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Schoolcraft, Henry Rowe.. History of the Indian Tribes of the United States: Their Present Condition and Prospects, and a Sketch of Their Ancient Status. Volume 6. . Philadelphia: Lippincott, Grambo and Co, 1857. [format: book; image], [genre: government document; report]. Permission: Northern Illinois University
FOR the purpose of obtaining a correct idea of the mythology and polytheism of the Vesperic tribes, 865 we must take a cursory glance at the system of the Toltecs and Aztecs. These tribes continued, from age to age, to deify men, and add new names to the catalogue of their
The mental development of the Indians of America may be more readily traced, by comparison of ideas and their modes of expressing them, than by reference to words, or identities of nomenclature at least, beyond the primary radices and particles; for, in all the savage languages of this continent, names, words and expressions are mere agglomerations of dissevered syllables. Some allusions may here be made to a mythology, which embraced the traditionary history, not only of the Aztecs and
Toltecs, but, according to the best interpreters of Mexican history, 866 of anterior nations, who possessed the elements of civilization.
Tlalcol was the keeper of the dead, an important office in all the tribes, which, among those of the north, is assigned to Chibiabos. The ceremonial rites are precisely the same; the purpose of the office, and its duties, exactly alike; but the names differ. This variance applies to most of their gods; and, it may be remarked, is analogous to that general difference existing between the Indian languages of North and South America, the ideas of which are similar, but the sounds diverse. The Aztecs placed Teo 867 first in the calender of their gods; the Iroquois of the North installed Neo as their supreme divinity. After having successfully prosecuted a war, they did homage to Areouski, as the god of battle. The Aztecs sacrificed human victims to Huitzilopochtli, in the same character.
The personification of good and evil is a very striking characteristic of the savage theogony. Teo conveyed the same meaning in Toltec the formative tl being added. In the dialects of the Algonquin tribes of the North, MON is the radix, both for the words God and Devil. In the same language, edo added to this form appears to be a transitive particle; but, if the evil god be intended, the term MUDJI is prefixed, denoting an evil character. This is the literal meaning of the compound term, Mudjimonedo. Among the Toltecs there was a god of the day, and another of the night; the composite term for the latter power having been Tlacatecolototl, who was the bird of night. They believed that this spirit frequently appeared to men for the purpose of doing evil; and, theoretically, it was the Mudjimonedo of the Algonquins.
The Otomites believed that the soul died with the body; but the Aztecs, as well as all the other nations of Anahuac, deemed it to be, in its substance, immortal. They held the doctrine that beasts and birds possessed souls; which belief is common to all the North American, or Vesperic tribes. 868 They believed that soldiers who died in war, and women who died in childbirth, were transported to the house of the sun, which they called the lord of glory, where they led a life of happiness and ease; every day greeting the rising sun with music and dancing, 869 which they then accompanied to the zenith, where they met the souls of the women, and, with the same demonstrations of delight, proceeded with them to the setting of the sun. Like the Vesperic tribes, they upheld the theory of the transmigration of souls, and believed that, after leading the life just described during four years, these souls entered into, and animated, the clouds, noble beasts, and birds of beautiful plumage and sweet song possessing the privilege, while in this state, of ascending to Heaven, or of descending to the earth, there to sing
and suck sweets from flowers. The Tlascallans believed that only the souls of the nobles animated noble beasts, birds of beauteous plumage and songsters; while the souls of the lower classes entered into beetles and other meaner forms of life.
Those killed by lightning, or who were suffocated, or died of dropsy, &c., and children sacrificed to Haloc, they believed went to the home of that god, where they lived in peace and pleasure. Their creed likewise taught that these children assisted at the sacrifices to their god on ascertain day, and at a certain altar, in the large temple of Mexico. The Mixtecas believed the entrance to heaven was through a cave, which was located in a high mountain of their country. The nobles were buried near this cave, in order to be close to the place: they expected to enter. The Mexicans believed, furthermore, that all beside those enumerated, after death entered a dark abode (where reigned the god Mict-lau-teuct-li) called Mictlau, where the only evil experienced was the total darkness. This abode was supposed to be situated either in the centre of the earth, or at the North Pole.
The cosmogony of the Aztecs bears traces of trans-Atlantic, or oriental origin. They possessed an account of the creation of the world, of the deluge, and of the confusion of tongues, very similar to that given by Moses. They averred that but one man was saved from the deluge, whom they called Coxcox or Teocipactli, and one woman, called Xochiquetzal. This person corresponds with Hiawatha, Manabosho, and Atahensic, in the north. They also relate that this couple debarked on a mountain, where they became the parents of many children, all of whom were born without the faculty of speech; but that a bird had, from the branch of a tree, taught them to speak. 870 The Tlascallans say that the persons saved from the deluge had degenerated into monkeys, but in time recovered speech and reason.
The Mexicans were extreme Theists, worshipping many gods; but their system of mythology comprised only thirteen principal ones. Tez-cat-li-po-ca was their principal deity, next in order to the supreme and invisible God. His name means "the looking-glass," and his idol held one in his hand. This was the God of providence, the soul of the earth, the Creator of the heavens and the earth, and Lord of all things. He was represented as a youth, to indicate that time did not interfere with him. It was believed that he conferred many benefits on the good, and afflicted the evil-disposed with infirmities and troubles. They placed stones at the corners of the streets as seats for this god, upon which it was supposed he rested when fatigued; and it was unlawful for persons to seat, themselves upon them. The principal idol of this god was made of teotetl (divine stone a black volcanic stone, taking a polish siinilar to marble), and was always dressed in court dress. In the ears were gold rings, and on the lower lip was placed a green or purple feather, inserted in a crystal tube. The hair was bound with a gold cord, to which was appended ornaments of the same metal. The breast
was covered with gold; the arms were encircled by bracelets of gold; at the navel depended an emerald; and in the left hand was held a fan of gold and feathers. At other places this god was represented seated on a bank, wrapped in a scarlet robe, upon which was figured skulls and other portions of the human skeleton; in the left hand was held a skull and four arrows, and the right was raised in the attitude of throwing a dart. The body was painted black, and the head adorned with quail feathers.
The Indian elysium was ever constructed of things most agreeable here on earth. O-me-teuct-li or Cit-lal-lo-to-nae, and O-me-ci-huatl or Cit-la-li-cue, were a god and goddess, whom they believed inhabited a glorious city in heaven, where abounded every pleasure, and whence they watched over the world, and gave to mortals their respective inclinations the former directing men, and the latter the women. The Mexicans relate that this goddess had many sons, but that finally she brought forth, in childbirth, a knife made of flint, which the sons indignantly cast to the earth, but in falling it was transformed into one thousand six hundred heroes, who had a knowledge of their noble origin. These heroes finding themselves without persons to serve them, as all the human race had been destroyed by a great calamity (the Mexicans believed that there had been three universal calamities), agreed to send to their mother, asking her to create men for their service. She refused their request, but directed them to apply to Mich-lau-teuct-li, the god of hell, for one of the bones of the dead, from which, by wetting it with their own blood, would spring a man and woman to people the earth. She warned them to guard themselves against this wicked god, as he might repent having given the bone, and work them some evil. Xolotl, one of the heroes, went to the god of hell, asked for the bone and received it; whereupon he fled toward the earth, the god pursuing him. Xolotl escaped, but, falling in his flight, broke the bone into many pieces. The fragments were placed in a barrel, and sprinkled with their blood. On the fourth day a boy appeared, and on the seventh, a girl. These two children were the means of repeopling the earth.
The character of woman shared largely in their mythology. Ci-hua-coh-uatl, or Qui-laz-tli, was supposed to be the first woman who bore twins, for which she was deified. They believed she often conveyed an extra child to some man's cradle.
Their apotheosis of the sun and moon was simply this: To-na-teuh and Miz-tli (sun and moon) were worshipped by the nations of Mexico. They relate that the earth, having been repeopled as related, was ruled by these demi-gods, each of whom had his subjects. The sun having been extinguished, they all assembled (demi-gods and men) near a great fire, or volcano, when the men were informed that he who would cast himself into the flames would have the glory of being converted into the sun. A man called Na-na-huat-zin immediately cast himself in, and went to the lower regions. Waiting to see the new sun rise, they sacrificed quails, locusts, &c., near the place wherein he cast himself. The sun soon appeared in the east, rose to the zenith, and moved towards the west. Anxious lest they should again be left in darkness, they inquired of the sun why it did not stop; when they received for answer, "that it
would not stop until all of the heroes were dead." This reply occasioned them fear and grief. One of the heroes took a bow, and with it shot three arrows at the sun. The sun, irritated, cast one arrow back, splitting the forehead of Citli, who fired the arrows. Struck with consternation, and not being able to resist the sun's power, they agreed to die by the hand of Xolotl, who killed himself after having sacrificed his brothers. Before they expired, these demi-gods bequeathed their garments to their subjects. At the period of the conquest the Mexicans exhibited robes, which they said were the garments left by these said heroes. The people being saddened by the loss of their lords, the god Tezcatlipoca sent one of them to the sun for music, to use in the celebration of their feasts or worship; whence they learned to dance and to play on musical instruments. 871 Such was the origin of the use of both in the worship of their gods. The Mexicans also say that the self-sacrifice of the demi-gods led to the adoption of the human sacrifice so common among them. The origin of the moon was accounted for by a continuation of the fable. Other men, casting themselves into the fire, were converted into the moon, which was less bright, as the fire was weaker. To the sun and moon were consecrated the two temples on the plain of Yeotilenacan.
