The Two Children

by John Hazen Hill (Xetenišaraga, "Wren")

John Hazen Hill

Hocąk-English Interlinear Text

(1) In the beginning, when an Indian [people] lived at Long Lake, they were very holy, they used to say, when the old people told stories. Once I had fasted, when I was young, then this worak was told there.

A White Otter  

Once a couple of male friends were living there. They were very young. Finally, they proceeded to grow up, and they were very clever. So every day they would go about, they said they were hunting, and they were. People lived on the shore. The children would be playing in the water, thus they would go there. Two children disappeared into the water. (2) They said that it was considered to be out of the ordinary. When they were lost, the mourners were pitied by the others. They counseled over it and said, "Well, if anything is to be known, only the two male friends they alone might be the ones," an old man said. And he was the only holy old man there was, so they said. They said it because he knew something. They said that he would be speaking in vain. Therefore, they called on those two male friends.

Then all the people gathered where the mourners were, then one of the two friends spoke and addressed them, and when he was through, the other one spoke and addressed them. (3) There they told them of their fasting dreams and why they had come to live among the humans. They learned why they will have come there, and that they were really to be called Spirits.

Then they started out for the Mississippi. There, by the water, they exerted their xop, and by this means went forth as two very white otters, blowing upon themselves, and they went towards the waters. At at this place stood a very large eddy, and they dove into it. The men sat on the bank and they watched the waters, and finally, this eddy, as it lay there, it began to shake and move a great deal, and these appearing, returned there. Having gotten the dead children, the people became frightened. As the men came up, they said to them, "Fear not! We have accomplished the most difficult work," this one said. (4) "We are making life. Nothing seems to have been injured except the top of the head," these said. So they examined it, and a large hole lay on the top of his head. Then they must have done this: the men took mud and painted it on his head, and when they were through, then they blew water, and they regained consciousness. Then they returned them to their parents, and all of the people thanked them. What they did was the first holy act that they had performed. A bad Waterspirit who lay there, it was he who had done it. So the men had killed it, and completely burned up its lodge.

And thus they remained. Never would they miss one another. (5) They would always go around together. While going about as they did, if a man would disappear someplace in the water, they would call on them again. They would not always bring the human being back to life, but in any case, they would always kill the bad Waterspirit and burn down his lodge. Thus they did, and sometimes other men would also come calling. They were once called upon by the Ojibwe, and then again, they were called on once more by the Menominee. These men were very holy, but never did they exert themselves in war, not even once in these sorts of things. (6) They didn't pay any attention to wars, as they had come from among the great Spirits. And Earthmaker, who is in charge of wars, had created them that way. Therefore, because those in charge of things placed some of the various Spirits underground, and because some of them did not use their powers for good, therefore Earthmaker was displeased. On this account, he made two of the various Spirits to live among the humans, and then all the ones in charge of things that did not do right, all of these they killed. And when their work was done, they went back again to Earthmaker. It seems that only the Hocągara lived deservedly, did they not? (7) Although they were clever, yet because they liked wars too much here, for that reason they came to be weakened, they have always said. But even so, now at this time, the Ojibwe are still afraid of us, as they said when we went there once.1

Commentary. "worak" — this story is a worak, that is, it is taken as something that actually happened in relatively recent times. However, the story has many of the hallmarks of a waiką, inasmuch as the heroes prove to be reincarnated Spirits who have a mission to root out evil Spirits on earth and destroy them. They end their earthly sojourn by returning to Earthmaker.

"Long Lake" — the English translation is not quite right. Te-xete translates as "Big Lake," or "Great Lake." The name Te Serec, "Long Lake," applies to the site of present day St. Paul, Minnesota (for which see the Commentary to The Lost Blanket). Te Xete is Lake Winnebago, the largest lake interior to Wisconsin, where in early times a large portion of the Hocąk nation lived.

"they called on" — the Hocąk is waruhįc, which means, "to give reverential greetings." The ruhįc is performed by slowly extending the right hand upward with the palm facing the person being addressed. Using the ruhįc is a sign of great respect.

"xop"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 "powers," but clearly it is a kind of supernatural power that completely 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. However, as these two friends were reincarnated Spirits, they do necessarily exhibit the symptoms of someone who has been possessed by a Spirit, since these powers are native to them. When xop passes on to a person to whom it is not native, they tend to go crazy (xo).

