Archive for the ‘Sacred’ Category

Back in part of my grad student days,  the nurses, psych assistants (of which I was one) and the resident psychiatrist were sitting around the station chatting about names as we charted our observations, orders, and treatment plans for our patients. I mentioned that I didn’t like my middle name, which was “Jerome” and that I thought I might like to have something different.

At which point Dr. Kroll asked if I knew what it meant. I said “No…”. And he said it meant “Ye Blessed of the Lord”. Which upon reflection, I thought was pretty cool and asked how he knew.  And he said “My first name is Jerome”.  To which I thought oops, open mouth, insert foot, about mentioning that I didn’t like it in the first place.

As I remembered this, I thought I would look around the internet and see if I could find how Dr. Kroll came by his definition as he is something of a scholar.

Cursory definitions of Jerome such as the one from Our Baby Namer, delineate it as “sacred name, holy name”. Which is a far cry from “Ye Blessed of the Lord”. So in order to see if I could reconcile the two, I dug deeper, and here is what I came up with.

The website “Behind The Name, The etymology and history of first names” defines Jerome as: “From the Greek name ‘Ιερωνυμος (Hieronymos) meaning “sacred name”…”.


It further says that Jerome is used thusly in other languages: ” OTHER LANGUAGES: Hieronymos, Hieronymus (Ancient Greek), Jeronim, Jerko (Croatian), Hieronymus, Jeroen (Dutch), Jérôme (French), Hieronymus (German), Gerolamo, Geronimo, Girolamo (Italian), Ieronimus (Late Roman), Jerónimo (Portuguese), Jerônimo (Portuguese (Brazilian)), Jerónimo (Spanish)”


And that the nickname for Jerome is “Jerry”.


This made me think of two things.  The first was, going off on a tangent, “Huh, Geronimo–the famous Apache leader and I have a name in common”. This because as Wikipedia puts it “Geronimo’s chief, Mangas Coloradas, sent him to Cochise’s band for help in revenge against the Mexicans. It was during this incident that the name Geronimo came about. This appellation stemmed from a battle in which, ignoring a deadly hail of bullets, he repeatedly attacked Mexican soldiers with a knife. The origin of the name is a source of controversy with historians, some writing that it was appeals by the soldiers to Saint Jerome (“Jeronimo!”) for help. Others source it as the mispronunciation of his name by the Mexican soldiers”.

I believe that the Mexicans, speaking Spanish, used it for him because he must have been blessed in order to fight and not get wounded by their gunfire.


Secondly, I think I was probably named after Jerry Littlecreek who was one of my ancestors.


To get back on track, this still didn’t explain the discrepancy I originally mentioned. So I decided to tease things apart. Which one has to so often do, when working with words.

So when “Behind the Name.com” says that Hieronymos means sacred name, they are basically dividing it into two parts. “Hiero” and “nymos”.  I can accept Hiero, as it is the same Greek root as the Hiero in Hieroglyphics–or sacred  writings.

It is even refined a little according to The Free Dictionary which describes “Hieron” as: “Hi´er`on: noun 1. A consecrated place; esp., a temple”.

So if Hieron as applied to a temple means a consecrated (or blessed) place. Applied as a person’s name would mean that person is blessed as well.

But I don’t accept that nymos means name in this case.  Not that it can’t. There is plenty of evidence that it does, but many a word has more than one meaning to it.

For instance, if you look at words which have this suffix:

You find that they all describe “the state of”, or “the state of [being]” something. So Hieronymous can also mean “The state of being consecrated [blessed]”.

The assumed/unspoken part of this, is that the person to whom the name belongs is either consecrated/blessed by deity, or consecrated to deity. Either way, you can designate them as “Ye Blessed of the Lord”, given the Judeo-Christian history of the name Jerome.

Therefore, Jerome, which is a derivative of Hieronymous, can either be literally translated as a sacred/holy name; or interpreted as  a person who is blessed [by deity] in this case–the Lord. Perhaps the latter is a stretch, but it is a plausible one, and stretching can be good for you.

Two lessons I learned along the way:

  • When it comes to Indian names, (or any name for that matter) you may not get the full story or complete meaning at first glance, or if you take it at face value,
  • Geronimo and I have a good name in common.

