Death Enters the World

by Jasper Blowsnake
retold by Richard L. Dieterle

Jasper Blowsnake

There was a long oval lodge. Inside was the constant drone of speech. They were four in number, brothers, and from sun up to sun down they were giving names to all the creatures of the four worlds, the heavens, the earth, the subterranean abodes, and the water world. Even to insects, as many as there are, they gave names. And when they had done with this, the eldest of the brothers fell ill. His brothers ministered to him, but at daybreak the next day, he lay perfectly still. He spoke not a word, and stirred not a muscle. They did not know what to do, so they put him on a scaffold, and walked away with their blankets drawn over their heads. Only when they were out of sight in the country did they sit down and removed the blankets from their heads. Each asked the other in turn if he knew what had happened to Kunu, but none could say. Then one of them said, "We shall get ready, and you all will come with me." So they filled Kunu's pipe and set out. As they walked east, they wept. Soon they came to a round lodge. This lodge was so luminescent that they had first seen it from afar. No evil winds breathed down upon it. They walked up expecting an entrance, but it was wide open. They extended the stem of their pipe to the man within, but he would not take it. They said to him, "Our brother Kunu stopped moving." "Haha, I do not myself know what this means. Travel on and ask the next man you meet." So they went on. They noticed, however, that their appearances had changed somewhat, and that they felt refreshed.

Soon they came to another lodge, the abode of the North Wind. The edge of his lodge shined like metal, and was over arched by a luminescent white glow. It too was wide open. They offered him the stem of their pipe, but he would not take it. "Go on to the next man," he advised them. So they left. When they looked at themselves, they saw that their bodies were fresher, yet the brothers themselves had reached middle age. Then they made their way to the next lodge, which shown forth like a perfect day. They was the lodge of the great West Wind. There no particle of darkness fell upon this lodge, no did evil winds touch it, nor storms pass their fury over it. The light within the lodge was brilliant. Here too the lodge was wide open. The spoke and said, "Grandfather, Kunu our brother stopped moving, and we do not understand what has happened to him. That is why we have come to see you." Then they extended the stem of their pipe towards him, but neither would he take it, but told them instead, "Go on to the next man, and ask him." They went on, but soon after they saw in the distance a very great lodge, by far larger than any that they had seen hitherto. But by the time they reached it, they had passed middle age. This magnificent lodge was also wide open, so the brothers went inside and extended the stem of their pipe to the man within. He accepted the pipe and smoked it fully. "All I can tell you now is do not weep, but be of glad heart and mind. Now you must retrace your steps back to where you started, but I shall be there at the end to greet you." They said farewell and started off, but now they had become very old men who were as ones who have swans for headdresses. As they approached their own lodge, they saw a fire flickering within, and said, "Kunu must be there keeping the fire alive. It will be good to see him again." But when they arrived, they saw that inside were the four men that they had met on the road. Each of these men made a circuit of the lodge and greeted the others in turn. The one who sat at the first place spoke and said, "Earthmaker has ordained that there will be such a thing as death. Thus he has ordained that human life should be." The others spoke in the same way. Finally, the last arose and said, "You must bury your brother deep within Our Grandmother, so deep that not even the worms shall find him. So Earthmaker has ordained it." And thus it was that they buried their brother.1

Commentary. "they extended the stem of their pipe" — this is the gesture of the supplicant. Accepting the pipe is taken as a symbol of granting their request. His refusal to accept the pipe, therefore, is a refusal to accept the task for whose undertaking he was being petitioned.

Links: Earthmaker, North Wind, South Wind.

