The Spirit of the Woods, 1921 (article)
The Spirit of the Woods
By Ernest Thompson Seton, Author of “Wild Animals I have Known.” etc.
Drawings by The Author
The sum of my early religious training was that everything human is bad, and born of the devil. The favorite text was, “The heart is deceitful above all things and desperately wicked”, and the total depravity of human nature was the logical and accepted conclusion.
It was on Sundays that these doctrines were most effectively dramatized. The Sunday routine of my early boyhood, when we lived in Toronto, was to rise as late as we dared, about seven forty-five; read a chapter of the Bible and a psalm, then say private prayers, each of us in his bedroom, before coming down. A long grace before breakfast came next, with solemn remarks on the wickedness of everybody. After breakfast, came family worship. Father would read a chapter or two from the Bible and a psalm of David, and then all would kneel while he read a long prayer, finishing with the Lord’s Prayer, in which all joined.
“Now, children, to Sunday school”, mother would then say, and we were hurried off to Cooke’s Church Mission Sunday School, on Elizabeth Street. It opened at nine-thirty, but we were always ready ahead of time; mother saw to that. Returning from this, we were hustled off to the – Street Presbyterian Church to hear the Rev. Mr. Blank dilate on the hot horrors of the world into which we were all likely to land. He began at eleven and was supposed to end at half past twelve, but he never did; he always ran over, and it was nearly one o’clock before we escaped. I can see him yet, a hard creature of irreproachable personal life. In his eyes was a gleam of madness. His followers called it inspiration, as he dilated on the immortal glory of the great Calvin who burned Servetus at the stake and set up a devil in place of a wise and gracious Creator.
Arrived at home, we had our mid-day dinner after a long grace; then mother would say, “Now be sure you are ready for Sunday school”. “Being ready” meant learning some hideous garble of doctrine out of what we later called “John Calvin’s joke-book”, then better known as the “Shorter Catechism”. Shorter! Was that shorter?
At three o’clock we had Sunday school in the basement of the old – Street Church, and there supposedly for one hour, though really for an hour and a half, we were overwhelmed with the stern doctrines of the time.
At five we would get home. Father, having had a nap, now took a walk, always over mother’s protest. She maintained, with a host of texts from the Old Testament, that it was ungodly to 2) walk on the Sabbath day. “Blessed is the man that … keepeth the sabbath from polluting it.”
Father would reply from the New Testament, “The sabbath was made for man, and not man for the sabbath“, and then go for a short walk, leaving mother weeping and protesting at home.
By six o’clock we sat down to a long grace and a short evening meal, and by seven we were all of us again at the Rev. Mr. Blank’s footstool, listening to his lurid word-pictures of our unspeakable depravity. He was supposed to have need of only an hour, but it was usually near nine o’clock when once more wewerehome. Then, after a pause, mother would say, “Now get the books”. Each of us – there were thirteen children – was equipped with a Bible and a hymn-book. After going through about a dozen hymns and the twenty-third Psalm, father would say, “Now we shall read from the word of God in Chapter” so-and-so. He would read two verses, and the next would read two, and so on twice around. After this all kneeled down once more, with our tired, sleepy little noses rubbed hard into the varnish of the chairs, while he read another long prayer and finished up with “Our Father”.
Then mother would say, “Now, children, to bed, and don’t forget your prayers”. Yes, another, with another chapter of the Bible, before we dared trust ourselves to our pillows.
When one is soaked in a conception or doctrine night and day, year in and year out, by parents of irreproachable character and sincerity, it surely must strike in; the dye must in some measure take. And it did in more than one of my nine brothers. I did not believe that every simple natural thing I wanted to do was evil; I did not love the Sabbath day that had been made hideous or the hell-fire texts and sermons. I did not see anything wrong in taking a walk to see birds and flowers on the Sabbath any more than on any other day. I wanted to be among the wild things of the woods; I loved birds and flowers more than churches and catechism. I got thrills of joy over a new bird, the track of a coon, or any evidence of the wild life all about us. I wanted to know more of these things, and was told that such trivialities were unworthy of a human being with an immortal soul to save. I had better mind my books, and keep my thoughts on the next world. What wonder that, being obviously an outcast, I was possessed of ever stronger repulsion?
