It was a late autumn evening on the shores of Lake Superior. The clear waters gently lapped the shore and the sun, on the verge of setting, cast a pathway of shimmering auburn light across the lake. I had come to Joe Rose’s earlier that day in anticipation of the teachings Joe was going to give. Joe’s place was situated along Waverly Beach, ancestral sacred grounds of the Anishinabe Ojibway. Waverly is a powerful place, a sacred place, full of spirits and history, and memories.
Walking along the ancient sands, I had spent most of the day thinking about the amazing events of the past year. I thought back to the Seventh Generation Walk, when we carried an eagle feather staff over three hundred miles on foot from the Red Cliff Reservation to Madison, Wisconsin and delivered a message to the state legislature of the people’s concern for the purity of the water and the welfare of their communities. I thought about the construction of the wigwam lodge in which Joe would give teachings that evening. I thought about World Peace and Prayer Day, which was held at Pipestone, Minnesota, and which witnessed a gathering of over one hundred sacred pipes to pray for world harmony. Mostly, I thought about what Joe had said so many times before – that we are living in truly historic times. I knew that to be true.
As dusk drew near, I sat on a large driftwood log and watched the sun descend leisurely beneath the waves. The cold waters of Lake Superior washed up upon the shore, and the sunset illuminated the western sky with hues of purple and red. The sunrises and sunsets on Lake Superior are the finest in the world. Though the sun has risen and set over Gitchi Gami countless times since the creation of the world, its natural beauty so ensnares the heart and spirit, that one feels they are witnessing the very first sunrise or sunset at the dawn of creation, and all the world is new.
Several others were now arriving and as they did, they would come to greet the ancient waters in the traditional way, offering sacred tobacco to the spirits of the lake and all our relations. I had been well taught to use the sacred tobacco to feed the spirits and communicate my good intentions. All were respectful. Looking back over the years, I am glad for the experiences and the wonderful people I met, all of whom have enriched my life. I was very fortunate to have had teachers like Joe sharing his Anishinabe Ojibway. I owe them my sincere gratitude for introducing me to a more complete worldview. For all the help they have given to the People of the Seventh Fire, they deserve our sincerest thanks.
That evening, we had been invited to hear Joe tell the Anishinabe Ojibway creation story with the sacred pipe. The telling of the creation story is itself a sacred ceremony. Joe used the sacred pipe as a storytelling tool to illustrate the spiritual teachings. His recital of the story was spellbinding. There was no way I could have known that the story I would hear that autumn evening would influence my thinking for the rest of my life. I had heard some of the Anishinabe Ojibway creation story and the Prophecy of the Seventh Fire, but I had never heard them told by Joe in the same context and in the same story. A connection would form in my mind that evening that would ultimately lead to a new (or profoundly old) paradigm.
As it grew dark, we made our way back to the wigwam. Joe greeted us warmly, as did the fire lit in the small box stove at the center of the lodge. By late autumn, it was quite chilly in the north woods, and that year was no exception. The light from candles and kerosene lanterns illuminated us and cast long shadows around the oval lodge. We sat quietly and watched Joe take out his bundle and lay the sacred ceremonial items on his blanket. He placed some sage in a smudging shell and explained that as one of four sacred ceremonial herbs, along with cedar, sweet grass, and tobacco, sage is used to purify our hearts and minds, the smoke washing the over the body and removing all negative thoughts, feelings and intentions. Joe lit the sage on fire and then gently extinguished the flame by wafting the tip of his eagle feather over it so that only the smoldering sage leaves remained. After purifying himself in the fragrant incense and then smudging each item in his bundle, Joe carried the smudge clockwise, in the direction of the rising and setting sun, around the inside of the lodge so that its sacred smoke could cleanse each in turn. As the smudge came to me, I removed my hat and wafted the smoke over my head and then down my body. At once I felt a calming sensation and an intense feeling of connectedness …to each person in the lodge, to every visible tangible being in the universe and to those invisible intangible sources of life as well.
