The Sore Eye Dance Origins

by Jasper Blowsnake

Jasper Blowsnake

Hocąk 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 Nightspirits. 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 Hocąk 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.

Greg Schechter
Kešų́cgenik, the Little Red Turtle
(the Painted Turtle, Chrysemys pico)

"Little Red Turtle" — since this seems not to be a clan name, it will have been a name assigned him on the basis that he had attributes that fit it. The species of turtle denoted by this name is the Painted Turtle. This turtle is largely black, or a very dark olive, with striations of red, yellow and white, which recalls the night sky. It often sleeps at the very bottom of its pond, where it forages during the day. A little farther on (page 107), the story of how the rounded wood came to the rite is recounted. According to the "The Rounded Wood Origin Myth," on the supposition that the man who acquired the nąrųgízᵋra (the rounded wood used as an invitation stick in the rite) is the same who founded the rite, the feat of Little Red Turtle was that he was, like his namesake, able to go to the very greatest depth and retrieve the rounded wood. It is said to be efficacious in war, so it is appropriate that it was acquired by someone of this name, since Turtle is the founder of war.

"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 Upper
and Lower 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 hikíxarackĕ, a flat warclub, whose efficacy in war is also expressed in its inclusion within a warbundle. Hikixaracge can be analysed as, hi-, a prefix indicating that something is an instrument; kixa, "branching"; racge, "left" — perhaps a reference to the spike, which branches off. The ball-headed warclub is unique to the Upper Moiety and would therefore be appropriate to celestial Spirits. The rounded wood is the same as the invitation sticks.

"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 for 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.

"four circles"mąrúwįx can have either a static (space-like) or a dynamic (time-like) aspect: it can either be a circle, or it can be a circuit. Sometimes the four mąrúwįǧᵋra represent a simple circumambulation of the whole lodge, conducted in a withershins direction. However, it is often more elaborate than this. On pages 145-146 of Jasper Blowsnake's account of the Sore Eyes Dance, we learn that when the western retinue arose, they first made a mąrúwįx where they had been sitting. Then they moved to the south (the end of the Road), where they made another circuit. They repeated this pattern until they arrived back at their starting point. This clearly shows that they circled in front of every cardinal position. It is this singularity that is most likely referenced by the four mąrúwįǧᵋra. The emphasis on closed curves finds expression as well in the rounded end of the Nąrúgizànį. The sphere is a circle in every direction, and the circle is the only line without beginning or end. Thus, we find that Hare, when he was trying to win immortality for humanity, did a circuit of the perimeter of the earth, but failed in his mission when he looked back (which is seeing the past as future). So the circle and the sphere can represent the unbroken line, and therefore, unbroken Life. Therefore, the formation of circles, inasmuch as they exemplify the form of Life without end, are a catalyst to the induction of Light-and-Life from the Spiritland of the Nights.

"plants" — this is translated as "medicines" in both the interlinear text and Radin's published form, but the word here is xawį́hura, "plants." We can, of course, infer that most of these plants were used as medicines, but we cannot exclude the possibility that some were used for poison. Others apparently made the user intoxicated, hence a reference to misusing them for "fun."

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 Ciwoit’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, The Origins of the Nightspirit Starting Songs, Black Otter's Warpath, 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 Origins of the Nightspirit Starting Songs, The Sweetened Drink Song, The Blessing of a Bear Clansman, The Stench-Earth Medicine Origin Myth; someone is blessed with a medicine: The Stench-Earth Medicine Origin Myth, 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, The Stench-Earth Medicine Origin Myth, 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.