When at length the inner rebellion shaped itself into action, I was up against stronger powers than my own, and I experienced a crushing defeat. When, therefore, at the age of eighteen a chance came to leave home, I gladly went as one who quits life in a cellar to walk in the open fields.
For a time I lived as a student alone in London, and there I found the library of the British Museum, there discovered the key to the world of wild things. I had not even dreamed that there were books full of the precious facts for which I hungered. But my real life began when I left London for the plains, and there in the wide spaces of the West, where everything was, 3) without apology, normal and natural, I broke from the hideous teaching that had darkened my childhood, to learn something of the realities of life and love.
Here my natural instincts found free scope, an open field, an ever-widening field. I was like a hawk that had been raised in a cage, and when at last a chance came to fly, I barely knew how to spread my wings. But spreading my wings strengthened them. I who had groveled in the cellar was in a little while of the West, soaring, rejoicing in the blue.
Again and again I had come up against this strange paradox: my instincts, which were now dominating my life, were better guides than my judgment.
As I traveled and met men of the world, I found many more who were just such freaks as I.
How could this be? Are not our instincts born of us, or of the devil in our hearts, and is not our judgment, our training, our education, our home upbringing? Here was a riddle.
“Were we born in iniquity?” “Is every human impulse the direct inspiration of the devil?” These were questions that would not down. All my early training said, “Yes”. All my instincts said, “No”. More and more I was coming to trust my instincts. Day after day I rode across the plains, the hills swept by, the steers or the wild game galloped on, and as I rode I pondered. Slowly, very slowly, came the light, and this I take for truth: judgment is only one’s personal view, sure to be warped and discolored by early training. Instincts are the garnered inherited wisdom of all one’s forefathers, the creative wisdom that guided the race. And ever I met more men whose instincts were good and judgment was bad, till it seemed to me that nearly all mankind was like myself in this.
Then following this faint, rising dawn in the east, following the roseate glow of what was to me a personally discovered idea, the sun came up in this wise. In Emerson I read, “If you be of good ancestry, cast aside your judgment and trust indomitably to your instincts, and you won’t go wrong”. Now I could see plainly the landscape through which I had been groping. “If you be of good ancestry,… trust your instincts.” Is not this the whole thought on which democracy is founded? The instincts of a high-class people are wiser than the wisdom of their temporary leaders. Here lies, perhaps, the secret of Lincoln’s greatness. He was the interpreter of the instincts of a great people. Again and again he violated his legal training because he felt that an issue was morally right, though legally wrong. Here I was blindly groping my way toward the thought that Emerson and Lincoln alike had lived, that human instincts are the power that has created the race, the wisdom of all who have preceded us. Surely the idea that these God-implanted impulses were iniquitous was born of a calloused ignorance of the human spirit.
Thus by a long, hard trail was I led to a new thought, a proper respect at least for every strong, deep-rooted human instinct, a realization that the 4)
instincts are a mighty power, in the main constructive, but under evil guidance possibly destructive, a superb wild horse that must be harnessed and trained to bit and bridle, not crushed.
Instincts had been my own intellectual salvation, just as instincts have been the saviors of the race. I saw my own boyhood now in clear retrospect. I was taught, and I thought, that I was a freak. I know now that I was merely a healthy, normal boy rebelling against an unhealthy, abnormal environment.
As far as I am personally concerned, this “pilgrim’s progress” from inhibition to instinct is a thing of the far past. It was a personal fight. I fought it single-handed. I won, but not until eighteen years of my life had been lived under the shadow of the preachment that I ought to distrust my natural and healthy instincts. We have moved fast and far since then toward a saner and more gracious appreciation of human nature, but multiplied thousands of young Americans to-day face the problem I faced then – the problem of cutting through artificialities to a normal and healthy life of body and spirit.
