By Julia M. Seton
The instinct to give nicknames is one of the deep rooted impulses of the human race. In accordance with his wise policy of never crushing power, Ernest Thompson Seton long ago, in his work with the Woodcraft Indians, recognized this principle and enlisted its potency.
Through the ages, this practice of giving nicknames has persisted; but we have usually known them by a more dignified term than nicknames. Each new Pope, as he takes office, loses the name by which he has been known up to that time, and is thenceforth called Plus XIII or Leo IV, etc. The British government recognizes merit, and publicly does honor to it by a similar practice. In fact, Mr. Seton points out that America is the only country where nicknames are not officially recognized. To be sure, a number of them have at least helped to make their bearers famous, but they are given no official place in our social scheme.
Babe Ruth would lose the strength of his swat were he to be robbed of his title, and called Mr. Herman Ruth (I am not even sure that he is Herman). Thomas A. Edison has said that lie prizes the nickname "Wizard of Orange" above any college degree that has been conferred on him.
Mr. Seton quotes a number of Bible characters who were given new names--Council Fire Names, as the Woodcrafters call them and with them assumed new responsibilities. Abram became Abraham , Simon became Peter, Jacob became Israel, etc.
In our Woodcraft groups, a Council Fire Name is the last and highest honor which can be bestowed. It must be the unanimous desire of the group with which the chosen has been associated, is given only for a character or a career, and is done much in the manner of the Redman.
The ceremony which follows is based largely on Mr. Seton's ritual of naming; and, though the form is longer than the one he usually uses, it has been inspired wholly by his attitude and approach toward the subject.
Fasting is an essential of clear vision, so that the candidate should abstain from meat diet for three days, and from all food (except water) for the meal before his vigil begins.
During the last day, each member of the associated group has made a prayer plume (Fig. 66). This is a slender rod of wood, the length measured from the inside of the elbow to the end of the middle finger. One end of the rod is sharpened to a point; at the other end is lashed a feather (or maybe a small bunch of feathers) with a wrapping of colored cotton cord. The rod is then painted according to the fancy of the maker. A good wish for the candidate is woven into the construction of each prayer plume.
On this night before the vigil, a brief council is held, to which each member brings his prayer plume. The Council is opened by the lighting of the Sacred Fire with the rubbing sticks, and the reciting of the twelve Woodcraft Laws in the ceremonial form.
Chief: "We are gathered here tonight with a serious purpose. We shall dispense with all frolic until after sunrise tomorrow.
"One of our number is to receive the highest honor in the gift of the Woodcraft Indians. It is the unanimous desire of this group that Charles Peters be given the ceremonial, the Council Fire Name. In preparation for that honor, he must keep vigil in the Sacred Place. That means that he is taken from this Council Ring to the Vigil Rock, where he lights a fire, and, in silence, keeps it burning until sunrise tomorrow morning. He may neither eat nor sleep, read nor smoke, go far from his fire nor receive visitors. If so be that the Great Spirit has a message to deliver to him, it is on such a night that it comes."
Chief: (turning to the candidate) : "Charles Peters, are you prepared to keep your vigil?"
Candidate: "I am."
Chief: "Then let us go."
To the singing of the GHOST DANCE SONG (Song No. 42), the Medicine Man leads the way toward the Vigil Rock, where a fire has been laid beforehand. He is followed by the group, each carrying his prayer plume.
At the end of the procession, come the Chief and the Chosen, the latter carrying his prayer plume and a torch which he has lighted from the Great Central Fire.
In Silence, all encircle the Vigil Fire, and the candidate lights it with his torch. He sticks his plume into the earth where it will be safe from the blaze, but within his vision.
The group plant their prayer plumes in the ground before them, each breathing a good wish for the candidate. Then they sing the OMAHA PRAYER (Song No 42), with arms and faces uplifted till the last line, when they are lowered. The Medicine Man leads off in silence; the Chief is the last one to go, leaving the initiate alone with his prayer plume, his fire, and the Great Spirit.
At daybreak the next morning, the group, in strict silence which has been maintained since the Council of last night, assemble at the Council Ring, where a fire has been previously lighted by the Medicine Man. They are seated till the Medicine Man approaches with the initiate. At their entrance, all rise. He is conducted to the fire, opposite and facing the Chief.
The Chief, in a subdued voice, asks, "Have you kept your vigil?"
If the answer is affirmative, the Chief continues:
"Do you wish us to proceed with this Naming Ceremony?"
If the reply is again affirmative, the Chief takes from his medicine bag a strip of birch bark, saying:
"On this piece of birch bark are the nicknames which have hitherto belonged to Charles Peters. In the name of this Council, I commit them to the fire. (Places the strip on the flame.) They go up in smoke, and are known no more."
Then, taking from his bag another piece of birch bark, the Chief continues: "On this other piece of birch bark, I have written the name which this Council is bestowing on Charles Peters. (Here he tells what qualities in the initiate have been the outstanding reasons for the honor.) For these reasons, in the name of the Council, I give to Charles Peters the Indian name of Wanakoia, meaning ______. By this honorable nickname, and no other, will he be known among us as long as this group and this organization exist. Wanakoia, I greet you I salute you."
The group file past, shake his hand, murmuring: "How kola, Wanakoia."
They pass out the exit of the Council Ring, and return to camp.
Sometime during the day, a messenger is sent to collect the prayer plumes, and return them to the owners.
A Council Fire Name is the copyrighted possession of the individual to whom it is given; it is recorded at Headquarters, and may not be repeated.
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Last modified: August 20, 2012.