The Journey To Spiritland (Winnebago)

Thunderbird Clan Version. According to the account of the Thunderbird Clan, as the departed walks to Spiritland he will find a fork in the road—he must take the left branch, as the other way leads to Herecg˙nina and the land of the bad spirits. As he goes along, anything that he finds he may throw over his left shoulder, and whatever it is, it will some day fall into the possession of the living members of his clan. He will encounter four guards along the way: he must offer his pipe to each and ask the way to the lodge of Earthmaker. When he arrives at Earthmaker's abode, he offers his spiritual Father the pipe, and asks that all those things which he would have enjoyed in life, had it not been cut short, be given to his clansmen. [1]

Bear Clan Version. In the Bear Clan they say that the dead person will first come to a lodge oriented in the path of the sun. There a great-grandmother will test the deceased with many questions. He is to ask her to give to his clan all those things he would have enjoyed in life had it not been cut short. As he leaves this lodge he will eventually reach the lodge of Herecg˙nina and his fire. The guides for the soul will meet him there. Off to his right, in the blue sky he will see the footprints of those who passed into life before him. He is to step carefully into each of these prints. Soon he will come to the celestial forest of Wackej≠ which is broken here and there by meadows. In this beautiful land the spirits who gather up souls shall guide him to Earthmaker. The departed gives Earthmaker the offerings in his charge and in return the god directs him to the lodge of his ancestors, whose door faces the midday sun. [2]

Wolf Clan Version. After a Wolf clansman dies, a blue mark is painted on his forehead. The food prepared for the deceased during the Four Slumbers will last him through eternity. His soul journeys to the west and he must never look back, since that would mean that he longs for something here on earth. When he arrives at his destination, his kinsmen will be there, and they will ask him, 'What did our relatives say just before you left?' And he should reply: 'It will be some time before they will come to see you.' [3]

The Medicine Rite Version. This is the account of the road to Spiritland. When first you depart on this road you will come to a great ravine, so wide that it will seem impassible, and so long is it that it stretches from one end of the island earth to the other. You cannot circumvent it—nevertheless, as my grandfather has said to me, 'Plunge right in!' This you shall do, and you shall succeed in crossing it. Then you will come to a place where there are footprints leading away—step in these, for they are the tracks of the members of the Medicine Rite that have gone before you. On this path lies a great thicket of weeds and thorn bushes. It will truly seem impassible, yet grandfather told me, 'Walk on through!' and should you do this, you will succeed. Keep on this way and you will eventually come to a place where a giant flock of evil little birds will be roosting, whose chatter will create such a din that it will seem unbearable—but just listen to them, then move on. This is what my grandfather said to do. As you go down the road, suddenly a foul phlegm will drip down upon you—do not attempt to wipe it off, for if you bear it, it will mean life to you later. Keep on until you come to a place where you see half the earth engulfed in flames. Never has there been such a fire, and there is no way around it or its scorching heat! Yet grandfather said, 'Walk right through it!' and if you do, you will escape unharmed. Do not be discouraged, for this is what constitutes life. The fourth obstacle will be cliffs tall and precipitous, that stretch from ocean to ocean. My grandfather has told us, 'Walk right through them.' If ;you do this you will succeed in obtaining that life for which the members of the Medicine Rite have striven.

Keep pressing on until you reach a hill. There at its foot you will find food: bear ribs and spirit food full of light and life (h≠p). After you have taken this food, climb to the summit of the hill. Look at what lies before you: you will see a forest of brush, but you will also see countless people who will take hold of you and lead you forth. When you look behind you, you will discover that there is no one: you are the last one to arrive. As you go along you will travel with them to a hill of beautiful red rock. At its foot too you will find a fine greasy kettle, and when you have done eating, then ascend the hill before you. When you get to the summit, you will see fewer people ahead of you, and when you look behind, you will see people following you. Forge ahead until you come to another hill where you will find groves of red willow and fields of red reeds. There at the base of the hill you will find a feast prepared for you and many other wonderful presents set out for you. When you get half way up the hill, pause to take a rest. You will see a column of red smoke. Continue on. When you reach the top, you will notice that there are fewer people ahead of you, but now there will be seen a great many following after you. Now as you go on a fourth hill will come into view. As you travel towards it, you will pass through a pleasant forest of white poplars. When you come to the foot of the hill you will discover a delicious meal has been left for you, and presents of great worth there await you. Climb this hill. At ;its summit you will see no one at all ahead of you, but as you look behind you, you will see many people following after you; yet despite the length of your journey, the place where you began will seem but a short distance away.

Forge ahead. Not far down this road you will come to an oval lodge. Simply walk right in. The old man there will greet you and say, 'Grandson, how have you behaved?' You should say, 'I don't know,' he will say, 'I know you have acted correctly. However, now you must eat, grandson.' You will eat the meat of a horned, white haired animal. You will notice scorch marks here and there on its horns. With its meat will be mixed spirit food permeated with light and life (h≠p). You should eat exactly four portions of this food. A second plate will be presented to you, and from this too you should take precisely four mouthfuls. And when he gives you the third and fourth plates, do the same: eat just four helpings.

Then as you start to go out again, an amazing thing will happen: you will assume the form of a dog; then you will change into a fly. You will still be possessed of your own mind, and you will perceive before you the sacred ladder of the Medicine Rite. The right side of the ladder will be like a twisted frog's leg, and it will be dappled with h≠p. The left side is like red cedar made black and shiny from heavy use. Grab hold of both sides of this ladder, and when you ascend it, you will come to the abode of Earthmaker where your friends and relatives will greet you. Upon the face of this land never falls the shadow of night; no evil wind bestirs the air, nor floats over it any cloud portending evil. There no person toils, there no person wants for any kind of food; there all is pleasant and delectable.

They shall come for you, the attendants of Earthmaker, and shall guide you before his face. He will say to you, 'You have done well! You have earned for yourself renewed life. To you shall come life again; no kind of animal nor race of men is excluded for you to live through.' Thus will our Father speak to you. [4]

Commentary. The white haired, horned animal eaten by the sojourner is probably a Waterspirit, as the scorching of its horns suggests that it was killed by lightning, the weapon of its mortal enemy, the Thunderbird.


[1] Paul Radin, The Winnebago Tribe (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1990 [1923]) 99.

[2] Radin, The Winnebago Tribe, 104-105. His informant was Henry Cloud.

[3] Radin, The Winnebago Tribe, 19.

[4] Paul Radin, 'The Journey of the Ghost to Spiritland: As Told in the Medicine Rite,'The Culture of the Winnebago as Described by Themselves (Baltimore: Special Publications of the Bollingen Foundation, #1, 1949) 60-72. Informant: Jasper Blowsnake, Thunderbird Clan. This story is discussed in Claude Lévi-Strauss, 'Four Winnebago Myths,'Structural Anthropology, vol. 2, trs. Monique Layton (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1976) 198-210.

Source: Dieterle, Richard L. "The Journey To Spiritland". The Encyclopedia of Hotcâk (Winnebago) Mythology (24 December 2002). Accessed 28 December 2002.

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