Stories: featuring North Wind as a character: Wolves and Humans; mentioning Earthmaker: The Creation of the World, The Creation of Man, The Commandments of Earthmaker, The Twins Get into Hot Water, The Twins Retrieve Red Star's Head, The Lost Blanket, Earthmaker Blesses Wagíšega (Wešgíšega), The Man Who Would Dream of Mą’ųna, The First Snakes, Tobacco Origin Myth, The Creation Council, The Gray Wolf Origin Myth, The Journey to Spiritland, The Resurrection of the Chief's Daughter, The Seven Maidens, The Descent of the Drum, Thunder Cloud Marries Again, The Spider's Eyes, The Boy who was Blessed by a Mountain Lion, Hawk Clan Origin Myth, Fourth Universe, Šųgepaga, The Fatal House, The Twin Sisters, Thunderbird Clan Origin Myth, Elk Clan Origin Myth, Deer Clan Origin Myth, Bear Clan Origin Myth, Wolf Clan Origin Myth, The Masaxe War, The Two Children, Medicine Rite Foundation Myth, The Petition to Earthmaker, The Gift of Shooting, Baldheaded Warclub Origin Myth, Bluehorn's Nephews, The Stone Heart, The Wild Rose, Earthmaker Sends Rušewe to the Twins, The Lame Friend, How the Hills and Valleys were Formed, The Hočąk Migration Myth, The Necessity for Death, Hočąk Clans Origin Myth, The War among the Animals, Lake Winnebago Origin Myth, Blue Mounds, Lost Lake, The Hočągara Migrate South, The Spirit of Gambling, Turtle and the Giant, The Shawnee Prophet — What He Told the Hočągara, The Hočągara Contest the Giants, Ghost Dance Origin Myth II, Bird Origin Myth, Black and White Moons, Redhorn's Sons, Holy Song, The Reincarnated Grizzly Bear, The Blessings of the Buffalo Spirits, Man and His Three Dogs, Trickster Concludes His Mission, Story of the Thunder Names, The Origins of the Milky Way, Trickster and the Dancers, Ghost Dance Origin Myth I, East Enters the Medicine Lodge, The Creation of Evil, The Blessing of Kerexųsaka, Song to Earthmaker, The Blessing of the Bow, The Stench-Earth Medicine Origin Myth, The Origin of the Cliff Swallow; 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.

Stories from Jasper Blowsnake's account of the Medicine Rite (The Road of Life and Death) in notebook order: The Shell Anklets Origin Myth (v. 1), Keramaniš’aka's Blessing, The Woman's Scalp Medicine Bundle, The Blessing of Kerexųsaka, Historical Origins of the Medicine Rite, Hare Secures the Creation Lodge of the Medicine Rite, Lifting Up the Bear Heads, East Enters the Medicine Lodge (v. 1), The Creation of the World (v. 12), The Creation of Man (v. 8), Otter Comes to the Medicine Rite, The Journey to Spiritland (v. 4), East Enters the Medicine Lodge (v. 2), Testing the Slave, South Enters the Medicine Lodge (v. 2), The Descent of the Drum (v. 1), The Commandments of Earthmaker, The Coughing Up of the Black Hawks, The Animal Spirit Aids of the Medicine Rite, The Arrows of the Medicine Rite Men (v. 2), East Shakes the Messenger, The Medicine Rite Foundation Myth (v. 4), The Messengers of Hare (v. 2), North Shakes His Gourd, Grandmother's Gifts, South Seizes the Messenger, Four Steps of the Cougar, The Messengers of Hare (v. 1), The Island Weight Songs, The Petition to Earthmaker, A Snake Song Origin Myth, The Completion Song Origin, Great Walker's Medicine (v. 2), Great Walker and the Ojibwe Witches, The Diving Contest, The Sweetened Drink Song, The Plant Blessing of Earth, Tobacco Origin Myth (v. 3), The Tap the Head Medicine, The Claw Shooter, Tobacco Origin Myth (v. 4), Peace of Mind Regained, The Journey to Spiritland (v. 5), A Wife for Knowledge, The Shell Anklets Origin Myth (v. 2), The Descent of the Drum (v. 2), South Enters the Medicine Lodge (v. 1).

Themes: death enters the world for the first time: Holy One and His Brother, The Medicine Rite Foundation Myth, The Necessity for Death, The Thunderbird Clan Origin Myth, Deer Clan Origin Myth; traveling over the whole earth: Deer Clan Origin Myth, The Pointing Man, Trickster and the Dancers, The Medicine Rite Foundation Myth, The Necessity for Death, Spear Shaft and Lacrosse, The Twins Disobey Their Father, The Twins Get into Hot Water, The Twins Cycle, The Two Boys, The Lost Blanket, The Two Brothers, Bluehorn's Nephews; someone travels to each of the four corners of the world seeking help from the spirit who resides there in averting death from his relatives, but each spirit in turn confesses that he can do nothing: Thunderbird Clan Origin Myth, The Medicine Rite Foundation Myth; death viewed in positive terms: The Medicine Rite Foundation Myth, The Necessity for Death, The Four Slumbers Origin Myth, Bear Clan Origin Myth.


1 Paul Radin, The Road of Life and Death: A Ritual Drama of the American Indians. Bollingen Series V (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1973 [1945]) 320. Paul Radin, The Culture of the Winnebago: As Defined by Themselves, International Journal of American Linguistics, Memoirs, 3 (1950): 27.305-29.379. For the original interlinear text, see Winnebago III, #4: 18-25.