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Manitou are the spirit beings of Algonquian groups of Native Americans. This spirit is seen as a contactable person as well as an idea. Everything has its own manitou—every plant, every stone, even machines.
The term was already widespread at the time of European contact. In 1585 when Thomas Harriot recorded the first glossary of an Algonquian language, Roanoke (Pamlico), he included the word mantóac meaning "gods" (with a plural ending). Similar terms were found in nearly all of the Algonquian languages.
In some Algonquian traditions, the term Gitche Manitou is used to refer to a Great Spirit or supreme being. The term was similarly adopted by some Anishnaabe Christian groups such as the Ojibwe to refer to the monotheistic God of Abrahamic tradition by extension, often due to missionary syncretism. However, the term has analogues dating back before European contact, and the word uses of Gitche and Manitou would have been precontact.
In the shamanistic traditions the manitous (or manidoog or manidoowag) are connected to achieve a desired effect, like plant manitous for healing or the buffalo manitou for a good hunt. In the Anishinaabeg tradition manidoowag are one aspect of the Great Connection. Related terms used by the Anishinaabeg are manidoowish for small animal manidoowag and manidoons for insects; both terms mean "little spirit". In some Algonquian languages such as Iynu (Montagnais) the word manituw refers to underwater creatures to whom hunters offered tobacco in order to appease them when traveling through their territories.
The name of the Canadian province of Manitoba, named after Lake Manitoba in the province, derives from the place name manitou-wapow, "strait of the Manitou" in Cree or Ojibwe, referring to the strange sound of waves crashing against rocks near The Narrows of the lake. In Manitoba there are the petroforms of Whiteshell Provincial Park, and the Anishinabe Midewiwin refer to an area there as Manitou Ahbee. The petroforms are symbols made with rocks, and they serve as reminders of the instructions that have been given to the Anishinabe by the Creator. The Midewiwin, or Grand Medicine Society, are dedicated to the pursuit of knowledge. To them, the area containing the petroforms is Manito Ahbee, the place where God sits. It is the site where the original Anishinabe was lowered from the sky to the ground by the Creator.
Manitoulin Island means "spirit island". This island is considered very important to the Ojibway, or Anishinaabe, with many sacred sites and sounding rocks. There is still a high population of native peoples on the island today.
The Fox Indians believed that the manitou dwelled in the stones of the sweat lodge. On heating the stove, the heat of the fire made manitou to come out from its place in the stones. Then it proceeds out of the stones when water is sprinkled on them. It comes out in the steam and enters the body. It moves all over inside the body, driving out everything that inflicts pain. Before the manitou returns to the stone, it imparts some of its nature to the body. That is why one feels so well after having been in the sweat lodge.
- Big Manitou Falls
- Gitche Manitou
- Manitou Island
- Manitoulin Island
- Manitouwadge, Ontario
- Manitou Springs, Colorado
- Manitowoc, Wisconsin