by Richard L. Dieterle
The weasel, or wijuksik as it is known to the Hočągara, is rarely mentioned, especially in comparison to its better endowed kindred, the mink.
Nevertheless, the weasel plays an important symbolic role in the Twins epic, "The Lost Blanket." The Twins both owned įra, "things worn over the shoulder," or as we should say, "capes." That of Ghost was made of mouse fur, but that of his older brother Flesh was made from the fur of weasels. It was made for him by his uncle Bluehorn, the Red Star (Evening Star), and was resplendent in rich ornamentation. Before their great combat with the serpents, they had taken off their capes. While engaged in the dramatic struggle, the Thunderbird, Sleets as He Walks, surreptitiously seized the cape of weasel fur and flew away with it unseen by the Twins. When the Twins found that it was missing, they scoured the three worlds trying to recover it.1 The outer covering exemplified in the blankets of the Twins is intended to reveal something about their inner nature. Ghost is associated with the mouse, an animal of the boundary that crosses over from the wild to the domestic and back. The soul does the same when it comes to live in the domesticated condition of the flesh, but returns to his element upon death to await the inception of another corporeal body. Weasels eat mice, just as the flesh "eats" and internalizes the smaller soul. Like Flesh, the weasel eats only meat; like Ghost, the mouse eats wild beans.
That a Thunderbird would seek to steal a weasel fur blanket connects to the weasel's other symbolic role in the Medicine Rite. Thunderbirds rule over the clouds, which in some cases (see Yųgiwi), are said to be their blankets. Clouds may be likened to bladders, so it is not surprising that all of Bladder's brothers had turned into clouds. In the Medicine Rite a number of small animals are converted into bladders that are used to make sounds like the animals made in life, and most importantly, to shoot the sacred shell at the initiates to the Rite. One of these animal-bladders is the weasel. The first of these bladder-weasels was a living being, snow white in color, that the Creator made from his own flesh, taken from the right side of his body. This weasel was clever (wápakónok), and wherever he moved in space, there was Light and Life (Hąp).2 In another account the primordial animals of the Rite came from the center of the Creation Lodge and assumed their cardinal positions. The third of these, a snow white weasel, correlates with the west, the land of the Thunders.3 It contains within it the sacred shell, which is a spiritual entity like the soul, so the weasel here too becomes like a container of the soul, a bladder for the water loving ghost.
Links: The Twins, Mice, Yųgiwi, Bladder.
Stories: mentioning weasels: The Arrows of the Medicine Rite Men, The Animal Spirit Aids of the Medicine Rite, The Lost Blanket; mentioning the Twins: The Twins Cycle, The Lost Blanket, The Man with Two Heads, The Twins Retrieve Red Star's Head, The Children of the Sun, Bluehorn's Nephews, The Two Boys, The Two Brothers.
Themes: something is of a (symbolic) pure white color: White Bear, Deer Spirits, The Journey to Spiritland (v. 4), White Flower, Big Eagle Cave Mystery, The Fleetfooted Man, Thunderbird and White Horse, The Orphan who was Blessed with a Horse, Worúxega, The Two Boys, The Lost Blanket (white spirits), Skunk Origin Myth, He Who Eats the Stinking Part of the Deer Ankle, White Wolf, A Man and His Three Dogs, The Messengers of Hare, The Brown Squirrel, The Man Who Fell from the Sky, Bladder and His Brothers, White Thunder's Warpath, The Shell Anklets Origin Myth, The Dipper, Great Walker's Medicine (v. 2), Creation of the World (v. 12), Hare Secures the Creation Lodge, The Descent of the Drum, The Diving Contest, Otter Comes to the Medicine Rite, The Arrows of the Medicine Rite Men, The Animal Spirit Aids of the Medicine Rite, Grandmother's Gifts, Four Steps of the Cougar, The Completion Song Origin, North Shakes His Gourd, Lifting Up the Bear Heads, Thunder Cloud is Blessed, Peace of Mind Regained.
1 "The Epic of the Twins, Part Two," in Paul Radin, The Evolution of an American Indian Prose Epic. A Study in Comparative Literature, Part I (Basil: Ethnographical Museum, Basil Switzerland, 1954) 42-58. The original text is in Paul Radin, Winnebago Notebooks (Philadelphia: American Philosophical Society, n.d.) Winnebago V, #2: 123-247 (syllabic text), 38-71 (English translation).
2 Jasper Blowsnake, Untitled, in Paul Radin, Winnebago Notebooks, Freeman #3887 (Philadelphia: American Philosophical Library, n.d.) Winnebago II, #7: 207-211. An English version is found in Paul Radin, The Road of Life and Death: A Ritual Drama of the American Indians. Bollingen Series V (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1973 ) 287-289.
3 Amelia Susman, Notebooks (Philadelphia: American Philosophical Society, January, 1939) Book 8: 101-108.