau of American Ethnology, 1911-12 (Washington, D. C.: Government Printing Office, 1919) 106.

3 For the concept of the Centre and its associated symbolism, see Eliade, Patterns in Comparative Religion, 81, 367-387; Mircea Eliade, The Sacred and the Profane. The Nature of Religion. The Significance of Religious Myth, Symbolism, and Ritual within Life and Culture (New York: Harcourt, Brace, & World, Inc., 1959) 40-42, 49, 57-58, 64-65; Mircea Eliade, Images and Symbols: Studies in Religious Symbolism (New York: Sheed and Ward, 1969) 42-43; William C. Beane and William G. Doty, edd., Myths, Rites, Symbols: A Mircea Eliade Reader, 2 vols. (New York: Harper & Row, 1975) 2:373; Alwyn Rees and Brinley Rees, Celtic Heritage: Ancient Tradition in Ireland and Wales (London: Thames & Hudson, 1961) Ch. VII.

4 Paul Radin, The Winnebago Tribe, The Thirty-Seventh Annual Report of the Bureau of American Ethnology (Washington: U. S. Government Printing Office, 1923]) 334-335.