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Indigenous Peoples' Literature

Holy Song

(Medicine Song)


Long ago, before the Winnebagoes left their homes by the Great Water in Wisconsin, a young man went into the hills to fast. He fasted for twelve days, and then a spirit came to him in a vision and talked with him. The Earth-Maker, called Ma-o-na by the Winnebagoes, had sent a spirit to teach the young man. The spirit gave him knowledge and also taught him wonderful words that brought him health, well-being, and long life.

Wise was the young man when he left the hills, for he brought with him the teachings of the spirit and the power of the holy words. When he came back to his people, he sang a special song, and this song was the beginning of one kind of medicine ceremony.

The words he had learned from the spirit were so holy that the man lived a long time without any sickness. Nor did he die of any sickness. At the end of his long life, all the joints of his body fell apart from mere old age, and of old age alone the man died.

The song that he created, with the wonderful words learned from the spirit, has always been cherished by the Winnebagoes because of its great power.

The song was created long ago when our language was different from what it is now. Today, our people do not use such words in common speech. Indeed, no one knows the exact meaning of the wonderful words. The song is still sung in some of the medicine ceremonies, but only the Medicine Men, the Holy Men, understand its meaning.

The Medicine Ceremony of the Winnebagoes lasts four days and four nights. Holy songs are sung, and there is a spoken ritual. In the ritual, the Holy Man gives commandments and teaches our people the ways of goodness. Now and then, in order that we may not become tired and drowsy, the ceremony is given life by dancing. So the slow part of the Holy Song is followed by the quick part, which is the music of the dance.

In the olden times, the Medicine Ceremony was very solemn and sacred. And its mysteries were known only to the Medicine Men, the Holy Men. White people called it the "medicine religion of the Winnebagoes." Here is one of the Holy songs:

Saith the spirit,
"Dream, oh, dream again,
And tell of me,
Dream thou!
Into solitude went I
And wisdom was revealed to me.
Saith the spirit,
"Dream, oh, dream again,
And tell of me,
Dream thou!"
Let the whole world hear me,
Wise am I!
Now saith the spirit,
"Tell of me
Dream thou!"
All was revealed to me;
From the beginning
Know I all, hear me!
All was revealed to me
Now saith the spirit
"Tell of me
Dream thou!"




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The Indigenous Peoples' Literature pages were researched and organized by Glenn Welker.