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Now that I am back, I have been thinking about the different feeling of living on the reservation versus living away from it.  The Anishinabeg are blessed to live in Red Lake. There is a different feeling living there.

Ours is big for one thing, so there is a lot to see. I found myself rediscovering places I had known before, but also discovering new things and new places. As time passes I discovered many things stayed the same and many things had changed.

The scenery is all so varied. There are different kinds of lakes: Red Lake, which is BIG, and small lakes, lakes of different sizes, lakes which have different kinds of fish in them, rivers creeks, swamps. sloughs, marshes,  Forests of different trees: Birch, Jack Pine, Norway Pine, Cedar, Poplar, Maple, Various Oaks and Tamarack, and all the different kinds of plants.

I also found myself enjoying spiritual experiences. I don’t mean supernatural experiences, I mean just meeting another/other beings. Sometimes those were people: family, friends, people from high school, and people I hadn’t met before. Sometimes they were the crows, deer, eagles, squirrels in mom’s back yard, mom’s or the many neighbor’s dogs, the huge bears at the dump, fish in the water, the partridges I heard out in the woods, ducks, geese, loons, a field mouse.

I am reminded that we take so many things for granted. I remember moving here to Missouri and seeing a Nuthatch hopping down (facing downward) a tree trunk looking for bugs. The first times it was such a novel experience. Now I take it more for granted. The point is however, that there are so many strange and beautiful things in nature, and I found myself wanting to travel about the reservation as an exercise in experiencing those things.

One difference, I suspect was that I felt this was land held in common with other Anishinabeg that I could experience as I wanted, subject to my personal controls of common sense, moderation, and consideration, and not to the outside rules imposed on me by an impersonal authority.

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The family lives on Copper City Road. It was so named because its people had their own stills to make their own beer during prohibition.

It’s about a half mile from the family home  to the main road on the West. And only a couple of blocks from there to where I turn off left to head toward String o’ lakes [Chain O’ Lakes].

The road is sandy and about 24 feet wide. As I look down it, the trees already start to crowd the sides. It’s a little wash-boardy.
I travel past stands of Norway Pine and houses about every three acres. Two thirds of these weren’t here last time I went through a couple of years ago. This stretch is intersected by a right of way which has wooden poles with electric lines draped over them, running through it.

After I travel another quarter mile, I reach the gravel pit which once was a dump ground before they cleaned it up.  My brother and I used to plink pop cans and glass bottles every once in a while here.

The road divides into three at this point. One straight ahead, one to the left and one to the right. I pick the one straight ahead. There are no more houses and just like that,  it is like the last 75 years have never happened.

Just beyond the gravel pit the middle road narrows to about 12 feet wide. A few tufts of grass appear in the middle of it.  Now it is better described as two well used tire lanes, and the trees–Poplars mostly–make it appear even more narrow.

A few yards in, and the trees overhead shade the road. It’s lost its wash board quality but has a lot of dips and hillocks.  It’s curvy and I’m definitely “in the woods”.

The trees are so thick that I can’t see further than fifty feet on each side. I see an occasional rotted, aged stump where this was logged a while ago. I encounter a couple of dried mud holes along the way.

When I come to the next fork, the road changes again. Now there are two distinct paths separated by about three feet of grass that while sparse, is solid. 25 More years have been erased.

I’m driving about 5 miles per hour to take it easy on Chuck’s suspension. I drive past a stretch where the trees have mostly been cut, but a few have been left to -seed the area. The truck is creaking, rocking up and down and left and right, and a rare branch hits the antenna.

I go past the long hill down to, and over the little creek for which we have been named (Jacob Littlecreek, Granpa’s Granpa, was “The Man who lives by a Little Creek that dries up after the spring”. Littlecreek That name was shortened to “Littlecreek”) and have gone past a couple of mud holes which were so big,  I had to drive up on the side of the road to get past. I then have to drive up a long hill which is on the other side of the creek.

On the other side of this hill, I come to another clearing where there is active logging going on . They are harvesting Norway Pine for fence posts.


A small cardboard box sits in the middle of the road next to a pile of logs. As if warning me that I must be careful if I go beyond.

One hundred feet beyond this, the road branches again, and another hundred years drops away. I take the road that goes to String O’ Lakes to the left. The road straight ahead will become impassible due to a number of huge mud holes that have existed there for generations.

