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)