Tuesday, November 13, 2012

30 - Muin (The Bear)

As I write this post, I am sitting in my bed nursing a broken ankle. It is appropriate that I am writing this now as it centers around the figure of the Bear in Mi'kmaq culture.  I have often wondered about the various totems and symbols which are common to see at events. One that I often see is the symbol for the bear (Muin). This symbol, usually represented by a bear paw, is one of great power and strong medicine. It is a healing symbol. Recently, I participated in my first Mi'kmaq pipe ceremony which centered around this strong and powerful animal. It is known as the Bear Feast.

This ceremony is usually a full day event in Mi'kmaq tradition which begins with a sunrise ceremony and includes a sweat lodge, pipe ceremony and culminates in a feast to honor Muin. The version I participated in was a slightly modified one, without a sweat lodge, but powerful none the less. It is celebrated in both the fall and the spring to honor the bear before his journey to the spirit world to gather medicines and upon his return to celebrate the medicines he brings back. In both ceremonies, a woman of the bear clan prepares the feast and a song is sung to honor Muin. 

This feast is based on a traditional story which tells of Muin and his journey to the spirit world after hearing songs of the people honoring him and asking for medicine to help them. Muin knew that he must go on a spirit journey to bring medicines to the people and he prepared himself for his long journey which would last many moons. Upon his return, he visited a woman who he named Muiniskw (Bear Woman) who was praying in a sweat lodge. He asked her to prepare a feast to replenish him after his journey. Four days after he visited her, a feast was prepared, they gathered in a circle and the sacred pipe was shared. The people were grateful to Muin for bringing back the medicines to help them.

The Feast prepared for the bear. It includes foods
he would have eaten to prepare for his journey.

At our ceremony, strawberries, blackberries, blueberries, cranberries and salmon were laid out and smudged while we gathered in a circle. Each person came forward and made a tobacco offering before the pipe ceremony began. These offerings of tobacco are always done before we sing each week and are given as an offering to the Great Spirit or the Creator.  In addition to the prayers, this sacred plant invites the ancestors to gather with us.

After the smudging and reading, we gathered in a circle outside for the pipe ceremony. The sacred pipe is usually carried by one person who has received this calling after a long fast and a sweat lodge ceremony. The person who carries this pipe holds an important position as this pipe will be shared with the community. Only the pipe carrier is allowed to carry the pipe. In our case, we did not have a carrier with us, so our chief led us with his personal pipe that he allowed us to share with him.

UNACC member reading the story of The Bear
 The pipe was filled with tobacco, lit, and passed from person to person. Each one offered a silent prayer to the creator and took the pipe. The pipe was passed among us four times to represent the four sacred directions and the last time, prayers were said for those who were sick. It concluded with a prayer, hugs and greetings among those of us who shared the pipe together. It was very moving and incredibly powerful.

While some of us took the pipe, others stayed inside and told stories of bear encounters. Afterwards, the food was passed around from person to person. We sang the Mi'kmaq honor song facing each of the four directions and shared the feast. Afterwards, we sang the Bear song and our ceremony concluded with a potluck. A great afternoon. I will look forward to the spring ceremony when we wake the bear up.

For now however, I will be singing a healing song and thinking of Muin and his healing power.

The following is a link to the entire story in greater detail and is the source for my summary of the story. This story was read at our feast. http://www.muiniskw.org/pgCulture3d.htm

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