Earthmaker (Mą’ųna)

by Richard L. Dieterle

Earthmaker is the wise and benevolent supreme being who created the cosmos and life itself. Thus, he is often called "Creator" (Wažąguzera).1 As the chief god and ruler of the Hočąk pantheon, he is sometimes called the "Great Spirit" (Waxop’ini Xetera).2 His cosmic centrality is expressed in his emblem (seen at left), a symmetrical green cross on a white background.3 He has been described as completely clothed in pure white, and as having wings. His eyes shine with the red glow of hot iron.4

Earthmaker himself awoke into existence. He found himself suspended in the heavens, sitting on something substantial. The thought of a universe in which he was the only sentient being moved him to tears. The falling tears formed the waters of earth. Earthmaker created every living thing, but last of all he created his weakest life form, man.5 Because man was so weak and powerless, Earthmaker gave him tobacco as a sacrament. All the spirits loved tobacco so much that they had to bless men with gifts of power if they were to receive any, for tobacco was exclusively the possession of humanity, and no spirit could claim it except that it be offered by a human being.6 Earthmaker marks the length of human lives in a book (formerly a calendar stick?). He marks very few short. He has charged his evil counterpart Herešgúnina with preventing the earth from being overwhelmed by people. Consequently, Herešgúnina has a book in which he shortens lives. Some say that Herešgúnina lives next door to Earthmaker in heaven and has equal power,7 but others say that he represents Earthmaker's failed first attempt to create a human being.8

Normally, Earthmaker never appears to mortals in any but a symbolic guise, and never intervenes in human affairs, except for one paramount task: those who resist all temptations to remain in any of the several paradises of the afterlife and make it to the lodge of Earthmaker, are given an audience by the deity and may be reborn on earth to any parents they choose.9 Earthmaker once did bless a man, but appeared to him only in the symbolic form of a ray of light extending from heaven to earth. Earthmaker often presents himself as nothing more than a disembodied voice, in which he instructs his devotées in holy things, as he did when he gave the Earthmaker Songs to Wagíšega,10 or when he taught Hįčoga how check the wolves pursuing her.11 Earthmaker otherwise uses serpents as special servants and messengers with which to communicate with mankind.12

His rare blessings are always for life and never for war.13 He has even been known to impeach the blessings offered by lesser spirits when they exceeded the limits of brutality. The Chief of the Mountain Lions once blessed a mortal with the power to kill human beings without limit, but the blessing had to be withdrawn because it offended Earthmaker.14

Links: The Sons of Earthmaker, Spirits, Cosmography, Trickster, Bladder, Hare, Turtle, The Twins, Tobacco, Cosmic Ages of the Hočągara, Rušewe, Disease Giver, Herešgúnina, One Legged One, Bluehorn, The Blue Jay, Ghosts, Bear Spirits, White Bear, Red Bear, Blue Bear, Black Bear, Morning Star, Eagle (II), Elk (II), Bear, Deer Spirits, Buffalo Spirits, The Creation Council, Fire, Sun, Moon, Earth, Great Black Hawk, Polaris, Supernatural & Spiritual Power, Tree Spirits, Black Hawk, Bird Spirits, Hawks, Snakes, Rock Spirits, Cougars, Gourd Rattles, Gottschall.

Stories: featuring Earthmaker as a character: 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, 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 Blessing of Kerexųsaka; about Earthmaker blessing or rescuing a person: The Wild Rose, Earthmaker Blesses Wagíšega, Waruǧábᵉra, Eagle Clan Origin Myth, Pigeon Clan Origins.

Themes: someone in danger prays to Earthmaker for rescue: The Fatal House, The Wild Rose; Earthmaker acts against those who are not doing right: The Fatal House, Earthmaker Sends Rušewe to the Twins, The Mission of the Five Sons of Earthmaker, Turtle and the Giant, The Twins Retrieve Red Star's Head, The Seven Maidens, The Origins of the Milky Way.


1 Thomas Foster, Foster's Indian Record and Historical Data (Washington, D. C.: 1876-1877) vol. 1, #3: p. 3 col. 1. Informant: Little Decorah.

2 Paul Radin, The Winnebago Tribe (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1990 [1923]) 390.

3 Radin, The Winnebago Tribe, 200, plate 48.

4 Paul Radin, "The Lame Friend," Winnebago Notebooks (Philadelphia: American Philosophical Society) #66, Story #7. Informant: Xadenicaraka (John Hazel Hill).

5 "The Morning Star, A Winnebago Legend," collected by Louis L. Meeker, Nov. 22, 1896 (National Anthropological Archives, 1405 Winnebago, A.D.S.); "The Morning Star," in David Lee Smith, Folklore of the Winnebago Tribe (Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1997) 105.

6 Paul Radin, The Winnebago Tribe, 18, cf. p. 389.

7 Paul Radin, The Evolution of an American Indian Prose Epic. A Study in Comparative Literature, Part I (Basil: Ethnographical Museum, Basil Switzerland, 1954) 93 - 94. Informant: Sam Blowsnake of the Thunderbird Clan, ca. 1912.

8 John Harrison (b. 1865), Dorsey Papers: Winnebago Ethnography (National Anthropological Archives, Smithsonian Institution, 1883) 4855 (102). Meeker, The Morning Star; Smith, Folklore of the Winnebago Tribe.

9 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) 12-46. Informant: John Rave (Bear Clan). Paul Radin, "The Lame Friend," Winnebago Notebooks (Philadelphia: American Philosophical Society) #66, Story #7. Informant: Xadenicaraka (John Hazel Hill).

10 Radin, The Winnebago Tribe, 497.

11 Nile Behncke, "Winnebagoland Legends," Wisconsin Archeologist, 20, #2 (1939): 31-32.

12 Dorothy Moulding Brown, "Indian Winter Legends," Wisconsin Archeologist 22, #4 (1941): 49-53 (49).

13 Radin, "Personal Reminiscences of a Winnebago Indian," Journal of American Folklore, 26, #102 (1913):293-318 (see pp. 294-298).

14 Paul Radin, Boy who was Blessed by a Mountain Lion, Notebooks, Winnebago IV, #8, Freeman #3861 [3891] (Philadelphia: American Philosophical Society, 1908) Story 8z: 1-9.