Supernatural & Spiritual Power

by Richard L. Dieterle

Among the Chiwere tribes, or at least the Oto, Earthmaker is also known as Wakaⁿda.1 This term seems to have fallen out of use in Hocąk, probably displaced by wakąca, "divine power, divinity," a term that came to denote the Thunderbird. Since Earthmaker is not a Thunderbird, the term Wakąja can no longer be used for him. The Çegiha Sioux preserve a cognate term to the Oto, Wakąda. The meaning is similar, but represents a more primitive idea than the Hocąk Earthmaker:

Wa-kǫ́-da, is the name applied by the Osage to the mysterious, invisible, creative power which brings into existence all living things of whatever kind. They believe that this great power resides in the air, the blue sky, the clouds, the stars, the sun, the moon, and the earth, and keeps them in motion. Sometimes the Osage speak of a tree, a rock, or a prominent hill as Wa-kǫ́-da, but when asked if his people had great numbers of Wa-kǫ́-das he would reply, "Not so; there is but one God and His presence is in all things and is everywhere. We say a tree is Wa-kǫ́-da because in it also, Wa-kǫ́-da resides." The Omaha, Ponca, and Kaw [= Quapah] cognate tribes also use the name just as here written and give it the same meaning.2

However," in Osage wakǫda, like the Hocąk wakąja, can simply mean "divinity," as in Wakǫda Hǫbadǫ, "Divinity of the Day" (the Sun).3

To the extent that almost everything in Hocąk thought has a spirit, it is wak'ą. Wak'ą simply means "sacred, holy."4 However, the idea that things are wak'ą because they are sustained by an omnipresent spiritual power emanating from Earthmaker was not much maintained in more sophisticated circles. To the Hocąk mind, Earthmaker is actually a rather otiose god, generally approachable only after death by those who had shown the very highest merit. As a noun, wak'ą means "that which is sacred," and had come to denote in particular the serpent who is the messenger of spirits. When this stem undergoes expansion, we get the word waiką, which means "sacred story." The waiką itself has a spirit, and if the story is in some way violated, it is avenged by the bite of a wak'ą (serpent).5

The Hocąk word wákącąk (waikącąk, "to be holy") is also translated like wak'ą as "sacred, holy"6 The word derives from wak'ą + cąk, the latter meaning "big, great." However, wákącąk doesn't mean "sacred" in the Western concept expressed by this English translation. The Western mind associates evil with whatever is opposed to the sacred. However, most traditional cultures think in terms of supernatural power, which may be good, evil, or indifferent. It is this power that is wákącąk. How this idea differs from our conception of the sacred can be seen in an episode from a waiką, Little Human Head. In this story, four young women find a human skull, which some of them begin to kick, one of their number warns them that they should be careful since it might be wákącąk. The fear is not that they may be doing a injury to something good, but that the object may be dangerous on account of the power of the spirit that may be associated with it. So too we find that the most powerful of evil spirits, Herešgúnina, is also the most wákącąk of spirits next to Earthmaker himself.

The Hocągara also have a concept of the spiritual as opposed to the sacred: xop, which forms the stem for the word waxop'ini, "a spirit."7 Spirits are deities great and small who, as such, can often affect the emotional life of man. The word xop, says Radin,

. . . seems to be associated, in the eyes of the Winnebago, with the intensely emotional aspects of religion, where self is completely forgotten. Those ceremonies, in which the performers work themselves into a frenzy of excitement and dance naked, are always referred to as xop.8

This shows that xop has more to do with how the spirits affect people than the mere state of having supernatural power as expressed by the concepts of wak'ą and wákącąk. It would probably be an exaggeration to associate xop with the concept so well known among the Germanic peoples — also a forest dwelling culture — of what its Scandinavian branch called wodh, a kind of supernaturally inspired state of frenzy. It gave rise to the name of a god, Óðinn (Woden, Wotan < *Woðanaz), but not of gods and spirits generally.

One of the greatest spiritual powers given to man is bravery, which is expressed in the wider concept of cewe, which means more fully, "bravery, spiritual power."9 This is personified mythically in the turkey spirit Rušewe, "He who Unleashes Cewe." Rušewe causes the errant Twins to lose their bravery altogether and to seek refuge with Earthmaker as that divinity had planned all along.10 It is this spiritual power, rather than the broader supernatural power, that leads to bravery and ultimately to victory, which is expressed from the same stem: wadocewešge. Medicine men, who used supernatural powers to suck disease from their patients, were called wąktošewe, from wąk, "man," do, "big, old," and cewe, "spiritual power": "an old man with spiritual power."11 These practitioners tap into their own skills and the blessings of inner strength that they have received from spirits to augment those abilities. However, there are a very few men who have at their disposal supernatural power over disease itself which they obtained through blessing from those spirits directly in control of disease. These distinguished men are therefore called wákącąk.12

Links: Spirits, Earthmaker, Herešgúnina, Sun, Rušewe, Introduction (the name Hocąk).

Stories: pertaining to the name Hocąk: White Flower, Hocąk Clans Origin Myth.