Joe fixed the bowl to the stem of his pipe and packed the pipe with sacred asema, native tobacco grown free of all the toxic chemicals recreational smokers love to ingest. We were all excited to receive the medicine teachings. Indeed, the sage smoke hanging in the half-light of the lodge, and the sound of Joe’s voice as he began to tell the creation story, cast a spell over all of us. We were living in sacred time.
The Anishinabe Ojibway creation story that I present here is my version of the story that I heard in the wigwam that night. I say that it is my version because, although it is similar to the story given by Joe with the sacred pipe, it is not word for word Joe’s creation story. We are told that the story belongs to the storyteller and two or more storytellers might tell the same story slightly differently. The main points of the story are always the same, but there might be differences in storytelling styles or in what the storyteller emphasizes. This is the mark of an oral tradition that has endured for thousands of years. I have since heard Joe tell the creation story many times and I believe my account to be faithful to Joe’s telling. Having explained that, the reader should relax and rest their back against the lodge poles. Take in a deep breath and savor the smell of wood smoke. Adjust your eyes to the light of the lanterns. Clear your mind and dream…
Long ago, before the Earth and the Universe were created, there was only a great endless void. And throughout the void there was a sound, much like the sound made by our ceremonial rattles. Though there was no one to hear the rhythm, it sounded on and on…
From the rhythm came the first thought, Gitchi Manitou, the Great Spirit or Great Mystery – Our Creator. Gitchi Manitou sent his own thoughts out in each direction, but as there was nothing to reflect his thoughts back to him, they continued on into the void. Finally, Gitchi Manitou called his thoughts back. It appeared that he was alone in the void, except for the rhythmic sound, a sound much like the beating of a heart.
Gitchi Manitou began to focus his attention on the rhythm. As he listened intently to the sound, he experienced the greatest vision ever beheld. He saw the Earth Mother and her family, Grandmother Moon and Grandfather Sun, and all the Stars. He saw the workings of the Natural Laws that set all things in motion and kept harmony and balance throughout the Universe. He then beheld our Earth Mother, where he saw forests, plains, mountains, oceans, and deserts. He beheld all kinds of living things – those of the mineral kingdoms deep within the Earth, those of the plant kingdoms who live upon our Mother, and all manner of animals, fish, insects, and birds living in natural balance with one another. Gitchi Manitou saw the vibrant colors, heard the sounds of life, smelled the scented flowers, and touched and tasted the brilliance of his vision. He beheld things in his vision that we are only now coming to understand. Finally, he beheld human beings, distinct from all other living beings, and yet, inseparably connected to all other forms of life and to the fabric of the universe itself.
When Gitchi Manitou awakened, he immediately began creating all that he had seen in his vision. Gitchi Manitou first made the Four Sacred Elements: earth, air, fire, and water. Each element had its own unique physical and spiritual qualities. Earth would be life giving and sustaining: Water would bring nourishment and purification; Air would provide cleansing, music, and the breath of life itself; and Fire would bring warmth and light. From these four basic elements, Gitchi Manitou would create all things. Next he created Grandfather Sun, who would provide warmth and light for all beings on Mother Earth. Grandfather Sun would divide day and night, and would mark four seasons throughout the year, each providing a different source of nourishment for the people who would live on the Earth. Grandfather Sun’s journey through the sky each day, and throughout the year, is so important to the natural balance that we imitate his journey in our ceremonies. When we travel “clockwise” during ceremonies, we are taking the same path as Grandfather Sun, who rises in the east, travels the southern sky, and sets in the west. This is the path all living ones follow.
Gitchi Manitou made Grandmother Moon as a partner for Grandfather Sun, to provide light at night, and to watch over and protect the females of the Earth. She would mark the passage of time, for every twenty-eight days the moon becomes new with thirteen “moons” in a year. Likewise, a woman enters her menses, or moon time, every twenty-eight days. She also controls the Earth’s waters, guiding the ebb and flow of the ocean’s tides, and raising and lowering the watersheds within Mother Earth. As women are the Keepers of Water, Grandmother Moon watches over and guides them.