Quetzalcoatl, a serpent covered with feathers, was regarded among all the nations of Mexico as the god of air. They related that, in times past, he was a great god of Tula, was a tall, white man, with a large forehead, large eyes, black hair, and thick beard. He was rich, wise, and industrious; and first taught them the art of working and smelting metals. He, like Hiawatha in the north, 872 taught them arts, and gave them just laws, which he obeyed himself. They relate that, in his day, everything grew to a great size, and plenty reigned throughout the land, while the country was covered with birds of beautiful plumage and sweet songsters. His was a golden age. Suddenly he left his country, saying only that it was the will of the gods that he should go to the kingdom of Tlapallan, whither he was ordered to go by Tezcatlipoca, who appeared to him as an old man, and presented him with a drink, which he quaffed, hoping to become immortal. He left his country accompanied by many of his subjects. They relate that, when he arrived at Cholula, the inhabitants deposed their rulers and placed him in power. The Cholulans say that he taught them the art of smelting, for which they were so famous, gave them laws, established religious rites, and regulated their calendar. After a sojourn of twenty years at Cholula, he continued his journey in search of the imaginary kingdom of Tlapallan, taking with him four noble youths, distinguished for their virtue. When he arrived at the coast, in the province of Coatzacoalco, he sent back these four youths, with orders to say to the Cholulans that, after a time, he would return and reign over them. The youths were invested with the government, and he was deified and constituted protector of the city by the Toltecs of Cholula; in the centre of which city they erected a high mound, and on it built a
sanctuary in his honor. A mound and temple were also erected in Tula. From Cholula his worship spread throughout all the country.
Even the enemies of the government of Cholula were allowed to visit that city to worship this god. The Yucatanos prided themselves upon a supposed descent of their nobles from this deity. Sterile women appealed to him to relieve them from that disgrace. The feasts of this god, observed in the city of Cholula, were grand, and obtained great celebrity. They were preceded by a feast of eighty days, and by the practice of dreadful austerities by the priests consecrated to his service. Sigüenza believed that Quetzalcoatl was the apostle St. Thomas. It is a general belief that these people had been visited by Christians before the Conquest.
Tlaloc, or Tla-lo-cat-euct-li, lord of paradise, was the god of water. They believed that he was charged with the duty of watering the earth, and was the protector of man's property. They believed that he resided in the high mountains, where he formed the clouds, and sent them to water the earth. They often went to the tops of mountains to implore his protection. The Acolhuans, who arrived in the reign of Xolotl, relate that they found upon Mount Thaloc an idol of this god, made of a white stone, which was in the form of a man seated upon a block, with a cup in front, filled with elastic gum and seeds. This offering of gum and seeds was renewed every year. This is believed to be the most ancient idol of Mexico. It was placed where found by the Toltecs, in the beginning of the sixteenth century. One of the kings, Alcolhuacan, wishing to please his subjects, substituted for it one made of more durable stone; but the latter being disfigured by lightning, the old one was replaced in its ancient seat, where it remained until destroyed by the vanclalic hand of the Bishop of Mexico. This idol was painted blue and green, to represent the colors of water, and held in the right hand a pointed, spiral rod of gold, to represent lightning. This god was believed to be the ruler of inferior gods, and had an altar in the large temple of Mexico.
Chal-chiuh-que-ye, or Chal-chi-huit-li-cue, was the goddess of water, and wife of Thaloc. She was known by other names, and the Tlascallans called her Mat-lal-cue-ye. Her vesture was blue, and she bore the same name as the mountain near their city on which they supposed she resided, and where they worshipped. This is the goddess called, by Torquemada, Xoch-i-quet-zal.
Guih-teuct-li, lord of the year and of planets, and the god of fire, was also called Ix-coz-auh-qui, which expressed the color of the flame, and was held in high repute in Mexico. When eating or drinking, the first mouthful was spit into the fire as an offering to this god, and, at certain hours of the day, incense was burned. Every year this god was honored by two feasts, one in the seventh, and one in the seventeenth month, 873 besides one on which the magistrates renewed their obligations of office to the crown. He had a temple in Mexico, and others at various places.
Cen-teotl, the goddess of earth and of corn, was also called To-na-ca-yo-hua, she who sustains us. In Mexico five temples were dedicated to this goddess, and three feasts were observed in her honor, in the third, the eighth, and the eleventh month. No nation venerated her so much as the Totonacas, who looked upon her as their protectress, built her a temple on a high mountain, and appointed to her service many priests. They loved her, as they believed she abhorred human sacrifice, and would in time deliver them from the oppression of the other gods, that demanded human blood. The Mexicans, however, offered human victims to her.
Mict-lau-teuc-tli, god of hell, and Mict-lau-cih-natl, his wife, were renowned in Mexico. The Mexicans believed, as before stated, that they had resided in a dark abode in the centre of the earth, or at the North Pole. A temple was erected in Mexico, and dedicated to them, where they were worshipped in the seventeenth month. The principal priest, called Tlit-lau-tle-na-ma-cae, was painted black, and performed the rites to these gods in the night.
Xoal-teuc-tli, the god of night, was, in all probability, the same as Miztli, the moon. Some believed it to be the sun; others, again, that it was a distinct deity, and was worshipped as the god of sleep.
In this development of deities, childhood was not forgotten Xoal-ti-citl was the goddess of the cradle, and protector of children through the night.
No name, however, was so much honored as the
himself upon the brothers, they were soon dispatched, their houses sacked, and the spoils given to the mother. This affair struck all men with such consternation, that they called him Tet-za-huitl, the frightful, and Tet-zauh-teotl, the frightful god. They relate that this god, charged with the protection of the Mexicans, conducted them in their journeys, and finally located them where their capital was built, and where they erected the splendid temple to his honor. They appointed to this god three solemn feasts in each year, in the fifth, the ninth, and the fifteenth months, besides those held every fourth and thirteenth year, and at the end of the century. His statue was of immense size, and was seated on a block of blue stone, from the four angles of which issued great snakes. Its forehead was blue, and the face, as well as the neck, covered with a gold mark. On the head it had a beautiful plume of feathers, formed from the crests of birds; the neck was encircled by a bracelet, made of two figures similar to the human heart; in the right hand it held a blue spiral staff; and in the left, a shield, upon which were five balls of feathers, arranged in the form of a cross; and from the upper part rose a banner of gold, with four arrows, which, according to their accounts, were sent from heaven, to be used in those glorious actions for which he was famous. The body was encircled by a great serpent, and covered with figures of many animals, &c., made of gold and precious stones, each figure having some particular significance. When the Mexicans determined upon engaging in a war, they implored the protection of this god with prayers and oblations, and to him were sacrificed most of those human beings who were constantly offered.
Tla-ca-hue-pan-aux-cot-zeu, another god of war, was a younger brother and companion of Huitzilopochtli.
Pain-al-ton, the representation of activity and velocity, was a god of war and lieutenant of Huitzilopochtli. This god was appealed to in any sudden emergency.
The Aztecs and Toltecs also had gods of commerce and the chase. Xa-ca-teuct-li, the god that directs, was the presiding deity of commerce. Feasts in honor of this god were annually held in the temple in Mexico, one in the ninth and one in the seventeenth month. Human beings were sacrificed to him.
Mix-coatl, goddess of the chase, was the principal protectress of the Otomites, who were all hunters. She had two temples in Mexico. Wild beasts were sacrificed to her.
O-pocht-li, protector of fishermen, is said to have invented the net and other fishing implements. A city located on an island in Lake Chalco had a god of fishing, which was called Ami-mitl, and was probably the same god.
Huix-to-ci-huatl, god of salt, was feasted in the seventh month.
Tza-pot-lau-te-nau, was the goddess of medicine. An annual sacrifice of human beings was made to her.
Tez-cat-zou-catl, the god of wine, had other names. A temple was consecrated, and 400 priests assigned to his service in Mexico. His feast was celebrated on the thirteenth month.
Ix-tlil-ton, a god with a black face, was probably a god of medicine, as sick boys were carried to his temple to be cured.
Coat-li-cue, or Coat-lau-lo-na, was the goddess of flowers, and had a temple in Mexico called Lopico. Flowers were offered to her, and a feast was held in her honor in the third month. Some believed her to be the mother of the principal war gods.
Tla-zat-teotl was the goddess the Mexicans asked to forgive them their sins, and to save them from the reproach attached to them. The principal worshippers of this goddess were lascivious men, who violated the rites of matrimony. Boturini says this was the lewd Venus, but a native writer says she was the goddess of wedlock.
Xipe, the protector of silversmiths, was much venerated in Mexico, as they believed that all who neglected his worship were afflicted with the itch and other vile sores. The feast to this god, characterized by cruel sacrifices, was celebrated in the second month.
Nap-pa-teuct-li, the god of the potters, had two temples in Mexico, and was worshipped in the second month.
O-ma-catl was the god of fun and frolic. An image of this god was placed in a conspicuous position at all feasts given by the Mexicans, when they considered it incumbent on them to make merry.