Themes: the remains of a dead man speak to, bite, and chase after someone: Little Human Head,, Coyote and the Ghost; a person endows an inanimate object with the power of speech and orders it to speak for him/her while he/she escapes: Ocean Duck (an arrow), Little Human Head (a doll); someone runs away at full speed, but despite running for some time, he finds himself only a short distance from where he started: Redhorn's Father, The Father of the Twins Attempts to Flee; solitary children feed themselves on an inexhaustible boiled deer tail: The Chief of the Heroka, Waruǧábᵉra, The Red Man; one small morsel of food when put in a kettle becomes sufficient to feed everyone present: Ocean Duck (bean), The Chief of the Heroka (deer tail), The Red Man (deer tail), The Raccoon Coat (kernel of corn), Wojijé (kernel of corn), Redhorn's Father (bean); an inanimate object expands upon command: Kunu's Warpath, Wojijé, The Raccoon Coat, The Elk's Skull, A Mink Tricks Trickster, Baldheaded Warclub Origin Myth; inanimate things automatically respond to human commands: Spear Shaft and Lacrosse (corn plant), Wojijé (metal boat), The Raccoon Coat (metal boat), cf. How the Thunders Met the Nights (pontoon boat), Hare Retrieves a Stolen Scalp (everything); setting water ablaze by striking it with a weapon: Įcorúšika and His Brothers, Baldheaded Warclub Origin Myth; a hypnotic command for enemies to sleep works on the fourth utterance: Brave Man, Hare Visits the Bodiless Heads; hypnotic commands issued at a distance: The Birth of the Twins, The Adventures of Redhorn's Sons, Brave Man; someone is charmed to sleep: Trickster Takes Coyote for a Ride, Brave Man; even though it is cold enough to freeze a man, two people (one of whom is a spirit) have the supernatural power to stay warm: White Wolf, How the Thunders Met the Nights; having the power to control the winds and/or the weather: Deer Clan Origin Myth, Wolf Clan Origin Myth, Bear Clan Origin Myth (v. 1, v. 5), Blue Bear; walking on water: Bear Clan Origin Myth, How the Thunders Met the Nights; the severed head of an enemy chatters its teeth: The Children of the Sun, Wears White Feather on His Head; a severed head speaks: Little Human Head, The Red Man, The Chief of the Heroka; a seer makes true predictions down to unusual details: The Shawnee Prophet — What He Told the Hocągara, Witches, The Shell Anklets Origin Myth, The Fox-Hocąk War, How Little Priest went out as a Soldier, A Prophecy, The Shawnee Prophet Predicts a Solar Eclipse, Pete Dupeé and the Ghosts, The Claw Shooter, Waruką́ną, Mijistéga’s Powwow Magic and How He Won the Trader's Store; a rejected sister prophesies that her brother will never see his village again: The Woman who Loved her Half-Brother, Partridge's Older Brother.


1 Bernice G. Anderson, Indian Sleep Man Tales: Authentic Legends of the Otoe Tribe (Caldwell, Idaho: the Caxton Printers, Ltd., 1940) passim.

2 Francis LaFlesche, A Dictionary of the Osage Language, Smithsonian Institution, Bureau of American Ethnology, Bulletin 109 (Washington: Government Printing Office, 1932) 193, s. v. Wa-kǫ́-da.

3 LaFlesche, A Dictionary of the Osage Language, 194, s. v. Wakǫda hǫ-ba dǫ.

4 Mary Carolyn Marino, A Dictionary of Winnebago: An Analysis and Reference Grammar of the Radin Lexical File (Ph.D. Thesis, University of California, Berkeley, December 14, 1968 [69-14,947]) 409, s. v. waką. Paul Radin, The Winnebago Tribe (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1990 [1923]) 234.

5 Walter W. Funmaker, The Bear in Winnebago Culture: A Study in Cosmology and Society (Master Thesis, University of Minnesota: June, 1974 [MnU-M 74-29]) 5; Walter Funmaker, The Winnebago Black Bear Subclan: a Defended Culture (Ph.D. Thesis, University of Minnesota: December, 1986 [MnU-D 86-361]) 31-32, 102-103.

6 Marino, A Dictionary of Winnebago, 409, s. v. waką.

7 Marino, A Dictionary of Winnebago, 444, s. v. xop.

8 Paul Radin, The Winnebago Tribe (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1990 [1923]) 234. Cf. the Osage xúbe, "holy, supernatural power," with the added meaning, "sanctity." LaFlesche, A Dictionary of Osage, 221, s. v.. xúbe.

9 Marino, A Dictionary of Winnebago, 143, s. v. cewe.

10 Paul Radin, The Evolution of an American Indian Prose Epic. Bollingen Foundation, Special Publications, 3 (1954): 83-84, 97; Winnebago Hero Cycles: A Study in Aboriginal Literature (Baltimore: Waverly Press, 1948) 55. Informant: Sam Blowsnake of the Thunderbird Clan, ca. 1912.

11 Marino, A Dictionary of Winnebago, p. 416, s.v. wąk, and 143, s. v. cewe.

12 Paul Radin, "The Man who Brought His Wife back from Spiritland," The Culture of the Winnebago as Described by Themselves (Baltimore: Special Publications of the Bollingen Foundation, #1, 1949) 58 ntt. 4-5.