The Arrows of the Medicine Rite Men, Version 1
by Sam Blowsnake
Hočąk-English Interlinear Text
(101) And noise came from the ancestors up in the sky. It often came to the center of the lodge. It was done by a very great eagle. This was the great He Who Walks upon the Light. (102) He himself was the first one sent to us as a leader. Having sat on a (maple) tree, (103) that far he came bringing power.
He fell down and laid in the center of the lodge. It was a very white squirrel. That one was the second one sent to us as a leader. And again the third one was pure white. (104) It looked pretty. They say that it filled the center of the lodge. The weasel was the third and again the beaver was the fourth. They say that they were snow topped. (105) From the corner of the earth where the sun rises, from there came the youngest, the otter. The pure white otter was the leader. These were the ones we had who were going forth as leaders. (106) It is said that they were the ones. They were alive from the beginning.
And from where the clouds lie, he (Earthmaker) rolled the blue sky together with the white clouds. That one was itself the arrow they say. (107) The arrow of the Medicine Rite men, that is the one they put under our hearts. And it seemed that we were giving the arrows to them. We have revealed the story and will do it in this way.1
The Arrows of the Medicine Rite Men, Version 2
by Jasper Blowsnake
Hočąk-English Interlinear Text
(213) He Whom We Call Nephew had a spirit gathering place for the various good spirits, the various ones above, those on top of the earth, those who are here, that is, the good spirits; and the good subterranean spirits; so He Whom We Call Nephew gathered all of them together and said, "If they discuss it with us, we might be well. As much Light and Life (Hąp) as there is, that they will obtain for us. The lodge was full to capacity. The glance from the center of the lodge reached all of them where they were sitting. The center of the lodge lay there sparkling and shimmering with Light and Life. Then the creation came from above and the Creator sent his glance down there to wherever they were. He knew how it was. (214) He liked what he did. The creation was quiet. He meditated about something good that he thought he might be able to contribute to them. Pondering about it, he realized where he was sitting. There he did it. He rolled together white clouds with the blue sky. The Light and Life became joyous and pleasant. Then from above he sent it. He dispatched it towards the Creation Lodge. From above Light and Life came to be lengthened out. Even then he came to crowd all the evil clouds, as many as there were, beyond the limits of the island. He made the day look good. I wonder how what the spider made stood as he spread it? And when it came near the Creation Lodge, Otter recognized it as the last bird skin. He recognized it as it came over the top of the lodge, after which he met up with it and took it. After he took it, the light in the east shook. When he regained his life, he got up and did the way they have instructed, then he came back and made a guttural cough in the center of the lodge, throwing up the Light and Life that came from above. (215) He made the Light and Life appear round. And he made himself go towards it and then he moved it on to the next place, and now in turn when they passed it from one to another, as it moved about, the Light and Life became lengthened. Now in turn everyone did the same. As it went about, the whole lodge lay bathed in Light and Life.2
Commentary. "He Who Walks upon the Light" (Hą́pamąnį́ra) — this name also means, "Walks in the Day," since hąp means both "day" and "light." It is this latter version that is given by Susman. However, the Medicine Rite's poetic term for birds is, "those who walk upon the light," hąp hamanįra (see A Prophecy), and it is this sense of the expression that is appropriate to the context. This eagle can now be seen as the eponymous forerunner of all birds in the context of the Medicine Rite.
"(maple) tree" — the text gives sak as the Hočąk for this kind of tree, but it probably should have been sąk. This is a small difference, and others have heard this word as sok and even zank.3 This is a perfect choice of trees, since ną sąk, "maple tree," means in Hočąk, "the pure tree." This sense of sąk meaning "pure" is used in the Medicine Rite to denote ritual purity. So the first harbinger of the Rite's power transmits it from the "tree of purity," yielding forth an unblemished power with which to initiate and found the Medicine Rite itself.
"very white" — the color white symbolizes both power and purity. All the animals except the eagle are described as "pure white" (sgaxjį).
