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Thursday, December 13, 2012

Teachings of the Eagle Feather, part 5

"Sky Dreamers"

A new blog story by Simone and Zhaawano, conceived in a spirit of romance...

- Updated March 3, 2017


Zhaawano Giizhik trouwringen designs
Part 5 of a blog series connecting Zhaawano's eagle feather jewelry designs and Simone's paintings and poetry (as well as stunning work by other artists) with the Seven Grandfather teachings of the Anishinaabe People.

Wedding rings14K white gold, 2.5x2.5 mm VVS Princess-cut white diamond set in 14K palladium white gold bezel, 6x3 mm marquise-cut red ruby set in a 14K yellow gold bezel.

Artwork by Moses Beaver, Simone McLeod, and Norval Morrisseau.

Simone McLeod, a Canadian Woodland artist from Manitoba and a second generation Medicine Painter of Cree and Ojibwe Anishinaabe descent, is co-author of this blog. 

The late Moses Beaver (Amik) (1960-2017) was an Ojibwe Anishinaabe artist, a second generation Medicine Painter from the fly-in reserve of Nibinamik (Summer Beaver), Ontario. His Anishinaabe name was Amik, which means 'beaver'. He worked with acrylic on canvas, Indian ink on paper, and watercolor. His work, although inspired by the works of other Medicine Painters of the New Native Woodland School of Art, is characterized by his own unique style. Besides a good friend Amik was definitely one of my favorite artists, please check out his philosophy and his work!  

Norval Morrisseau (1932-2007) was an Ojibwe Anishinaabe artist from Northern Ontario, Canada, who is alternally labelled as "father of the Woodland Art" and "Picasso of the North". His true name (spirit name) is Miskwaabik Animikii, which means "Copper Thunderbird" in the language of his People. Miskwaabik Animikii, a first generation Medicine Painter, was the first to defy cultural restrictions by taking the oral traditions and sacred pictography of the Ojibwe-Midewiwin belief system outside Native communities in Canada. Miskwaabik Animikii was the trailblazer of the Native Woodland Art School as we know it today. 



Under the Fisher Star
Hearing the story anew
Deep inside my heart
Wanderlust it grew

All it took was one
Shining brightly in the night
My mind now races blindly
This is spirit flight

So much more is out there
Not bound to what I hold
Imagination is endless
As constellations unfold

Skipping from star to star
A child playing in the dark
Happy laughter in dreams
The sky is now my park

Days go by in sunshine
Warmth will never fail
Come night under the fisher
Once again I set sail.

 Simone McLeod


Our traditional ways of life

Aaniin. Biindigen! Hello, welcome to our blog! 

The story I am about to tell you today is a story of a sacred, healing nature, yet provided within a romantic context. 

Loosely based on an age-old ceremony called Sky Dreaming, the story finds its expression in this handcrafted set of wedding rings featuring eagle feathers of white gold; the man’s ring I mounted with a Princess-cut white diamond while the lady’s ring shows an elegant, faceted red ruby cut in a marquise variation. Like in all of my jewelry designs, the rings’ eagle feathers and the precious stones hold a meaning that draws on the age-old spiritual belief system of my ancestors, the Anishinaabeg of the northern Great Lakes. 

Sky Dreamers wedding bands
I am a modern artist who is inspired by the past. I look to traditional Anishinaabe symbols as a foundation of my jewelry designs, digital art, and writings. By using ‘spirit memory’, the remembrance of ancestral knowledge, I seek to re-introduce through my work the ancient world view of my Ojibwe Anishinaabe ancestors and channel it into the contemporary consciousness. 

As a result, I seek to find ways within my art and writings to render the ways of my ancestors into a contemporary imagery, to translate it into the language of today

Therefore I wanted the design of these rings to be modern yet with a symbolic meaning reflecting an all-embracing, quintessentially Anishinaabe, concept. 

This concept, which has been kept safely for many hundreds, if not thousands of years in the caches of the MIDEWIWIN, is called ANISHINAABE IZHITWAAWIN. It roughly translates as  'Our tradition, or ways of life'. 

Eight guiding principles

To me, the concept of Anishinaabe Izhitwaawin implies a set of eight important interconnected ideas and guiding principles that make up the framework of Anishinaabe ishinaamowin (worldview) and ensure the continuation of Anishinaabe bimaadiziwin (way of life): 

  • mino-bimaadiziwin = learning how to live a good and honest life by following niizhwaaswi gagiikwewinan, the teachings of the Seven Grandfathers;
  • minjimendaamowinon = remembering our doodem (clan) relations;
  • zaagi'idiwin idash binzibiiwin = love/intimacy and companionship;
  • besho-enawemad  = literally: closely related; I use this expression to denote a reciprical connectedness with our environment, a continuous social interaction with all living beings within the wholeness of a place;
  • wiidookodaadiwin =  literally: mutual association, the acknowledgment of a moral responsibility for the well-being of all of our all relatives;
  • ashkaakamigokwe-gikendaasowinacknowledging the need to know the earth/the land/ecological knowledge;
  • Anishinaabemowin-gikendaasowinacknowledging in the Ojibwe language the importance of our relationship with the earth and with all other relatives; and
  • manidoo-waabiwinseeing in a spiritual way; a dream vision.