To-nant-zin was the goddess of mothers, and probably the same as Centeotl. Her temple was located where the church of Gaudalupe now stands. 874
Te-teoi-nan, as her name indicates, was the mother of the gods. The Mexicans believed that they also descended from her. The origin of this goddess, and the sad death of a princess of Acolhuacan, have already been related. She had a temple in Mexico, and ceremonial rites were celebrated in her honor in the eleventh month. She was the protectress of the Tlascallans. Some say that the two last mentioned are the same.
Ila-ma-teuct-li, the goddess of the women, and their protectress, was feasted on the third day of the seventh month.
Te-pi-to-ton was a general name for their household gods. The king and chiefs had six, the nobles four, and the lower classes two. They had gods for every day, after whom the day was named; and also gods for nearly everything and locality. Other nations of Mexico had the same gods, though frequently known under different names, Huitzilopochtli was called Quet-zal-coatl by the Cholulans, Heuxatzincas and Centeotl by the Totonacas, and Mixcoatl by the Otomites. The Tlascallans, rivals of the Mexicans, worshipped the same gods, which they called Huitzilopactilli and Camaxtli.
Their vocabulary is instructive. Cinteotl, the goddess of corn, was the mondamin or grain spirit of the Algonquins. Coyote, meaning primarily a fox, is also applied to a small
wolf, resembling our prairie wolf. Quequecoyote becomes one of these totemic reliances, which are rather intensified objects of the imagination, than gods to be worshipped. Ocelotl is an eagle, and Quahtli a tiger; hence the gods of these names. Xolo is a monster, and Xolotl, god of monsters. Acatl is water; Patecatl, the apotheosis of a man saved from water, is a flood. Coatl is a serpent; Quetzalcoatl, the great serpent-wise man, or teacher of arts and laws. Tonatiuh is the sun; Tonatiotl, sun-god. The juice of the mayaguil personified a female with four hundred breasts. Fire, water, love, death, rain, wind, echo, mountains, and flowers, were the subjects of these mental intensifications, and furnished names which, being preserved in the memory of the priests, or in the calendar, served, in a measure, to keep the Indian mind in subjection to his superstition by a not very onerous tax. But the most monstrous and horrific of all the gods and goddesses, statues of whom were erected, was
The Toltec, and subsequently the Aztec, imagination, appears to have rioted in these personifications of passion, caprice and crime. But there was a lack of generalization; they framed no very connected system of mythology, the parts of which were strictly dependent upon each other, and constituted a whole. Even the sun, which seems, originally, to have been the prime object of worship, eventually ceased to receive their homage, except in theory; while, at the era of the conquest, the principal deity worshipped was the god of war, to whom human sacrifices were offered. The habits and manners of the people appear, at that time, to have reached their ultimate point of degeneracy; they were reported by the Spanish clergy to be steeped in moral degradation, and conversant with every monstrosity of crime. Compared to this Mexican mythology, that of the northern tribes retained greater simplicity, and freedom from the domination of the Indian priesthood. The culminating point of the system of deification adopted by both the Toltecs and the Aztecs had, in all probability, been reached from the same common basis, viz: a totemic identification of septs, bands, and tribes, mutually contending for supremacy, who assigned to their deities a local residence in the bodies of quadrupeds, birds, insects, reptiles, and other species of animated Nature, and lastly, in the bodies of men, who, under the titles of priests, seers, and prophets, made it the business of their lives to teach this system of deification, and thus to endeavor to perpetuate and strengthen their possession of the almost unlimited power they had acquired. Thus, the first effects of emancipation from barbarism, of the development of arts, employments, and manners, and of giving freedom to the power of thought, among a people who had no knowledge of divine truth, was the deification of every object and every passion. At the era of their discovery they were completely involved
in a confusion of absurd idolatrous rites, ceremonies, and beliefs. Praise is due to the Spanish priesthood, who strove to abolish every vestige of it.
The late Mr. Gallatin, in concluding an elaborate review of the collection of Lord Kingsborough, condemns the mythological part of the picture-writings as being a barren and unprofitable historical study. "The subject," he observes, "is neither attractive, nor one of great promise. It is not probable that the interpretations of the names and attributes of the deities, represented in the several codices, could throw more light on the religious creed of the Mexicans, or on its influence on their social state, than we derive from the accounts of the conquerors, and the Indian traditions collected by early writers. Their mythology, as far as we know it, presents a great number of unconnected gods, without apparent system or unity of design. It exhibits no evidence of metaphysical research or imaginative powers. Viewed only as a development of the intellectual faculties of man, it is, in every respect, vastly inferior to the religious systems of Egypt, India, Greece, or Scandinavia. If imported, it must have been from some barbarous country, and have been brought directly from such country to Mexico, since no traces of a similar worship are found in the more northern parts of America." 875
Chapter II. Religious and Mythological Opinions of the Mississippi Valley Tribes.
THE office of the Indian seer, prophet, meda, wakon, wapiya, and of the jossakeed, or powwow, was to act as negotiants (it would be a desecration to style them mediators) between the people and the Great Spirit. Hence, the great power which they have wielded throughout all periods of their history. Whether this office was hereditary or assumed, would be a vain inquiry. It does not appear to have been inherited, but rather to have been assumed by persons possessing more than ordinary mental capacity, vigor, shrewdness, or cunning, and art in practising and concealing glaring deceptions. They were aided in their craft by the outward practice of ascetic habits and fasting; by the potent influence of dreams; and by their proficiency in the art of pictography, in which a system of mixed representative, symbolic, and arbitrary signs was employed, to strengthen the popular faith in necromancy, witchcraft, and divination.
No Indian hero, warrior, speaker, or ruler, if we except Uncas, Tahgayuta, 876 Assoyawatha, 877 Skenandoa, and Thyendanagea, 878 ever attained to distinction without an appeal to this class. When the United States have been engaged in hostilities with the tribes, this has always been the most difficult power to conquer if it can be said to have ever been conquered. Had no appeal been made to the beliefs and superstitions of the Indians, Tuscaloosa, who flourished in De Soto's era, Opechanganough, of Virginia, Sassacus and Pometacom, of New England, or Wappacomigat and Pontiac, of the north-west, could not have aroused the spirit and united the forces of their tribes. Without it, Tecumseh, Osceola, and
a canoe into the seething waters of the rapids which fill the river St. Lawrence, below Lachine. Those fearful cascades have ever since retained the name of his order, and have been called the Recollet rapids.
We must not, however, in our retrospect, confound one age with another. The last half century has yielded rich fruits in return for the labor bestowed, and has clearly demonstrated the beneficial effect of patiently teaching the Indians; of which result, tribes of each of the generic Algonquin, Iroquois, and Appalachian groups, have furnished examples. But on the minds of the native hunters, who constitute the large tribes of the Dakotah and Shoshonee stocks, roving over the plains and through the forests of the West, not to mention the vast and predatory hordes of New Mexico, California, and Oregon, subsisting on the flesh of the buffalo and deer, little or no impression has been made. The Rev. Gideon H. Pond, of Minnesota, who has had experience, describes the opinions and rites of the Dakotah tribes of the prairies and plains in the following words:
"The terms by which the medicine-men are known among the Dakotahs, suggest both their character and occupation. They are these: Wicaxta Wakan (Wee-chash-tah Wah-kon), and Taku Wakan ihamnanpi (Tah-koo Wah-kon e-ham-nan-pe). The former term signifies mysterious, supernatural, or god-men; and the latter, mysterious, supernatural, or god-dreamers inspired by the gods.
"By the term ‘medicine-man,’ or
"The questions which I propose to myself in pursuing this subject, are the following, namely, WHAT ARE THE POWERS OF THE MEDICINE-MEN? HOW DO THEY COME IN POSSESSION OF THEM? and WHAT USE DO THEY MAKE OF THEM?
"It seems to be necessary, first, to advert to the Dakotah divinities, by whom the medicine-men are inspired; while, at the same time, this is a subject into which it is next to impossible to penetrate; for little can be obtained from these men concerning it, except by stratagem; and that which they do disclose is often exceedingly confused and contradictory. One will affirm, another deny, and a third, perhaps, inform you that both the others are wrong. After a residence of eighteen years among the Dakotahs, and embracing every opportunity to acquaint myself with matters of this sort, they are still, in a great measure, involved in mystery.
"The most prominent characteristic of the Dakotah deities, is that which they express by the word wakan. This word signifies, generally, any thing which a Dakotah cannot comprehend. Whatever is wonderful, mysterious, superhuman, or supernatural, is wakan. The generic name for gods is Tahuwakan, i. e. that which is wakan. The Dakotah, therefore, sees a god in everything; to use an expression of one of their most
intelligent men, ‘There is nothing which they do not revere as God.’ The chief, and, perhaps, the only difference that exists among the ten thousands of the divinities of the Dakotahs, is, that some are wakan to a greater, and others to a less degree; some for one purpose, and some for another; but wakan expresses the chief quality of them all the only quality, I believe, which the Indians deify.
"I have never been able to discover from the Dakotahs themselves, the least degree of evidence that they divide the gods into classes of good and evil; and am persuaded that those persons who represent them as doing so, do it inconsiderately, and because it is so natural to subscribe to a long-established popular opinion. I cannot believe that the Dakotahs ever distinguished the Great Spirit, or Great Wakan, as they term it, from others of their divinities, till they learned to do so from their intercourse with white men; because they have no chants, nor feasts, nor dances, nor sacrificial rites, which have any reference to such a being; or, if they have any reference to the Great Wakan, in any religious act whatsoever, there is satisfactory evidence that it is of recent origin, and does not belong to their system of religion. The acts of worship, which Carver tells us particularly that they performed to the Great Spirit, had no reference to the Deity, though that traveller doubtless thought they had. It is, indeed, true, that the Dakotahs do sometimes appeal to the Great Spirit in council with white men, but it is always as to the being whom the white man worships.