"where the sun rises" — it is important that the youngest and most powerful of the spirit animals comes from the east. Since this is where the sun rises, it is where the day (hąp) begins. It is the place of the beginning of time. And it is the place where light (hąp) first radiates into the world. So when the otter pouch is used to shoot the shell that causes the ritual death of the initiate, it is for the initiate a new beginning of time, launched in ritual remembrance of he who came from the beginning of time to rekindle this beginning anew among the dead themselves. They are thus given by these spirit animals a new Light and Life (Hąp), like the new light of the east that marks the dawn of a temporal rebirth through the resurrection of the sun.
"they were the ones" — the list given in order in the variant telling of The Animal Spirit Aids of the Medicine Rite by Sam's brother Jasper, is eagle, black hawk, squirrel, weasel, beaver, and otter. These were the animals from which the pouches were made. These pouches were so constructed that by compressing them the shell "arrow" could be shot from them. What's missing from Sam's list that is found in Jasper's is the blackhawk, a rare bird at that time. However, in recollections elsewhere in the same collection, Sam does remember a pouch made of that bird's skin:
Égi éča zikxóč' ǧaǧák' ną́xkųną žigé waník' k'erečų́sep ǧaǧák' nąíxkų žiké tocanak' zujúkire waną́xkų.
And there I heard a gray squirrel crying, again I heard a blackhawk bird crying, again the whistling of otters, I heard them.4
These sounds that Sam heard were the noises that could be made by squeezing the pouches in certain ways, ways known only to experienced initiates of the Rite.
"alive from the beginning" — this is a way of expressing the fact that they are primordial beings, created long ago in anticipation of how history was to unfold and give birth to the Medicine Rite.
"the white clouds" — the initial occurrence of this phrase, "where the white clouds lie," probably refers to the pure white animals the skins of whose species were used as the pouches from which to launch the shells ("arrows") that were shot at the initiate to induce his ritual death. That they are said to reside in the blue sky where such clouds live seems to refer to the fact that these primordial animals descended from heaven. We are told, for instance, that the squirrel fell down into the center of the lodge, showing that he, at least, had entered the lodge from above. These animals, inasmuch as they are prototypes for the bladders enclosed in their skins, are aptly identified with clouds, which are themselves imaged in the form of bladders on account of their containing concealed within themselves the potential precipitants of rain and snow. This is part of the reason why we find that Bladder's bothers were transformed into clouds (see the episode in Bladder and His Brothers). The second occurrence of the phrase refers to the shells themselves, which are also said elsewhere in Sam Blowsnake's account to be made from mixing blue sky with white clouds. Both the blue sky and white clouds are contrary to the spiritual ecology of the Thunderbirds, whose medium of action is the sky-obscuring gray clouds. Blue sky and white clouds belong to the spiritual realm of the Waterspirits, and form the upper world counterpart to the aquatic abode in which they dwell. Shells are formed by creatures of the water-world, but the shells of the Medicine Rite are arrows created from their celestial counterparts.
"the arrow" — this refers to the projectile that is the central feature of the Rite. This projectile is a shell which is shot at an initiate causing him to fall over dead (in a mock enactment), only to rise again to the living. The word for arrow, mą, also means "years," and as a verb, it means "to strike, tap." So as the member of the Rite is struck down by years, yet his holy power acquired from this time, will cause him to regain life. Just as we see this in the semblance of the initiate rising up from the ground — also denoted by the word mą — the ground in which the dead are buried, but where their life is not bound.
"the one they put under our hearts" — the shell with which the initiate is struck so that he swoons in a mock death, is said thereafter to reside under his heart. It can be shot from the animal pouch, so that in this context, it is the arrow that the animals have come to launch.
"it seemed that we were giving the arrows to them" — the shells were collected for the rite and placed inside the animal pouches. The word čąt'į, in this context translated as, "it seems," means "apparent to the senses." In a deeper reality, the shells were destined from the beginning of time for their role, and what merely appears to the senses cannot grasp the hidden necessary course of events that unfolded this destiny. On the other hand, this remark may simply reflect Sam Blowsnake's well known scepticism of the Rite and may simply express sarcasm.
