Makadekewin refers to the fast done at the time of puberty. The purpose of this page is to provide an overview of fasting practices. It focuses on Ojibwe tradition, but also provides information from other cultures and traditions. In Anishnaabek culture, fasting often occurs in the Spring and in the Fall, although it can be done during other times of the year.
While the information below primarily draws from the Ojibwe tradition, we have also gathered information on other spiritual and cultural traditions that utilize fasting as a means of gathering strength, often in the Autumn.
What follows is an overview of fasting in general, meant as a guide. If you are interested in fasting, it is a good starting point, but do speak to a spiritual guide or Elder before undertaking any rigorous endeavour such as a fast.
This section contains excerpts from books available at the Thunder Bay Public Library that describe Ojibwe fasting and vision quest practices.
Ojibway Heritage by Basil Johnston (1976, 1990). Call Number: 299.7 JOH
“According to the Anishnabeg, man was a spontaneous being made out of nothing; that is, created from new substances unlike those out of which the physical world was made. Out of corporeal and incorporeal substance was man created according to and in fulfillment of a vision of Kitche Manitou. Man was, in the abstract metaphysical sense, a composite being.
But as the Anishnabeg conceived man as a being endowed with a capacity for vision much like his creator, man became more than an abstract being, a creature of the mind. Man was bound to seek and fulfill vision and as such was a moral being. His life therefore was to be regarded in a moral sense.
Men were required to seek vision; moreover, they had to live out and give expression to their visions – it was through vision that a man found purpose and meaning to life and to his being.” (p.119).
Ojibway Ceremonies by Basil Johnston (1982, 2003). Call Number: FIC JOH
Waussaeyaubindumowin (The Vision Quest)
“Now that it was morning, Mishi-Waub-Kaikaik was relieved. It was true: he had survived. All the dangers and all the unseen foes that had threatened him throught the night had vanished. He reflected; and the more he thought about his anxiety, the more he was ashamed of his fears and of himself. His fears had not been inspired by the owl or the fox or the whippoorwill – creatures who meant no harm, and who had awakened when others had gone to sleep only to come out and feed and talk among themselves as old men do. Instead, the fears had come from within himself, from within his spirit. And Mishi-Waub-Kaikaik ranged within his own soul in quest of the source of his fears. He found nothing; but he came to know a little about himself. He discovered things that he had not previously known because of his preoccupation with the activities of man and with the immediate and concrete world around him. He discovered things that would be hidden to others unless he revealed them. When he began to understand these things, Mishi-Waub-Kaikaik felt better.” (p.47).
The Shaman: Patterns of Religious Healing Among the Ojibway Indians by John Grim (1987). Call Number: 291.62 GRI
"Although the vision fast is not the sole manner of encountering the manitou, it is considered one of the most effective means of invoking the patronage of the supernatural." (p.102).
"The shaman Mis-quona-queb (Red Cloud) was a central personality during the Ojibway migration westward. He was not only a tcisaki, naming visionary, and midewiwin shaman but also the most prominent war leader in southwest Ontario during the midnineteenth century. His shamanic call came to him during his puberty fast for a vision:
He came up to me where I lay. There was a light glowing all around him; it even looked as if the light shone right through his body. And his whole body was covered with hair from head to foot. I could not recognize the face because it was hidden behind the hair.
I was not going to speak to him because I was overwhelmed with surprise and fear. I never thought I would see anyone like that before me. It is very hard for me to describe what I saw.
When he first spoke to me his voice sounded like an echos from the sky above. I could not understand what he said, I was so afraid.... Then my fear vanished and I calmed down. He spoke words of greeting to me:
"Ke-koko-ta-chi-ken. Grandchild, be not afraid."
As he spoke he raised his arm in a friendly gesture. It was obvious he had not come to do me harm but teach me the things I had come there to learn. After a few moments he was so friendly my fears were gone. He spoke to me again:
I know what you want without asking. I will help you as long as you live. Your future is clear and bright. If you follow my wisdom I will protect you from harm"" (p.170-1).
The Vision Seeker by James Whetung (1996). Call Number: 299.45 WHE (Children’s Book)
This book tells the story of fasts and vision quests in the form a children's narrative. The premise is that after a dark time of rivalry and war and young boy seeks to help his people, who have become sick and weak from fighting instead of hunting.
"A Little Boy, anxious to help his people, asked his parents what he could do. They told him he could go, go to the high place and seek a vision. Maybe through his fast and the Vision Quest he would learn how to help his people.
The Boy's family helped him to get ready. When he was prepared, his grandmothers, his grandfathers, his aunties and uncles, his mother and father, his brothers and sisters - all of them gathered together to wish the Boy well." (p.6 & 8).
The boy travels for four days, only eating one kernel of corn per day, each day traveling in one direction from morning to night. The first day, he walks east, the second, south. Then west, then north, where he finds the place where he will fast.
"The Boy had reached the high place, the place where he would seek his vision. And so he rested and began to fast. It is not known how long he went without food and water, but by and by, the Boy began to dream.
In one of his dreams, he traveled through the four levels of color, to the dark side of the moon. When he arrived, he saw a lodge, and inside the lodge he could hear voices. The Little Boy was afraid and shy. But then, a friendly voice called from within. "So you are the Vision Seeker. Come inside, you are welcome. There is nothing to fear."
The Little Boy Stepped forward and entered the lodge." (p.17-18).
Then, he receives gifts from the Seven Grandfathers, which he must share with his people.
