Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Falling "Ladder" Or "Shaking Tent Ceremony?"

As I had hoped, some readers did in fact send me some other amulet and gorgets with the commonly named "ladder" symbol on them. One in particular though is quite interesting and when Vince Barrows sent this to me I was elated because I had seen it several years ago on my first trip to Aztalan in Wisconsin visiting the mounds up there but my camera battery had died and so I asked the people at the Aztalan museum to send me an image, but it never came. Last night I got to see it again and immediately remembered why I was so upset that I didn't get pictures that day: (click the image to enlarge it to read the text below it.)

This one ALSO seems to have a ring falling downward as well. This at first led me to think that it was again representing the same as the other two we have discussed recently. As you might recall this amulet below is in the SRAC/Cowles collection: (note the one "ladder straight up and the other toppling over next to it... )

But then I read the text below the first image....and now I have to say that I am not sure that the shapes on either amulet ARE ladders and at least the one in the Aztalan museum seems to be representing something else altogether as the text below it suggests. It may seem like I am haphazardly changing my mind here, I know, but strangely, when I read this it last night, I recalled reading in the Jesuit Relations a story that seems to represent the "Shaking Tent Ceremony"... I will let you read the following and decide for yourselves:

Note the LARGE Ring in the second paragraph falling.....is the etching on the Aztalan piece showing the ring falling from the tent during the Shaking Tent ceremony described below it?

Jesuit Relations: Vol. VI Québec 1633–1634
**Jesuit Relations are annual reports and narratives written by French Jesuit missionaries at their stations in New France (America) between 1632 and 1673. They are invaluable as historical sources for French exploration and native relations and also as a record of the various indigenous tribes of the region before the influence of settlers and missionaries had changed them. Published originally in Paris in annual volumes, they were translated and edited by R. G. Thwaites (73 vol., 1896–1901).

" Furthermore, they believe that there are certain Genii of light, or Genii of the air, which they call Khichikouai from the word Khichikou, which means light " or " the air. " The Genii, or Khichikouai are acquainted with future events, they see very far ahead; this is why the Savages consult them, not all (the savages] but certain jugglers, who know better ,,,than the others how to impose upon and amuse these people. I have chanced to be present when they consulted these fine Oracles, and here is what I have observed.

Towards nightfall, two or three young men erected a tent in the middle of our Cabin; they stuck six poles deep into the ground in the form of a circle, and to hold them in place they fastened to the tops of these poles a large ring, which completely encircled them; this done, they enclosed this Edifice with Castelognes, leaving the top of the tent [49] open; it is all that a tall man can do to reach to the top of this round tower, capable of holding 5 or 6 men standing upright. This house made, the fires of the cabin are entirely extinguished, and the brands thrown outside, lest the flame frighten away the Genii or Khichikouai, who are to enter this tent; a young juggler slipped in from below, turning back, for this purpose, the covering which enveloped it, then replaced it when he had entered, for they must be very careful that there be no opening in this fine palace except from above. The juggler, having entered, began to moan softly, as if complaining; he [page 163] shook the tent at first without violence; then becoming animated little by little, he commenced to whistle, in a hollow tone, and as if it came from afar; then to talk as if in a bottle; to cry like the owls of these countries, which it seems to me have stronger voices than those of France; then to howl and sing, constantly varying the tones; ending by these syllables, ho ho, hi hi, guigui, nioué, and other [50] similar sounds, disguising his voice so that it seemed to me I heard those puppets which showmen exhibit in France. Sometimes he spoke Montagnais, sometimes Algonquain, retaining always the Algonquain intonation, which, like the Provençal, is vivacious. At first, as I have said, he shook this edifice gently; but, as he continued to become more animated, he fell into so violent an ecstasy, that I thought he would break everything to pieces, shaking his house with so much force and violence, that I was astonished at a man having so much strength; for, after he had once begun to shake it, he did not stop until the consultation was over, which lasted about three hours. Whenever he would change his voice, the Savages would at first cry out, moa, moa, " listen, listen ; " then, as an invitation to these Genii, they said to them, Pitoukhecou, Pitoukhecou, " enter, enter. " At other times, as if they were replying to the howls of the juggler, they drew this aspiration from the depths of their chests, ho, ho. I was seated like the others, looking on at this wonderful mystery, forbidden to speak; but as I [51] had not vowed obedience to them, I did not fail to intrude a little word into the proceedings. Sometimes I begged them to have pity on this poor juggler, who was killing himself in this tent; at other times I told [page 165] them they should cry louder, for the Genii had gone to sleep.

Some of these Barbarians imagined that this juggler was not inside, that he had been carried away, without knowing where or how. Others said that his body was lying on the ground, and that his soul was up above the tent, where it spoke at first, calling these Genii, and throwing from time to time sparks of fire. Now to return to our consultation. The Savages having heard a certain voice that the juggler counterfeited, uttered a cry of joy, saying that one of these Genii had entered; then addressing themselves to him, they cried out, Tepouachi, tepouachi, " call, call; " that is, " call thy companions." Thereupon the juggler, pretending to be one of the Genii and changing his tone and his voice, called them. In the meantime our sorcerer, who was present, took his drum, and began to sing with the juggler who was in the tent, and the others [52] answered. Some of the young men were made to dance, among others the Apostate,12 who did not wish to hear of it, but the sorcerer made him obey.

