Archive for the ‘Spirituality’ Category


Are the dead meant to fade away?

Are our forebears meant to be forgotten,
when the ones who loved them pass away?

Spirit houses are not made to last.
They are new at the time of death
and old and decrepit after a short time,
a few years.

This so the spirits of those who linger
near the world of the living
have time to transition.

In some of the reservation cemeteries,
there are the newest graves at the front,
with their gaudy plastic flowers and mementos
and bright and shiny polished granite
fading to graves halfway back.

On these, no plastic blooms.
They are the somber, weathered, dusty tombstones;
some in the lichen covered, obsolete limestone,
of those who could afford them.

And the simple wooden crosses
rotting and askew,
of those who could not.

And further back still,
the depressions in the grass
of those old, old ones,
silent and unattended,
unmarked and forgotten.

The lost ones

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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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Hand DrumHere is a picture of a drum I made way back on December 12th, 1975 (A year out of High School) My sister owns it now.
In a somewhat stylized painting of Anishinabeg drawings, it represents the people of the four directions: Red, White, Black, and Yellow; while also representing the four directions themselves.
Note: I believe it is ok to use this style of drawing in one’s art because the symbols had individual meaning and were the property of their owner and were passed to another as such. They did not have a universal meaning. And, as long as one does not try to pass oneself off as being a Mide’ (unless you are one) this style of drawingis a part of being Anishinabeg.
The horizontal line through the middle represents the separation between the world of the living and the world of the dead.  
The accent lines pointing to the hands and feet of the man and woman in this world represent their power to move, act, etc., in short, their power to do everything that a person with a body can do in this world.
Notice that the spirits of the man and woman do not have hands and feet, which signifies that they lack some of the power that comes from having a body in this world.
On the left is a drawing of Mishipeshew-the great water Lynx. He represents an evil spirit. The red fire coming out of his mouth represents “the fiery darts of the adversary”, which tempt the people of the world.
Note the line coming from  his heart to his mouth. This is called the heart line, and  it also represents that what comes out of a person’s mouth comes from his heart. Mishipeshew is also reflected in the spirit world to represent that he has the power to influence the spirits of people there as well.
The tree represents the tree of life, which is a symbol of the gospel of Jesus Christ. (I believe that many of the Mide’ symbols are remnants from the time that Christ visited this continent.) It exists in this world and in the spirit world.
The figure on the right is the Holy Ghost, which operates in both worlds as well. (The Holy Ghost is a little faded because some of the white paint wore off  🙂    )

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Sorry, got distracted that last post: Now where was I? Oh, yes.

When I said that while many had the same name as the others, what I meant was, just like you might be named Jane Smith, there are many Jane Smiths in the world. So it is with the Mitsha Manidoog. You would understand if I said that there were many Mosquitoes in the world.  Or that Promiscuity bred like flies. Or, well, … that Flies bred like flies. So it was with the Mitsha Manidoog.

And when I said that the Mitsha Manidoog teamed up with each other in fiendish ways, I meant that Fly would team up with Virus, (which included his  Mitsha cousin Bacteria) to produce all sorts of Dis-ease among the Anishinabeg.

The Mitsha Council was convened in order not only to introduce the members who had risen to prominence to each other, but to brainstorm diabolical ways in which they could torture the Anishinabeg.

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Oh, you ask, what is the council of the maji manidoog?

Up to this point, I have been mentioning what Maji Manidoo has been saying in the council, but perhaps I have been getting ahead of myself.

In the old days, the most powerful evil manidoos were chosen for their apparent strength. But nowadays what was needed to distract The People, was strength plus insidiousness-or the ability to go undetected until it was too late. Therefore maji manido called his council together as an orientation session for the members who had come to prominence. They were:

Ezigaa¹, Oojii², Zagime³, Aakoziwi-manidozhens4, Ishkodewaaboo5, Asemaa6, Maji-mashkiki7, and Bishigwadis8.

Keep in mind, that while each may have been named for a different thing, they were spirits just like you and me, and just like you and me, many had the same name as the others.

