Rock Spirits

by Richard L. Dieterle

Rocks are of many kinds, and each variety has its own spirit chief.

Relatively small rocks, which in English are termed "stones," are all manifestations of a single spirit, sometimes simply called "the Female Spirit." When the earth was newly formed, it spun and rocked uncontrollably, so Earthmaker tried to weight it down, but it only came to perfect rest when he scattered the Female Spirit over the face of the earth.1 In the Medicine Rite it is said that Earthmaker made her from flesh that he extracted from the right side of his body. Having formed her, he cast her down to earth where she split in two. When she landed, she shattered into many pieces, forming the rocks and stones of the earth.2

The Hocągara call marble "fat rock" because of its white color and because, as rocks go, it is soft. One of the fat rock spirits to have descended to earth and assumed human form became the grandfather of the avatar of Wojijéga (The Meteor Spirit) when he came to vanquish the evil spirits preying on mankind. When the grandfather returned to his basic nature, he became a fat rock on which children of Wojijéga's village played. That marble would be the grandsire of meteors is reasonable enough, given that meteorites are rocks that appear to be white when falling from the sky, but when the iron-rich mineralogical remains are found, they force the conclusion that the visible ferrous material must have transmuted from white rock. This idea of ferrous rocks being contained like a seed within marble is reflected in the mythology when two of the old man's relatives turn out to be live (magnetic) iron and blue iron.3 Even among evil spirits, iron and fat rock are associated. Four man-eating spirits who were destroyed in battle were made of steel, live iron, black rock, and fat rock.4

The chief of the Black Rock Spirits is the Green Man (or the Blue Man), so called because his body is co (blue or green) all over. He is the spirit of the stones used in heating the pit in which corn is roasted. Since the husks of the corn are green, he is covered in that color and no doubt derives his name from this fact. His brother is the spirit of the pit in which they are roasted and his sister is the silk of the corn. Green Man killed an evil spirit who was the son of a woman whose soul was contained in a black stone. Her other son, Big Bellied One, threw the stone into the depths of the ocean, killing her. Green Man then borrowed a heart from a deer and exchanged it for a heart contained in a nest on the back of a swan. This was the heart of Cricket, another evil spirit who wished to contest Green Man. Green Man gave the heart to Turtle, who tore it apart with his claws, which caused the evil spirit to crumble into a hoard of crickets. In sporting contests, Green Man always defeated Wojijéga, the Meteor Spirit, as might be expected, since meteorites are typically black rocks.5 (For more on Wojijéga, see Meteor Spirit.) A Black Rock Spirit figures among the superhuman guards that defended an island of bad spirits located in the middle of the ocean. His colleagues were a Fat Rock Spirit, a Live Iron Spirit, and a Real Iron Spirit. A special warparty was organized by Trickster, Turtle, and Heroka to attack this island's inhabitants. The Black Rock Spirit and his allies made a rush against the warleader, Heroka, but were shot down in the attempt.6 Another dark Rock Spirit practiced evil when he went to live among the humans. Whenever he slept with a woman, she would die. So the Thunders sent one of their number to be born as a human being in order to destroy him. One day this spirit showed up at the Thunder man's house, where he lived as a human being with his sister. In the end, the Thunder man struck the spirit with his club and smashed him to bits. The evil spirit was known as "the Big Stone," and he is the dark, rough stones that lay upon the ground.7 Big Stone was one who helped the great spirits defeat the Giants in a lacrosse game in which lives were at stake. Turtle sent Otter out over the face of the earth to bring back those who would be especially skilled in such a contest. One of these was an old man that he found on top of a hill. This was the spirit of the rough stones. In the game, the Giants insisted on using a black stone ball which was painted red with grease. Even though the old man tossed the ball up to start the game, the Giants seized possession of it. The old man yelled for them to strike Coyote with the ball, and when they did, they knocked this Giant's ally out of the game. Thus they proceeded until they had won the game.8

Another Rock Spirit is Flint, who was notorious for withholding arrowheads from the humans. He was covered with flint, those over his stomach being white. Hare attacked him with his warclub, scattering flint over the face of the earth. The flint that came off the spirit's body was white, red, black, and blue, the last being the most valuable. This flint may be found in the form of arrowheads, some of which Hare himself used for his arrows.9 Another great spirit, Bluehorn, who is the Red Star, was also known as "He with Flint Inlaid in His Arms." He is the uncle of the Twins.10 Once he faced a man in a duel who looked exactly like himself. This evil spirit cut off Bluehorn's head with the knives inlaid in his own arm, and carried the head for years as he traversed the heavens.11 Some say that the evil spirit put Bluehorn's head upon his own body so that he went about with two heads.12 Eventually, the Twins retrieved the head and restored their uncle's body to wholeness.

