The Midiwiwin
A secret society or exclusive association of the Ojibway Indians
of North America. The myth of the foundation of this society
is as follows ‘‘Michabo, the Creator, looking down to earth
saw that the forefathers of the Ojibway were very helpless. . . .
Espying a black object floating on the surface of a lake he drew
near to it and saw that it was an otter [now one of the sacred
animals of the Midiwiwin]. He instructed it in the mysteries of
that caste, and provided it with a sacred rattle, a sacred drum,
and tobacco. He built a Midiwigan, or Sacred House of Midi, to
which he took the otter and confided to it the mysteries of the
Midiwiwin.’’
The society was one of the ‘‘medicine’’ or magical associations
so common among the North American Indians (see
America, United States of). When a candidate was admitted to
a grade and prepared to pass on to the next, he gave three
feasts and sang three prayers to the Bear Spirit in order to be
permitted to enter that grade.
His progress through the various grades was assisted by several
snake-spirits. At a later stage, by the power of certain
prayers or invocations, a larger snake appeared and raised its
body, thus forming an arch under which the candidate made
his way to the higher grade.
When the Indian achieved the second grade, he was supposed
to receive supernatural power to be able to see into the
future, to hear what came from far off, to touch friends and foes
no matter how far away, and so on. In higher grades he could
assume the form of any animal. The third grade conferred the
ability to perform extraordinary exploits and have power over
the entire invisible world. The fourth was still more exalted.
When an Indian was ready to undergo initiation, he erected
a wigwam in which he took steambaths for four days, one on
each day. On the evening of the day before initiation he visited
his teachers in order to obtain from them instructions for the
following day. Next morning the priests approached with the
candidate at their head, entered the Midiwigan, and the proceedings
commenced.
The publications of the Bureau of American Ethnology contain
several good accounts of the ritual of this society.