Each had their own specialty to offer, and they often worked together to torment the Anishinabeg in creatively fiendish ways.


  1. Ezigaa  (ā·zĭ·găˊ)    Wood-tick
  2. Oojii     (ō·jēˊ)          Fly
  3. Zagime (să·gĭ·māˊ) Mosquito [They are many]
  4. Aakoziwi-manidozhens (ă·kō·zē·wē-mă·nē·do·zhānsˊ) Virus [Little spirit of illness]
  5. Ishkodewaaboo (ĭsh·kō·dāˊ·wă·booˊ) Alcohol
  6. Asemaa (ă·sā·măˊ) Tobacco
  7. Maji-mashkiki (mă·jĭˊ·măsh·kēˊ·kē) Street Drugs [Bad Medicine]
  8. Bishigwadis (bĭ·shē·gwăˊ·dĭs) Promiscuity/Impurity/Foolishness [+nin= I am promiscuous, etc.]

*My apologies for the loose translation

**My thanks to the people who wrote:

“The Ojibwe Medical Dictionary”
The Yahoo Forum “Ojibwe Language Society Miinawaa”
“A Concise Dictionary of Minnesota Ojibwe”
“Dictionary of the Otchipwe Language”
“The Ojibwe People’s Dictionary”.

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“It’s important to strip them of every virtue that we can. Especially those that relate to purity. If they feel they must have some virtues, try to get them to accept the bare minimum it takes to get along with other people. This will still leave them crippled.”

Maji1 Manido2, talking about the Anishinabeg3, in the council of the mitsha4 manidoog5.
Maji:                    Evil
Manido:              Spirit
Anishinabeg:     The People-plural
Mitsha:               Evil
Manidoog:         Spirits-plural

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“The irony of it all, is that the only influence we can exert, is through their agency–which we were against in the first place. It is only by whispering in their ears, tempting them to pursue their/our dark desires, that we can influence them to voluntarily give up their virtue/power.  In doing so, they commit themselves to actions whose consequences enslave them.”

Maji¹ Manido², talking about the Anishinabeg³, in the council of the mitsha4 manidoog5.

  1. Maji:         Evil
  2. Manido:     Spirit
  3. Anishinabeg:    The People-plural
  4. Mitsha:        Evil
  5. Manidoog:    Spirits-plural

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Is it a wonder,


an Eagle soars where prayers are offered?

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I forsook the primal diet of the Anishinabeg
and the path of moderation,
nuts and berries and natural foods
in their natural concentrations
in their times and seasons.

In my ignorance and hubris
I drank the White Man’s liquids,
so sweet with promise but empty of sustenance.

I squandered good money on his poisons
because their concentration made them rich in flavor,
and their portions were generous.

I did not listen to the wise elders,
nor the inner Voice of Gizhi Manidoo.

Now I am always hungry and thirsty
and after I have gorged myself, I am left wanting more.

In the winter I did not emerge from hibernating in my lodge
I did not stretch forth from my slumber.
I grew corpulent
because I would not exercise my rights to participate
in the daily and seasonal rituals of The People.

When I noticed the signs  of turning,
it was already five years too late.
My body began betraying me.

At first the arches of my feet felt a refreshing and novel coolness,
then later tingled,
and later burned with hot pins and needles.

I could not walk through my beloved forest,
because the bones of my toes felt like breaking.

My feet were on fire.
They were beset by festering sores.

Now I stump around
because my feet are cut off and I am numb.

I have become blinded as well.

Over the years
I have forgotten the ways of my people.
I have grown not to care…
about anything.

I have forgotten about every one,
as cobwebs grow within my mind.

I cannot do the simplest tasks.
I cannot even feed myself.
I have grown to be…
less than an animal.

They sit me in the light,
and I am sometimes lulled by music,
although I cannot tell you why.

I am alone.

Do not fear me, oh Anishinabeg.
I cannot hurt you.
Disease will eventually take me.

Fear becoming me.

For if you become me,
Mitsha Manidoo, will have won.

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