October 19, 2008

Manitou lore

ManitouManitou is a term used to designate the spirits among many Algonquian groups. It refers to the concept of one aspect of the interconnection and balance of nature/life, similar to the East Asian concept of qi; in simpler terms it can refer to a spirit. This spirit is seen as a (contactable) person as well as a concept. Everything has its own manitou—every plant, every stone, even machines.

These Manitous do not exist in a hierarchy like European gods/goddesses, but are more akin to one part of the body interacting with another and the spirit of everything.

The name of the Canadian Province of Manitoba is etymologically related to the word "manitou," and likely meant something like "narrows of the Manitou" or "strait of the Manitou" in Cree or Ojibwe. Also Manitoulin Island means "spirit island."
Misuse of manitou lore in the popular culture:In his debut novel horror writer Graham Masterton pictures the grisly resurrection of a Native American shaman bent on revenge on the whole white race for the genocide of his people. The shaman is able to contact and call forth many terrifying manitous until countered with the "machine spirit" of a (then) modern-day computer, seen as a product of the white man's culture and "magic."

In the first season X-Files episode "Shapes," Mulder and Scully find themselves investigating a case involving a creature identified as a manitou. The episode erroneously portrays the manitou in a destructive and negative manner, similar in nature to a wendigo, werewolf or skin-walker.

The tabletop role-playing game Deadlands and its spin-offs heavily feature manitous. In the games they are portrayed solely as evil spirits, contrasted with good or neutral "nature spirits," and use their power to generally cause mayhem and fear. They can also be bargained or wrestled with for supernatural power.

2 comments:

Anonymous said...

Native spirituality has invariably been dragged through the mud since the earliest days of European invasion, caustically interpreted and re-interpreted by a myriad of frantic Western religious institutions "hell bent" on demonizing the cosmological values of an entire race for their own selfish ends.

On White Spirituality - One Ex-Drunk's Story

Years ago in Rapid City, South Dakota, I attended a funeral at an Episcopal church for a Native elder who was a member of the Oneida tribe of Wisconsin and I was very much impressed by how much respect was shown to this woman who apparently had meant a lot to those in attendance (who were primarily white). I went back to the same church two weeks later as I was desperately in search then of direction and release from the bottle. As soon as I entered the church I was summarily rousted by a deacon of some sort who very rudely asked me what the "F" I was doing there. "Well, so much for the white man's ways," thought this Indian. Then drunk one night years after this incident, I could not make it back to my small flat to relieve myself, so I ended up peeing all over the west wall of the aforementioned church. Oh, well, all's fair in love and religious conflict.

Genevieve said...

I suppose Manitou = root word of Manitowoc, WI?

That book sounds like it was mixing the idea of the ever-growing and updated kachinas with EVIL EVIL EVIL and manitou. But I guess it's too much work to have to be accurate.