"they discuss it" — that is, if they discuss how humans might attain to more life. Radin's translation is interpretive, but it makes clear the intention behind the words: "If they discuss the (true) life with us then happy life will be ..." By "us" is meant humanity.
"the glance from the center of the lodge reached all of them where they were sitting" — Radin translates this as, "All of them were sitting there and their glances extended straight to the center of the lodge."
"he realized where he was sitting" — more literally, "he knew the seat upon which he was sitting." In other words, as we might infer from the subsequent action, he was seated upon the clouds.
"the evil clouds" — these would not only be the storm clouds that obscure the hąp which is mystically identified with life, but also the cirrus clouds [inset] that are produced by inauspicious high winds. When these clouds have been blown away, good weather invariably follows. Those who have the power to "hold the day (hąp)" will view the dispersal of cirrus clouds are an indication of their success in supplying a period of good weather in which to hold ceremonies and rites that require fair skies.
"the island" — this is the earth, which, as among the ancient Greeks, was viewed as being surrounded by an Ocean Sea and hence like an island.
"it came" — that is, the entity that Earthmaker created out of cloud and sky. We learn in the next clause that this is the first bird skin, that is the receptacle made of bird skin that is used to shoot the "arrows" (shells) of the Medicine Rite. Otter would recognize this because the body of an otter is used for the same purpose. So what is made from clouds and blue sky is a kind of bladder. From what is said in Bladder's Brothers, we know that clouds are considered bladders, which explains the role of clouds in the making of the shell-shooting bladders.
"he regained his life" — this means that he regained consciousness. So he had been knocked out when the light in the east shook. The person shot with the shell in the rite falls to the ground and is considered to be dead, so that when he returns to consciousness he is considered to have literally returned to life.
"did the way they have instructed" — that is, he made a circuit of the lodge.
"throwing up the Light and Life" — the initiate then coughs up the shell that is believed to have been in his chest.
Stories: mentioning eagles: The Race for the Chief's Daughter, Eagle Clan Origin Myth, The Thunderbird Clan Origin Myth (v. 2), Pigeon Clan Origins, Hočąk Clans Origin Myth, The Hočąk Migration Myth, Trickster and the Eagle, The Gift of Shooting, The Animal Spirit Aids of the Medicine Rite; about Bird Spirits: Crane and His Brothers, The King Bird, Bird Origin Myth, Bird Clan Origin Myth, Wears White Feather on His Head, Old Man and Wears White Feather, The Boy who was Captured by the Bad Thunderbirds, The Thunderbird, Owl Goes Hunting, The Boy Who Became a Robin, Partridge's Older Brother, The Woman who Loved Her Half-Brother, The Foolish Hunter, Ocean Duck, Earthmaker Sends Rušewe to the Twins, The Quail Hunter, Baldheaded Warclub Origin Myth, The Hočąk Arrival Myth, Trickster Gets Pregnant, Trickster and the Geese, Holy One and His Brother (kaǧi, woodpeckers, hawks), Porcupine and His Brothers (Ocean Sucker), Turtle's Warparty (Thunderbirds, eagles, kaǧi, pelicans, sparrows), Kaǧiga and Lone Man (kaǧi), The Old Man and the Giants (kaǧi, bluebirds), The Bungling Host (snipe, woodpecker), The Red Feather, Trickster, the Wolf, the Turtle, and the Meadow Lark, Waruǧápara, The Race for the Chief's Daughter, Black and White Moons, The Markings on the Moon, The Creation Council, He Who Eats the Stinking Part of the Deer Ankle, Earthmaker Blesses Wagíšega (Wešgíšega), Hare Acquires His Arrows, Keramaniš’aka's Blessing (black hawk, owl), Worúxega (eagle), The Gift of Shooting (eagle), Hočąk Clans Origin Myth, Hawk Clan Origin Myth, The