The Eagle and Days of Darkness

"Let me fly over the Earth each day at dawn and look over the people. As long as I can report to you each day that there is still one person who sounds the Waterdrum or who uses Tobacco and the Pipe in the proper way, I beg you to spare the Earth for the sake of the unborn."
Sarah Schroeder

Sarah Schroeder

Nourish The Word

I saw an eagle flying overhead as I was driving the other day. This is not so unusual in some parts of the country. But it stood out from the birds of prey that frequent the skies over me this time of year: hawks, ravens, kestrels usually, and the occasional vulture. It reminded me of the symbolism of the eagle I am overdue in examining.

So let’s examine it…

Last post, I shared a link to this Potawatomi site with their tribes cultural teachings. Today I’m going to direct attention to another one of their videos. The specific part relevant to this post begins as the 12:13 min mark of the video. I’ll also be referencing The Mishomis Book, by Edward Benton-Benai again. (Edit: When first sharing this, one of my initial resources for this had disappeared from the internet, and I made do with what resources I had left. I have since rediscovered it on the internet archive: The Eagle Feather)

The Eagle as Intercessor 

The eagle, who ascends higher up than the rest of creation, closest to the Creator, is tasked according to the Anishinaabe with bringing our prayers to the Creator and with acting as an intercessor on behalf of mankind with the Creator.
This bears similarity to Christ, whose name we invoke as we pray to the Father, who scriptures say ascended up on high, and who pleads for us before His Father (Listen to him who is the Advocate with the Father, who is pleading your case before him, saying, Father, behold the sufferings and death of him who did no sin, in whom you were well pleased. Behold, the blood of thy Son which was shed, the blood of him whom you gave that you might be glorified. Wherefore, Father, spare these my brethren that believe on my name that they may come unto me and have everlasting lifeT&C 31:1).

Days of Darkness

In the Book of Mormon, there is a prophet mentioned called Samuel. In it he claims the people he was called to teach will see a sign of Christ’s death, despite them living on the other side of the world from the land where Christ lived as a mortal among the Jews. The book of Helaman chapter 5 details his prophecy; verses 12 and 13 are specific to the sign of Christ’s death. He claimed that on the day of Christ’s death, the land where Samuel prophesied would experience three days of darkness among other catastrophic thunderingslightnings, earthquakes, a tempest, etc, until Christ would rise again from the dead.

And it came to pass in the thirty and fourth year, in the first month, in the fourth day of the month, there arose a great storm, such an one as never had been known in all the land, and there was also a great and terrible tempest and there was terrible thunder insomuch that it did shake the whole earth as if it was about to divide asunder. And there were exceeding sharp lightnings, such as never had been known in all the land. 3 Nephi 4:2

The effects of this sign are so catastrophic, that the face of the land is changed and it was the “more righteous part of the people who were saved, and it was they who received the prophets and stoned them not, and it was they who had not shed the blood of the saints who were spared.”
Something like this, I would think, would live on in the traditions of the descendants of those that experienced it.
Likewise, the Anishinaabeg, have a tradition about the the Creator determining the people had become too wicked again, and that they would be destroyed. The sun was held back as the eagle flew to the Creator and pleaded on behalf of mankind. Depending on the source, this began on the morning of the fourth day (similar to the scripture above that says this began on the 4th day of the first month), or the sun was held back for three days and returned on the morning of the fourth day (similar to the prophecy by Samuel that said the darkness would last for 3 days.
Edward Benton-Benai’s The Mishomis Book, describes this tradition:

After some time, there came to be people who chose to use the Midewiwin as a way to build up their own personal power. They sought to instill fear in other people by harnessing spiritual powers and using them in evil ways. There were those that even took the lives of others and distorted the lives of their rivals by using their spiritual medicine in a bad way. 

This was clearly against the intentions of the Creator. He was greatly angered at how such a beautiful gift could be so twisted and corrupted. The Creator instructed a very powerful spiritual being to destroy the Earth after the Sun rose four times. Some say that this being was the father of Waynaboozhoo. It looked as though all life on the Earth would be destroyed again. 

Just before dawn on the fourth day, the Mi-gi-zi’ (eagle) flew out of the crack between darkness and light–that edge between night and day. He flew straight into the sky. He flew so high that he flew completely out of sight. He flew to talk with the Creator. The Sun was about to come over the rim of the Earth. The eagle screamed four times to get the Creator’s attention. The Creator saw the eagle and held back the sun. At the time of this be-da’-bun (“false dawn”), the eagle talked to the Creator. He said “I know the Earth is full of evil and corruption. I have seen all this. But also I have seen that there are yet a few people who have remained true to their instruction. I still see the smoke of Tobacco rise here and there from humble people who are still trying to live in harmony with the Universe. I plead on behalf of these few that you call off the destruction of the Earth. Let me fly over the Earth each day at dawn and look over the people. As long as I can report to you each day that there is still one person who sounds the Waterdrum or who uses Tobacco and the Pipe in the proper way, I beg you to spare the Earth for the sake of the unborn. It is in these unborn that there is still hope for Earth’s people to correct their ways. 

The Creator pondered what the eagle had to say. He then instructed the spiritual being in which he had left the destruction of the Earth to hold back his fury. He entrusted the eagle with the duty of reporting to him each day the condition of the Earth’s people. The miracle of the sunrise happened again for the Anishinaabe. 

We owe our lives and the lives of our children to the eagle. This is why the eagle is so respected by native and natural people everywhere. This is why Indian people make a whistle from the wingbone of the eagle. They sound this whistle four times at the start of their ceremonies. They do this to call in the power of the spirits. They do this to remember our brother, the eagle, and the role he plays in the preservation of the Earth. The Mishomis Book p.81-82

For reference:

  • The father of Nana’b’oozoo (or Waynaboozhoo as he is referred to in The Mishomis Book) is described as “a being with terrible power,” and was “the holder of the power of lightning and thunder.”
  • The “pipe” mentioned is the “peace pipe,” or ceremonial pipe and is a sacred symbol among Native Americans, with its origin varying between tribes. Among the Anishinaabe, it’s origin was as a gift to Nana’b’oozoo from his father for the Anishinaabe people. He “showed the people how to smoke tobacco in the Pipe and in so doing seal peace, brotherhood, and sisterhood among the bands, tribes and nations. Waynaboozhoo told the people that the smoke that came from the Pipe would carry their thoughts and prayers to the Creator just as their Tobacco offerings in the fire would do.” To read more about the pipe’s symbolism to Jesus using Lakota traditions you may want to read this more recent post.
  • The waterdrum is a sacred instrument steeped in symbolism. A tree of life is used instead of a waterdrum in some Ojibway bands during Midewiwin initiations.
Both of these accounts have reference to destruction, lightning, and thunder. One difference in the Anishinaabe version is that destruction is held back entirely, while in the 3 Nephi version, destruction is severe, with only the “more righteous” surviving.
I wonder if the Anishinaabeg would be more likely to remember a destruction that might almost have happened…? Or one that took many of their people in thundering, lightning, etc, and spared those the eagle vouched for, who were obedient to the Creator’s way? In Edward Benton-Benai’s telling and other similar versions, the people seem completely unaware of their impending destruction. How then would they know that they owed their lives and the lives of their children to the eagle’s act of intercession unless their impending doom was obvious to them?
Whatever the case may be, I find these accounts strikingly similar.

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