Shaken

Deep Island, pt. 8

Deep Island:

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My fast began at sunrise, while I was still asleep. In the late morning, once we fasters had packed, we got on Pebaam’s boat and he drove us to all corners of Nigigoonsiminikaaning to drop us off at our fasting places. I was the last one. Pebaam floated up next to a pink granite slab at deck height, and I tossed all my stuff onto this little island, then jumped on and watched Pebaam’s boat dwindle into the distance.

And there I was. I had been waiting all my life to get onto an island like this. Not only had I wanted to fast since I read Lame Deer, I had also spent all my childhood Crow Duck trips looking out of boats wistfully while other people drove right past all the lake’s islands all thick with mystery. Just once I wanted to go explore one of those islands and step where maybe no human foot had ever stepped. I couldn’t have said what I hoped to find there. Certainly not just spruce trees and spider webs, which is what the grown-up driving the boat always seemed to figure was all that would be there. It seemed to me that a place so untouched had to be able to show me, for the first time, what was really real. Now, at age twenty-eight, I got to stay on one and experience whatever the island could show me through three more sunrises.

The thing was, I felt very normal. I mean, sure, I was the only human on a comically remote island, and I had no food or water. But despite all that, I felt basically like myself. My perceptions of the world didn’t change appreciably when Pebaam’s boat disappeared. Spirits didn’t suddenly rush into my mind and begin filling it with swirling images I could spend the next year interpreting. In short, I wasn’t having an acid trip. I was just standing on an island. In fact I wasn’t even very hungry yet—I’d eaten as recently as dinner last night.

Clearly this was going to be a slower burn than the sweat lodge had been. I set about taking care of everything material I had to do: setting up my sleeping place on a bed of cedar boughs; getting a tarp set up over it. I walked the perimeter of the island. It took me about half an hour (mostly because I had to do a lot of bushwhacking), and it was very pretty. I sat down and worked on a crafting project I’d brought along, a tobacco pouch. Once I finished, I was all out of material things to do. All I had left to occupy myself with was my mind and, perhaps once I knew what I was looking for, my spirit. I had a lot of daylight left, and it was only the first day.

But I did have something to contemplate. Did I have anything to ask at the shaking tent?

The most typical Anishinaabe fast is just you, an island, and four days without food or water. But that template can be adapted if it needs to be. Before I got to camp Pebaamibines had put out one guy for a fast who was bringing along plenty of food and water to last the whole time, because he’d had a troubled history of nourishing himself well and was going to be taking a fast from distractions and tendencies that usually stopped him from taking care of himself. This year a couple people were going to break their fasts a day early to help around camp. And if a shaking tent ceremony is going to happen right in the middle of your fast, you definitely go if you feel called. That’s what happened this year: PaShawOneeBinace would be leading the shaking tent on my second night of fasting.

When I got to my island I knew almost nothing about the shaking tent. I knew it was described as a way to ask the spirits a question directly, and I knew it was one of the most sacred ceremonies in the Anishinaabe tradition. If my experience at Nigigoonsiminikaaning hadn’t felt like jumping in the deep end yet, it certainly did once I was invited to a shaking tent. Until a few days ago, I had been, in practical terms, just a language learner. Inwardly I knew I had come to learn the language not just because I liked grammatical puzzles and getting social justice cred, but because something about the spiritual tradition it served as a medium for attracted me on a deep level. But my actual acquaintance with that tradition had barely started. I was in way over my head on this if I wanted to participate. I was still only halfway reconciled to the idea that spirits even existed, and I was still trying to assimilate everything I’d learned at the sweat lodge. I was half a day into my first fast. And now I was contemplating going to one of the most sacred events of the whole tradition, one that would certainly be rich in symbols and history and language that would be completely lost on me.

Which made it even scarier that I did have something I thought I might want to ask at the shaking tent. There was something that had been bothering me for months, maybe years. What was my name?