I have always been impressed by the spiritual waste of those first eighteen repressed and distorted years of my life. I covet for all boys and girls some short cut to the things I had to learn slowly and painfully. Over twenty-five years ago I found myself asking, “Is n’t there some way to dramatize this religion, this education, this life of the out-of-doors which has, indeed, meant life to me?” I wanted to help boys and girls find that short cut. The upshot of this questioning was the Woodcraft idea of which the editor has asked me to tell in this paper.
Kipling heard my story with tense interest and said:
“If you don’t succeed, the Chinamen will be sitting astride our necks within fifty years. How are you going about it?”
“I am writing a dictionary of Woodcraft”, was the answer.
“Oh, bosh! Who would ever read a dictionary?” he said.
“What would you do?”
“I 'd put it in a novel”, said he.
“Oh, I see; maybe you are right”, I answered. So I wrote “The Two Little Savages”.
“Far overloaded with information”, said Kipling after reading it.
“But I have n’t half told my story.”
“Then write another novel.”
So I wrote “Rolf in the Woods”, and still so much was left unsaid that I published the “Book of Woodcraft”, after all, and then every year for eighteen years the “Birch Bark Roll”, now the “Manual of the Woodcraft League”.
And this is the creed set forth: a religion is a way of life. This is my way of life, the Woodcraft way. It was the trail by which my fathers came up from being mere brutes, and it is the trail that will lead to the greatest heights. It is not new, it is the oldest way of all, but it has been buried in rubbish and forgotten.
Long ago I collected statistics on the 5) number of boys who went wrong; that is, who made failures of their lives. Five hundred out of a thousand was what I learned on good authority. Judge Ben Lindsey was visiting me at one time and I asked his view. He said:
“What is your measure of success?” I replied:
“If a man has got an education, supported himself, raised and educated such family as came his way, kept out of jail, and voted honestly at the elections, he has made a success of life.”
“If”, said Lindsey, “you set your standard as high as that, then seven hundred and fifty out of a thousand fail”.
“I fear you are a pessimist because you see only the seamy side of life in your court work”, was my rejoinder.
“No”, said he, “I see all sides, and know I am right”.
Think of it, half our young people are doomed to failure as really good citizens! Why? Are they born wrong? Science tells us that only one in two thousand is by birth a pervert, a degenerate, a black sheep, born to be a sorrow to his people; and yet five hundred out of a thousand go wrong. Why? Invariably through violation of their healthy instincts, nearly always a thwarting of the natural desire to have some fun, setting the stamp of crime on the God-implanted constructive instincts of the race.
Long ago Rousseau proclaimed this shocking and impious doctrine, “If it is natural, it is right”. But science and history have more than justified him since.
Only it is very hard at times to know what is natural. We are so overfed, overclad, and overled that oftentimes one gets better information by turning to simple savages who have neither catechism nor clothing insanities.
These are the thoughts and experiences that led to the formation of the Woodcraft Indians in 1902. We went along the line of outdoor life and play, with human instincts recognized as a power that may be enormously constructive under proper guidance; and many a boy that was evidently headed for jail in his wild desire for boisterous fun received all that his instincts craved, and yet made a sterling citizen. The movement grew rapidly. I needed a board of advisers. So by invitation Dr. Luther H. Gulick; E. M. Robinson of the Y.M.C.A.; James E. Sullivan, the athletic expert; Dr. Henry van Dyke; and others joined me. The movement was widely adopted by Chautauquas as well as boys’ and girls’ camps.
In 1904 I took it to England, but with little success. It needed adapting to English surroundings. In 1906 I met General Baden-Powell there, and he accepted a place on the board of advisers. From the first he was keenly interested, and proceeded to adapt it to British conditions.
On October 31, 1906, Baden-Powell sent me an advance notice of the Boy Scouts that he purposed to develop in England and added, “You will see that our principles seem practically identical, except that mine does not 6) necessarily make its own organization.” On June 24, 1908, he wrote, “We are going on with my scheme like your Woodcraft Indians”.