Then Gitchi Manitou created the great expanse of the Universe, setting the stars in the heavens and creating the natural laws that rule the motion of these heavenly bodies. We are told that what is above, so is below. This teaching that tells us the importance of understanding the positions of the stars in the night sky. We may learn things of the nature of life on earth from examining the stars in the heavens.
Having created the Universe as he saw it in his vision, Gitchi Manitou now focused on creating Mother Earth. His first attempt to create Mother Earth resulted in a world covered in dense clouds. It certainly was not the place he had seen in his vision. It would be very difficult, if not impossible, for all the living beings he saw in his vision to survive on such a world. Gitchi Manitou set this world off away from the sun and moon, and tried again to create the paradise he had been shown. Again his attempts were fruitless, for on his second attempt he created a rock world of intense heat. Gitchi Manitou’s third attempt was also unsuccessful, for it was a small world that was covered with ice. It would be impossible for such places to support life. He set these worlds of heat and ice away from the Sun and Moon, and tried once again to create what he had seen in the vision.
On his fourth attempt, Gitchi Manitou created Mother Earth. She was as beautiful and vibrant as he had envisioned her. Filled with mountains and valleys, plains and forests, oceans, lakes, and streams, Mother Earth was truly beautiful. Gitchi Manitou had created four cardinal directions upon the earth, each with their own unique qualities: East, the place of the rising sun and of new beginnings; South, the place of warmth and compassion and growth; West, the place of the setting sun and of the thunder beings, who bring the purifying rains; and North, the place of winter snows, quiet and contemplation. Each direction would provide spiritual insight to the people who would come to live upon the earth.
Pleased with what he had done, Gitchi Manitou began filling the world with life. He sent birds to carry the seeds of life to the four directions and they sang the songs of creation. These seeds grew into great forests and plant kingdoms. He filled the waters with fish and the sky with birds, and made animals great and small to fill the lands. He made insects to crawl within the earth and to fly through the sky. Everything was made with purpose and knowledge, both physical and spiritual, and all lived in harmony and balance according to the natural laws.
Gitchi Manitou then set about creating Original Man. He placed the Four Sacred Elements into a megis shell and blew his breath, the Breath of Life, into the shell. Original Man was thus born. Gitchi Manitou then lowered the man, the completion of his vision, down to the Earth Mother. We are told that all nations are descended from Original Man, and so we are all related as brothers. Only our languages and customs separate us, and if we look deep enough, we will find that there are more similarities in our beliefs than there are differences. These similarities represent a link back to Original Man and to Our Creator.
Original Man, last in the order of created beings, was also weakest in the orders of creation. He was naked with no fur or scales to protect him. He did not know how to hunt nor what to gather for food. He did not know how to find shelter. While the young of other animals are able to stand and walk, and even begin to provide for themselves shortly after birth, human beings are born helpless. The human race would not have survived if the other animals and plants had not sacrificed themselves for him and taught him how to live on Mother Earth. Human beings are therefore dependent on all orders of creation for their very survival.
And yet, Original Man was unique in all creation. Despite all his weaknesses, he was given two gifts that all other created beings were not given. Original Man was given the power to see visions and dreams, and he was given hands with which he could manifest those visions and dreams into physical reality. Original Man was to use his spiritual and physical abilities to benefit all creation.
Gitchi Manitou instructed Original Man to travel about Mother Earth and come to know all of her. As he traveled from place to place, he was instructed to name all things. At this time, Original Man did not have a name, and so the one with no name would name all things. Only after fulfilling these instructions was Original Man given the name Anishinabe or ‘the male was lowered’, in remembrance of Gitchi Manitou lowering the Original Man from the heavens down to Mother Earth.