I of course already had a name, Nathanael, on which I’d been getting along tolerably well for 28 years. (Not only that, I also had a fun pen name that I’d been using on my drifting scrap of cyberspace for about half that long.) But at some point it began to gall at me. It worked fine as a way to get my attention: long and distinct enough not to get easily confused with common words. (I imagine people with names like Ann and Will must constantly be turning their heads when people say “And…” or “I will.”) But when I looked at my name any closer, it seemed more and more like a perfect symbol of the culture I grew up with and all the reasons I became disillusioned from it.

For one, it meant nothing in any language I knew how to speak. In this it showed that American culture was two degrees removed from any real home-grown sense of belonging to the world. On the first degree, its opacity of meaning is accepted as perfectly normal by everyone I meet day to day. We don’t talk about name meanings around here, really. Practically the only time I’ve gotten in a conversation about name meanings without being the nerdy etymologist who started it, it was with another guy named Nathanael. Names aren’t supposed to have any deeper meaning, the sentiment seems to go; they’re just a collection of sounds people use to summon you. The idea that a name should mean anything is unfashionable, smelling vaguely of pseudoscience. I at least got a name that, on inspection, does have a meaning. My sympathies are with the legions of kids out there whose parents have given up on meaning and history entirely and made something up along the pattern /_ā_ən/: Jaden, Hayden, Kaden, Kaycen, Grayson, Kalen, Jaelyn, Braelyn. The present moment, the surfaces of things, that’s all that matters: that’s the message I get. Looking deeper into anything is an outmoded pursuit. As if there was a meaning to life!

Below that nihilistic layer, though, we find the second degree of estrangement: even names that do have meaning are mostly imported from some exotic tradition from a far distant land—usually the Middle East via the Bible. Half the people you know, if you’re in the U.S., are probably walking around with Hebrew names, and don’t speak a word of the language. Matthew, Mark, Luke, John; Mary, Margaret, Hannah, Sarah; the many devotions to El: Micha-El, Samu-El, Jo-El, Gabri-El, Dani-El, El-iZabeth, El-iJah, and yes, Nathana-El. Or if not from the Bible, names are from elsewhere in antiquity: Alexander (the Great), Helen (of Troy), (Saint) George (or Zeus Georgos, take your pick), Julia (Cæsar). Or perhaps from our former next-door neighbors, the Irish: Ceallaigh (Kelly), Eirinn (Erin), Breandáin (Brendan), Caoimhín (Kevin—I promise). The one faction that seems to be missing is actual English names. There is a persistent minority of them, but even then, they tend to be holdovers from so long ago that their meaning is only apparent to a philologist: Edward (Ead-weard, ‘Wealth-Guard’), William (Wil-helm, ‘Helmet of Willpower’, filtered into unintelligibility through French Guillaume), Alfred (Ælf-ræd, ‘Advised by Elves’), Audrey (what’s left of Æþel-þryþ, ‘Noble Strength’). Naming kids with real words understandable at first hearing was common in the day of Beowulf (‘Bee-Wolf’, i.e. ‘Bear’), but now it’s felt to be the domain of hippies and weirdos, and we feel sorry for kids named “Raven” or “Rainy”. (“Misty” seems to be generally enjoyed, though my favorite Misty reports always getting asked if it’s short for something. Like what? Mysterio?)

