An Online Newsletter Celebrating Native America
May 3, 2003 - Issue 86
Mishosha, or the Magician
and His Daughters
by Bamewawagezhikaquay - Jane Johnston
credits: submitted by Timm Severud (Ondamitag)
'Mishosha' is not a myth, which conveys important cultural information such at the origin of a clan totem, but was meant for entertainment during long winter evenings in the lodge. Set on Grand Island in Lake Superior, there are repeated trials of Magic, and the story is discursive, as Ojibwa stories often are. But lodge stories were also meant for edification. 'Mishosha' teaches proper behavior when one is angry, it suggests that bravery and aggressiveness against a foe will be rewarded, it reinforces the proper way rituals and spells, and it describes how some personal guiding spirits, or manidog, are more powerful than others. Most importantly, it describes how abandoned child of thoughtless parents can overcome adversity. This theme, that of the 'forsaken brother,' is one of the most common in Great Lakes Indian literatures, perhaps because of the wars and resulting population shifts that plagued the region for centuries.
an early age of the world, when there were fewer inhabitants in the earth
than there now are, there lived an Indian, who had a wife and two children,
in a remote situation. Buried in the solitude of the forest, it was not
often that he saw any one out of the circle of his own family. Such a
situation seemed favorable for his pursuits, and his life passed on in
uninterrupted happiness, till he discovered a wanton disposition of his
woman secretly cherished a passion for a young man whom she accidentally
in the woods, and she lost no opportunity of courting his approaches.
She even planned the death of her husband who, she justly concluded, would
put her to death should he discover her infidelity. But this design was
frustrated by the alertness of her husband, who having cause to suspect
her, determined to watch narrowly to ascertain the truth before he should
come to a determination how to act. He followed her secretly one day at
a distance, and hid himself behind a tree. He soon beheld a tall, handsome
man approach his wife and lead her away.
was no convinced of her crime, and thought of killing her the moment she
returned. In the meantime he went home and pondered his situation. At
last he came to the determination of leaving her forever, thinking that
her own conscience would in the end punish her sufficiently, and relying
on her maternal feelings to take care of the two boys, whom he determined
to leave behind.
the wife returned she was disappointed in not finding her husband, having
concerted a plan to dispatch him. When she saw that day after day passed
and he did not return, she at last guessed the true cause of his absence.
She then returned to her paramour, leaving the tow helpless boys behind,
telling them that she was going a short distance and would return, but
determined never to see them more.
children thus abandoned soon made way with the food that was left in the
lodge and were compelled to quit it in search of more. The eldest boy
possessed much intrepidity, as well as great tenderness for his little
brother, frequently carrying him when he was weary, and gathering all
the wild fruit he saw. Thus they went deeper into the forest, soon losing
track of all traces of their former habitation, till they were completely
lost in the labyrinths of the wilderness.
elder boy fortunately had a knife with which he made a bow and arrows,
and was thus able to kill a few birds for himself and his brother. In
this way they lived some time, still pressing on they knew not where.
At last they saw an opening in the woods and were shortly after delighted
to find themselves on the borders of a broad lake. Here the elder boy
busied himself picking the seed pods of the wild rose. In the meanwhile
the younger amused himself by shooting some arrows into the sand, one
of which fell into the lake. The elder brother, not willing to lose his
time making another, waded into the water to reach it. Just as he was
about to grasp the arrow, a canoe passed by him with the rapidity of lightening.
An old man, sitting in the center, seized the frightened youth and placed
him in the canoe. In vain the boy addressed him. "My Grandfather"
(a term of respect used for old people) "pray take my little brother
also. Alone, I cannot go with you, he will starve if I leave him."
The old magician (for such was his real character) laughed at him. Then
giving his canoe a slap and commanding it to go, it glided through the
water at inconceivable swiftness. In a few minutes the reached the habitation
of Mishosha, standing on an island in the center of the lake. Here he
lived with his two daughters, the terror of all the surrounding country.
the young man up to the lodge, "Here is my eldest daughter,"
said he, "I have brought a young man who shall become your husband."
The youth saw surprise in the countenance of the daughter, but she made
no reply, seeming thereby to acquiesce in the command of her father. In
the evening the overheard the daughters in conversation. "There again!"
said the elder daughter, "our father has brought home another victim,
under the pretence of giving me a husband. When will his enmity of the
human race cease, or when shall we be spared witnessing such scenes of
vice and wickedness, as we are daily compelled to behold."
the old magician was asleep, the youth told the elder daughter how he
had been carried off and compelled to leave his helpless brother on the
shore. She told him to get up and take her father's canoe, and using the
charm he had observed; it would carry him quickly to his brother. That
he could carry him food, prepare a lodge for him and return by morning.