Some rocks are shaped like human heads. Some of these contain spirits who guard the inhabitants of the surrounding lands from their traditional enemies. The landmark called "Indian Head Rock" over the Yahara River, is said to guard the people against raiding parties from the Illinois. Another such rock is found near Twin Bluffs.13 Other head rocks, such as the Great Stone Face at Devil's Lake, have an intimate association with Waterspirits.14 A spirit stone shaped in the form of an animal, gives certain powers to its possessor. John Mike, a Hocąk, testifies,

The stone animal was kept by my great grandfather. My grandfather kept it, beginning in 1809, until his death. The animal is helpful to the members of our families. We ask it for strength and power and wild game. He replies by giving us these and power. He gives us these through his spirit.

The spirit within is honored with tobacco offerings.15

Human beings are often turned into stone. A human who visited the Buffalo Spirits and was later transformed into a buffalo himself, fought a series of duels with the great white Bad Buffalo Spirits. In these combats he had been victorious because of the magic talisman that he carried with him; but in one duel, he forgot to wear it, and when he was struck by the Buffalo Spirit, he shattered into a myriad of stone fragments. These fragments were gathered up and he was brought back to life by the spirit of the talisman.16 Sometimes people are turned to stone as a punishment. A man who won a blessing from a Waterspirit, used the medicines to work evil magic. The Waterspirit warned him that if he did not desist, he would turn him to stone. The man had become addicted to these practices and could not stop himself, so the Waterspirit transformed him into a rock.17 An inversion of this metamorphosis is seen when a rock was turned into a living creature. Once a Thunderbird struck a rock with lightning and the stone turned into a living frog.18 In one case, a woman in flight from her enemies was pitited by the spirits who turned her into stone. Offerings are made at the rock to her spirit.19

When young people go out and cry to the spirits in order to get their guidance and protection for life, if they dream (have a vision) of rocks or stones, it foreshadows their death. This may be because, as Radin suggests, rocks and stones are motionless and permanent, traits that are the opposite of life.20

Links: Iron Spirits, The Meteor Spirit, Spirits, Hare, Waterspirits, Buffalo Spirits, Thunderbirds, Earthmaker, Turtle, Trickster, Heroka ("Without-Horns"), Bluehorn, Otters, Giants, Coyote, Frogs.

Stories: mentioning Rock Spirits: The Big Stone, The Green Man, The Creation of the World, The Commandments of Earthmaker, The Seer, The Roaster, Wojijé, The Raccoon Coat, The Medicine Rite Foundation Myth, Hare Secures the Creation Lodge, Baldheaded Warclub Origin Myth, Hare Kills Flint, Spear Shaft and Lacrosse, A Woman Turns into a Rock, Eats the Stinking Part of the Deer Ankle; mentioning the Female (Stone) Spirit: The Medicine Rite Foundation Myth; The Creation of the World (v. 12), A Woman Turns into a Rock; featuring Wojijéga (the Meteor Spirit) as a character: The Meteor Spirit and the Origin of Wampum, The Roaster, Wojijé, The Raccoon Coat, The Green Man; mentioning Black Rock Spirits: The Green Man, Baldheaded Warclub Origin Myth; featuring Fat Rock Spirits as characters: The Raccoon Coat, Baldheaded Warclub Origin Myth; mentioning the Rough Rock Spirit (Big Stone): The Big Stone, Spear Shaft and Lacrosse; mentioning Giants: Spear Shaft and Lacrosse, Redhorn Contests the Giants, The Sons of Redhorn Find Their Father, White Wolf, Redhorn's Father, The Hocągara Contest the Giants, The Roaster, Grandfather's Two Families, Little Human Head, Turtle and the Giant, Sun and the Big Eater, The Big Eater, How the Thunders Met the Nights, Ocean Duck, Wears White Feather on His Head, cf. The Shaggy Man; mentioning frogs: The Stone that Became a Frog, Hare and the Dangerous Frog, The Woman Who Became an Ant, Turtle's Warparty, Porcupine and His Brothers.