"blowing upon themselves" — a spirit blowing on a person tends to augment that person's power, and if they are sick it may cure them. The idea that the breath of a Spirit would cure disease no doubt lies in the fact that the secondary meaning ni, "breath," is "life." This follows easily enough from the fact that cutting off breath is fatal. It seems reasonable to conclude that the breath of a Spirit is also Life, and the fecund wind that emanates from the inner being of such a supernatural person is bound to convey that essence. It is another interesting inferential step to contend, as we see here, that it also must be reflexive, and that blowing their breath upon themselves would have enhanced their powers. They are about to engage in a battle against a being who forms the essence of water () itself. In a kind of scherzo aside, it becomes a battle of ni vs. .

"eddy" — the Hocąk is horupį́nį, which as a verb is, "to turn something around, to spin, to whirl" (Helmbrecht-Lehmann); and as a noun means a whirl, with a nį-horupį́nį, being a water-whirl, or eddy. A doorknob, for instance, is a ciróp horupį́nį, a "door whirl." An eddy is something of a misnomer, since the large whirl of water being described here is better termed a "whirlpool." The circular motion is an expression of the sacred, since a circle has neither beginning nor end, and yet is discrete. It is the whirling motion that Earthmaker imparted to the primordial earth when he created it. Inasmuch as Waterspirits in particular have the power of the whirlpool as their natural expression, they were chosen as "Island Weights" to hold down this primeval earth and bring an end to its incessant spinning. When a Waterspirit emerges from the depths, its first manifestation is the whirlpool.3 However, the whirlpool can also be a malevolent force that the Waterspirit may use to destroy those who displease him. A Waterspirit once destroyed an entire Sioux warparty with a giant whirlpool.4 So the whirlpool encountered by the two friends is a sure sign to them that what lies below is the Waterspirit that had sucked in the two children.

Comparative Material. A Siouan story, perhaps Omaha or Dakota, has some resemblance to the Hocąk tale. A popular child drowned in a river, and his parents were inconsolable. Two young men appeared and said that they could hear the cries of the child, and that they could find him. The parents were extremely thankful. The two men dove into the depths of the river until they came to the Waterspirit who lived there. In his lodge they found the child alive and well, so they told the spirit that they must bring him back, but he said, "You're too late, for he has eaten of my food and he will die if he returns." When the young men returned, the father of the child said he would have him back one way or another, so the two men went back and retrieved the child. The child was dead. However, when they lost their daughter, she had not eaten of Waterspirit food, so she was retrieved with the sacrifice of four white haired dogs.5

Links: Earthmaker, Waterspirits, Otter & Otter Spirits, Lake Winnebago.