The Woodcraft Indian idea was recast, military terms and organization used instead of tribal forms, and given to the world in 1908 as The Boy Scouts.
Soon after Dr. Gulick left the board to organize the Camp Fire Girls, and E. M. Robinson, as International Boys' Work secretary of the Y.M.C.A., organized the C.C.T.P. Each took a section of the Woodcraft Indians, and each has done splendid work with it, especially the Boy Scouts. I can only wish they had taken it all, and kept the essential emphasis upon all of the four essentials of manhood.
This I take to be fundamental. Every educational institution must recognize that its job is the harmonious development of body, brain, spirit, and service.
It is easy to find institutions that set out to develop one or another of these. But they always came to naught, or else broadened their foundation idea. The holy men of the Egyptian desert were careful of their bodies, they were scholars, they were ardent seekers after God; but they were neglecting their social duties, and they passed away.
There were orders of knighthood founded wholly for service; they passed away. The gymnasia of Greece and Rome were intended solely to develop the body. Where are they now?
The strong-built man is four-square: if we leave out any one of the cornerstones, we are setting the four-square tower on three pillars. Sooner or later it must go down.
Recognition of this fact is the foundation idea of Woodcraft. It is Indeed a plan of education and a way of life. It holds that education is the development not of scholarship, but of manhood; that is, the harmonious development of body, brain, spirit, and service.
Realizing that the individual child must pass briefly through the same stages as the race, it plans a program to fit these stages. Since instincts are the inherited wisdom of the race, the things that guarded and developed us, it aims to meet every instinct with a proper outlet, safeguarding these ineradicable impulses, so that they are constructive, instead of trying to crush them, thereby making them destructive.
Thus the Woodcraft idea provides a plan of development for both sexes and all ages. It offers continuous growth to the individual child on lines that parallel our growth as a race. This accounts for the fact that no one is ever too old for Woodcraft. The boys who joined our tribes in the beginning are with us still, though now grown men with families.
There can be no doubt that the first really social group of mankind was about a fire. Until men got the 7) fire, they had to climb a tree or get into a cave when night came, and there shiver in fear of the beasts till morning. Man was the under dog in those days, and one of the first great changes came when man discovered fire, doubtless as the accidental effect of a thunderbolt, for all the legends say it came down from heaven. Thanks to this great mystery, men could sit on the ground at night without fear; for the fire that warmed and comforted them also scared the beasts away.
In this circle about the fire all social customs grew up; language developed, art, sciences, and government were born. This was indeed the focus of human life and interest. And the mystery of the fire, protecting, incomprehensible, led men to think about the Great Mystery over all, and thus was the beginning of religion.
With such a history and significance behind it, we always assemble our young people in a circle about the fire, and as soon as it is ceremonially lighted, we get at once the decorum, the reverential attitude, the primitive simplicity that were common to the race in the bygone days of the firecentered circle.
The fire, then, is the central point of Woodcraft. Even when indoors, and a central fire is impossible, we have at least its symbol, a light surrounded by a protection. Then recognizing the power of the picturesque, the appeal of the symbol, we adopt a Navajo sand painting to express the thought of Woodcraft.
Here it is. The central fire is and always has been the symbol of the one Great Spirit, whether we see it in the altar fire of the patriarchs, the vestal fires of Greece and Rome, the burning bush of Moses, the sacred fire of Persia, or the altar candles of our own day.
From this come the four lines of human development, spirit, body, mind, and service, each leading to a lamp or little fire. The lamps are fortitude, beauty, truth, and love. But with the column that joins them to the great fire are read: spirit of fortitude, body of beauty, mind of truth, service of love, and from each of these are three rays that, read together, are the twelve laws of Woodcraft in their short form:
- Fortitude: Be brave, be silent and obey.
- Beauty: Be clean, be strong, protect wild life always.
- Truth: Speak true, be reverent, play fair when you strive.
- Love: Be kind, be helpful, glad you are alive.
These nine principles are recognized in the activities:
- 1, Recreation for both sexes and all ages.
- 2, Camp-life, the outdoors, as the ideal surrounding.