Detailed essay regarding Ojibwa culture, focusing on the United States side of the border
Native American Sound Recordings, from the American Philosophical Society.
Glossary of Anishnaabeg terms
Ojibway Northern Lights Website, article specific to fasting.
The Quebec History Encyclopedia, "Fasting by Canadian Indians"
Personal Journey-type essay/journal by Terri J. Andrews
Recognized Thunder Bay organization that holds Elder Gatherings, sweat lodges and more
News & Magazine Articles
Note: If viewing from home, you may have to sign in to databases such as EbscoHost or Academic OneFile using your Library Card Barcode and PIN. You can also use the Health and Wellness Center Database or Alt HealthWatch to access these articles. These databases and more are available through the Thunder Bay Public Library Research tab. Try using "fasting" as a search term.
Fasting has psychological, physical, spiritual benefits. Daily Post (Lahore, Pakistan). August 21, 2011. *Health and Wellness Resource Center Database.
95 Per Cent Smokers Can Quit Smoking During Ramadan. Malaysian Government News. August 9, 2011. *Health and Wellness Resource Center Database.
Ancient symbols, sacred places. Toronto Star. May 2, 1998. *Proquest Database.
Medical students learn native healing in university course. Toronto Star. March 8, 1991. *Proquest Database.
Fasting is the answer. What is the Question? Health Science. 34:2 (Spring 2011). p.16. *Academic OneFile Database.
Blumensohn, J.(1933). The Fast Among North American Indians. American Anthropologist. 35:3. p.451-469.
- Hoffman, R. (2010). One Story of a Spiritual Research Journey. Canadian Journal of Native Education. 33:1. p.122-36.
Miller, C. (2010). Ogimaag: Anishnaabeg Leadership, 1760-1845. Excerpt. University of Nebraska.
Rheault, D. (1999). Anishnaabe Mino-Bimaadiziwin (The Way of a Good Life). Master's Thesis. Trent University -- See pages 16, 30-32 (a description of one man’s fast), plus much discussion throughout regarding fasting, visions and manitouwag.
- The Midewiwin or “Grand Medicine Society” of the Ojibwa by W.J. Hoffman (1891, 2006).
- The American Indian (Uh-nish-in-na-ba) by Elijah Middlebrook Haines (1888).
Fasting in Scientific and Other Cultural & Spiritual Traditions
Awakening to the Sacred: Creating a Spiritual Life from Scratch by Lama Surya Das (1999). Call Number: 294.3 DAS
“Fasting is not just about giving up food. Done properly in moderation, spiritual fasting will:
- help us understand more about our habits, desires, appetites, and attachments – how they work as well as how to loosen them.
- put us more closely in touch with the inner fullness and contentment that is our radiant spiritual core.
- increase awareness, mindfulness, and restraint.” (p.244).
Ayurveda: a Way of Life by Dr. Vinod Verma (1995). Call Number: 615.53 VER
“Fasting, in the Hindu tradition, is very important to learn to exercise self-control and to clean the body. However, a complete fasting is forbidden in Ayurveda as it increases vata [the impulse principle necessary to mobilize the function of the nervous system] in the body. There most of the fasts done are semi-fasts. These semi-fasts are associated with various gods and these gods in turn are different forms of cosmic energy.” (p.25).
“The other two fasts that are important from the Ayurvedic point of view are the continuous seven-day fasts that are observed twice a year. They fall at the end of winter (around March) and after the monsoons (around September). These fasts are associated with various gods and ceremonies, and they also serve a very important function for inner cleansing.” (p.26).
A Brief Guide to Islam: History, Faith and Politics: the Complete Introduction by Paul Grieve (2006). Call Number: 297 GRI
“Sawm: The Fast
The annual fast takes place during the lunar month of Ramadan, the holiest month in the Islamic calendar. During Ramadan, Muslims say, the gates of hell are closed and the gates of heaven are open. This is the month during which Muhammad received his first revelation and the occasion is celebrated during the fast as Lailat al-Qadr, or the Night of Power, on the twenty-sixth of the month, the most solemn festival of Islam.
The objective of the fast is to diminish the believer’s love for the world and reduce his or her dependence on material things.” (p.112).
What Everyone Should Know About Islam and Muslims by Suzanne Haneef (1996). Call Number: 297 HAN
“The fast of Ramadan has been prescribed in order to train Muslims in self-discipline and scrupulous obedience to God’s commands. It is not related to penance for sins or regarded as a means of appeasing God’s wrath as in some religions…Fasting makes the Muslim disciplined, steadfast and resilient like a soldier who forgoes or postpones the satisfaction of his normal needs at the order of his Commander. This trains him to be flexible and adaptable in his habits, capable of enduring hardship, and not to take for granted the bounties of God which he normally enjoys. Fasting also enables the Muslim to feel with the poor who daily experience hunger and to be active in compassion and charity toward them.” (p.56-7).
The Youth Pill: Scientists at the Brink of an Anti-Aging Revolution by David Stipp (2010). Call Number: 612.68 STI
“In principle, calorie restriction could raise life expectancy to nearly 120 if it worked in people as it does in rodents. That’s average life span, mind you – maximum life span would hypothetically top 150…Extrapolating from studies in which CR was initiated in adult rodents at various ages, one group of scientists estimated that if everyone reduced calorie intake by 30 percent at around age thirty, life expectancy would climb by nearly seven years.” (p.145-6).