Gitche Manitou (Gitchi Manitou, Kitchi Manitou, etc.) means "Great Spirit" in several Algonquian languages. Christian missionaries have translated God as Gitche Manitou in scriptures and prayers in the Algonquian languages.
In more recent Anishinaabe culture, the Anishinaabe language word Gichi-manidoo means Great Spirit, the Creator of all things and the Giver of Life, and is sometimes translated as the "Great Mystery". Historically, Anishinaabe people believed in a variety of spirits, whose images were placed near doorways for protection.
According to Anishinaabe-Ojibwa tradition, what became known as Mackinac Island in Michigan was the home of Gitche Manitou. The people would make pilgrimages there for rituals devoted to the spirit.
Other Ojibwa names for God incorporated through the process of syncretism are Gizhe-manidoo ("venerable Manidoo"), Wenizhishid-manidoo ("Fair Manidoo") and Gichi-ojichaag ("Great Spirit"). While Gichi-manidoo and Gichi-ojichaag both mean "Great Spirit", Gichi-manidoo carried the idea of the greater spiritual connectivity while Gichi-ojichaag carried the idea of individual soul's connection to the Gichi-manidoo. Consequently, Christian missionaries often used the term Gichi-ojichaag to refer to the Christian idea of a Holy Spirit.
In addition to the Algonquian Anishinaabeg, many other tribes believed in Gitche Manitou. References to the Great Manitou by the Cheyenne and the Oglala Sioux (notably in the recollections of Black Elk), indicate that belief in this deity extended into the Great Plains, fully across the wider group of Algonquian peoples.
Cognate terms recorded in other Algonquian languages include:
- Sauk Fox: Mannittoo, God
- Narragensett: Manitoo, God
- Gitche Manitou
- Ojibwe: Gichi-manidoo
- Ottawa: Gchi-mnidoo
- Swampy Cree: Kihci-manitô
- Miami: Kihci Manetoowa
- Nanticoke (spoken in Maryland): Gichtschi Manitto
- Kishe Manitou
- Ojibwe: Gizhe-manidoo
- Ottawa: Gzhe-mnidoo
- Swampy Cree: Kise-manitô
- Naskapi: Chisa-manitu
- Illinois: Kisseh Manetou
- Shawnee: Wishemenetou
Gitche Manitou has been seen as those cultures' analogue to the Christian God. When early Christian (especially French Catholic) missionaries preached the Gospel to the Algonquian peoples, they adopted Gitche Manitou as a name for God in the Algonquian languages. This can be seen, for example, in the English translation of the "Huron Carol".
Spirits who were either aspects of Gitche Manitou or lesser spirits under Gitche Manitou include:
- Hobomok, who was deemed more approachable than Gitche Manitou, and more likely to listen to pleas, but who was also mischievous and interpreted by Englishmen as being the devil, or an evil deity.
Manitou as mystical term
The term manitou refers to the concept of one aspect of the interconnection and balance of nature/life, similar to the East Asian concept of qi; in simpler terms it can refer to a spirit. This spirit is seen as a person as well as a concept. Everything has its own manitou— every plant, every stone and, since their invention, even machines. These manitous do not exist in a hierarchy like European gods/goddesses, but are more akin to one part of the body interacting with another and the spirit of everything; the collective is named Gitche Manitou.
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