- 3, Self-government, with adult guidance, as the wise trail for youth.
- 4, The magic of the camp-fire, with its appeal to ancestral memory.
- 5, Woodcraft activities, for Woodcraft was the ancient, earliest science of mankind.
- 6, Honors by standards: i.e., non-competitive. Competition means, “Down the other fellow”. Standards means, “Raise yourself”.
- 7, Personal decorations for achievement on arm-badge or on robe.
- 8, A heroic ideal, always more compelling than a doctrine.
- 9, Picturesqueness, the glamour of romance and beauty in all things.
For bodily development we use the established and many new athletic games, all standardized, and prefer those that are outdoors. But we also teach the value and details of diet, the care of the body, the duty of perfecting and beautifying it. We teach the common sense of clothing, the healing of sunlight, the blessedness of the air, the peace of the night.
For mental development we use the alluring field of nature study and the training of handicraft.
For spiritual development we use discipline, the decorum and training of the Council Ring, the imaginative training of selected games, the magic of the fire, camp duties in the line of good citizenship, initiations, titles, ceremony, symbolism, the incense consecration of wood smoke, and among the older members (that is, over fifteen), vigil, fast, and penance. We begin and close council with a reverent recognition of the Great Spirit, and the broad philosophies which are the basis of all sound religions are inculcated in the form of campfire stories and by the subtle power of atmosphere.
We group all things esthetic and imaginative with the spiritual, and seek to color everything in our lives, whether ways, weapons, clothing, or routine, with the glorifying touch of beauty and romance.
For service we use Red Cross first aid and life-saving, scout volunteering, scouting, camp work, kitchen work, orderly duty, social entertaining and decorum, the training of way-seekers, gang instinct, public opinion, love of glory, settlement work in town, and the activities of the Council Ring.
Thus Woodcraft offers a continuous program of outdoor recreational development that parallels the history of our race, and is so natural and acceptable that it holds the family together instead of scattering it; recognizes all deeply rooted instincts. It fits both sexes and all ages, the weak and the strong; for none is too young or too old to enjoy it. It avoids the dangerous military and autocratic form of domination from the top, and shows equally the dangerous pitfall of unguided self-government by the young; it combines the best elements of both.
Woodcraft is a way of guiding the normal instincts into healthy activity. Some instincts are easy to recognize and handle, but some are as elusive and puzzling as they are strong. There is a period between four and ten years of age when children seem possessed of strange spiritual gifts and powers, a period when fairy-tales are real to them, when they tell long, wholly imaginary personal adventures, and seem to believe them true; when they have daily playmates that are real to them, but invisible to their parents. The little ones appear to be possessed of a spirit and manifest amazing genius. Their utterances seem inspired and of weird spiritual force. Some children, of course, seem never to have it; some have it early, and are 9) soon through with it. In most cases it ends at or before adolescence.
This dream period seems to correspond with a stage of our racial development, an age of mysticism and of simple, actual contact with elementals. I am unable to place it definitely or historically, but I know that it must be dealt with gently and reverently, not “flogged out of them”, as was urged by certain teachers of my own young days. Woodcraft’s symbolism and activities seek in countless ways to turn this transient mysticism of the growing youth to good account.
One no longer questions the sanity of the play instinct, as was done in my youth, but there are others equally strong which are still taboo. For example, the instinct to initiate a newcomer. It is not simply a human habit; it is world-wide wherever there is a social group of animals. A new hen in the barnyard, a new horse in the pasture, or a new hound in the pack is initiated by the others; that is, is bullied, hustled about, and often maltreated until its merits and powers are measured, and the rest know just which it can lick and which be licked by. That is, its social status is fixed. The impulse is universal. There is a real instinct to initiate.
When first I had to face it, and could not suppress it, I said:
“Very good; if it must be, it shall be, but I will take charge of it. I will make it official and public; proper authorities shall prescribe and apply the initiation tests. Now we have a dozen initiations all aimed at giving the candidate and his companions a gage on him, a measure of his fortitude.”