Hočąk Migration Myth, Blue Jay, The Baldness of the Buzzard, The Abduction and Rescue of Trickster (buzzards), The Shaggy Man (kaǧi), The Medicine Rite Foundation Myth (kaǧi), Spear Shaft and Lacrosse, Įčorúšika and His Brothers (Loon), Great Walker's Medicine (loon), Roaster (woodsplitter), The Spirit of Gambling, The Big Stone (a partridge), Trickster's Anus Guards the Ducks, The Fleetfooted Man, The Journey to Spiritland (v. 4) — see also Thunderbirds; mentioning squirrels: The Brown Squirrel, Old Man and Wears White Feather, Wears White Feather on His Head, The Animal Spirit Aids of the Medicine Rite, Porcupine and His Brothers, Trickster and the Eagle; mentioning beavers: Hare Retrieves a Stolen Scalp, White Wolf, Old Man and Wears White Feather, The Dipper, The Animal Spirit Aids of the Medicine Rite, The Chief of the Heroka, Turtle and the Merchant; featuring Otter as a character: Otter Comes to the Medicine Rite, 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, Įčorúšika and His Brothers, Morning Star and His Friend; mentioning otters: Otter Comes to the Medicine Rite, The Fleetfooted Man, The Dipper, The Two Children, 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, Įčorúšika and His Brothers, The Woman who Loved Her Half Brother, The Chief of the Heroka, The Animal Spirit Aids of the Medicine Rite, Wojijé, Holy Song II, Morning Star and His Friend, A Waterspirit Blesses Mąnį́xete’ų́ga; mentioning weasels: The Animal Spirit Aids of the Medicine Rite, The Lost Blanket; mentioning spiders: The Spider's Eyes, Hare Visits the Blind Men, The Twins Retrieve Red Star's Head, Tobacco Origin Myth (v. 5), Descent of the Drum (v. 1), East Shakes the Messenger; mentioning shells: The Gift of Shooting, The Markings on the Moon, The Shell Anklets Origin Myth, Otter Comes to the Medicine Rite, The Wild Rose, Young Man Gambles Often (wampum), Morning Star and His Friend (v. 2) (wampum), Wolves and Humans (oyster), Bird Clan Origin Myth, The Lost Child, The Medicine Rite Foundation Myth (v. 2), Turtle's Warparty, The Lost Blanket (mussel), The Annihilation of the Hočągara I, Hare Visits the Bodiless Heads (crab); mentioning Creation Lodges (Wogųzočíra): The Creation Council, Hare Secures the Creation Lodge of the Medicine Rite, The Descent of the Drum, The Four Steps of the Cougar, The Nightspirits Bless Jobenągiwįxka, The Boy who would be Immortal, The Medicine Rite Foundation Myth, The Animal Spirit Aids of the Medicine Rite, Otter Comes to the Medicine Rite, East Enters the Medicine Lodge, East Shakes the Messenger, Peace of Mind Regained, South Enters the Medicine Lodge; 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, see also Other Stories from Jasper Blowsnake's account of the Medicine Rite.
The first part of this story is a variant of The Animal Spirit Aids of the Medicine Rite, but is placed in a different context.
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, 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 Anishinaabe 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), Death Enters the World.
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, 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, Tobacco Origin Myth (v. 5), The Diving Contest, Otter Comes to the Medicine Rite, 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; Earthmaker forms the "arrow" (shell) of the Medicine Rite by taking a piece of blue sky and rolling it together with white clouds: The Gift of Shooting; shooting shells in connection with the Medicine Rite: Otter Comes to the Medicine Rite, The Gift of Shooting; evil clouds are swept away (to the north): North Shakes His Gourd, The Four Steps of the Cougar, East Shakes the Messenger, The Descent of the Drum (v. 2), The Buffalo's Walk, The Medicine Rite Foundation Myth, South Seizes the Messenger.
Notes1 Amelia Susman, Notebooks (Philadelphia: American Philosophical Society, January, 1939) Book 8: 101-108.