Because this is the case with most European languages, which to some extent share a common stock of names, we imagine it’s normal, but there are lots of cultures out there where people’s names come right out and say something. Björk, to her fellow Icelanders, is just ‘Birch’; a Guðmundur is a ‘Good Hand’ (worker) and a Þórsteinn is ‘Thor’s Stone’. Chinese kids are commonly given names than not only say something, but tie them to some period in the grand cycling drama of Chinese history: 建國 Jiànguó ‘Founding’ and 民主 Mínzhǔ ‘Democracy’ in the early years of the People’s Republic, on up to 奧運 Àoyùn ‘Olympics’ in the years leading up to 2008.1 And in Ojibwe, I’ve never heard of a name that didn’t have some meaning. Some Anishinaabeg, like Pebaam’s mom, don’t try to translate names to English, because they always lose something, and often that something—that happy poetic happenstance of semantic resonances, or a connection to a story—is felt to be crucial. But nonetheless, I believe I can mention that I’ve met people whose names translate roughly to ‘Mackerel Sky’ (Baabiiyaanakwad), ‘Strong-Voice Sky Woman’ (Zoongwegiizhigook), ‘Center of the Earth’ (Nenaakamiginang), and ‘Two-Buffalo Woman’ (Niizho-mashkode-bizhikiikwe). Just from the English you can tell there’s depth there for the digging. Not only are these names bound with a real, functioning tradition, it’s a tradition that I had gotten to know and like, as I’d gotten to know and like the people I’d spent time with who practice it, and it’s also a tradition that links living people to the living land right where I lived and wanted to keep living. That was a kind of name I wished I could introduce myself with.

But asking for a name was, if anything was, clearly a bridge too far. Getting an Ojibwe name isn’t like when two hoboes travel together and one starts calling the other “Bacon Fat”. An Ojibwe name isn’t just meaningful, it’s sacred. It’s what the spirits know you by. “It is said that before the Naming Ceremony, the spirits are not able to see the face of the child,” wrote Eddie Benton-Banai. “It is through this naming act that they look into the face of the child and recognize him as a living being.”2 More even than that, it’s a commitment. Pebaamibines explained to me that getting a name is a rough equivalent of confirmation in the Catholic church. You’re saying, “This I believe.” You’re committing to live according to the Anishinaabe traditions: to go syruping in the spring and ricing in the fall, to give back to the Earth in everything you do, to honor the spirits, to be a part of the community, to embody as best you can the Seven Grandfather Teachings—wisdom, love, respect, courage, uprightness, humility, truth. A name is not an interesting souvenir to take home and put into a scrapbook. It was unlikely that I was ready to commit to living by the traditions. I barely even knew what they were.

Not to mention, where did I get off thinking I had the right? I mean to say, here’s some random white guy from Ohio who suddenly turns up on the doorstep, and he thinks learning a little of the language makes it fine for him to be a full-fledged participant in not just a fast but a shaking tent, and now to ask for a name! There are people born and raised Ojibwe, now well into middle age and further, who don’t have Ojibwe names, because colonialism has torn the culture asunder so thoroughly that they don’t know an elder who can give one—and here’s a guy who grew up part of that very colonialism, and after under a year of once-weekly language tables, plus a little skulking around at a sugarbush and half a fast, he wants to go right on ahead and ask for a name, the mark of a spiritually full member of this ancient culture! Talk about white privilege! White people already have the vast majority of this continent’s land, money, and material resources, but it’s not enough for this guy—he wants the people to share their tradition with him too!

All the same, I couldn’t stop thinking about it. I sat there on the granite shore of my little island, and my mind couldn’t seem to go anywhere but back to the idea of a name. Rationally, it seemed obvious that asking for a name was unjustifiable. But anytime I dismissed the thought, soon enough it came right back and circled around my head some more.

This wasn’t a whim I had just come up with. I’d felt ill at ease with my given name for years. It had started niggling at least a little as far back as the traumatic month when I gave up Christianity, then remembered that I had a devotion to its god right there in the back two letters of my name. Back at sugarbush I had asked Pebaam to tell me more about Ojibwe names, and at his suggestion I’d asked a few people who carried them what the names meant to them; I’d learned a lot that way. Before that, in other parts of my life, I’d invited people to nickname me many times for years; on one occasion I spent a whole week at a gathering of rewilders without giving anyone my name, hoping that some new name would catch on, but one never did.

