Friday, September 7, 2007

Sacred Waters

How we take care of the water is how it will take care of us
Eddie Benton Benais, Grand Chief of the Mdewiwin (Medicine) Society, Anishinabe spiritual elder

“She keeps men faithful to their wives and will judge and kill men who violate the sanctity of marriage if called upon to do so, because her husband was unfaithful to her, causing her to commit suicide, and to hate and punish all unfaithful men.” So writes Cat Yronwode on Santisima Muerte, going on to note similarities with La Llorona, ghostly haunt of the North American southwest. The tales of La Llorona are wideflung and varied, adopted to regional cultures and landscapes. “At any rate,” Wikipedia noting the common thread that strings these tales together, “La Llorona chooses to murder her children, almost always by drowning, either to spare them a life of poverty, to free herself to seek another man, or for revenge against their absent or stray father.”

This turned our minds to the tale of Ampato Sapa—whose name is Dakotan for “Dark Day”:

“A young Indian woman sat in a little canoe with her two small children, and rowed it out into the river in the direction of the falls [...] She sang in lamenting tones the sorrow of her heart, of her husband's infidelity, and her determination to die. [...] Her voice was soon silenced in the roar of the fall. The boat paused for a moment on the brink of the precipice, and the next was carried over it and vanished in the foaming deep. The mother and her children were seen no more. The Indians still believe that in the early dawn may be heard the lamenting song deploring the infidelity of the husband; and they fancy that at times may be seen the mother, with the children clasped to her breast, in the misty shapes which arise from the fall around the Spirit Island.”

Today these falls—the only on the upper Mississippi river—lay in the heart of Minneapolis, but numerous native traditions imbue this region with Geomantic sacredness. Let your imagination flow with Sapa’s spirit downstream: After crashing over the falls, home to Oanktehi, a Dakotan god of waters and evil, you gust past Spirit Island, where legend has it that Dakotan women came to give birth; a few miles tumble by rushed before the rapids slowly subside as the bluffs rise above you; a few lazy miles further and you feel Minnehaha’s cold splashing into the river; Minnehaha Falls, revered as “a sacred place, a neutral place, a place for many nations to come,” babbles through the hills on your right, hidden by trees and terrain; floating on another mile or two, you carve through a deep river gorge and far overhead flows Cold Water Springs “from which the sacred water should be drawn”; you spin, sailing by Pilot Knob, “considered to be the center of the world by the Dakota,” curving sharply as the Minnesota River (“Mdote Minisota”) confluence shoves the powerful Mississippi northwest; crossing into modern-day St. Paul you drift a few miles further, passing Carver’s Cavern (now gone, destroyed for a railroad), where the Dakotans held tribal councils, their burial grounds soaring above you on Dayton’s Bluffs.

Jump forward in time and the first white face on the scene adds a new sacred tie: Father Hennepin, Franciscan explorer, christened the falls St. Anthony after his patron saint Anthony of Padua, “Hammer of Heretics,” bilocationist, and finder of things lost. (Ampato Sapa knew the falls as Minirara, or “curling water.”) As time marches forward, the city of Minneapolis slowly erects itself around Minirara, harnessing the fall’s power to drive sawmills, textile plants, and grain mills; progressively taming the falls with locks, dams, skirts, and bridges; and eventually obliterating Spirit Island in the process of civilizing Old Man River.

Pause for a second. Consider the drownings of La Llorana and Ampato Sapa, the sacredness of water across so many cultures, and the theme of revenge. Faithful readers will recall that recently, while reporting on Gargantuan (who “lived at the bottom of a well where people came to throw stones at him, hitting him in the head”), we told of “a young woman, a bread maker, [who] once went to a sacred fountain to get water for her dough and as she lifted the bucket the water turned to blood.”

“Folklore has it that sacred water used for profane purposes leads to punishment and pollution of water,” we wrote, asking, “was she the last remnant of a pagan culture?”

We found our answer in an echo. Check this out: “A Minneapolis city employee got a gruesome surprise as he was cleaning the city's sewer line. A manhole near a medical laboratory began spraying human and animal blood into the face and mouth of Ron Huebner […] ‘Blood just all over my face, in my mouth, I could taste it. It was terrible. I had it in my mouth and I kept spitting and I couldn't get rid of it’.”

The Associated Press goes on to report that “the Metropolitan Council, has confirmed that the blood was indeed a combination of both animal and human matter […and that] nearly fifty different organizations possess permits allowing them to dispose of those kinds of wastes.”

Just to recap: That’s human blood, dumped by permit into the Mighty Mississippi, just upstream from Oanktehi’s sacred home in Minirara Falls (now both dammed and sainted) where Ampato Sapa killed herself and her children before haunting Spirit Island (obliterated by engineers), a few miles up river from the Dakotan tribal council caverns (sheered away for a rail road) and burial grounds (now a city park).

July 26, approximately four months following the bloody baptism, a storm raged in drought-ridden Minneapolis. A crew repairing the sewer fled to the surface for their lives. Two didn’t make it out alive; their drowned bodies washed into the Mississippi.

Six days later, the interstate 35 W bridge, spanning the river a few blocks south of the falls, collapsed: Cars, rebar, people, concrete strew into the river; thirteen killed, a hundred more injured. A “main artery,” President Bush said. Severed. Curiously, few seem to have noticed that another artery has also been severed: River traffic, barges, no longer course through the heart of Minneapolis, blocked by the ruins—though the water continues to flow, churning through her breast.

Love, too, courses through the heart. Sever this artery, and answer to La Llorona—a familiar tale of coursing love, broken promises and broken hearts, and appeals for revenge. La Llorona—“the weeping”: Vengeful saint for the jilted; her tears continue to flow.


  1. Great post, Gid! The quote about the guy who got a faceful of blood conjures up horrifying images. How can dumping human blood into the river be legal? It's obviously not being diluted. What if the blood is tainted with hepatitus or HIV? Disgusting lack of oversight there.

  2. (WCCO) A growing number of evangelical Christians around the world are convinced that Interstate 35 is a holy highway. The movement, which began in Texas where the interstate begins, has some strong local supporters in Minnesota.

    This group is convinced the Interstate 35W bridge collapse was a sign from above. They say the source is the Bible verse from Isaiah 35. It says: "A highway will be there, a roadway, and it will be called the Highway of Holiness. The unclean will not travel on it. "


  3. Ha, ha, ha! I just read this comment, now over 3 years old, and man oh man, that is funny.

    I35 is a holy highway?

    I happen to have personally driven every single inch of that highway--at least on the north-bound side.

    And I can tell you what, man, that highway's holy like a bullet-ridden corpse.

    There are things and feelings and past actions on that road that would fill up a McCarthy novel. If you've any interest in sinning, forget about Vegas, forget about Amsterdam, 'cause baby, I35--right through the heartland of the USofA--is your apple.

    Bit of trivia: in "Fargo" (the movie), when they drive into Minneapolis from Fargo, the scene is actually shot driving up I35 from south of the city--even though they would've driving down I35 from north of the city. That's just exactly the kind of backwardness this interstate delivers.

    Anyhow--highway of the holy? More like underpass of the unconsecrated.

    Lordy, that's rich. Good ol' 'CCO.

  4. Funny you just saw this now! The Bible is well-organized. A plethora of number/letter combos through which to shift in search of prophecy....


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