The Spirit Woman (Hinųkxop’ini)

by Richard L. Dieterle

As the ghost journeys down the road west, he will encounter animals that he will kill and thereby send to his people as game destined for their tables. Just beyond these animals, there lies an oval lodge with two doors, one facing the rising sun, the other the setting sun. This is a lodge over which "no clouds of ill omen ever pass." Inside, sitting on the north side, is a very old person known as "Spirit Woman" (Hinųkxop’ini). She is so old that she is addressed as "great-grandmother."1 Consequently, she is also known as Old Woman (Hitokénįgeną́ka).2 She will ask him if his relatives gave him any instructions. The ghost will say that his people wish that none follow him in death anytime soon, and that they have three other requests: that whatever good things would have been his had he lived a full life time, might now devolve to them; whatever things that he did not use, might now be given to them; that his beloved relatives might have weapons keen on one edge; and that the fires might burn straight upwards inorder that they might have Life. She has the power to grant these wishes. Then she gives the ghost a bowl of food. This wooden bowl is no ordinary dish, but is a bowl of all the fruits of the earth. Whatever he does not eat, that much will grow upon the face of the earth. She tells the ghost everything that will happen to him on the road west.3 At some point, Spirit Woman draws forth from his ghostly body all corporeal desires by cupping him, in accord with the ancient practices of medicine.4 In another source, she seems to crack open his skull.5 In a fuller account of the meeting between her and the departed, she does both:

(75) And when you have gone from there, you will not have gone far. When you get to an oval lodge, there will be an old woman. This one will inform you. (76) "Grandson, what is your name?" she will say. You must answer, "Grandmother, when I started out, I was given these as mediators, they say. You will put the pipe to her mouth. "Grandmother, even now I have made my parents, relatives, and clansmen, lonesome for me, therefore, it is my wish that they have war honors. Even now, I have made them poor, therefore, they ask for whatever life I have left behind. (77) And they asked that none of them should come here any time very soon. And all such things as they have in the summertime, again these they asked for. This, grandmother, they said to me when I was about to start stepping onto the road: they told me, grandmother, that I will go into these four steps imprinted with blue. (78) "Hąhą́ my dear grandson, you are young, but you are wise. It is good. I will boil something for you," she will say, and she will put on the kettle. She will boil rice. If you eat, you will have a headache. Then she will say, "Grandson, you have a headache. Let me cup it for you," she will say. After she cups it, there she is going to crack your head, and (79) take out your brain. Thereafter, you will forget earth here. You will not be lonesome for your relatives. You will not live in worry over the affairs of your relatives. You shall become like in being to the various spirits (waxopini). You will think your thoughts down to the face of the earth, just down to there. You shall be as the various spirits. From this time on, the rice she boils she will make into lice. (80) For this reason, there you will be done with all bad things.6

Hočąk Syllabic Text with an English Interlinear Translation

Others say that the woman met on the spirit path is neither old nor young. Once the departed has passed over the stream obstacle,

A woman stands on the farther bank, and receives the new comer. The woman asks the stranger his name. When she receives it, she says: 'You are good; you shall always live in the happy hunting-ground.' This woman is neither old or young, nor will she ever be old; for the Great Spirit placed her there at the beginning of the world, and she has always looked the same."7

The contrary point, that she is not old, seems to be founded on the notion that once created, she would never have aged.

Links: Ghosts.

Stories: mentioning Spirit Woman: The Four Slumbers Origin Myth.


1 Paul Radin, The Road of Life and Death: A Ritual Drama of the American Indians (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1945) 14-16.

2 Frank Ewing, Story of the Boy who Ate too Much, in Paul Radin, Winnebago Notebooks, Freeman #3899 [1254] (Philadelphia: American Philosophical Society, 1909?) Winnebago III, #19, Story 19c (1): 6.

3 Radin, The Road of Life and Death, 14-16.

4 Paul Radin, "The Two Friends Who Became Reincarnated: The Origin of the Four Nights Wake," The Culture of the Winnebago as Described by Themselves (Baltimore: Special Publications of the Bollingen Foundation, #1, 1949) 42 nt 42. Informant: John Rave (Bear Clan).

5 Ewing, Story of the Boy who Ate too Much, 6.

6 Paul Radin, Winnebago Notebooks, Freeman #3897 (Philadelphia: American Philosophical Society, n.d.) Winnebago V, #24: 75-80 (Hočąk syllabary), 75-80 (English translation). This has been published in English translation in Radin, The Winnebago Tribe, 95-96.

7 Walking Cloud, "Narrative of Walking Cloud. In an Interview with the Editor," Reuben Gold Thwaites, ed., Collections of the State Historical Society of Wisconsin, Vol. 13 (Madison: Wisconsin Historical Society, 1887) 463-467 [467].