And I was pretty sure my participation in the tradition wasn’t the overstep it might seem to someone without the full story. I had come quite a ways into the culture, but everywhere I’d been, I’d been invited: invited to sugarbush, invited to the sweat lodge, invited to fast, invited to the shaking tent. I didn’t beg and plead my way in; I certainly didn’t pay. And I wasn’t doing these things out of detached anthropological interest, so I could eventually write a monograph on the exotic Ojibwa’s most colorful spectacles. I was participating in all this because I really did want to learn, to let it change me, and I was prepared to work for my teachings, including spending four days with no food or water—albeit on a beautiful island in a clear blue lake. And even asking for a name wouldn’t be that far out of the usual here at Nigigoonsiminikaaning: Brandon and Liz, neither one Ojibwe by birth, had both gotten names at PaShawOneeBinace’s shaking tent, Brandon on his very first fast.

Even all that hardly seemed to justify as big a step as requesting a name, though. Not for a beginner like me. By the time night fell, I had reached no conclusion.

When I woke up the next morning, my mind lost no time continuing to reel and spin with the same question. But I was able to set it aside for the day and leave it in a state of unsettledness. A fast is, among other things, a time to let go of thoughts and trust feelings. I resolved not to try so hard to think today, and just see what happened. In mid-morning I found, somewhat to my surprise, that I had scrounged up (from my pack and the woods) the materials to make the gift I would need to bring PaShawOneeBinace if I wanted to ask something. I was making it just in case. If I decided not to ask, I would be fine and have an extra gift. But if I did convince myself it was okay, I’d better have something ready. And anyway I didn’t have a whole lot else going on. When Pebaamibines came by that evening to pick me up, I had a completed wallhanging, a birchbark cutout of a northern pike on cloth—PaShawOneeBinace’s clan, the Great Northern Pike clan—and I brought it along. Just in case.

On the way, we picked up all the other fasters. Once we got to Ralph’s peninsula and didn’t have to talk over engine noise, I decided to see if I would get anything out of talking the decision over with other people. I asked Brandon about getting his name on his very first fast. “I was a baby,” he said, just starting to learn Ojibwe traditions, having ended up in a circle of Ojibwe friends after his Lakota mentor passed on. “Ojibwe people get names when they’re babies, so I decided I’d start out at the same place.” Misty, I knew, had been considering asking for a name too, and I talked about how much of a commitment it was—the seasonal harvests, the giving back to the Earth, all of it. “All things you would like to do anyhow,” they3 pointed out, and I realized it was true. I hadn’t been on this path long, but I’d already seen enough to know that I got a lot out of following it, and I wanted to keep learning. I’d come to the conclusion a while ago that if it seemed like a defensible thing to do, I’d probably ask for a name eventually. I just wanted to feel more deserving first, follow the path longer. That, though, might be going about it all backwards: I was a baby now; maybe I should get a name, and then do the work to deserve it. Once you have a name, it all matters. Until then, it’s easy to keep stalling and nap by the side of the path instead of following it where it leads.

But as conclusive as all that might sound, I wasn’t convinced. There was someone more integral whose opinion I wanted to know.

I went up to PaShawOneeBinace where he was sitting, at the edge of the same clearing where we’d had the sweat lodge. I told him I was thinking of asking something at the shaking tent. I explained to him that I wasn’t Anishinaabe, didn’t grow up that way, but I was thinking of asking for a name. “Do you think that’s a good idea?”

“I think that’s a great idea,” he said immediately, smiling. “Every person in this world has a spirit helper. Getting to know that spirit helper is one of the best things you can do to clarify your spiritual path.”

Not just invited, but enthusiastically invited. Part of me had quietly hoped for a flat refusal, so my life would go on just as it had always been, and I could go on being unaccountable. But now it seemed I had nothing left to convince myself not to ask for a name.

There was little left to do before asking besides the physical aspects of the ceremony. With little idea what I was making, I helped PaShawOneeBinace and Stacy build the shaking tent. We dug seven holes in the sand, describing a circle not four feet across; we put seven sapling posts in them, and bound the posts all together with bent wooden hoops. We wrapped all that with a blanket around the top half, and surrounded the bottom half in a roll of birchbark. PaShawOneeBinace hung some small things on top—hooves, I think, and some pieces of rolled tin like on a traditional jingle dress—and the jiisakaan was finished. It was a tapering cylinder, big enough for one human, open at the top for the spirits to come in.