"As specimens of the supernatural beings, who, it is believed, preside over the destinies of the Dakotahs, and whose wakan qualities are imparted to the medicine-men, I will mention more particularly three or four classes of the most respectable of them.
"The Onkteri (Onk-tay-he). The signification of the name of this class of the Dakotah gods is unknown. In their external manifestation, they resemble the ox, but are very large. They can instantaneously extend their tail and horns so as to reach the skies, and these are the seat of their power. They are male and female, and propagate their kind like animals, and are mortal; which is true of all the gods of the Dakotahs. It is believed that the earth is animated by the spirit of the Onkteri goddess, while the water, and the earth beneath the water, is the dwelling-place of the male god. Hence the Dakotahs, in their addresses to the water, in religious acts, give to it the name of Grandfather, and that of Grandmother to the earth. The Onkteri have power to issue from their bodies a mighty wakan influence, which is irresistible, and which the Dakotahs term tonwan. The signification of tonwan is quite similar to that of ‘arrow,’ where it sometimes occurs in the Bible. All the gods are armed with a similar power. One of the Onkteri gods, it is believed, dwells under the falls of
fort, was carried away, with a soldier in it, who was never afterwards heard of. It is universally believed by these Indians that the whole was caused by the Onkteri, who passed down the channel of the river at the time, and that the soldier was taken by him for food, as he feeds upon human souls. The following chant, which is much used in the medicine-dance (wakan dance), shows the character of this class of the gods, in this respect:
Decoying some souls.
Let me eat him alive.’
"The sacrifices which the Onkteri requires of his worshippers, are the down of the female of the swan and goose, dyed scarlet, white cotton cloth, deer-skins, tobacco, dogs, medicine (wakan) feast, and the medicine-dance. Subordinate to the Onkteri are the serpent, lizard, frog, leech, owl, eagle, fish, spirits of the dead, &c. These gods made the earth and men, instituted the medicine-dance, &c., prescribed the manner in which earth-paints must be applied, which have a wakan virtue to protect life, and are often worn by the warrior for this purpose on the field of carnage. Among all the myriads of the Dakotah deities, the Onkteri is the most respected; and it might be said, without much exaggeration, ‘seven times a day they worship him,’ or some of the numerous gods which are his subjects.
"The Wakinyan (Wah-keen-yon). The name of this class of the gods signifies flyer, from the verb kinyan, to fly. As the night-hawk produces a hollow, jarring sound, by a peculiar motion of the wings, so the Wakinyan produces the thunder, which the Dakotahs denominate ‘the voice of the Wakinyan.’ It is said by some that there are three varieties of the external manifestations of these gods, and others say that there are four varieties; in character, however, they are but one. One of these varieties in form is black, with a very long beak, and four joints in each pinion; another is yellow, beakless, and has also four joints in each pinion, but only six quills; the third, which is of a scarlet color, is remarkable for the length of his wings, each of which contains eight joints; and the fourth is blue, globular, and has no face, eyes, nor ears; but immediately above where the face should appear, is a semicircular line, resembling an inverted half-moon, from below which project two chains of lightning, which diverge from each other as they descend. Two plumes, like soft down, coming out just above the chains of lightning, serve for wings. Each of these varieties represents a numerous race. The Wakinyan created
bear, a reindeer at the north, and a beaver at the south. Except the head, each of these watchers is enveloped in scarlet down.
"The Wakinyan are ruthless and destructive in their character, and they ever exert their mighty power for the gratification of their ruling propensity, at the expense of whatever may come in their way. The enmity which exists among all the classes or races of the gods, is like that which is seen to exist among the different Indian tribes; but the Wakinyan and Onkteri bear a particular hatred to each other, which is hereditary and deep-rooted, like that which exists between the Dakotah and Ojibwa nations, and neither can resist the tonwan of each other's wakan. It is unsafe for either to cross the other's track. The fossil remains of the mastodon, which are sometimes found by the Dakotahs, they confidently believe to be the bones of the Onkteri; and they are preserved by them most sacredly, and are universally esteemed for their wakan qualities, being used with wonderful effect as a sanative medicine. The Wakinyan are the Dakotah's chief war-gods, from whom they have received the spear and tomahawk, and those paints which will shield them from harm when exposed to the murderous weapons of their enemies.
"Takuxkanxkan (Tah-koo-shkan-shkan). This god is invisible and ubiquitous. The name signifies ‘that which stirs.’ In cunning and passion, the Takuxkanxkan exceeds any of the other gods, and has a controlling influence over both intellect and instinct. He resides in the consecrated spear and tomahawk, in boulders (which are hence universally venerated by the Dakotahs), and in the ‘Four Winds.’ The ceremony of the ‘vapor bath’ is a sort of sacrifice to this god. He is never better pleased than when men fall in battle, or otherwise. The object of that strange ceremony of the Dakotahs, in which the performer, being bound hand and foot with the greatest care, is suddenly unbound by an invisible agent, is to obtain an interview with this object of Dakotah superstition, instead of the Great Spirit, as Carver supposed when he witnessed its performance, as related in his book of travels among the Indians. Subordinate to the Takuxkanxkan, are the buzzard, raven, fox, wolf, and some other animals of a similar nature.
"The Heyoka (Hay-o-kah). Of the Heyoka, like the Wakinyan, there are said to be four external forms; but it would be tedious to particularize. They are represented as being armed with bows and arrows, and deer-hoof rattlers, into which is infused the electric fluid; and one carries a drum, which is filled with the same. For a drum-stick a Wakinyan is used, the tail serving for a handle. One of the varieties of these gods, like the Takuxkanxkan, is invisible; it is the gentle whirlwind. By the virtue of their medicines and tonwan powers, they aid men in seeking the gratification of their libidinous passions, in the chase, in inflicting diseases, and in restoring health. The traits of the Heyoka are the opposite of nature, i. e. they express joy by sighs and groans, and sorrow by laughter; they shiver when warm, and pant and perspire when cold; they feel perfect assurance in danger, and are terrified when safe; falsehood, to them,
is truth, and truth is falsehood; good is their evil, and evil their good. I might proceed with an almost endless specification of Dakotah deities, but those already mentioned will suffice for the present purpose.
"In these, and divinities like these, as various as their imaginations can create, or their wants demand, the Dakotahs find all that they desire. The abilities and powers of the gods, combined, are the abilities and powers of the wakan-men.
"How do the medicine-men come in possession of these powers?
"Dakotah wakan-rnen do not spring into existence under the ordinary operations of natural laws, but, according to their faith, these men and women (for females too are wakan) first arouse into conscious intellectual existence in the form of winged seeds, such as the thistle, and are wafted, by the intelligent influence of the Four Winds, through the aerial regions, till eventually they are conducted to the abode of some one of the Taku Wakan, by whom they are received into intimate communion. Here they remain till they become acquainted with the character and abilities of the class of gods whose guests they happen to be, and until they have themselves imbibed their spirit, and are acquainted with all the chants, feasts, dances, and sacrificial rites which the gods deem it necessary to impose on men. In this manner some of them pass through a succession of inspirations with different classes of the divinities, till they are fully wakanized, and prepared for human incarnation. Particularly they are invested with the invisible wakan powers of the gods, their knowledge and cunning, and their omnipresent influence over mind, instinct, and passion. They are taught to inflict diseases and heal them, discover concealed causes, manufacture implements of war, and impart to them the tonwan power of the gods; and also the art of making such an application of paints, that they will protect from the powers of enemies.
"This process of inspiration is called ‘dreaming of the gods.’ Thus prepared, and retaining his primitive form, the demi-god now again rides forth, on the wings of the wind, over the length and breadth of the earth, till he has carefully observed the characters and usages of all the different tribes of men; then selecting his location, he enters one about to become a mother, and, in due time, makes his appearance among men, to fulfil the mysterious purposes for which the gods designed him. It is proper, perhaps, here to state, that when one of these wakan-men dies, he returns to the abode of his god, from whom he receives a new inspiration; after which he passes through another incarnation, as before, and serves another generation, according to the will of the gods. In this manner they pass through four incarnations (four is a sacred number), and then return to their original nothingness. Thus the
"What use does he make of it?
"It would doubtless be impossible for the wakan-man to substantiate his claims with an intelligent and enlightened people, but it is not even difficult to do it among such a people as the Dakotahs. Ignorance is emphatically the mother of credulity; and no
absurdity is too great to be heartily received by an ignorant savage, when proposed by one of artful cunning; and such the persons in question generally are, who combine their talents for the benefit of the craft.