Stories: mentioning otters: Otter Comes to the Medicine Rite, The Fleetfooted Man, The Dipper, Baldheaded Warclub Origin Myth, Spear Shaft and Lacrosse, Turtle's Warparty, The Origins of the Milky Way, Redhorn's Sons, Redhorn Contests the Giants, Kunu's Warpath, Įcorúšika and His Brothers, The Woman who Loved Her Half Brother, The Chief of the Heroka, The Animal Spirit Aids of the Medicine Rite, The Arrows of the Medicine Rite Men (v. 2), Wojijé, Holy Song II, Morning Star and His Friend, A Waterspirit Blesses Mąnį́xete’ų́ga, The Story of the Medicine Rite; in which Waterspirits occur as characters: Waterspirit Clan Origin Myth, Traveler and the Thunderbird War, The Green Waterspirit of Wisconsin Dells, The Lost Child, River Child and the Waterspirit of Devil's Lake, A Waterspirit Blesses Mąnį́xete’ų́ga, Bluehorn's Nephews, Holy One and His Brother, The Seer, The Nannyberry Picker, The Creation of the World (vv. 1, 4), Šųgepaga, The Sioux Warparty and the Waterspirit of Green Lake, The Waterspirit of Lake Koshkonong, The Waterspirit of Rock River, The Boulders of Devil's Lake, Devil's Lake — How it Got its Name, Old Man and Wears White Feather, The Waterspirit of Sugar Loaf Mounds, Lakes of the Wazija Origin Myth, Waterspirits Keep the Corn Fields Wet, The Waterspirit Guardian of the Intaglio Mound, The Diving Contest, The Lost Blanket, Redhorn's Sons, The Phantom Woman, Įcorúšika and His Brothers, Great Walker's Warpath, White Thunder's Warpath, The Descent of the Drum, The Shell Anklets Origin Myth, The Daughter-in-Law's Jealousy, Snowshoe Strings, The Thunderbird, Hare Retrieves a Stolen Scalp (v. 2), The Twins Join Redhorn's Warparty, Earthmaker Sends Rušewe to the Twins, Paint Medicine Origin Myth, Waruǧábᵉra, Ocean Duck, The Twin Sisters, Trickster Concludes His Mission, The King Bird, The Medicine Rite Foundation Myth, Great Walker's Medicine (v. 2), Heną́ga and Star Girl, Peace of Mind Regained, The Story of the Medicine Rite, How the Thunders Met the Nights, The Spiritual Descent of John Rave's Grandmother, The Boy who was Captured by the Bad Thunderbirds, The Shaggy Man, The Woman who Married a Snake (?), Hare Secures the Creation Lodge, Ghost Dance Origin Myth I, The Sacred Lake, Lost Lake; about two brothers: The Twin Sisters, The Captive Boys, The Twins Cycle, The Two Brothers, The Two Boys, The Twins Retrieve Red Star's Head, The Children of the Sun, The Lost Blanket, The Man with Two Heads, Bluehorn's Nephews, Snowshoe Strings, Sunset Point, The Old Man and the Giants, The Brown Squirrel, Esau was an Indian; 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, 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 Hocąk Migration Myth, The Necessity for Death, Hocąk Clans Origin Myth, The War among the Animals, Lake Winnebago Origin Myth, Blue Mounds, Lost Lake, The Hocągara Migrate South, The Spirit of Gambling, Turtle and the Giant, The Shawnee Prophet — What He Told the Hocągara, The Hocągara 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, Death Enters the World, 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; mentioning the Menominee: Origin of the Name "Winnebago" (Menominee), The Hocąk Arrival Myth, Bear Clan Origin Myth (v. 2b) (Origins of the Menominee), The Fox-Hocąk War, First Contact, The Magical Powers of Lincoln's Grandfather, The Annihilation of the Hocągara I (v. 2), Annihilation of the Hocągara II, Two Roads to Spiritland, A Menominee Visit, A Waterspirit Blesses Mąnį́xete’ų́ga, Gatschet's Hocank hit’e (Extracts ...), Introduction; mentioning the Ojibwe (Chippewa, Ojibway): White Fisher, White Thunder's Warpath, Great Walker and the Ojibwe Witches, The Masaxe War, The Annihilation of the Hocągara II, The First Fox and Sauk War, A Waterspirit Blesses Mąnį́xete’ų́ga, First Contact (vv. 2-3), Introduction; set at Lake Winnebago (Te Xete): Lake Winnebago Origin Myth, The First Fox and Sauk War, White Thunder's Warpath, Traveler and the Thunderbird War (v. 2), The Great Fish, The Wild Rose, The Two Boys, Great Walker's Warpath, The Blessing of a Bear Clansman, The Fox-Hocąk War, Holy Song, First Contact (v. 2), Lakes of the Wazija Origin Myth; set on the Mississippi (Nį Kuse): Trickster Concludes His Mission, The Hocąk Migration Myth, Oto Origins, Bluehorn's Nephews, Earthmaker Sends Rušewe to the Twins, Traveler and the Thunderbird War, Keramaniš’aka's Blessing, The Serpents of Trempealeau, The Story of the Medicine Rite, The Woman's Scalp Medicine Bundle, Black Otter's Warpath.

Themes: blowing upon a person: The Red Man, Redhorn and His Brothers Marry, Wears White Feather on His Head, The Man who went to the Upper and Lower Worlds, The Chief of the Heroka, Aracgéga's Blessings; a Waterspirit takes a child: The Lost Child, Old Man and Wears White Feather; a Waterspirit kills a human: The Shaggy Man, River Child and the Waterspirit of Devil's Lake, Waruǧabᵉra, The Waterspirit of Lake Koshkonong, The Waterspirit of Rock River, The Seer, The Twin Sisters, The Sioux Warparty and the Waterspirit of Green Lake, The Green Waterspirit of the Wisconsin Dells, The Lost Blanket; powerful spirits (who are brothers) set out for the Mississippi where they kill a Waterspirit: Trickster Concludes His Mission, Earthmaker Sends Rušewe to the Twins, Bluehorn's Nephews; a powerful spirit burns down the abode of a Waterspirit: Įcorúšika and His Brothers, The Lost Blanket.


1 John Hazen Hill, "Shamanistic Exploit," in Paul Radin, Winnebago Notebooks (Philadelphia: American Philosophical Society, ca. 1909) Notebook #66, Story #4.

2 Paul Radin, The Winnebago Tribe (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1990 [1923]) 234.

3 Radin, The Winnebago Tribe, 193-194.

4 Dorothy Moulding Brown, Wisconsin Indian Place-Name Legends, Wisconsin Folklore Booklets (Madison: 1947) 8-18; Reverend Elmer C. Hamley, Monapacataca (Green Lake: 1933) 4-5.

5 Lewis Spence, Myths of the North American Indians (London: George G. Harrap & Company, 1916) 285-287.