There were about ten of us there in the clearing, and evening was falling. We went in turns asking our questions a first time to PaShawOneeBinace human to human, outside the tent. Everything was done in Anishinaabemowin; for those of us who didn’t speak it, Pebaam’s brother Dan was there to interpret for us. I gave him my small, humble gift, feeling impossibly inadequate. I told him I was going to ask to know my name and clan. I had done most of my agonizing over the name, but wherever a name goes a clan usually goes with it, and I knew if I asked for one I would ask for the other. The clan is a little like a last name, except that each clan comes with spiritual responsibilities. People in the Pike clan, like Ralph, are called to be philosophers; the Bear clan to be healers; the Loon and Crane clans to be leaders; the Marten clan to be warriors. I finished talking and stumbled through the night to the sandy clearing to wait.

In the dark we shared around the food we’d brought. (Someone had brought wild rice and blueberries for me to quickly put together beforehand for my contribution to the feast.) Even those of us fasting partook; this meal wasn’t for us, it was for the spirits. PaShawOneeBinace told us some things I was glad I didn’t know until then. The person who goes in the shaking tent, he said, is risking his life. People have been known not to come out at the end. Even presuming he did come out, he’d been taught that each ceremony takes time off his own life. But he valued us, and all humanity, and this ceremony, plenty enough to go in anyhow. And then he lifted up the roll of birchbark around the bottom, crawled in, and slid the birchbark back down.

The simplest understanding of the shaking tent is that there are a vast multitude of spirits out there who you’re asking your questions of, and amid the cacophony the one who serves as an interpreter for them is an immensely old one called Mishiikenh, the Turtle. When the spirits are invited into the tent, all of them can be heard talking, most in no recognizable language. And when they come in, they shake the tent around, violently, until it looks like it might take flight. The jaasakiid,4 the one running the ceremony, asks the supplicants’ questions, and from this chaos comes an answer.

There was very little prelude or prologue. PaShawOneeBinace called out that he was ready, and the first person went up to the jiisakaan. They knelt down at the front of the tent, where a tiny hole had been cut in the bottom of the birchbark scrim and aligned with the largest pole, a cedar sapling. They took a handful of tobacco in their left hand and held it against the pole. Then they asked their question, with Dan close behind translating into Anishinaabemowin.

Then a storm seized the tent. It shook back and forth, the hooves and jingles clinking. That noise was joined suddenly by the strange voices of the spirits. Some squeaked, some rumbled. They all seemed to talk at once. They came in a kind of rhythm, in quick waves, and they shook the tent wildly. It seemed like it would come apart at any moment; it could barely contain everything happening inside it. One voice carried the thread. Sometimes it resolved into a word I could understand, but mostly, they say, Mishiikenh speaks very ancient Anishinaabemowin, full of words rarely heard anymore. The jiisakaan was tiny, but it expanded to fill my entire awareness. It seemed to take up the entire clearing, or the entire peninsula, and to be lit with a light not from any physical source, a light not even really visible to the eye but to the spirit. It was thunder and lightning, and it was gathered millennia.

And then suddenly it stopped. And it was just a strange cylindrical structure on the sand in a clearing. PaShawOneeBinace talked with the supplicant and Dan, making sure everything was understood. The person thanked him, and stood up, and came back to sit with everyone else.

The questions everyone asked that night are a private matter, as are their answers, and I won’t recount them. I was nearly last in line, so I watched as the tent shook for people who wanted dreams interpreted, life guidance, advice on how to carry out a ceremony. Misty was right before me. More in touch with their feelings than me, Misty had decided to ask for a name with much less interference from academic questions. When the tent stopped shaking and Dan and PaShawOneeBinace had clarified together, Dan announced: “Your Ojibwe name is Mekade. And your clan is the white horse with black spots—Bebezhigoganzhii.” And since this was a naming: “Now everyone has to greet you, ‘Boozhoo, Mekade!’ ” So Mekade went around the circle, and everyone greeted them with the new name, and it was stuck on, bound in, for good.