He did in everything he had been directed, and after providing for the
subsistence of his brother, told him that in a short time he should come
for him. Then returning to the enchanted island he resumed his place in
the lodge before the magician awoke. Once during the night the Magician
awoke, and not seeing his son-in-law, asked his eldest daughter what had
become of him. She replied that he had merely stepped out and would be
back soon. This satisfied him. In the morning, finding the young man in
the lodge, his suspicions were completely lulled. "I see, my daughter,
you have told me the truth."
soon as the sun rose, Mishosha thus addressed the young man. "Come,
my son, I have a mind to gather gull egg's. I am acquainted with an island
where there are great quantities, and I wish your aid in gathering them."
The young man saw no reasonable excuse and getting into the canoe, the
magician gave it a slap, and bidding it to go, in an instant they were
at the island. They found the shore covered with gulls' eggs, and the
island surrounded with birds of this kind. "Go my son," said
the old man, "and gather them, while I remain in the canoe."
But the young man was no sooner ashore than Mishosha pushed his canoe
a little from the land and exclaimed: "Listen ye gulls! You have
long expected something from me. I now give you and offering. Fly down
and devour him." Then striking the canoe left the young man to his
birds immediately came in clouds around their victim, darkening all the
air with their numbers. But the youth, seizing the first that came near
him and drawing his knife, cut off its head, and immediately skinning
the bird, hunt feathers as a trophy on his breast. "Thus," he
exclaimed, "will I treat every one of you who approaches me. Forbear,
therefore, and listen to my words. It is not for you to eat humans as
food. You have been given by the Great Spirit as food for man. Neither
is it in the power of that old magician to do you any good. Take me on
your backs and carry me to his lodge and you shall see that I am not ungrateful."
gulls obeyed, collecting in a cloud for him to rest upon, and quickly
flew to the lodge, where they arrived before the magician. The daughters
were surprised at his return, but Mishosha conducted as if nothing extraordinary
had taken place.
the following day he again addressed the youth, "Come, my son,"
said he, "I will take you to and island covered with the most beautiful
pebbles, looking like silver. I wish you to assist me in gathering some
of them. They will make handsome ornaments, and are possessed of great
virtues." Entering the canoe, the magician made use of his charm,
and they were carried in a few moments to a solitary bay in an island
where there was a smooth sandy beach. The young man went ashore as usual.
"A little further, a little further," cried the old man, "beyond
that rock you will find some finer ones." Then pushing his canoe
from land, "Come, great king of fishes," cried he, "you
have long expected an offering from me. Come and eat the stranger I have
put ashore on your island." So saying he commanded his canoe to return,
and was soon out of sight. Immediately a monster fish shoved its long
snout from the water, moving partially on the beach, and opening wide
his jaws to receive his victim.
exclaimed the young man, drawing his knife and placing himself in a threatening
attitude, "when did you taste human flesh? Have a care of yourself.
You were given by the Great Spirit to man, and if you or any of your tribes
taste human flesh, you will fall sick and die. List not to the words of
that wicked old man, but carry me back to his island, in return I shall
present you a piece of red cloth." The fish complied, raising his
back out of water to allow the young man to get on. Then making his way
through the lake landed his charge safely at the island before the return
of the magician.
daughters were still more surprised to see him thus escape a second time
from the arts of their father. But the old man maintained his taciturnity.
He could not, however, help saying to himself, "What manner of boy
is this who ever escaped from my power? His spirit shall not however save
him. I will entrap him tomorrow. Ha! Ha! Ha!"
next day the magician addressed the young man as follows: "Come my
son," said he, "you must go with me to procure some young eagles.
I wish to tame them. I have discovered an island where they are in great
abundance." When they had reached the island, Mishosha led him inland
until they came to the foot of a tall pine upon which the nests were.
"Now, my son," said he, "climb up this tree and bring down
the birds." The young man obeyed. When he had with great difficulty
got near the nest, "Now," exclaimed the magician, addressing
the trees, "stretch out yourselves and be very tall." The trees
rose up at command. "Listen eagles," continued the old man,
"you have long expected a gift from me. I now present you this boy,
who has the presumption to molest your young. Stretch forth your claws
and seize him" So saying he left the young man to his fate and returned.
the intrepid youth, drawing his knife and cutting the head off of the
first eagle that menaced him, raised his voice and exclaimed, "Thus
will I deal with all who come near me. What right have you, ye ravenous
birds, who were made to feed on beasts, to eat human flesh? Is it because
that cowardly old canoe-man has bid you do so? He is an old woman. He
can neither do you good nor harm. See, I have already slain one of your
number. Respect my bravery, and carry me back that I may show you how
I shall treat you."
eagles pleased with his spirit, assented, and clustering together thick
around him formed a seat with their backs and flew off towards the enchanted
island. As they crossed the water they passed over the magician, lying
half asleep in his canoe.
return of the young man was hailed with joy by the daughters, who now
plainly saw that he was under the guidance of a strong spirit. But the
ire of the old man was excited, although he kept his temper under subjection.
