The Seven Teachings of the Anishinaabe people are values based on centuries of cultural traditions that reinforce the wisdom and faith of our ancestors who came before us. Each teaching honors one of the basic virtues to help us to live a full and healthy life. Each of these Teachings is represented by a different animal and provides practical and positive character traits for use in our everyday lives.
Stories of Flaming Balls of Evil from Red Lake, Minnesota
There were many different maji-manidoo (evil spirits) that could haunt or portend ill omen to the Ojibwe. One of the strangest is the glowing fireball spirit, similar to the European ‘Will-o-wisp’ that floats around in out of the way places and places where graves are known to be. Below are a few stories taken from informants at the Red Lake Reservation by Sister Inez Hilger, during her work among the Red Lake people:
From Hilger, M. Inez (Mary Inez). 1951. “Chippewa Child Life And Its Cultural Background.” Bulletin. Washington: U.S. Govt. Print. Off.
A Story about a Missed Meeting with a Spirit
Paagak is a manitou (spirit) that is said to fly through the forests. It is said that Paagak appears as an extremely emaciated skeleton-like figure, with thin translucent skin and glowing red points for eyes. The cries of Paagak are also described as being shrill and terrifying. Encountering Paagak can portend hardship or death, but dreaming of him can lead to one becoming a Windigokaan (contrary).
William Berens, Chief of Berens River from 1917 until 1947, shared a story with Anthropologist A. Irving Hallowell telling of his experience with the spirit Paagak:
"I heard this Baagak, when it was storming, in a blizzard. My grandpa and me were sitting by the stove while he was talking, telling us legends of the past, what he knew. Then all of a sudden, I heard on the [woodstove] pipes, singing. I told my grandpa, “Grandpa maa, listen, listen to that singing.” He looked at me, and he said, “Aw, Baagak, you’re hearing Baagak out there in that blizzard.” So he looks at me, and he then says, “Maajaan, go outside. You will see a child hanging, that’s all you’ll see. But as you go out, when you look at him, he will ask you to play with him, but I warn you, “Do not laugh at what he does; if you laugh, that means that he has won.” That’s what he said, “Gego baapi-ken (Don’t laugh)”; “no matter what he does out there. Eventually he will become an adult; first he is a child, then he’s going to be an adult. He will do anything to make you laugh, just like a trickster, which means that he won if you laugh at him.” He told me, if you beat him, if you don’t laugh at what he does, that means you beat him in that area.” “In the future,” he said, “if you do that (not laugh, that is, not be distracted) then nobody in this world will be able to beat you because you beat Baagak in that area.” But for myself, I was a young kid, about 12 or 13 when I heard this Baagak. It’s only once in a lifetime that you hear Baagak; but maybe he will come back. I don’t know; that’s hard to say."
Berens paused, then continued and said, ‘‘I ended up getting scared. I didn’t go out. I don’t know what would have happened if I went out there in that blizzard with Baagak.” Berens paused again and then sat back in his chair and said, Baagak is one of the strongest legends that ever lived, and people who encounter this Baagak will have the same powers as Baagak, but a lot of them won’t pass that test. I didn’t pass that test which was given to me when my grandpa looked at me and said, “Kiin-wa-ish, It’s up to you, if you want to go out or not.” And that was my encounter with Baagak at that time when I was growing up. After that, I never heard Baagak again. Up to this day, I haven’t heard this Baagak. Maybe I will hear him again in the future; I don’t know. It’s up to him if he wants to show himself to me again in the future, but time will tell. I will encounter that when that situation comes up, when Baagak shows himself again. It’s up to him; it’s not up to me. It’s up to Wiin Gizhi Manitou, the Creator, who sends these spirits to you to as a gift. But a lot of people do not understand that. Aahaa miigwetch.”
Adapted from Jennifer Brown and Susan Gray, Memories, Myths, and Dreams of an Ojibwe Leader: William Berens as told by Irving Hallowell. (Montreal: McGill-Queen’s University Press, 2009)
A skeptic finds out that ghosts are real
On a small tributary of the upper Assiniboine River is a pleasant plain with an unpleasant memory: the place of the two dead men. It is said that a quarrel happened between two brothers that ended in one of them drawing a knife and slaying the other. A companion, seeing the brother kill his brother quickly avenged the killing. The brothers were buried side by side at this place. From that time no Indian camped at this place, for when they did the dead men would rise from their graves and disturb the traveler who stopped near their resting place.
The famous white captive, John Tanner, once took it upon himself to camp at this spot. He had heard the legend and resolved to show his courage by spending a night there. He pushed his canoe to the shore, ate his supper, and rolled himself in his buffalo-skin to sleep.