My heart hammered as if trying to escape. It was so real yet so unreal to be here. I crouched down and held tobacco against the cedar pole. Dan helped me ask my question again. The tent shook and the spirits’ voices rushed down and tumbled into the tent and I felt like I was inside a stormcloud alive with lightning. For that span of time there was just me and the jiisakaan, and the jiisakaan was the universe. And then it fell silent.

Breath and heartbeats fast and shallow, I waited while PaShawOneeBinace and Dan clarified what had been said, and then Dan told me: “Your Ojibwe name is Waabanang-inini.”

“Did you hear his clan?” PaShawOneeBinace asked. I had heard a little: the word ogimaa over and over—‘leader’—though I didn’t realize it was connected to that question. “Your clan is the crane,” Dan said once it was clear. “Ajijaak.”

I got up, so dazed I nearly forgot to thank them, and went around the circle greeting everyone as they told me, “Boozhoo, Waabanang-inini!” I felt like a stranger on a new planet, experiencing powerful déjà vu with the faces of people I’d once known a lifetime ago. Flashbulbs were going off somewhere. In the end I made it back to my spot on the ground. Waabanang-inini. Morning Star Man. I had no idea how to understand it, but that was my name, that was me. I dizzily pondered over it through the last person’s question, and then PaShawOneeBinace emerged, still alive this time, and had us take down the tent. A clock somewhere told us it was after two in the morning.

Is it possible to interpret all this as a cheap parlor trick? Of course it is. Man claims ability to talk to spirits, man goes inside little tent, man takes questions, man shakes little tent and talks in funny voices, crowd says wow. But I’m not interested in that interpretation.

For one thing, shaking tents have a history far weirder and more inexplicable than what I was aware of seeing that night. Around the 1930s a jaasakiid held a shaking tent where some skeptical white men were present, who insisted it wasn’t the spirits shaking the tent but the jaasakiid. So when it was time to start, he put only his coat inside the tent, at which point it started shaking immediately, and continued shaking for the length of the ceremony even though the jaasakiid was sitting outside it.5 In 1879 a Canadian Mountie came to visit a medicine man, walking into his tipi. The medicine man disregarded him completely, and the two sat in darkness for a while, until suddenly the tipi began shaking violently. The medicine man was sitting completely still, and the tipi was made of “a dozen long poles crossed at the top, wide apart at the bottom and covered with heavy buffalo robes making it impossible to lift one side, as I now witnessed, for these teepees are built so that no ordinary wind could blow them over.” When it stopped the Mountie ran outside to see who was shaking it, and found nothing but an empty plain in bright moonlight. He came back in and it started rocking again, “this time so violently that it sometimes lifted several feet on one side so that both myself and the interpreter could plainly see outside.”6 In 1848, a Canadian painter couldn’t sleep for the sound of a shaking tent ceremony, and went out through the pitch dark camp to see it. As soon as he lay down to watch, unseen by the attendees, at the outside of the circle, the jaasakiid stopped the ceremony, and from inside the quite opaque tent called out that a white man was there who shouldn’t be.7 Sometime before 1850, a jaasakiid named Catherine Wabose told about her experience inside the shaking tent, and it was not her doing the shaking:

…I went in, taking only a small drum. I immediately knelt down, and holding my head near the ground in a position, as near as may be, prostrate, began beating my drum, and reciting my songs or incantations. The lodge commenced shaking violently by supernatural means. I knew this by the compressed current of air above, and the noise of motion. This being regarded by me and by all without as proof of the presen[ce] of the spirits I consulted, I ceased beating and singing, and lay still, waiting for questions, in the position I had at first assumed.8