As Anishinabe traveled, he learned many things about the nature of life. He saw that the number four was at the center of the cycles of creation. Gitchi Manitou had used the Four Sacred Elements – earth, air, fire, and water – to create the Four Sacred Orders of Creation – minerals, plants, animals, and humans. He saw that there are four seasons. Spring brings warmer, longer days, and blooming flowers. During the long summer days the world matures. As summer gives way to fall, the air begins to cool, the leaves change color, and the days grow ever shorter. Fall leads to winter, with its pure white snows blanketing Mother Earth, its long nights and short days, and the cold icy winds across the land. Then spring brings completion to the circle as life is renewed once again. There are many examples of the Sacred Number Four. The medicine wheel is an ancient illustration of these teachings:
Anishinabe also observed that everything in nature has a duality. Day has its duality in night, hot has its duality in cold, joy and pain, medicine and poison, light and dark, and so on. He saw that duality is crucial for life. One duality in particular caused Anishinabe great wonder. He saw that every animal in the world had a mate. Males and females of every animal were paired and lived together. Anishinabe began to feel a loneliness that he had never felt before. He wondered if he too had a mate, a partner with whom he could share his life.
When Gitchi Manitou heard Anishinabe’s desire for a partner, he sent Maengan, the Wolf. Gitchi Manitou instructed Anishinabe and Maengan: “Walk together, and come to know one another as brothers. Visit all places on the earth. Learn from one another.” Anishinabe and Maengan walked together for many years. During their travels, they came to know and love one another as brothers. They also realized how very similar they were: both made their living by the hunt; both needed shelter and warmth; both would live in clans or families; and both would take one mate for life.
When Anishinabe and Maengan returned to Gitchi Manitou, he told them that the time had come for them to separate their paths, but he warned that they must never forget their bond of brotherhood. Gitchi Manitou told them that they would always be connected, so that what would become of one would also become of the other. There would come a time when both the wolf and natural man would be feared and hated. They would be hunted for their hair and killed wherever they were found. When the people who were coming upon the earth encroached into the territory of Maengan, he was instructed to fall back further and further into the wilderness. If the day ever came when the wolf was driven into extinction, then man would surely follow. The human race would die from a great loneliness of spirit.
And so, there is a very strong environmental message in the creation story of the Anishinabe Ojibway, reminding us that we are brother to the wolf and share the same Mother Earth. It reminds us that everything in creation is sacred, and as sacred beings, it is our responsibility to work to protect the vision of Our Creator. Only when we understand something will we come to love it, and if we love something, we will fight passionately to protect it.
In understanding the divine origin of the creation as a sacred vision beheld by our Creator, and in coming to understand our role in fulfilling the Creator’s original instructions to live in harmony and balance with all life, we begin to gain a deeper appreciation and love for “all our relations”. No longer can we accept the dominant society’s view that we are superior to all other forms of life. We’re a part of the whole of creation, dependent on all other orders of creation for survival, and we are responsible for our part.
We are now finding ourselves in the midst of a very serious environmental crisis. The burning of fossil fuels and the waste from industrial processes is contributing to global warming, which threatens to alter climate patterns around the world. Air and water pollution, along with deforestation and habitat loss, are contributing to the extinction of entire species. Chemicals added to our food, along with generally poor diets, are causing serious health threats. Our throwaway culture consumes a majority of the world’s natural resources and generates the majority of the world’s trash. There appears to be no end to the degradation of our shared environment. Much of the destruction is occurring in third world countries that have no environmental protections, but the developed world shoulders the burden of responsibility to help the rest of the world develop sustainable energy. We are failing in our responsibility to our brother and sister nations.
In every aspect of our lives, we are experiencing a “quickening” of the pace of life. Everything just seems to be moving faster and faster, in a headlong rush toward we know not what. We have become an instant gratification society. If we don’t have it right now, we are dissatisfied and feel that we have been wronged or disrespected in some way. We strive for more technology to make our lives easier, often at the expense of the global environment; and yet, for all the time we have saved with our technology, we are more stressed out and busier than ever. Many people are unable to find time for their family or their community. The elders say that as everything around us speeds up, we ourselves must slow down and look to the teachings for guidance, or be swept away.
Long ago, seven prophets came among the Anishinabe people and told of Seven Fires or ages through which the people would pass. The prophets predicted the great migration of the Anishinabe people, the coming of the light-skinned race, the colonization and warfare of North America, as well as our time today. The elders tell us that we are now living in the Age of the Seventh Fire and are standing before a Great Crossroads.