He taxed his wits for some new mode of ridding himself of this youth who
has so successfully baffled his skill. He next invited him to go a-hunting.
his canoe, they proceeded to an island and built a lodge to shelter themselves
during the night. In the meanwhile the magician cause a deep fall of snow
with a storm of wind and severe cold. According to custom, the young man
pulled off his moccasins and leggings and hung them to dry. After he had
gone to sleep the magician, watching for his opportunity, got up, and
taking one moccasin and one legging, threw them into the fire. He then
went to sleep. In the morning, stretching himself as he arose and uttering
an exclamation of surprise, "My son," he said, "what has
become of your moccasin and legging? I believe this is the moon in which
fire attracts, and I fear they have been drawn in." The young man
suspect the true cause of his loss, and rightly attributed it to a design
of the magician to freeze him to death on a march. But he maintained the
strictest silence, and drawing his conaus (medicine bag) thus communed
with himself: "I have faith in the Manito who has preserved me thus
far, I do not fear that he will forsake me in this cruel emergency. Great
is his power, and I invoke it now that he may enable be to prevail over
this wicked enemy of mankind."
drew on the remaining moccasin and legging, and taking a dead coal from
the fireplace, invoke his spirit to give it efficacy, and blackened his
foot and leg as far as the lost garment usually reached. He then got up
and announced himself ready for the march. In vain Mishosha led him through
snows and over morasses, hoping to see the lad sink at every moment. But
in this he was disappointed, and for the first time they returned home
courage from this success, the young man now determined to try his own
power, having previously consulted with the daughters. They all agreed
that the life the old man led was detestable, and that whoever would rid
the world of him would entitle himself to the thanks of the human race.
the following day the young man thus addressed his hoary captor. "My
grandfather, I have often gone with you on perilous excursions and never
murmured. I must now request that you accompany me. I wish to visit my
little brother and to bring him home with me." The accordingly went
on a visit to the mainland and found the little lad in the spot where
he had been left. After taking him into the canoe, the young man again
addressed the magician: "My grandfather, will you go and cut me a
few of those red willows on the bank. I wish to prepare some smoking mixture.
"Certainly, my son," replied the old man, "what you wish
is not very hard. Ha, ha, ha, do you think me too old to get up there?"
No sooner was Mishosha ashore than the young man, placing himself in the
proper position struck the canoe with his hand, and pronounce the charm,
N'chimaun Poll, the canoe immediately flew through the water on its return
to the island. It was evening when the two brothers arrived and carried
the canoe ashore. But the elder daughter informed the young man that unless
he sat up and watched the canoe and kept his hand upon it, such was the
power of their father, it would slip off and return to him. Panigwun watched
faithfully till near the dawn of day, when he could no longer resist the
drowsiness, which oppressed him and fell into a short doze. In the meantime
the canoe slipped off and sought its master, who soon returned in high
glee. "Ha, ha, ha, my son," said he, "you thought to play
me a trick. It was very clever, but you see I am too old for you."
short time after, the young man again addressed the magician. "My
grandfather, I wish to try my skill in hunting. It is said there is plenty
of game on an island not far off, and I have to request that you will
take me there in your canoe." They accordingly went to the island
and spent the day hunting. Night coming on, they put up a temporary lodge.
When the magician sunk into a profound sleep the young man got up, and
taking one of the Mishosha's leggings and moccasins from the place where
they hung, threw them into the fire, thus retaliating the artifice before
played upon himself. He had discovered that the foot and leg were the
only vulnerable parts on the magician's body. Having committed these articles
to the fire, he besought his Manitou that he would raise a great storm
of snow, wind and hail and hen laid himself down beside the old man. Consternation
was depicted on the countenance of the old man when he awoke in the morning
and found his moccasin and legging missing. "I believe, my grandfather,"
said the young man, "that this is the moon in which fire attracts,
and I fear your foot and leg garments have been drawn in." Then rising
and bidding the old man follow him; he began the morning hunt, frequently
turning to see how Mishosha kept up. He saw him faltering at every step
and almost benumbed with cold, but encouraged him to follow saying, we
shall soon get through and reach the shore, although he took pains at
the same time to lead him in a round-about ways, so as to let the frost
take complete effect. At length the old man reached the brink of the island
where the woods are succeeded by a border of smooth sand. But he could
go no farther; his legs became stiff and refused motion, he found himself
fixed to the spot. But he still kept stretching out his arms and swinging
his body to and fro. Every moment he found the numbness creeping higher.
He felt his legs growing downward like roots; the feathers on his head
turned to leaves; and in a few seconds he stood a tall and stiff sycamore,
leaning towards the water.
Panigwun leaped into the canoe, and pronounced the charm, was soon transported to the island, where he related his victory to the daughters. They applauded the deed, agreed to put on mortal shapes, became wives to the two young men, and forever quit the enchanted island. And passing immediately over to the mainland, they lived lives of happiness and peace.
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