ZhaawanArt wedding rings by Tammo Geertsema
Spirit Flight

Seen in the above context, the shape of the white gold feathers adorning the rings suggest ‘movement’ and ‘flight’. Within the same context, the feathers symbolize something that could be called ninjichaag bimisewin or ‘Spirit Flight’: the spiritual journeys the human mind is capable of. 

Spirit Flight is a special and often elusive dimension in our existence, and in the old days the Anishinaabeg used to put it into practice through a variety of ritual means. 
One of these means was the  ceremony of GIIZHIG-INAABANDAMOWIN or ‘ sky dreaming’.

A spirit of romance

At this point, since a set of wedding rings was chosen to convey an idea, I take the artistic liberty to explain the ceremony of Sky Dreaming in the spirit of romance. So, as I give the story a slight metaphorical twist, the act of Sky Dreaming, instead of a journey undertaken alone, becomes a journey shared by two individuals, their spirits merging as one soul. The ritualistic concept of Spirit Flight and the concepts of besho-enamewad and wiidookodaadiwin are thus offered in a romantic setting, as if seen through the eyes of two Sky Dreamers; two eagle companions spreading their wings, embarking together on a spiritual journey that will lead them to a place of shared visions and lightness.

Flight To The Sun artwork by Simone McLeod

Soar like the eagle

Tortoise-rattle Ojibweg
The story of these rings is about two lovers, walking on the road of consciousness and sharing a dream vision of flight. The stylized tail feathers of Migizi, the bald eagle, transport to the skies the prayers of the couple dreaming and singing together, eagle fan in one hand, tortoise rattle in the other. The eagle feathers and the rhythmic sound of the rattle carry their jichaag (spirit) upward, soaring and circling in a sacred blessing and accompanied by the smoke of asemaa and wafts of cedar, sage, and sweet-grass, upward through space and time, crossing freely from the past to present and moving into the future, upward beyond moon and sun and even beyond the stars of jiibay-miikana, the trail of souls (the Milky Way).

Mose Amik Anishinaabe Medicine Painter


Giiwitaa-giizhigong bimaashiyen dibishkoo migiziwag.

"All Around The Sky We Are Soaring like the Eagles."


Here, into enji-zaagi'iding miinawaa gikendaasong, a place of Love and Knowing inhabited by a myriad of sky spirits living in wiigiwaaman of rainbow and stars, the dreams and prayers of the Sky Dreamers blend together in a harmonic chorus, the spirit of Love and Understanding defining their beings. Here, their voices reconnect with Creation. The Sky Dreamers sing in unison, their voices mingling with the voices of the sky spirits:

Nin debaab aazhawi-anangoong,
G’ga gikinoowezhigoog anangoog.
Nin debidan aazhawi-anangoong,
G’ga noondagoog anangoog.
Gaagige n’ga debidaagooz.*

"I can see the other side of the stars,
The stars will guide you.
I can hear the other side of the stars,
The stars will hear you. 
Timeless are our voices.” 

In this place high above the sun and the moon and the stars, the two lovers experience the essence of, what I call, ajiwekamig bezhigwendamowin: the unity and conformity of universal thoughts and knowledge.

Miskwaabik Animikii Copper Thunderbird

Stones of the purification lodge

Red ruby
The sparkling red ruby of the lady’s ring, cut in a shape that suggests movement and growth, symbolizes the fire that heats the madoodoowasiniig (stones of a purification lodge) in which the couple prepare themselves for the ceremony of Sky Dreaming in order to  re-purify themselves

The grandfathers and spirit-helpers are awakened in the stones by heating them in a sacred fire until red-hot.

Native American sweat lodge
A madoodiswan or purification lodge, nowadays called sweat lodge by many, is a domed-shaped and circular structure built low to the ground. Symbolizing the womb of Mother Earth, a madoodiswan is a place of refuge and healing but also a sacred place to get answers and guidance by praying to the Aadizookanaag, to the Bawaaganag, to the personal doodem (clan) helpers, to Gichi-manidoo, and to Nimaamaa-aki (Mother Earth herself).