"The blind savage finds himself in a world of mysteries, oppressed with a consciousness that he comprehends nothing. The earth on which he treads teems with life incomprehensible. It is, without doubt, wakan. In the springs which never cease to flow, and yet are always full, he recognises the ‘breathing places’ of the gods. When he raises his eyes to the heavens, he is overwhelmed with mysteries; for the sun, moon, and stars are so many gods and goddesses gazing upon him. The beast which he pursues to-day shuns him with the ability of an intelligent being, and to-morrow seems to be deprived of all power to escape from him. He beholds one man seized with a violent disease, and in a few hours expire in agony; while another almost imperceptibly wastes away through long years, and then dies. One he sees prostrated with racking pain in an instant, and then as suddenly restored to ease and vigor; while another drops away unnotified of death's approach, and without any cause which he can perceive. Pains which are excruciating will seize upon one part of the body at one moment at the next, leap to another part, and then vanish. He finds himself a creature of ten thousand wants, which he knows not how to supply; and exposed to innumerable evils, which he cannot avoid. All these, and thousands of other things like these, to the Indian are tangible facts; and under their influence his character is formed. As, therefore, the tinder is susceptible of ignition, so the Indian mind is ready for deception, and hails with joy one who claims to comprehend these mysteries, to be able to contribute to the supply of all these wants, or to successfully contend with all these intolerable evils; and we are prepared to expect that the wakan-men will put bridles into the mouths of their people. To establish their claims, these men and women cunningly lay hold of all that is strange, and turn to their own advantage every mysterious occurrence. They assume great familiarity with whatever astonishes others; they foretell future events, and often with a sufficient degree of accuracy; those at one village affect to be familiar with that which is transpiring at another village, leagues distant; persons who are almost reduced to a skeleton by disease, in a day or two are as suddenly restored to perfect soundness, by their agency. When famine pinches the helpless infant and its disconsolate mother, and even the proud hunter sits down in the gloom of despair, relief often comes suddenly, in an unlooked-for, and even improbable manner, apparently through the influence of the wakan-men; or, if their efforts are for a time unsuccessful, and the suffering is protracted, it is attributed to the sins of the people. By the mental illumination of the wakan fires, obtained by almost superhuman abstinence, watchings, and efforts, they discover the movements of an enemy, wherever he may be; of which fact no doubt remains, when the little handful of warriors are led to victory by these god-men. At times, they appear to raise the storm or calm the tempest; to converse with the lightnings and the thunder, as with familiar friends;
and if one of them happens to be injured or killed by the electric fluid, it only proves the truth of all he had said concerning the Wakinyan, and his own disobedience to their mandates. To satisfy the cravings of the gods within them, these persons frequently, with great ceremony, publicly tear off with their teeth and eat the raw and bleeding flesh of slaughtered animals, like starving beasts and birds of prey; thus devouring parts of dogs, a fish entire, not excepting bones and scales; and they even quaff considerable quantities of human blood! By the performance of thousands of wonders such as those enumerated, these pretenders triumphantly substantiate their claims to inspiration, and are believed to be ‘the great powers of the gods;’ and if some are looked upon as impostors, this fact only serves to enhance the importance of those who, being more crafty, are successful. I do not know an individual Dakotah who does not yield full credence to the claims of some of these impostors; or if there are a few solitary exceptions, it must be attributed to the introduction of Christianity among them.
"As a priest, with all the assurance of an eye-witness, the wakan-man bears testimony for the divinities reveals their characters and will dictates chants and prayers institutes dances, feasts, and sacrificial rites defines sin and its opposite imposes upon the people a system of superstition to suit his own caprices, with an air of authority which may not be resisted, and with a precision which it would be difficult to exceed; a system so artful, so well adapted to the condition of the Indian, that it weaves itself into every act, is embodied in each individual, and ensures his most obsequious surrender to its demands. Sin consists in any want of conformity to, or transgression of, the arbitrary rules prescribed by the priest, or want of respect for his person; and holiness consists in conformity to these rules, and well expressed respect for the wakan-men; while the rewards and punishments are of such a nature that they may be appreciated by the grossest senses. In the capacity of a priest, the influence of the Dakotah medicine-men is so extensive and complete, that scarce an individual can be found in the nation who is not a servile religionist.
"The wakan-man as a warrior. Every Dakotah warrior looks to the wakan-man as almost his only resource. From him he receives a spear and tomahawk, constructed after the model furnished from the armory of the gods, and painted by inspiration, containing the spirit of the gods, and also those paints which serve as an armature for his body. To obtain these things, the proud applicant is required to become a servant to the Zuya-wakan, while the latter goes through those painful and exhausting performances which are necessary preparatory to the bestowment of them; such as vapor-baths, fastings, chants, prayers, &c. The implements of destruction being thus consecrated, the person who is to receive them, wailing most piteously, approaches the war-prophet and presents the pipe to him as to a god; while in the attitude of prayer, he lays his hands upon his sacred head, and penetrated with a sense of his own impotency, sobs out his request in substance as follows: ‘Pity thou one who is poor and helpless a woman in action and bestow on me the ability to perform manly
deeds.’ The prophet then presents the weapons desired, saying, ‘Go thou, try the swing of this tomahawk and the thrust of this spear, and witness the power of the god to whom they belong; but when in victory thou shalt return, forget not to perform thy vows.’ Each warrior is required to paint himself for battle in the same manner that his arms have been painted by the prophet; and may never paint in the same manner at any other time, except it may be in the performance of extraordinary religious rites. In this mariner every young man is enlisted for life into the service of the war-prophet. These weapons are preserved as sacredly by the Dakotah warriors as was the ‘ark of the covenant,’ by the Israelites. They are carefully wrapped up in a cloth cover, together with plumes and sacred pigments, and are laid outside of the tent every day, except in the storm; and may never be touched by a female who has arrived at the age of puberty. Every warrior feels that his success, both in war and hunting, depends entirely upon the strictness with which he conforms to the rules and ceremonies imposed upon him by the wakan warrior. The ‘armor feasts’ are of almost daily occurrence in the Dakotah camp, when the fruits of the chase are sufficient to supply them, at which time these arms are always religiously exhibited. Thus the influence of the
"The wakan-man as a doctor. In the capacity of a doctor, or wapiya, the influence of the Dakotah medicine-man has scarcely any limits. Health is hardly more necessary to the happiness of the Indian than the wakan-man is for the preservation of health. It is believed that they have in their bodies animals (gods), which have great powers of suction, and which serve as suction-pumps, such as the lizard, bull-frog, leech, tortoise, garter-snake, &c. Other gods confer on them vocal powers, and their chants and prayers are the gifts of inspiration. The following, inserted here as a specimen of the chants which are used by these doctors, is evidently from the wakinyan god; and the manner of the person using it is such as to impress all present that he is conscious that it expresses his own abilities.
"‘Marpiya mibeya wakanyan awakinye;
Maka cokaya ojanjanwaye.
Tatankadan maka nabaza wanke,
Miye wan iyarpewaye.’
"‘Flying god-like, I encircle the heavens:
I enlighten the earth to its centre.
The little ox lies struggling on the earth, 879
I lay my arrow to the string.’
"If the doctors are long without practice, they suffer great inconvenience from the restlessness of the gods within them. To pacify these, they sometimes take blood from the arm of some person and drink it. When one of them, having been respectfully and reverently called upon, and liberally prepaid, is about to operate upon a suffering patient ‘a little ox struggling on the earth’ he has him placed upon a blanket on the ground, in a tent, with the body chiefly naked. He also generally strips off his own clothes, except the middle-cloth. After chants, prayers, the rattling of the gourd-shell, and innumerable other trite ceremonies, and making a variety of indescribable noises, and muttering something like the following, ‘The god told me that having this, I might approach even a skeleton and set it on its feet,’ he gets down upon his knees, and applying his mouth to the affected part of the patient, sucks with an energy which would seem to be almost superhuman; the gourd-shell still rattling violently. In this manner the god which is in the doctor pumps the disease from the sufferer. After sucking thus for a considerable time, the doctor rises on his feet in apparent agony, groaning so as to be heard a mile if the atmosphere is still, striking his sides, writhing, and striking the earth with his feet so as almost to make it tremble, and holding a dish of water to his mouth, he proceeds with a sing-song bubbling to deposit in the dish that which has been drawn from the sick person. This laborious and disgusting operation is repeated, with short intervals, for hours. The operant is thus enabled not only to relieve the sufferer, but also to discover the sin on account of which he has been afflicted, the spirit of which he sees rush into the lodge, and violently lay hold of the unfortunate sinner, as if he would rend him to atoms. The doctor now makes an image of the offended animal whose enraged spirit he saw, and causes it to be shot by three or four persons in quick succession, when the god that is in him, leaping out, falls upon, not the image, but the spirit of the animal which the image represents, and kills it. Now the sick man begins to convalesce, unless other offended spirits appear to afflict him. Sometimes the doctor is overcome by these spirits and the patient dies, unless one of greater wakan powers can be obtained; for they are wakan to different degrees, corresponding to the strength of this attribute as it exists in the gods by whom they are respectively inspired. It seems to be the general impression that there are wakan-men who are able to repel any foe to health till the superior gods order otherwise; but it is difficult to obtain their aid; for if they are not properly respected at all times, and well remunerated for their services, they let the sufferers perish without exerting their power to save them; doing their work deceitfully. It is also believed that they can inflict diseases as a punishment for sins committed against themselves, and that death is often the effect of their wakan power. When they thus kill a person, they cut off the tip of his tongue and preserve it as a memento of the fact. The people stand in great fear of these medicine-men, and when sick will give all they possess, and all they can obtain on credit, to secure their services; and will often give a horse for a single performance.