Themes: internal stones: How the Thunders Met the Nights, The Big Stone; an old man is or becomes a rock: The Raccoon Coat, The Big Stone, The Seer; a being is transformed into stone: The Twin Sisters, The Seer, A Woman Turns into a Rock, The Raccoon Coat; striking of an enemy whose body scatters over the face of the earth as a shower of stones: Eats the Stinking Part of the Deer Ankle, Hare Acquires His Arrows (Flint episode), The Big Stone; men whose bodies are (partly) covered with pieces of flint: Bluehorn's Nephews, Hare Acquires His Arrows, Hare Gets Swallowed, The Children of the Sun, The Red Man, The Man with Two Heads; a man uses flint growing out of his arm to kill (or behead) someone: Hare Acquires His Arrows (Sharp Elbow episode), The Man with Two Heads, The Children of the Sun.


1 Paul Radin, The Winnebago Tribe (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1990 [1923]) 302-311.

2 Paul Radin, The Road of Life and Death: A Ritual Drama of the American Indians. Bollingen Series V (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1973 [1945]) 252-255.

3 Paul Radin, "Coon Skin Fur Coat," Winnebago Notebooks (Philadelphia: American Philosophical Society) Notebook #59: 1-122.

4 Paul Radin, "A Wakjonkaga Myth," Winnebago Notebooks (Philadelphia: American Philosophical Society) Notebook #37: 1-70. Informant: John Rave.

5 Paul Radin, "The Blue Man," Winnebago Notebooks (Philadelphia: American Philosophical Society) Notebook 55; Paul Radin, (untitled), Winnebago Notes (Philadelphia: American Philosophical Society) Freeman #3858: 4-16.

6 Radin, "A Wakjonkaga Myth," Notebook #37.

7 Paul Radin, "The Big Stone," Winnebago Notebooks (Philadelphia: American Philosophical Society) #35.

8 Paul Radin, "Spear Shaft and Lacrosse," Winnebago Notebooks (Philadelphia: American Philosophical Society) #36: 1-81.

9 Paul Radin, Winnebago Hero Cycles: A Study in Aboriginal Literature (Baltimore: Waverly Press, 1948) 93-98.

10 Paul Radin, The Evolution of an American Indian Prose Epic. A Study in Comparative Literature, Part I (Basil: Ethnographical Museum, Basil Switzerland, 1954) 80-84. Apparently the story was obtained by Sam Blowsnake of the Thunderbird Clan from an anonymous older member of the tribe ca. 1912 (Ibid., 21).

11 Radin, The Evolution of an American Indian Prose Epic, 75-80.

12 Phillip Longtail, "The Man with Two Heads," text with interlinear translation by James Owen Dorsey, 4800 Dorsey Papers: Winnebago 3.3.2 (Washington, D. C.: Smithsonian Institution, National Anthropological Archives, October and November, 1893) VIII.1-8.

13 Dorothy Moulding Brown, Indian Legends of Historic and Scenic Wisconsin, Wisconsin Folklore Booklets (Madison: 1947) 53.

14 "On the west bluff of Devil's Lake, near Baraboo, are the Great Stone Face, and near it the Turk's Head. Devil's Lake, called Ta-wah-cun-chuk-dah [Te Wakącąkra] (Sacred Lake) by the Winnebago Indians, was to them a water of mystery, the abode of water demons, wa-kja-kee-ra [Wakcexira]. All of its fantastic rocks — now named Balanced Rock, Cleopatra's Needle, Elephant Rock, and Devil's Doorway — are associated with the former worship of these malevolent water spirits." D. M. Brown, Indian Legends, 53.

15 D. M. Brown, Indian Legends, 58.

16 Paul Radin, "Dear Ankle Smelling Feet," Winnebago Notebooks (Philadelphia: American Philosophical Society) #20, 1-146.

17 Paul Radin, Primitive Man as Philosopher (New York: D. Appleton Co., 1927) 196-199.

18 George Ricehill, Tale of a Stone that Turned into a Frog, transcribed by Oliver LaMere, in Paul Radin, Winnebago Notebooks, Winnebago III, #19, Freeman #3899 [1254] (Philadelphia: American Philosophical Society, 1909) 16-17; George Ricehill, No Title, in Paul Radin, Winnebago Notebooks, Winnebago III, #11a, Freeman ##3892 (Philadelphia: American Philosophical Society, 1909 [revised, 1945]) Story XVI, p. 72.

19 James Owen Dorsey, A Study of Siouan Cults, in the Annual report of the Bureau of Ethnology to the Secretary of the Smithsonian Institution, Volume 11, 1889-1890 (Washington: U. S. Government Printing Office, 1894) 361-544 [425].

20 Paul Radin, The Road of Life and Death: A Ritual Drama of the American Indians (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1945) 56.