Battle of the Night Blessed Men and the Medicine Rite Men
by Jasper Blowsnake
Hočąk Syllabic Text with an English Interlinear Translation
(193) These once did this. The Medicine Rite men were jealous of the Night crazed men. One day they did this. The Medicine Rite men said that they would play tricks with the Night blessed men. The Medicine Rite men said this. The Night blessed men were willing. They sat opposite. (194) The Medicine Rite men played tricks. And when they got done in turn, the Night crazed ones did it. The Night blessed ones did more. They defeated the Medicine Rite men. So the Medicine Rite men feared them, because they shot them with claws, but they could not kill them, therefore they were afraid of them. (195) And as they could kill the Medicine Rite men anyway they wished, so the Medicine Rite men were known to be inferior. This is all.1
Commentary. "Night crazed men" — in talking about these men, Jasper Blowsnake alternates between the description A Ae xo L (Hąhe-xo-ra) and A Ae xo lL (Hąhe-xop-ra). The word xop is found in xopini and waxopini, both meaning "spirit (deity)." However, xop has a more fundamental meaning discussed by Radin, where it
. . . 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.2
The translator renders xop as "blessed," but clearly it is to be blessed with a kind of supernatural power that takes over a person. This kind of frenzy is also expressed in the word xo, of which xop is apparently an expansion. The word xo means "wrong, crazy." Both xo and xop describe a state of possession. This kind of frenzied possession might be expected to be particularly characteristic of those who belong to the Society of Those Blessed by the Night Spirits. We see this kind of possession at warbundle feasts where a holy person is called upon to recount his war exploits.
As they do this, some become crazed (rujánįgirega) by the Night Spirits. [Intense holiness] comes over them (Wakąčą́kjį wa'ųgé). All their clothes would be cast off, it is said. All naked, without apparel, would the man dance around the lodge. ... Even if the kettle was boiling over the crazed ones (rujánįgiràjega) would stick their hand in it.3
"play tricks" — Jasper Blowsnake was a member of the Native American Church and considered the spiritual feats of the old religion to be "tricks." The Hočąk is wišgač'ų, which as a noun came to mean "circus." Wišgač can also mean "circus," but as a verb it means "to perform." So a circus is paradigmatically a performance, so wišgač'ų is "doing a performance." This means that the raconteur did not believe that these men, noted for their magic, were really tapping into a reservoir of supernatural power, but were merely going through the motions of a performance like illusionists at the circus. Blowsnake gives some examples of these tricks just before this story:
Sometimes they perform Nightspirit tricks (Hąhe wošgačį'ų). These would be of the following nature: A kettle is put on to boil and some individual fishes out a piece of meat bare-handed without getting burned. At other times they shoot a hole into a drum covering, using a wildcat claw as a missile. Then they immediately mend it. When a man is very bad they shoot him with an object and kill him. They used to be very much afraid of such people. Sometimes they take a handful of live coals and embers from the fire, put them into their mouth and then spit them out without getting burned. It is for this reason that they are called holy. Sometimes they take burnt portions of a tree that had been struck by lightning, put them in the fire, and then when they are red hot take them out again and put them in their mouths without extinguishing them. They then spit them out, and it would look like lightning. Or they would shoot one another with cold charcoal.4
Links: Nightspirits, Supernatural & Spiritual Power, Witches.
Stories: mentioning Nightspirits: The Nightspirits Bless Jobenągiwįxka, The Nightspirits Bless Čiwoit’éhiga, The Origins of the Sore Eye Dance, The Rounded Wood Origin Myth, The Big Stone, How the Thunders Met the Nights, Fourth Universe, 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; pertaining to the Medicine Rite: The Medicine Rite Foundation Myth, The Journey to Spiritland, Holy Song, Holy Song II, Maize Origin Myth, The Necessity for Death, Hog's Adventures, Great Walker's Warpath; mentioning witches or warlocks: The Witch Men's Desert, The Thunder Charm, The Wild Rose, The Seer, Turtle and the Witches, Great Walker and the Ojibwe Witches, The Claw Shooter, Migistéga’s Magic, Mijistéga and the Sauks, Migistéga's Death, The Mesquaki Magician, The Tap the Head Medicine, Keramaniš’aka's Blessing, The Magical Powers of Lincoln's Grandfather, The Hills of La Crosse, The Shawnee Prophet — What He Told the Hočągara (v. 2), Įčorúšika and His Brothers, Thunder Cloud Marries Again, Paint Medicine Origin Myth, The Woman's Scalp Medicine Bundle, Potato Magic, Young Rogue's Magic.
Themes: two (groups of) holy men contest one another with supernatural power: The Claw Shooter, Great Walker and the Ojibwe Witches, The Tap the Head Medicine; shooting claws: The Claw Shooter, Mijistéga and the Sauks, Redhorn Contests the Giants; a being is invulnerable: Worúxega, Tecumseh's Bulletproof Skin, The Canine Warrior, The Blessing of a Bear Clansman, The Man who was a Reincarnated Thunderbird.
1 Jasper Blowsnake, "Hišjaxíri Waci (Sore Eye Dance)," in Paul Radin, Winnebago Notebooks (Philadelphia: American Philosophical Society, n. d.) Notebook 23: 192-195. An English translation is also found in Paul Radin, The Winnebago Tribe (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1990 ) 295.
2 Radin, The Winnebago Tribe, 234.
3 Radin, Winnebago Tribe, 470-471.
4 Blowsnake, "Hišjaxíri Waci," 187-191; Radin, Winnebago Tribe, 294.