They are always treated with the greatest respect, and generally furnished with the best of everything; and if there are impostors, this fact turns decidedly to the advantage of those who are believed to be true. There are from five to twenty-five of these men and women at each of the villages, most of whom have a fair reputation and considerable employment; and that, notwithstanding these Indians are now receiving so much aid from persons of our own people who follow the medical profession. I do not believe that an individual Dakotah can be found, who does not believe that these jugglers can heal diseases without the help of vegetable or mineral medicines, except as this faith has been destroyed by the introduction among them of science and Christianity; and, even at this day, the persons who do not employ them as wakan jugglers, are very few indeed.
"Thus the Dakotah wakan-men, in their various capacities, exert an influence which flows from the centre to the circumference of Dakotah society an influence which is deeply felt by every individual of the tribe, and controls all their affairs, except as it has been partially interrupted by coming in contact with civilization and Christianity; and, for reasons too obvious to need to be mentioned, they, as a class, combine their influence to oppose the introduction of knowledge generally, and religious knowledge in particular, among their people. As wakan-men, each in particular, and all together, are not only useless, but a decided and devouring curse to their nation, on whose neck, mentally and morally, they have firmly planted the iron heel of priestly despotism: and, until they are put down by the mighty operations of the Divine Spirit, through the word of Christ, they will effectually baffle any effort to elevate and civilize the Dakotahs." 880
In these superstitions of the Dakotahs, there is much to remind the historical student of the wild and incoherent theories once common among the original tropical tribes of northern Mexico. To that quarter of the continent some of the northern traditions point, as the place of their origin; from the tropics, as we are led to infer from climatic affinities, their ancestors brought the zea maize and the tobacco plant. It would appear that the Vesperic tribes made less use of the theory of demi-gods, impersonations, dryads, or wood-daemons, and stellar magic, than did the tribes who resided on the confines, and in the heart of Mexico; and we should incline to this belief, did we not perceive in the legends and lodge stories of the northern tribes, which are frequently related as creations of imagination, that demigods, giants, wizzards, and spirit-craft, in all its wildness, constituted a prominent part of the poetic machinery of their legendary lore. 881
Chapter III. Algonquin Mythology and Superstitions.
TO convey some idea of the mythology, beliefs, and superstitions of the Algonquins, it is necessary to remark, that they (and here is a strong point of analogy between them and the ancient idol worshippers) conceive the universe to be filled with invisible spirits. This spirit-life the Indians believe bears the same relation to matter that the soul does to the body. The Algonquins regard spiritual matter as infinitesimal, and believe a soul alike pervades all animate creation, the brute as well as the human. They believe that every animal has a soul; and the necessary consequence is, as might be expected, no distinction is made by them between the impulses of instinct and the powers of reason. Every animal is supposed to be endowed with a reasoning faculty; and the movements of birds, beasts, reptiles, insects, as well as of every other class of the brute creation, are deemed to be the result, not of mere instinctive animal impulses, implanted and limited by the Creator, without power to exceed or enlarge them, but of a process of ratiocination. According to their theory, a bear reasons as well as a man. They even go a step farther, and believe that animals, particularly birds, can see into, and are familiar with, futurity, and with the vast operations progressing in the arcana of spiritual life. Hence the great respect they pay to birds, as agents of omen; and also to some quadrupeds whose souls they expect to encounter in another world. Nay, it is a settled belief among the northern Indians, that animals will fare better in another sphere, in the precise ratio that their lives and enjoyments have been curtailed in this world. Herein will be perceived what we shall, for the sake of being understood, call the sensuality of spirituality that is, material things made spiritual, and then degraded to the position of sensual accidents. The spiritual world of the Indian is not, therefore, such in a piatistic sense, but merely as opposed to materiality.
In these leading doctrines of an oral, and of course varied school, may be perceived the groundwork of their mythology, and the general motives which operate on the Indian mind, in selecting birds and beasts as personal manetos. Maneto is simply a synonyme for spirit, and there is neither a good nor a bad meaning attached to the word, when not governed by some adjective, or qualifying expression. Not only
are all animate objects regarded as endowed with the powers of spirits, but, as the language provides inflections of its words, through the use of which all inanimate objects may, by grammatical transformations, be invested with supposititious life, the whole inanimate creation comes under the rule; including, as prominent agents, the class of aerial fluids, mists, clouds, and exhalations; the rays of the sun and moon, the light of the stars, and all electric phenomena. To these must be superadded the countless creations of a fertile imagination, in order to comprehend the multiplicity and variety of objects comprised in the Indian mythology. The classification of subordinate spirits into good and bad, is remarkably vague, and as various as the minds of individuals; for, the same object which one deems to be propitious, another will consider baneful. The intention of the person by whom these objects are worshipped, or invoked, being the only rule of classification, bad men among them, who follow soothsaying, and practise the arts of the meta, the wabena, and the jossakeed, have a very wide field from which to select, and, by a little ingenuity, can so manage their resources as to bring a large circle under their influence. We learn, from the confessions of Chusco, 882 that the theory of the art practised by these men teaches, that the evil spirit imparts energy to whatever object is assumed as a personal maneto, and becomes, as he distinctly announced to us, the animating soul of that object. It could hardly be conceived that the idea of a universal spirit could be carried to a greater extreme of latitudinarianism and sensuality; yet, it may be asked, what more benign result could have been expected, or can now be anticipated, from an ignorant and wandering people, subject to innumerable external wants, and exposed to countless trials, without the guidance of the Light of Revelation? Mr. Pond remarks that the Dakotahs have no duality in the class of wakans.
Some of their mythological subjects are adapted to, and might become, the theme of poetic effusions, by that peculiar license accorded to the imagination of the ancient poets. Manabozho may be considered as a sort of terrene Jove, who, though he lived on the earth, could perform all things, and excelled particularly in feats of strength and manual dexterity, yet feared manitos. He survived a deluge, which is spoken of in their mythology; having climbed to the summit of a high mountain, where he remained until the subsidence of the waters. The four cardinal points are personified, and the winds from each of these points are each assigned a distinctive government. The west, called Kabean, is regarded as the oldest, and east, north, and south are considered to be his sons by a maid, who incautiously exposed herself to the west wind. Iagoo is the god of the marvellous, and to him is referred the paternity of many most extravagant tales concerning forest and domestic adventures. Kwasind, a counterpart of Samson, uplifted and hurled from him a huge mass of rock, such as the Cyclops cast at Mentor. Weeng, the god of sleep, is represented to have numerous small emissaries at his command. He
reminds us of Pope's creation of gnomes, wielding a tiny club, who clamber upon the foreheads of individuals and cudgel them to sleep. Paugak personifies death. It would be easy to extend this enumeration of personages; but those named will serve to indicate the character of this class of supposititious beings, who constitute the familiar personifications of conversation. There is no character of sacredness attached to them, nor are they worshipped in any manner.
Dreams they consider to be a medium of direct communication with the spiritual world; and hence the great influence which they exert over the Indian mind. They are considered as beneficent indications made to them by their personal gods. An entire army will retrace its steps if the dreams of the officiating priest are unfavorable. To give a character of greater solemnity to his office, the carved or stuffed images of animals, charms, and bones, constituting the sacred reliquoe, are placed in a sack, and never exhibited to the common gaze, except under the most imperative circumstances. To profane the medicine-sack would be like violating the altar. Dreams are objects of solicitude to every Indian youth, who assiduously seeks to produce them by fasting. These fasts are sometimes continued a great number of days, until the devotee becomes pale and emaciated. Those animals, the images of which impress themselves on the mind of the dreamer, are assumed as personal spirits, and are ever after regarded as guardians. This ceremony of fasting and dreaming is deemed as essential by them, as the observance of any religious rite whatever would be by Christians.
The naming of children has an intimate connection with this supposed mythological agency. Names are usually bestowed by some aged person, a relative or not, who acts under the presumed guidance of his favoring spirit or spirits. Names are commonly derived from aerial phenomena, or from the classes of animate creation. Little Thunder, Bright Sky, Big Cloud, Spot in the Sky, Spirit Sky, are common appellations. The names thus bestowed with ceremony in childhood are deemed sacred, and are seldom pronounced, from an apparent belief that it would be displeasing to the spirits under whose supposed influence the name had been selected. In the family circle, the children are usually called by some other name, which can be familiarly used. By the mother, a male child is usually denominated bird, or young one, or old man, as terms of endearment; or bad boy, evil doer, &c., in the way of light reproach; and these appellations frequently adhere to the individual through life. But the name solemnly bestowed at the time assigned therefor, when there is usually a family feast, is seldom or never uttered by the parents, who content themselves by saying "my son," "my elder or younger son," or "my elder or younger daughter," for which the language has separate words. When an individual is asked his name he is reluctant to mention it; a fact noticed by all writers. If pressed, his real name is stated by some third person; or, if he attempts compliance himself, he commonly gives his soubriquet.
The Indian "art of mystery," applied to hunting, is a tissue of necromantic reliances.