The wheel ruts transform to about a foot wide each with about 4 feet of grass in between. Small birch trees appear. I encounter mud holes that have been here for 50 years, and after these I can only see patches of ground with the road grass with tall weeds springing up in the middle. Trees and bushes encroach enough so that they occasionally brush along the side of the pickup.

I’m traveling one or two miles an hour now. About the speed the teams of horses and drays moved when men cut the timber with hand saws and loaded it by hand as well.

More ruts, just impressions in the earth covered by cabbage weed and grass, painted by alternating bands of shadow and dappled sunlight.

We’ve reached the part where my dad and I were probably the last people to log in here. There is a hill which is easy to go down but upon returning we must race up it in order to go over it again. Trees regularly scrape against the sides, top and bottom of the truck, whistling and screeching. I have to close the driver’s side window so I don’t get whipped in the face.

I scare up a partridge which had been walking on the road.
I round the last corner to the landing. Just a space to turn around, really. A path to portage a canoe down the hill to the first lake, and the overgrown remains of a road on which we used to drive up a hill to get to the place where dad wanted to build a house overlooking the lakes.

I turn off the truck and get out.

I can see the clearing where the  beaver dam is. No more evidence of people.

This lake is pristine.

first LakeIt has Lilly pads, rushes, and cat-tails on its sides.

SentinelsEven In the distance I see the bare trunks of Tamaracks standing sentinel between this first lake and the second, witnessing the fact that they wanted to be close to the water but drowned in it when the water levels got too high one year.

The only thing I can hear is the “tock tock tock” of a partridge nearby, and the barely discernible small distant sound of the wind. I have been transported to a timeless place.

I am truly home.

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An anthropologist friend asked me the following question:

“I’m teaching Indians of North America this year. One of my students (Anglo) objected to another student’s presentation, because she showed a film clip of a Crow elder, which also included a clip from the sun dance (re-created). He says the sun dance should never be shown. What is your opinion?”

This causes me to ask myself some questions:
“What is the nature of something sacred?”, and
“What is the nature of something secret?”
“Are the two intertwined, or can they be exclusive?”
“What is the nature of the request about the keeping of the sacred and/or secret?”
“How far does one go in respecting the wishes of an institution/organization or individual if they are not a part of it?”

Let me give you a clear-cut example from my own life first. It’s religious but it has bearing on Red Lakers and the example in question which I will get to. Then we can travel through waters that are a little more murky.

I’m Mormon. I’ve been to the temple. I’ve had my endowments, call them ceremonies, rituals, a sacrament, or whatever. They are sacred to me and they are supposed to be secret.

Addressing the secret part, I would say, as a member, I’m admonished in public church (where non-members can participate) on Sunday that because I should hold them sacred, that I shouldn’t speak about their content other than in general context outside of the temple. So publicly I can say that I go to something called an “Endowment” and in it I learn things and I make promises. However, what I wouldn’t speak of outside of the temple is what specific things I learned and the wording of the promises I make.

Now, what you probably already know is that if one doesn’t respect my and the Mormon church’s desire to keep these things secret. You can go online and see for yourself exactly what is there. Why? Because people who were disaffected/left the church or who deliberately weaseled their way to the point where they could participate in the endowment so they could secretly record it, made their own choice to ridicule what I and the church consider sacred and secret. I haven’t been to these sites but I would suppose that they present the information in a way that is neither respectful nor unbiased.

Ok. I can feel myself getting a little worked up here. This brings me to another point of the nature of the Sacred.

How do you know when something is sacred to you? I believe, simply put, it’s when you have strong good feelings about something Good. (Yes that capital G was deliberate.) Weep at the death of a loved one? That’s sacred. Get so choked up that you can’t talk about something? That’s sacred. Motivated to do something good because of something that happened to you? That’s sacred. Cry at a tearjerker? Maybe a little less so; but still, it’s sacred.

Let me speak a little about the sacred and secret in a certain case. The one where you get so choked up about something that you can’t talk about it. That has happened to me a few times about things both wonderful and sorrowful, but the sorrowful time I can use as an example happened a long time ago at my dad’s funeral so I can talk about it now.

