The Spiritual Descent of John Rave's Grandmother

by John Rave's Grandmother

Hočąk-English Interlinear Text

(1) Hąhą́ grandson, I'm going to tell you something. Since you're sick, you should listen so that you can recover. Thus, the story that I'm going to tell you is a holy one. Once upon a time, it is said, there was this great thing, Časį́čkuhą, "Beneath the Deer Tail." We lived there at its base. One husband was a chief, and we had children. Then I said that I longed to go to the humans there. (2) "Never mind," he told me, "if you go, you could help whatever one is there, but don't go." But even so, again I said that, in truth, I wanted to come to the Indians. I still said that I myself really wanted to do it. "So do so, go," he said to me, and he then struck me with his tail, toward my head he struck, making the end of the tail strike me under the eye in order to make it blue with bruises, (3) that way if I were to go to the Indians, I would not like it. I cried. My heart hurt, and he said to me, "Say, 'That's all,' then you may go. In four days you will recover. The reason that I have done this is to brand you," he said, but even before, when I was not well, I wished to come to the Indians. Therefore, I came to them with black and blue eyes. Of the children that I had, only one girl did he throw after me. (4) So my only girl is living with me now.

And he was the chief, the ruler of the village whence I came. And these rivers are their roads. One of these, called Nižakísųč, "Cliffs Coming to Water," is where his sister rules. He was called by the name Mą́zičiga, "Yellow Earth Lodge," on account of the way the lodges are there, they say. They say that it is that way at the base (of Časį́čkuhą) where I come from. So they do not have death. In order that you may live, grandson, thus I have told you this story. (5) They say that some day I shall go home to Časįčkuhą. There is where my children are. The reason that I have told you this is so that you might live. Some day, when I die, it will be because I have gone home. This is the end, she said.1

Commentary. "grandson"this is addressed to John Rave, who is presumably the informant. John Rave, and therefore his (paternal) grandfather was a member of the Bear Clan. Paul Radin's title, "John Rave's Grandmother," since it is paired with another narrative "John Rave's Grandfather," suggests that the author was the wife of Rave's paternal grandfather. The word translated "grandson," hičųšge, also means "nephew" (father's sister's son). As subsequent narrative shows, the grandmother was a member of the Waterspirit Clan given that she had spiritual descent from the Waterspirits. If the narrator was Rave's paternal aunt, she would have been a member of the Bear Clan. Given that marriage is between people of different moieties, the wife of a Bear Clansman should be a member of one of the Bird Clans (Upper Moiety). She could be the maternal grandmother, in which case she will have been in the right moiety. However, given the context, it is more likely that the moiety marriage system had already broken down by the time Rave's paternal grandparents had married (ca. 1850 ?).

"you can recover" — this narrative is called by its author a worak, whose primary meaning is "story." However, worak is also used in a more specific sense, more like "just a story." Woraks in this sense are not holy, and are not sacred stories, which are known as waiką́. This story, however, is clearly a waiką́, since it is explicitly characterized as wakąčą́k, "holy." Apparently, merely being told a waiką́ bestows a blessing upon the listener, and can make the sick well again. This is reiterated at the end when she says, "The reason that I have told you this is so that you might live."

"Časį́čkuhą" — this is a topographical feature. Radin apparently thought that it might be in Illinois as he had put "(Illi)" after it. However, McKern says that it is "a rocky cliff landmark on the east bank of the Wisconsin River." Both Radin and McKern translate the name as, "Shaped Like (kuhą) a Deer's (ča) Tail (sį́č). However, kuhą means, "under, underneath, from below," (LaMère, Radin, Marino, Helmbrecht-Lehmann). Therefore, the whole should mean, "Below the Deer's Tail," which refers to the white triangular patch on the Virginia deer's buttocks which is normally covered by the tail, but which becomes visible during "flagging," in which a fleeing deer raises its tail. These cliffs must look as if they were driven into an incline by a great force, which was said in another myth, to be that applied by the Meteor Spirit (Wojijéga).

"we lived there" — she means that she lived there in her previous life as a Spirit. Only Spirits of land or water live under mounds, hills, or cliffs.

"one husband" — meaning, "one of my husbands," that is, of her past life as a Spirit.

"I longed to go to the humans" — it may seem strange that a Spirit would like to leave for the world of mortals, but it is thought that Spirits find human food attractive, and they also pity the mortals and are moved by compassion to help them. Also accepting offerings tendered by humans created a debt and an obligation which could be discharged only by going through a mortal life dedicated to helping humans.

"tail" — this kind of Spirit has a tail, so the audience immediately becomes aware that it is a Spirit of the Lower World. The word for tail here, sį́č, refers to tails other than those of birds, which are called hįwí.

"blue with bruises (hųt’ek)" & "to brand you" — the word for blue (čo) does not occur in this phrase. The expression is from , meaning, "body," and t’ek, which can mean, "to spot, to smear." In LaMère's mind, the blow with the tip of the tail was designed to cause spots around the eyes specifically of the blue color of a bruise (what we call a "black eye"). Being born with a blue mark on the body is often a sign of an incarnated Waterspirit, blue being the emblematic color of the Waterspirits, denoting at once the blue waters and the blue of the clear sky.

"I came to them" — that is, she was born among them with the blue marks emblematic of the Waterspirits, thus making it clear to the family among whom she was born that she was an incarnated Waterspirit.

"throw" — the word "throw" (čągerųt’ú) is used to indicate a kind of casting out of the Spirit realm into the realm of mortal beings. The girl would be born, of course, nearly two decades later. This can be analyzed as, čągera, "outside," ho-, "the place or time at which," hi-,"to arrive going;" t’ų, "to throw." So čągerųt’ú means, "to be thrown so as to arrive going to someplace outside."

"Yellow Earth Lodge (Mą́zičiga)" — LaMère-Radin has, "Lives in Iron." The name is somewhat homonymous. The latter translation of the name derives from mąz, "metal, iron," and hiči, "lodge"; although hiči meaning "lodge" is attested, only the form či can also mean, "to live." The revised analysis would give us, "Iron Lodge." That hiči, či, denote a lodge in this context is made clear by the gloss that he is so called "on account of the way the lodges are there." However,  means "earth" among other things, and zi or ží denotes yellow and similar brownish tints. So it could mean, "Yellow Earth Lodge." Thomas Foster, back in the 1850's, collected a woman's name, Mąžíwįga, a Waterspirit Clan name meaning "Yellow-Red Earth Woman," which they said at the time was a reference to the iron deposits of springs. The word mązi translated as "iron," as made clear from this example, is a reference to hematite, which just is yellow-red earth. So the word for iron is literally "yellow-red earth." Therefore, the translations, "Yellow Earth Lodge," and "Iron Lodge," are synonymous in Hočąk. The name of this Waterspirit chief is found in none other than the Bear Clan, as Dorsey collected Mązičiga as a name in that clan back in the late 1870's. This means that the spiritual husband of Rave's grandmother, a Waterspirit, bore the same name Mą́zičiga that also found in the clan of her earthly husband.

Comparative Material. ...

Links: Waterspirits, Spirits.

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 Seer, 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; set at Časį́čkuhą (Below the Deer Tail): The Meteor Spirit and the Origin of Wampum.

Themes: ...


1 The original texts are in Paul Radin, Winnebago Notebooks (Philadelphia: American Philosophical Society, n.d.) Winnebago III, #8: 1-3 (phonetic text only), and Notebook 26, 1-5 (phonetic text with an interlinear translation).