Madoodiswan sweat lodge stones
As the Grandfather stones glow inside the fire pit the midewewe`igan (Sacred Water Drum) sounds and calls forth the Aadizookaanag and the Four Directions. At this point the participants pour water on the stones and keep pouring until he they are told by the spirits to stop, and, in the steaming hot vapor released by the stones, begin their prayers, songs, and chants in petition of purification and guidance. 


The white diamond that I mounted on the eagle feather of the man’s ring symbolizes GICHI-MANIDOO: the sum of all Mystery. The brilliance and fire of the stone refer to the glowing splendor of the stars, the celestial bodies of the upper sky, which my ancestors associated with physical and symbolic light, and with enlightenment and wisdom. The transparency of the stone, therefore, represents the deep and all-comprehensive consciousness and sudden understanding that befall on the couple once their spirits have reached that sacred realm behind the stars. 

My ancestors called this phenomenon, this pure consciousness in which human experience and perception are revealed simultaneously in a dimension of timelessness, MAADZEWIN: essence of experience. 

A sacred place

Moses Amik Beaver
The purpose of Sky Dreaming as symbolized in these wedding rings is twofold. As if the couple were a pair of soaring eagles, sky dreaming allows  their spirits to take flight and reach waaseyaabindamowin (enlightenment and higher levels of consciousness); it also enables them to see from high above the sacred path they walk on earth. It is from this sacred place that gidakiiminaan, the relationship and the moral responsibility they have to the earth and a correlation with other humans and the other beings of the Universe including plants, animals, natural phenomena, and the aadizookaanag, becomes clear through their inendamowin (the mind), wiiyaw (the body), ojijaag (the soul/spirit), and ode'imaan (the heart).

From up above, the Sky Dreamers see themselves and each other and their relatives clearly and the Earth beneath them as sacred and alive. They know that a new life will begin at sunrise. As they travel together they will continue to grow on that long and winding path of self-discovery and establish a lasting relationship with all relatives who dwell on and above and below and beyond the earth, acknowledging their moral responsibility for the well-being of the seven generations to come. On a personal level, they will live with integrity and self-discipline and humbly, without pretense. They will succeed in any goal they set for themselves and overcome life’s obstacles as best as they can.

And as they face the possibility of hard times ahead, they will remember that they are Sky Dreamers…

Giiwenh.That's how far this story goes. Thank you for reading & listening.

Migwechewendan akina gegoo ahaw! Be thankful for everything!

Midewiwin Bimaadiziwin consciousness


Gichi-manido wiidookawishin ji-mashkawiziyaan

Great Mystery help me to be strong

Mii dash bami'idiziyaan

So that I can help myself

Miizhishinaam zaagi'iiwewin

Show us all love

Ganoozh ishinaam, bizindaw ishinaam

Talk to us, hear us

Mii-wenji nagamoyaan

That is why I am singing

Nimishoomis wiidookawishinaam ji-aabajitooyaang anishinaabe izhitwaawin

Grandfather help us to use the Native customs/ways

mii-ji-bi-gikendamaan keyaa anishinaabe bimaadiziwin

So that we'll know how to live the Native way (the good life).

"Prayers In A Song": Contemporary petition for strength to the Great Mystery


The meaning of the purification lodge explained by Ayisini (Cree) elder Asin (Vern Harper)

* Source: Ojibway Ceremonies by Basil Johnston, p. 51, First Bison Book printing 1990. University of Nebraska Press.