For me, my relationship with him was intensely conflicted. So when he died, it hit me hard…really hard. When mom asked me to speak during the funeral—(Being an Elder in my church at the time—I usually had some words to say.) I couldn’t. I was so distraught that I could barely shake my head “no”. Sometimes something is a secret because you are too emotionally wrought, it is too hard, too painful, or too wonderful, to talk about, and when you revisit it, those same feelings arise again. Those feelings arising again are what keep some things a secret. You simply aren’t able to bring it forth.

This is different from those things that are secret because a person or organization wants to maintain power, or control, or keep their works of light from scorn, or–on the other hand–keep their works in darkness.

Conversely, the anger or irritation you feel when someone violates what you unknowingly hold sacred is a good indication that it is sacred as well. A pedophile steals the virtue of a child. A rapist destroys the virtue/innocence of your virgin daughter. Someone tortures a pet. Your home is vandalized or burglarized. Your spouse/mate cheats on you; sacred, sacred, sacred. Talk emotionally about something that has meaning for you and you get a cold flat stare or a negative head shake. That’s when you know you are “casting your pearls before swine”. Perhaps, you’re only a little irritated or chagrined you were teased for crying at the tearjerker; a little less so, but still sacred!

Now let’s muddy the waters. Let’s talk about the Mide’wiwin at the turn of the previous century. There are some good reference materials on the Mide’wiwin of that time. They are:

The Mide’wiwin or Grand Medicine Society of the Ojibway” By Walter James Hoffman.
Chippewa Customs. Washington: Bureau of American Ethnology, Bulletin 86 (1929), 204 pp. By Frances Densmore
Chippewa Music. Washington: Bureau of American Ethnology, Bulletin 45 (1910), 216 pp. By Frances Densmore
Chippewa Music II. Washington: Bureau of American Ethnology, Bulletin 53 (1913), 341 pp. Music, illus. By Frances Densmore
Origin Scrolls of the Southern Midewiwin, by Selwyn Dewdney. (Not available to be read online.)

I’m providing these references because Hoffman and Densmore were respectful and the representatives from a number of different reservations they spoke to at the time believed the sharing of information would benefit everyone—especially their people—and it has and does! You can read most of these references online.
I believe these Mide’wiwin-of-old from a number of different reservations shared the information because they didn’t want it to get lost. However, that may be different from the feelings of the people who are in the Midewiwin now, but I don’t know.

The old Mide’ had different reasons for sharing what they did. Since they were the gatekeepers it was their prerogative to share. Now that what they said, sang and have shown are a matter of public record, the consequences are long lasting.

Now I’ll try and partially answer the question posed about your classroom situation. I think the student who voiced the objection may suffer from what I would call the Fundamental Indian Attribution Error (Caveat–when applicable). That error is that just because someone or some organization is American Indian; that the rules are all the same for all Indians everywhere.

There are over four hundred American Indian Tribes and Bands in the United States alone. Each one is responsible for its internal workings. In addition, within each one, the government and organizations within each Indian government are responsible for what happens to their constituents. Therefore they are all going to be different in some way. Many of these tribes do not agree with each other. Heck, people in each tribe don’t agree with each other, and within each tribe you will find bands that don’t agree, and people in each band who don’t agree, and people in each family who don’t agree, etc.

Some might hold that the ceremonial information itself is secret. You’ll find others that disagree. I think Indians practice a kind of detente about this. If you disagree with someone about something, you move away, or you keep quiet and express your opinions about it (and them) among your own, or in private. In the “old days”, it kept you from getting killed or beat up. (There is still some of that to consider at present in some places) but I believe it’s more important to talk about cultural things publicly today because factors which influence fraction of tribal cultural institutions are increasing.

The rest of my answer is this. My understanding is that a number of people in different tribes practice the Sun Dance. The gatekeepers of this ceremonial practice for each tribe are responsible for how much of their ceremony is public. That’s as far as their authority goes. While I think display of an actual ceremony would be incontinent, a recreation would be acceptable. This is because you are sharing the information about the ceremony in such a way in your classroom venue, that you are not exposing the actual participants and what they hold sacred, to the possibility of ridicule; and you are doing it by permission or instigation of these particular gatekeepers via audio-visual material they’ve created about their particular ceremony which frees you from the obligation of keeping it secret in your classroom.

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