Let me illustrate with a story. In my camp were two or three groups, some Boy Scouts, some Woodcrafters. A youngster of twelve who wore the proud nickname of Hawkeye came to us, and at once applied for full membership in the Woodcraft tribe. I said:
“If you enter the Woodcraft, you will have to face an initiation; if you enter the Boy Scouts, you will not. Now, which is it?”
“I want to be initiated”, he replied promptly. They always do; it gives a chance to prove their fortitude.
“All right. Now, Hawkeye, what is your besetting sin?”
“I dunno; I guess I got a bunch of them”, he answered.
“Yes, most of us have. But what do the fellows in camp say?”
Hawkeye looked at the sky and the grass, then said:
“The fellows all say I talk too much.”
“Oh, ho! Now I am getting the facts. Your initiation must hit you where you are weakest. What are you doing to-morrow?”
“It is my day to wash the dishes and help the cook”, he replied.
“A very good day to initiate you”, was my answer. “Now this is what you are to do: continue your life and work in camp as planned, and for six hours do not open your mouth to speak a word. Sign or write if you like, but not one word of speech. Now, are you man enough to face it?”
“Remember now, it is not too late to go back. You can enter the Boy Scouts without initiation.” 10)
“Sure I can do it; yes, twice as long.”
At six in the morning he was called and told to get up and go about his work and keep silent. He saluted in silence and obeyed.
My home was a quarter of a mile away. At tenthirty I was in my study when the door was darkened by a small figure. There was Hawkeye. He saluted as I said:
His face was working as he said in accents of deep humiliation:
“I broke my vow.”
“Humph, you did, did you? You spoke? You could n’t keep silent for six hours and you think you can join the Woodcraft heroes. I suppose you would take an initiation that a six-year-old girl could take; that would be about your size.”
“Well, the fellows all laid traps for me”, he blubbered as the tears ran.
“Of course they did; that is part of it.”
“Will you let me try again?”
“No; certainly not. You failed. Go. Go away and come back when you are older and wiser; come back in about a week.”
“I can’t come back in a week. Mother says I must come home Saturday.”
“Well, that makes a difference”, I said. “I don’t want you to go back under the shadow of disgrace. I 'll give you one more chance.” Then I read him a lecture on citizenship and self-control, and wrote a note to the officer of the day, “Hawkeye is to have another try, beginning at 10:45”.
He saluted in silence and went off. When he was a hundred feet away I called out:
Promptly, he returned and I said: “Now,Hawkeye, I want you to realize the gravity of this situation. Your manhood is on trial, and no matter who speaks to you or what he says, will you keep your mouth shut?”
“Yes, sir”, was his emphatic response.
“Blunderer! Don’t you see you have failed again?”
Then he broke down and wept.
“I thought I had to answer when you spoke to me”, he said.
After another rating I said:
“Now I 'm going to overlook that, because I laid a trap for you, but you have lost fifteen minutes with your foolishness. Give me that paper.” I took it and changed the date to read, “beginning at 11”.
He received it in silence with a happy grin. That day he had a trying time, but at nine o’ clock he was brought into my lodge triumphant; he had kept his mouth shut for six hours. His initiation was passed. His self-control proved, he was on the way to join the Woodcrafters.
Thus we gratify the instinct of initiation, provide some fun for the camp, and no one suffers harm.
There are three rules for having fun that we stick to closely.
First, your fun must be made, not bought with money. Our American boys have the idea that you can’t have fun without spending money. We teach them to make their fun. 11)
Second, your fun must be enjoyed with decorum and decency. No one must get hurt in body or in spirit.
Third, the best fun is in the realm of the imagination. Fun with a purely physical basis is not the best or most enduring quality.
There is an ancient and primitive custom that we have adopted of allowing our members, through some exploit, to win a name. This is the highest honor that can be conferred at the Council Fire. It is doubly desired by those unfortunates who are plagued by an evil nickname, for conferring the council name means wiping out all nicknames.