Aadizookaan (plural: aadizookaanag) = grandfather of an other-than-human category, a supernatural shape shifter; a muse or metaphysical manifestation of the traditional teachings; a spirit helper that dwells in the Four Corners of the Universe. Traditionally, during the long winter nights, aadizookaanag play the roles of  protagonists in the aadizookaanan (sacred stories); each aadizookaan fulfills his unique role in these allegorical stories that are told by the aadizoogewininiwag and aadizoogekwewag (male and female story tellers). 
Aadizookaan (plural: aadizookaanan)a sacred storyor traditional teaching with a strong allegorical dimension. When telling an aadizookaan, the storyteller is assisted by the aadizookanag, the supernatural protagonists of the story.
Aaniin = hello!
Aki = the earth; the land; the world
Anang (plural anangoog, anangwan) = a star
Anishinaabe (plural: Anishinaabeg) the  Native ancestors of the author
Anishinaabemowin = the Ojibwe language
Asemaa = the sacred tobacco
Ashkaakamigokwe gikendaasowin = ecological knowledge
Aazhawi-anangoong = on the other side of the stars
Bawaagan (plural: bawaaganag): a spirit animal acting as a guardian spirit and helper throughout a person's life; a benevolent ancestor/aadizookaan appearing in a dream or during a vision quest helping the dreamer, through dream revelations, to accomplish things he or she could never do without assistance; a pipe for smoking. 
Besho-enawemad = closely related
Bezhigwendamowin = unity of thought
Bimaadiziwin = life; conduct for living
Bindigen =  welcome!
Binzibiiwin = companionship
Doodem (plural: doomemag) = the stem of a word meaning 'totemic clan'; an emblem, symbolized by an animal or an underwater spirit creature, representing one's totemic clan. Indoodem or nindoodem means my totemic clan; gidoodem means your totemic clan; odoodeman mans his/her totemic clan. 
Gaagige = timeless, forever
Gichi-manidoo = Great Mystery, the sum of all mystery; Great Source of energy
Gidakiiminaan = our relationship to the earth and all living things
Giiwenh = so the story goes
Giiwitaa-giizhigong = all around the sky
Giizhig-inaabandamowin = Sky Dreaming Ceremony
Idash = and; also
Inendamowin = the mind
Ishinaamowin = a comprehensive world view
Izhitwaawin = our traditional way of life
Jiibay-miikanathe trail of souls, which is travelled by the spirits of the
Maadzewin = the essence of experience
Madoodiswan = a purification lodge (sweat lodge)
Madoodoowasin (plural: madoodoowasiniig) = a purification lodge stone
Manidoo = mystery, a being with spiritual power, anything spiritual
Manidoo-waabiwin =  a spiritual outlook on life
Midewewe`igan = the sacred grandfather drum of the Midewiwin lodge
Midewiwin = Society of Those Who Are In A Sacred Abnd Unseen State: an age-old animistic-medicinal institution conserving the concept of mino-bimaadiziwn, a set of seven grandfather teachings on human conduct and a spiritual way for living. Its principal focus is recovering and keeping alive the seven mide-wiigwaasan (birch bark scrolls used for ritual purposes) and their gagiikwewinan (teachings). These complex writings also include astronomy, mapping, information about the clan system and family lineage, and up to 1000-year-old migration routes. 
Migizi (plural: migiziwag) = the bald eagle, spirit of the bald eagle, doodem (clan) of the bald eagle
Minjimendaamowinon = remembering your doodem (clan) relations
Miigwech = thank you!
Migwechewendan = be grateful!
Mino-bimaadiziwin = good life; conduct for living an honest life   
Nimaamaa-aki = our Mother Earth
Ninjichaag bimisewin = my spirit taking flight, spirit flight
Niizhwaaswi gagiikwewinan = seven sacred teachings, a message of values and hope imparted on the Anishinaabeg by Seven Mystery Beings (Grandfathers) in the beginning of times; set of seven teachings on human conduct and a spiritual way for living.
Ode'imaan = the heart
Odoodeman = see: Doodem
Ojibwe (plural: Ojibwegthe Native ancestors of the author inhabiting the North American Great Lakes area; also called Anishinaabee, plural Anishinaabeg.
Ojijaag (plural: ojijaagwag) = the soul or the spirit of a living entity
Waaseyaabindamowin = a life guarding vision, a spirit quest
Waawiyekamig = all over the world, the Universe
Wiigiwaam (plural: wiigiwaaman) = wigwam; lodge; house
Wiiyaw = the body
Wiidookodaadiwin = mutual help, partnership
Zaagi`idiwin = love


Our next 'Teachings of the Eagle Feather' blog post will be about the eagle, the sun, and the Great Mystery; the story will feature a canvas and a pen and ink drawing by Simone and a drawing and a pair of wedding rings by myself.

>Return to the blog overview page


Aki-egwaniizid miinawaa Zhaawano Giizhik/Wenoondaagoziwid Webaashi


About the authors/artists:

Simone McLeod (1962) is a second generation Woodland/Anishinaabe artist of Nakawe (Saulteaux)-Ojibweg background, born in Winnipeg, Manitoba. Simone's traditional name is Ahki-ekwan├«sit, which is a Saulteaux name meaning "Earth Blanket."  She belongs to he Name doodem (Sturgeon clan) and descends from a long line of Midewiwin seers and healers and artists. Her artwork has been appreciated by several art collectors and educational and health care institutions from Canada, as well as by art lovers from all over the world.
Zhaawano Giizhik, an American currently living in the Netherlands, was born in 1959 in North Carolina, USA. Zhaawano has Anishinaabe blood running through his veins; the doodem of his ancestors from Baawiting (Sault Ste. Marie, Upper Michigan) is Waabizheshi, Marten. As a second-generation Woodland artist (a designer of graphic art and jewelry and wedding rings), Zhaawano draws on the oral and pictorial traditions of his ancestors. In doing so he sometimes works together with kindred artists. He has done several art projects with Simone and hopes to continue to do so in the future.


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