But even leaving aside the issue of just who’s talking and shaking the tent, there’s a more basic reason that I’m not interested in explaining the ceremony away as trickery. It’s just this: I’ve gotten to know PaShawOneeBinace a little. And he’s not trying to put one over on anybody. Everything that happened there, he believes sincerely. In this he joins centuries of jaasakiiwaad9 before him, including the one who, later, renounced “his former pagan practices” and converted to Christianity—but even on his deathbed, when a man who’d seen him thirty years prior asked him to finally reveal the trick, told him,

“I know it, my uncle. […] I have become a Christian, I am old, I am sick, I cannot live much longer, and I can do no other than speak the truth. Believe me, I did not deceive you at the time. I did not move the lodge. It was shaken by the power of the spirits. I only repeated to you what the spirits said to me. I heard their voices. The top of the lodge was full of them, and before me the sky and wide lands lay expanded. I could see a great distance about me, and believed I could recognize the most distant objects.”8

And if there’s no trickster, there’s no trick.

In this regard it seems the simplicity of PaShawOneeBinace’s lodge stands almost as a challenge. In former centuries, it seems to say, people could be convinced that something supernatural was happening if they saw a phenomenon they couldn’t explain rationally. In these latter days, now that we have magic everywhere—rectangles in our pockets that can summon (what purports to be) all the world’s knowledge in an instant—and it’s all rationally explained, those who will gain the reward of understanding that the world is permeated with strange spirits are those who will toss out the idea of looking for the trapdoor, the dove up the sleeve, and realize that the true magic lies in getting swallowed up by the storm. Why explain thunder when you can experience what it’s like to be thunder?

You can say that PaShawOneeBinace must’ve put himself in some kind of hypnotic trance state, and you might even be right. And you’d certainly also be entirely missing the point. “You could as well say that a poem is explained by saying that it consists of black marks on paper,” wrote Greer of a similar situation: “a true statement, but one that misses most of what’s meaningful about the phenomenon.”10 Coming to people when they’re in states like that, open to the spirits like the top of the jiisakaan; grabbing hold of their imagination and taking it to new places—this is how the spirits communicate. If we take it as established—as I think we can—that “spirit” and “consciousness” are basically synonyms, it follows that spirits aren’t, for the most part, going to communicate with you through physical acts like knocking over plates and rattling chains (although they may shake the occasional tent). Rather, they’ll be there in your imagination, where your consciousness runs freest, waiting for you to leave a path open to the more sober, calculating parts of your mind, where you can see them clearer and talk about them. PaShawOneeBinace opened a path that night wide enough for all of us to communicate with the spirits, if we allowed ourselves to.


  1. China Daily. “China’s History Is Spelled Out in Baby Names.” China Daily (web), Jun. 24, 2014. https://www.chinadaily.com.cn/china/2014-06/24/content_17610669.htm 

  2. Benton-Banai, Edward. The Mishomis Book, p. 9. Minneapolis, Minn.: University of Minnesota Press, 2010 (1988). 

  3. Misty uses gender-neutral they–them pronouns. 

  4. Those who haven’t studied Ojibwe grammar won’t find it obvious that this word is related to jiisakaan, the word for the tent itself. That word is a noun form of jiisakii, a verb meaning ‘hold a shaking tent ceremony’. Jaasakiid is a participle—‘one who jiisakiis’—derived by a suffix and a regular vowel change (a phenomenon we have in English, but irregularly and only on the last syllable rather than the first: outgrow, outgrew). 

  5. Deloria, Vine. The World We Used to Live In, p. 95. Golden, Colo.: Fulcrum Publishing, 2006. 

  6. ibid., p. 98. 

  7. ibid., pp. 93–94. 

  8. ibid., p. 101.  2

  9. Plural form. (Being a participial verb form, this pluralizes very differently from the usual -(a)g endings for animate nouns.) 

  10. Greer, op. cit. 

File under: fasting, language, religion, Anishinaabe, Deep Island · Places: Canada


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