At one time we gave these too easily, but now we hold the honor so high that not more than two in a camp of fifty boys can win this honor in a summer, and the night before receiving this honorable name the candidate must keep vigil alone, far off in the woods.
About ten years ago there came into my camp a band of boys from a near city. One of them was a singular gawky youngster with some unpleasant habits that had won for him an equally unpleasant nickname, to which, however, he was quite indifferent. He was good-natured, self-reliant, and well liked, though laughed at. After two weeks the band were leaving. Ned came to me and said:
“May I stay awhile?”
“Why, you would be alone”, I said.
“I don’t care. I like it. I have my books.”
“I don’t like boys to be alone in camp, but you may stay if you do not go in swimming alone.”
So he stayed on. The next year the same gang came, and he stayed on three weeks alone, and the next year longer, and so on for five years. Meanwhile the uncouth twelve year-old lad had shot up into a seventeen-year-old stripling, six feet tall, thin and awkward, but with a square jaw and a clear eye that told of a strong soul within. That year he came on July 4, and when his companions returned, on September 1 he had been six weeks alone in camp. Tall and supple in figure, with something in face and in eyes that told of inner power, his appearance made a deep impression on them. They came to me and said:
“He has grown to be quite a fellow. Don’t you think he has won a name?”
“Yes”, I replied, “but maybe he does n’t want it. He’s different from other boys.”
When asked, Ned said:
“There 's nothing I 'd like better.”
“Good,” I said; “but you will have to keep your vigil first. That is, sit alone by a fire all night up in the hills from sundown to sunrise, not sleeping, eating, smoking, reading, speaking, or going far away.”
He was ready, and at sundown we led him to the vigil rock, gave him two blankets, a poncho, a hatchet, two matches, and some water to drink.
At eight next morning he was sent for. As he stepped into the assembled council I asked a formal and perfectly unnecessary question:
“Have you kept your vigil?”
His answer was quiet and simple:
Then one of the councilors said: 12) “Tell us about it. What did you feel?”
“No”, I interrupted, “we have no right to ask such a question. When a man goes up alone into the mountain to keep vigil, he gets very close to the Great Spirit, and if a message is coming to him, it is on such a night that it comes. That is a private matter between them. We have no right to ask questions about it. Nevertheless, if he wishes to tell us, we shall be only too glad to listen.”
He spoke as though under strong emotion.
“Not now. Some day; but I can’t talk now.”
We waited, and at length he went on:
“This I should like to say to the fellows. I did not know what I was going to. I got light on myself that I did not expect. I know now why the young knight in the days of chivalry kept vigil before taking his vows. If I had known what it was, I should have taken it long ago; and, if it is permitted, I shall take it soon again.”
We waited awhile, then I said:
“Ned, you went to your vigil before you were to be named. Do you wish us to proceed with the naming?” I did not know but that, having had a spiritual experience, he might now think the naming trivial.
But he said:
“More than ever.”
So I produced two pieces of birchbark.
“On this one”, I said, “is written the ugly nickname, and I now commit it to the flames. Let no one even so much as hint at it. Now, acting for the council, I confer on you a name that reflects the opinion they have formed of you. ‘Biminiji’, an old Indian name which means, ‘Not afraid to walk alone’. ‘Biminiji’, I salute you. This goes down on our roll of honor.” The rest of the council saluted him. He was deeply moved. He tried to speak, but could not at first. Later he said: “It marked the time when I got my first glimpse of things spiritual. Some day I shall try to tell you what it meant to me.”
Every instinct of man proves the value of song; ceremony; color; the impressiveness of sensuous beauty; the joy in art and laughter; incense, with its appeal to memory through the nostrils; penance, with its soul satisfaction; fasting, with its body purgation and its spirit domination; vigil, with its spiritual insight; belief in the goodness and friendliness of the Creator. These things are established in human nature. These are the things of the world invisible, these are the thoughts that find their home in the circle about the fire. These are the fourth lamp of the Woodcraft fire, the things of the spirit. Who can expect to make a man with these left out? Who can expect an institution to endure that dismisses these as trivial?