The personal spirits are invoked to promote success in the chase. Their images are often carved in wood, or drawn, by the metais, on tabular pieces of wood; and the mystic medicines, applied to these images, or figures, are supposed to operate in such manner on the animal sought for, that he voluntarily enters the hunter's path. When the animal has been killed, the Indian feels that, although it is an authorized and lawful prey, yet there is something like accountability, not to God, but to the animal's soul. An Indian has been known to ask the pardon of an animal he has just killed in the chase. Drumming, shaking the rattle, and dancing, are the common accompaniments of all their superstitious observances, and are not peculiar to one kind alone. In the wabena dance, which is esteemed by the Indians the most latitudinarian,
The system of maneto-worship is marked by another peculiarity, which has an intimate bearing on Indian history, as illustrative of character. During the fast, ceremonies, and dances, by which a warrior prepares himself for active participation in the toils and duties of war, everything that savors of effeminacy is discarded. The spirits which preside over bravery and war are alone relied on, and these are supposed to be offended, if the votaries pay attention to objects less stern and manly than themselves. It would be considered a complete desecration if a warrior, while engaged in war, would profess any other than Platonic love for an individual of the opposite sex. We think this principle has not been duly estimated, in the general award of praise which history bestows on the chastity of Indian warriors. It is not alone purity of thought, or an innate phlegmatic temperament, which has caused him to pursue a course of honorable respect to female character; but he has also felt a fear of offending his warlike manetos, and of exciting the ridicule of his companions. We would record the fact in his favor, and award him as full a meed of praise as has been already done.
The mental traits of the Indians constitute a topic which we do not intend to discuss; but it must be manifest that some of the fundamental peculiarities of their intellectual organization are developed by their system of mythology, and superstitious observances. War, public policy, hunting, strength, courage, abstinence, and endurance under seffering, form the principal topics of their oratorical efforts. These are deemed the appropriate themes of men and warriors. But there is also a domestic theatre for intellectual display, where the Indian mind unbends itself, and reveals some of its less obvious traits. We have had occasion to observe, that their best and most popular speakers are referred to as standards of purity in language, and models for imitation in the mode of pronunciation and intonation, so closely observed. Their public speakers cultivate a particular branch of oratory; but they appear to have an accurate ear for the rythm of a sentence, and a delight in rounding off a period: the language affords great facilities for this purpose, by its long and stately words, and multiform inflections. A current of thought, a lofty style, is observable in their public speaking, which is not
developed in private conversation. Hence it is, that those among them who excel in private conversation, are not always orators. They generally become, however, where a good memory accompanies the gift, the oral chroniclers of the tribe, and collect all their floating fables and tales. In the rehearsal of these, transformations are frequently relied upon as the groundwork of the fable; and some of them are as accurately adapted to the object of amusement, or instruction, as if Ovid himself had been consulted in their production. According to their notions, several animals had other forms, in their first stages of existence, which they lost, rather by the power of necromancy, than by transmigration. The evening star, it is fabled, was formerly a woman. A small boy became one of the planets. Three brothers, travelling in a canoe, were transformed into stars. The fox, the robin, the mouse, and numerous other animals, retain places in Indian astronomy. It is a coincidence, worthy of note, that Ursa Major is called by them the Bear. The earth is also a fruitful theatre of transformations. A shell, lying on the shore, was changed into the raccoon; the present name of which animal, aisebun, signifies shell, with the inflection indicating the past tense; for it is one of the peculiarities of the language, that nouns, as well as verbs, admit of tensal forms. The brains of an adultress were converted into the addikumaig, or white fish. This power of transformation was variously exercised, but most commonly possessed by magicians, of whom Manabosho retains much celebrity in story, as the magician of the lakes. He had a magic canoe, which would rush forward through the water, on the utterance of a charm, at a speed outstripping even that detailed in "Wacousta," in the miraculous canoe-journey. Hundreds of miles were traversed in so many minutes. The charm which he employed consisted of a monosyllable, containing one consonant, which does not belong to the language. The word has no definable meaning; so that the language of magic and daemonology has one feature in common, in all ages, and with every nation. To be at the same time a demigod and magician, was consistent with Indian ideas.
The intellectual creations of the Indians admit of the agency of giants and fairies. Their giants, termed ween-degos, were generally cannibals, who devoured men, women, and children. Their fairies comprise two classes, into which they are divided according as the location of their haunts is either on the land, or in the water. The favorite residence of their land fairies is the vicinity of promontories and water-falls, and in solemn groves. Besides furnishing a habitation for its appropriate class of fairies, the water is supposed to be the residence of an animal called nibau-auba, which has its counterpart, except as to sex, in the mermaid. The Indian word indicates a male. Ghosts are the ordinary subjects of their tales of terror and mystery. There is a glimmering of the doctrine of retributive justice, in the belief that ghosts can live in fire, and that this is one of the frequent modes of their manifestation.
As we have partially entered on the subject of Indian intellect, as influenced by popular superstition, it would be but a natural transition to an examination of some of
the considerations which their existing ceremonies and institutions furnish, to countenance the belief of their Ephraimitic origin, which is a theory of the old divines, who had not, however, access to the best means of supporting it. But the limits of this article do not admit of it. Enough has been stated regarding them to indicate their claims on the benevolent and high-minded classes of the community. We will not say these claims press exclusively on the American churches, as the tribes are objects of their strenuous efforts; although we may, in the sequel, advert to some considerations which should have great weight with them, in view of their responsibilities to the heathen tribes of our own land as distinguished from those of the Asiatic continent.
Chapter IV. Indian Theory of the Action of the Mind During Sleep.
DREAMS exert a more marked influence on the religious opinions and acts of the Indians than any other operating cause. Two terms are used to express the word "dream" in the Algonquin language. Inâbundum refers to that panorama of sensations presented to the mental vision during sleep. The apowa, as contradistinguished from this, is a vision, or sacred dream.
Dreams being generally regarded as revelations, are sought to be procured by abstinence and fasts. Among every class they are anxiously courted, and are explained by the medas and jossakeeds, wise men, who constitute, in Indian society, the learned class. Youth and age alike pay respectful deference to these nocturnal warnings; and, when the male youth attain the age of puberty, revelations of this kind are sought with much solicitude, and their advent promoted by rigorous fasts. As at this time a guardian spirit must be chosen for life, these fasts are continued for several days; no nourishment at all being taken, with the exception of water; and, as the fast constitutes a period of ceremonial and religious trial, the parents of the youth do everything in their power to encourage him to perseverance. Under the operation of these causes, some object in animate nature is usually presented to the imagination in an inviting manner. This animal is adopted as the guardian or personal maneto of the individual during life. This spirit is not, however, the Indian's totem, or symbol of the family tie, or clanship (which is also generally the figure of some bird or animal), but exclusively a personal maneto.
The jebi is a ghost or apparition, and the mind is called inaindum. Otchichaug is the soul, or semblance of the human frame or organization, after its dissolution. The three terms are, therefore, not convertible, or synonymous. But the action of the soul is inseparable from the operation of dreams. It is an opinion of the Indians I know not how universal that there are duplicate souls, one of which remains with the body, while the other is free to depart on excursions during sleep. After the death of the body, the
nightly, for four days the period allowed for the person to reach the Indian elysium. This practice, which is common, it is believed, to all the Algonquins, is of a very impressive character. The scene is represented in the accompanying plate. 883
Having requested a Chippewa Indian to explain the duality of the soul; "It is known," he replied, "that, during sleep, while the body is stationary, the soul roams over wide tracts of country, visiting scenes, persons, and places at will. Should there not be a soul, at the same time, to abide with the body, it would be as dead as earth, and could never reappear in future life." The theory of the sensations experienced by the mind during sleep, and the operation of the flitting train of active memories and fancies, has been frequently described in highly refined and imaginative language; but this ingenious mode of detailing its operation is, it is believed, the first attempt of the kind ever made by an Indian.
Chapter V. Iroquois Cosmogony.
THE interpretation of an Iroquois tradition requires a great degree of caution, there being always something concealed by metaphor, or to be explained by after investigation. The mental reservations of the Indian are numerous, and his communications always clothed in figurative language. Still greater circumspection is requisite where the object of research is confessedly mythological, or relates to mysterious agencies. Subjoined, is a copy of a written mythology of the Six Nations, from the pen of the late James Dean, Esq., of Oneida county, New York. Mr. Dean had, from the period of his boyhood, passed his life among the Oneidas, spoke their language fluently, was familiar with their manners and customs, and ever enjoyed their respect and regard. In introducing a paper which is rather marked by plain understanding than by imaginative or descriptive power, it may be observed that no effort has been made to re-construct it, and no change whatever made, which has not been deemed essential to the explanation of the Indian theory.
"An unlimited expanse of water once filled the space now occupied by the world we inhabit. Here was the abode of total darkness, which no ray of light ever penetrated. At this time the human family dwelt in a country situated in the upper regions of the creation, abounding in everything conducive to the comfort and convenience of life. The forests were full of game, the lakes and streams swarmed with fish and fowl, while the earth and fields spontaneously produced a profusion of vegetables for the use of man. An unclouded sun enlivened their days, and storms and tempests were unknown in that happy region.
"The inhabitants were strangers to death, and its harbingers, pain and disease; while their minds, freed from the corroding passions of jealousy, hatred, malice, and revenge, were perfectly happy.
"At length, however, an event occurred which interrupted their tranquillity, and introduced care and anxiety, till then unknown. A certain young man, of high position, was observed to withdraw himself from the circle of their social amusements. The solitary recesses of the grove became his favorite walks; care and chagrin were depicted
in his countenance; and his body, from long abstinence, presented to the view of his friends the mere skeleton of a man. Anxious friends again and again vainly solicited to know the cause of his grief, until, debilitated both in body and mind, he yielded to the importunities of his associates, and promised to disclose the cause of his troubles, on condition that they would dig up by the roots a certain white pine tree, lay him on his robes near the edge of the hole, and seat his wife by his side. Complying with his request, all were ready, and the fatal tree was taken up by the roots, in doing which the earth was perforated, and a passage opened to the abyss below. The robe was placed by the side of the opening, and the youth laid thereon; his wife taking her seat by his side. The multitude, eager to learn the cause of such strange and unusual conduct, pressed around; when, on a sudden, to their horror and astonishment, he seized upon the woman, then enciente, and precipitated her headlong into the darkness below; then, rising from the ground, he informed the assembly that he had for some time suspected the chastity of his wife, and that having now disposed of the cause of his mental suffering, he should soon recover his usual health and vivacity. All the birds and amphibious animals which now inhabit the earth, then occupied the watery waste, to which the woman in her fall was hastening.