At last, after a thousand cries and howls, after a thousand songs, after having danced and thoroughly shaken this fine edifice, the Savages believing that the Genii or Kichikouai had entered, the sorcerer consulted them. He asked them about his health, (for he is sick), and about that of his wife, who was also sick. These Genii, or rather the juggler who counterfeited them, answered that, as to his wife, she was already dead, that it was all over with her. I could have said as much myself, for one needed not to be a prophet or a sorcerer to guess that, inasmuch as the poor creature was already struck with death; in [page 167] regard to the sorcerer, they said that he would se the Spring. Now, knowing his disease, - which was a pain in the loins, or rather an infirmity resulting from his licentiousness and excesses, for he is vile to the last degree,—I said to him, seeing that he was otherwise healthy, and that he drank and ate very heartily, that he would not only see the spring but also the Summer, if some other accident [53] did not overtake him, and I was not mistaken.

After these interrogations, these fine oracles were asked if there would soon be snow, if there would be much of it, if there would be Elks or Moose, and where they could be found. They answered, or rather the juggler, always disguising his voice, that they saw a little snow and some moose far away, without indicating the place, having the prudence not to commit themselves.

So this is what took place in this consultation, after which I wished to get hold of the juggler; but, as it was night, he made his exit from the tent and from our little cabin so swiftly, that he was outside almost before I was aware of it. He and all the other Savages, who had come from the other Cabins to these beautiful mysteries, having departed, I asked the Apostate if he was so simple as to believe that the Genii entered and spoke in this tent. He began to swear his belief, which he had lost and denied, that it was not the juggler who spoke, but these Khichikouai or Genii [54] of the air, and my host said to me, " Enter thou thyself into the tent, and thou wilt see that thy body will remain below, and thy soul will mount on high." I did want to go in; but, as I was the only one of my party, I foresaw that they might commit some outrage upon me, and, as there were [page 169] no witnesses there, they would boast that I had recognized and admired the truth of their mysteries.

Now I had a great desire to know the nature of these Genii; the Apostate knew nothing about them. The sorcerer, seeing that I was discovering his mines, and that I disapproved of his nonsense, did not wish to explain anything to me, so that I was compelled to make use of my wits. I allowed a few weeks to pass; then, springing this subject upon him, I spoke as if I admired his doctrine, saying to him that it was wrong to refuse me, since to all the questions which he asked me in regard to our belief, I answered him frankly and without showing any reluctance. At last he allowed himself to be won over by this flattery, and revealed to me the secrets of the school. Here is the fable which he recounted to me touching the nature [55] and the character of these Genii.

Two Savages having consulted these Genii at the same time, but in two different tents, one of them, a very wicked man who had treacherously killed three men with his hatchet, was put to death by the Genii, who, crossing over into the tent of the other Savage to take his life, as well as that of his companion, were themselves surprised; for this juggler defended himself so well that he killed one of these Khichikouai or Genii; and thus it was found out how they were made, for this One remained in the place where he was killed. Then I asked him what was his form. "He was as large as the fist," he replied; " his body was of stone, and rather long." I judged that he was cone-shaped, large at one end, and gradually becoming smaller towards the other. They believe that in this stone body there is flesh and blood, for [page 171] the hatchet with which this Spirit was killed was bloody. I inquired if they had feet and wings, and was told they had not. " Then how," said I, " can they enter or fly into these tents, [56] if they have neither feet nor wings? " The sorcerer began to laugh, saying in explanation, " In truth, this black robe has no sense." This is the way they pay me back when I offer some objections to something which they cannot answer.

As they made a great deal of the fire which this juggler threw out of his tent, I told them that our Frenchmen could throw it better than he could; for he only made a few sparks fly from some rotten wood which he carried with him, as I am inclined to think, and if I had had some resin I could have made the flames rise for them. They insisted that he entered this house without fire; but I had happened to see some one give him a red-hot coal which he asked to light his pipe.

So that is their belief touching the foundations of things good. What astonishes me is their ingratitude; for, although they believe that the Messou has restored the world, that Nipinoukhé and Pipounoukhe bring the seasons, that their Khichikouai teach them where to find Elks or Moose, and render them a thousand other good offices,—yet up to the present I have not been able to learn [57] that they render them the slightest honor. I have only observed that, in their feasts, they occasionally throw a few spoonfuls of grease into the fire, pronouncing these words: Papeouekou, Papeouekou; " Make us find something to eat, make us find something to eat." I believe this prayer is addressed to these Genii, to whom they present this grease as the best thing they have in the world. "



  1. these people have no deep understanding of First Nations way of life. Not worth listening to them. Why don't you go directly to the people who hold on to this way of life. Hopefully, you might gain some understanding; depending on your frame of mind.

  2. Just wondering, does the Shaking Tent Ceremony use a ceremonial pipe?