The Prophet of the Seventh Fire was said to be different from the others. He was young and his eyes held a strange radiance. He told the people that in the Age of the Seventh Fire, the human race would come to a fork in the road and must choose between two paths. One path is a hard surfaced “highway” where the trees and fields along the road had been stripped out. This path represents the “fast lane”, the headlong rush of industry and technology, ultimately leading to the destruction of the earth and a global purification like the Great Flood of many religions. The other path is said to be a natural path, winding its way through lush forests and pristine countryside. This is a slower path that represents the natural way of Native Peoples. If humanity chooses this way, the road will lead to the Eighth and Final Fire, a time of global unity, and peace and sustainability.
The Prophet said that in the Age of the Seventh Fire, an Oshkii-Bimadisiig or New People would arise. They would come together from the four directions and include people from every race, ethnicity, and walk of life. These New People will retrace their footsteps and recover what was left on the trail behind them, the traditional indigenous wisdom of living in harmony and balance with the earth. They will use this knowledge to steer humanity down the right path. The New People must use their voice to speak for those who were not given a voice. This might mean the air, water, earth, animals, and trees, or it might mean oppressed peoples who are not given a voice. It is the responsibility of the New People to restore the natural balance.
And so the signs are all around us. We are living in the Age of the Seventh Fire, and we are the New People prophesied over a thousand years ago. It is our responsibility. We cannot pass on the torch to someone else. We must remind the people of their brotherhood to the wolf, and of their divine origin and their sacred purpose. Our mission is not going to be easy, but we are told that we will have many helpers along the way.
When Joe finished telling the story, he performed the pipe ceremony. Joe lit the pipe and took a puff from the bowl, which as the tobacco burned appeared as a singular point of bright light in the midst of the soft lantern glow of the lodge. Joe turned the stem of the pipe to the east and offered a prayer, inviting the spirits to partake of the sacred tobacco. Joe then turned the stem back and turned his body to face the south. Again, he took a draw from the pipe and turned the stem to offer the pipe to the spirits of the southern door. This ceremony Joe repeated though each of the seven directions, first the four cardinal directions, then looking down toward our Mother Earth and then skyward acknowledging the vast universe, and finally high above to honor Gitchi Manitou, the Great Mystery.
As Joe addressed the spirits, he said that the New People, prophesied to come so long ago, were sitting in that very lodge as he spoke. Those of us sitting in the wigwam heard a profound message of Native American environmental ethics. The creation story showed human beings as a part of creation, rather than as an entity removed from its environment. We heard Joe tell us that we are brothers and sisters to wolves and that our Mother is Earth. Most importantly, we heard Joe tell us that we are the New People talked about in prophecy, and that the fate of the whole Earth now lay in our hands.
That night I became Oshkii-Bimadisiig, one of the New People, and I understood that I had a responsibility to the generations unborn to care for our Mother Earth and to help create a sustainable future. I felt that Gitchi Manitou had spoken to me through Joe’s story, teaching me a new paradigm. I don’t know if everyone felt the same as I did that evening, but I do know that I saw many of those same people again and again at ceremonies and other events. And our circle is growing. The New People are coming together from all directions, and are represented by every race and ethnicity. We are raising a new consciousness in the world and are directing our energies toward bringing peace and sustainability to the earth. We are learning and living a way of life that strives for harmony and balance with the Earth.
After the pipe ceremony, we feasted and shared conversation. We always share food after a ceremony. It is a Thanksgiving for all that we have been given. A spirit dish was prepared and offered up outside so that we might share our feast with the spirits of the land and with all those who have gone on before us. It is a way of offering our respect and appreciation for the life we have been given. Every once in a while, the lodge door would open as someone would come in or go out, and a cold chill would remind us that the season was changing. Going outside was like entering another world. The sky was crystal clear and filled with millions of stars and if one listened intently, they could hear the gentle sounds of the lake lapping up on the shore, and still another sound more deeply ingrained: the sound of shared heartbeats.