"The loon first discovered her coming, and called a council to prepare for her reception. Observing that the animal which approached was a human being, they knew that earth was indispensably necessary for her accommodation. The first subject of deliberation was, who should support the burden. The sea bear first presented himself for a trial of his strength. Instantly the other animals gathered around, and seated themselves on his back; but the bear, unable to support the weight, sunk beneath the surface of the water, and was judged by the whole assembly unequal to the task of supporting her, and her prerequisite, the earth. Several others in succession presented themselves as candidates for the honor, and with similar ill-success. Last of all, the turtle modestly advanced, tendering his broad shell as the basis of the earth, now about to be formed. The beasts then made trial of its strength to bear weight, and finding their united pressure unable to sink the turtle below the surface, adjudged to him the honor of supporting the world. A foundation being thus provided, the next subject of deliberation was, how to procure earth. It was concluded that it must be obtained from the bottom of the sea. Several of the most expert divers went in quest of it; and uniformly, when they rose to the surface of the water, they were dead. The mink at length took the dangerous plunge, and, after a long absence, his carcass floated to the surface. By a critical examination, a small quantity of earth was discovered in one of his claws, which he had scratched from the bottom. This being carefully preserved, was placed on the back of the turtle. In the meantime, the woman continued falling, and at length alighted on the back of the turtle. The earth had already grown to the size of a man's foot, when she stood with one foot covering the other. Shortly after she had room for both feet, and was soon able to sit down. The
earth continued to expand, and soon formed a small island, skirted with willow, and other aquatic plants and shrubbery; and at length it stretched out into a widely-extended plain, interspersed with rivers and smaller streams, which, with gentle current, rolled forward their tributary waters to the ocean. Ataheritsic, 884 the woman, then repaired to the sea-shore, erected a habitation, and settled in her new abode. Not long after she became the mother of a daughter, and was supported by the spontaneous productions of the earth until the child arrived at adult years. She was then selected in marriage by several animals, changed into the form of young men. The loon first presented himself as a suitor, in the form of a tall, well-dressed, fine-looking young man. After due consultation with the mother, his suit was rejected. Several others presented themselves, and were rejected by the mother; until, at length, the turtle, with his short neck, short bandy legs, and humped back, offered himself as a suitor, and was received. After she had laid herself down to sleep, the turtle placed upon her abdomen two arrows in the form of a cross, one headed with a flint, the other with the rough bark of a tree, and took his leave. She, in due time, became the mother of two sons, called, in Iroquois, Yoskiki and Thoitsaron, 885 but died in giving them birth. When the time arrived that the children should be born, they consulted together about the best mode of egress from their place of confinement. The youngest determined to make his exit by the natural passage, whilst the other resolved to take the shortest route, by breaking through the walls of his prison; in effecting which he consequently destroyed his mother, thus giving the first evidence of his malignant disposition. The grandmother, enraged at her daughter's death, resolved to destroy the children, and, taking them in her arms, threw them both into the sea. Scarcely had she reached her wigwam, when the children appeared at the door. The experiment of drowning them was several times repeated, but in vain.
"Discouraged by her ill success, she determined to let them live. Then, dividing the corpse of her daughter into two parts, she threw them upwards towards the heavens, when the upper part became the sun and the lower part the moon, which is the reason why the latter has always presented the form of the human face. Then began the succession of day and night in our world. The children speedily became men, and expert archers. The elder, whose name, in Oneida, was Thau-wisk-a-lau (a term expressive of the greatest degree of malignity and cruelty), had the arrow of the turtle pointed with flint, and killed with it the largest beasts of the forest. The younger, whose name, in the same dialect, was Tau-lou-ghy-au-wan-goon (a name denoting unbounded goodness and benevolence), had the arrow headed with bark. The former was, on account of his malignant disposition, and his skill and success in hunting, a favorite with his grandmother. They lived in the midst of plenty, but would not
permit the younger brother, whose arrow was not sufficiently powerful to destroy anything but birds, to share in their abundance. As this young man was one day wandering along the shore, he saw a bird, perched upon a bough projecting over the water. He attempted to kill it; but his arrow, till that time unerring, flew wide of the mark and sank in the sea. He determined to recover it; and, swimming to the place where it fell, plunged to the bottom. Here, to his astonishment, he found himself in a small cottage. A venerable old man, who was sitting in it, received him with a smile of fraternal complacency, and thus addressed him: ‘My son, I welcome you to the habitation of your father. To obtain this interview, I have directed all the circumstances which have conspired to bring you hither. Here is your arrow, and here is an ear of corn, which you will find pleasant and wholesome food. I have watched the unkindness both of your grandmother and your brother. While he lives, the earth can never be peopled; you must, therefore, take his life. When you return home, you must traverse the whole earth; collect all the flint-stones into heaps which you find, and hang up all the bucks'-horns. These are the only things of which your brother is afraid, or which can make any impression upon his body, which is made of flint. They will furnish you with weapons, always at hand, wherever he may direct his course.’ Having received these and other instructions from his father, he returned to the world, and began immediately to obey his father's directions. This being done, the elder at length resolved on a hunting excursion. On their way to the hunting-ground, he inquired of the younger what were the objects of his greatest aversion. He informed him (falsely) that there was nothing so terrific to him as beech-boughs and bulrushes, and inquired in turn of Thau-wisk-a-lau what he most dreaded; he answered, nothing so much as flint-stones and bucks'-horns, and that nothing else could injure him; and that lately he had been much annoyed by them wherever he went. Having arrived at their place of destination, the elder went in quest of game, leaving the younger to attend to the menial occupation of erecting his hut, and preparing such other accommodations as he required. After an absence of some time, he returned exhausted with fatigue and hunger. Having taken a hearty repast, prepared by his brother, he retired to his wigwam to sleep; and when he had fallen into a profound slumber, the younger kindled a large fire at its entrance. After a time, the elder found himself extremely incommoded by the heat; and the flinty materials of his body, expanding by its intensity, were exploding in large scales from his carcass. In a great rage, and burning with revenge, he broke through the fire in front of the hut, hastened to a neighboring beech, armed himself with a large bough, and returned to chastise and destroy his brother. Finding that his repeated and violent blows had no effect upon his brother, who pelted him with flint-stones and belabored him with bucks'-horns, which caused the flinty scales to fall from his body in copious showers, he betook himself to a neighboring marsh, where he supplied himself with a bundle of bulrushes, and returned to the contest, but with the same want of success. Finding himself deceived, and failing of his purpose, he sought
safety in flight. As he fled, the earth trembled. A verdant plain, bounded by the distant ocean, lay before him; behind him, the earth sunk in deep valleys and frightful chasms, or rose into lofty mountains or stupendous precipices. The streams ceased to roll forward their waters, and, bursting their barriers, poured down the cliffs in cataracts, or foamed through their rocky channels to the ocean. The younger brother followed the fugitive with vigorous steps, and wounded him continually with his weapons. At length, in a far distant region, beyond the savannahs of the west, he breathed his last, and loaded the earth with his flinty form. 886
"The great enemy of the race of the turtle being destroyed, they came up out of the ground in human form, and for some time multiplied in peace and spread extensively over its surface. 887 Atahentsic, the grandmother, roused to furious resentment for the loss of her darling son, resolved to be revenged. For many days successively, she caused the rain to descend in torrents from the clouds, until the whole surface of the earth, and even the highest mountains, were covered. The inhabitants fled to their canoes, and escaped the impending destruction. The disappointed grandmother then caused the rains to cease, and the waters to subside, when the inhabitants returned to their former places of abode. She then determined to effect her purpose in another manner, and covered the earth with a deluge of snow. To escape this new evil they betook themselves to their snow-shoes, and thus eluded her vengeance. Chagrined at length by these disappointments, she gave up the idea of destroying the whole human race at once, and determined to wreak her vengeance upon them in a manner which, although less violent, should be more efficacious. Accordingly, she has ever since been employed in gratifying her malignant disposition, by inflicting upon mankind all those evils which are suffered in this present world. Tarenyawagon, in Oneida, Tau-lou-ghy-au-wan-goon, on the other hand, displays the infinite benevolence of his nature by bestowing on the human race the blessings they enjoy, all of which flow from his bountiful providence. This personage afterwards dwelt among his brethren under the name of Hiawatha. The name Tarenyawagon, literally translated, is ‘the Holder, or Supporter of the Heavens.’ Hiawatha was the minister of Tarenyawagon, and agent of his good will to mankind."
Schoolcraft, Henry Rowe.. History of the Indian Tribes of the United States: Their Present Condition and Prospects, and a Sketch of Their Ancient Status. Volume 6. . Philadelphia: Lippincott, Grambo and Co, 1857. [format: book; image], [genre: government document; report]. Permission: Northern Illinois University
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