However, as soon as he got comfortable, two dead men walked out of the darkness and squatted by his fire. They spoke no words and they did not move. Instead, they looked steadily at him with their milky dead eyes until he could endure it no longer and sat up; whereupon the dead men vanished. He soon fell asleep and the dead men returned in his dreams. In his dream the men not only stared at him, they teased him at him and poked him with sticks. He tried to resist, to rise, to cry out but he could not stop them. At last one of the dead brothers spoke and told him that he would see a horse at the top of a low hill nearby. The dead man stated, “There, my brother, is a horse which I give you to ride tomorrow. And as you pass here on your way home you can call and leave the horse and spend another night with us.”
Tanner awoke, and as soon as it was light enough to travel, he drew his canoe among the bushes. With a sense of dread that the words of the dead man were true, he climbed the little hill and found the horse that he was promised. He quickly mounted the horse and rode to a nearby trading post not many miles away. Though he had to abandon his canoe, Tanner could not bring himself to return to the place of the two dead men.
Adapted from Myths and Legends Beyond Our Borders by Charles Skinner (1899) Lipincott.
The conduit to the spiritual world
Dreams play an important role in the spiritual life of the Ojibwa. In many ways dreams are seen as being more real than the waking world. Messages received in dreams often serve as omens that are interpreted for meaning by older community members with acknowledged power in dream interpretation. In historic times dreams were believed to have the power to predict such events as new ceremonies, war success, or success at hunting. The Ojibwa cosmology is founded on the concept of a single, all-powerful deity known as Kitche Manitou. The name of this deity is commonly invoked during most prayers and divinations. Other manitou (spirits) may also be invoked. These tend to serve as more individualized spirit helpers and are often gained during fasting ceremonies.
Acadian mixed blood medicine women
In Acadian Canada, there were special practitioners—all women—known as ‘sage femmes’. In other French-speaking areas of Canada, these women were known as ‘angel-makers’, as some of them were known to be able to induce abortions or to heal patients of diseases. Various herbs could be collected from the countryside or from Indian medicine people, added to holy water, and combined with special prayers to heal patients and cause certain effects. These women also used special books of knowledge. In the Acadian areas of New Brunswick, black-magic Bibles known as the ‘Petit Albert’ were once in wide use, despite countless attempts at suppression by the Catholic Church.
One famous medicine woman in the early twentieth century was a part-Acadian, part-Indian “sorceress” in Maritime Canada by the name of Marie Comeau who was written about by New Brunswick novelist Regis Brun.
The woman-magician phenomenon is one of the Acadian mixed-blood culture's most closely guarded secrets.
Adapted from Ancelet, Barry Jean, Jay Dearborn Edwards, and Glen Pitre. 1991. “Cajun Country.” Folklife In The South Series. Jackson, Miss.: University Press of Mississippi.
The great spirit gives the people the red stone pipe
In the past, there was much conflict between the Anishinaabe people. They were fighting amongst themselves and killing each other, taking revenge on each other, and engaging in violence. Gitchi Manidoo saw this and thought to himself, "This is not good. My children should not always follow the way of war."
The Great Spirit called a great council and had all of the tribes come together at the Mississippi River. When everyone had gathered, he took a red rock and started turning it in over in his hands and eventually opened them, revealing a pipe. Then he took the pipe and smoked it, and the smoke made a great cloud in the sky. He spoke in a loud voice, saying "See, my people, this stone is red. It is red because it is the flesh of all the Anishinaabek. Please use it as a means to make peace amongst yourselves.” Then the cloud grew larger and Gitchi Manidoo vanished into smoke himself.
Since this time, the pipe is used to forge peace and to help in making important decisions.
Adapted from MYTHS AND LEGENDS OF THE MISSISSIPPI VALLEY AND THE GREAT LAKES, by Judson (1914)
The trickster falls victim to his own folly
This is a funny story about the Cree trickster Wisakedjak, or Whiskeyjack as he was sometimes called. Usually he was the one playing tricks and jokes, but in this story the joke was on him.
One day Whiskeyjack was looking for a bite to eat. He was getting mad because he had gas and every time he was about to shoot his arrow to kill a big, fat deer he was stalking, he would fart and scare off the game. In order to punish his bum, he built a large fire and put a big rock on it. When the fire was hot, he sat on the rock.
Whiskeyjack was really in pain! He ran to the river to cool off his bum. "That'll teach you for farting like that!" he told his behind.
A while later, some scabs formed on his sore bum. As he walked, the scabs eventually cracked and fell off. Later, while walking back the way he had came, he saw the scabs on the path. "Hey ya boy! That there looks like grandmother's dried meat! I sure am hungry!" he thought. He picked up the scabs and ate them.
The deer he was hunting saw this and started laughing so loudly that they startled Whiskeyjack. "What are you all laughing at boy?" he demanded. "Oh, silly Whiskeyjack, you have been eating the scabs from your own bum!" they told him.
Whiskeyjack was so embarrassed he ran off until his gas had passed and he could get revenge by eating the deer.