November 9, 2021
* This story comes from the book American Folklore and Legend by Reader’s Digest. These are not my words…
“Iroquoian myth has it that a race of man-eating Stone Giants terrorized men long, long ago. That is, until the Creator stamped them out in a cataclysm. A lone survivor escaped and periodically sent disease on the people. The features of this being were frozen in a wide eyed, open mouthed grimace, as if screaming in pain, to look on it was instant death.
“It was once the fate of a hunter, taking refuge from a hailstorm, to meet the creature in its cave. A voice boomed out in the dark, “Young warrior, beware! No human being has ever looked at me. I kill with one glance. You did not come to hunt me, so I will spare your life which is mine now. Hence forth, you must obey my commands. Be wise and learn how disease is healed…”
“The hunter fell asleep and dreamed he saw, issuing from the Stone Giants head, a race of horrible beings, disease spirits in the shape of flying heads, whose faces bore expressions of delirium and agony. He woke up at the foot of a basswood tree, and as he gazed at the wrinkly patterns of the bark the tree slowly turned into a great mask and taught him its power: it could see behind the stars, it could create storms, summon sunshine, and remedy sickness and poisoning. The mask said: “My tree, the basswood, is soft and porous; the sunlight can enter its darkness, the wind can whisper to its stillness, and it sees and hears. My wood is the life of Its Face, of all the forest there is no other.”
“So the hunter carved the first False Face in the trunk of the living basswood, and the tree’s life entered the mask. Then propitiating its spirit with an offering of tobacco, he gouged the mask out of its trunk. Years later, after many travels and adventures, the hunter returned home, founded the False Face Society, and instructed the first hand in its ceremonies and ritual.
“Ever since, False Face Society members have acted as healers and purifiers at certain feasts and have mobilized to drive away sickness. During an epidemic, False Faces guard each spring of water and march from lodge to ledge, taking from the inhabitants sweet corn mush and a strong decoction of sunflower seeds as they propitiate the Disease Spirit with clouds of tobacco smoke that are laden with their requests for deliverance.
“Every New Year, they crawl on all fours into the longhouse among the assembled people, making very loud grunting noises and a sound likened to the bubbling of liquid metal. Persons desiring a cure – or a renewal of a previous cure – go to the healers gathered at the wood stove. With loud glugs and grunts they grab the patient, while reaching into the embers for embers for handfuls of hot ashes, which they smear on the patients body from head to toe, with special attention to the joints, which they massage vigorously with strong, ecstatic hands. Periodically, they rush to and fro, flinging ashes and embers across the floor, then stamping them out in a terrific din of rattlings and gruntings and loud groans. Neither they, nor anyone else, ever takes notices of the scars and blisters on their hands…as healers they are immune to fire. The head of the society is a woman; she has been given the title ‘Keeper of the Masks’.”
longhouse interior and exterior examples
some info from Religion, the False Face Society :The False Face Society was an Iroquois healing group; they knew they couldn’t kill a bad spirit, their job was to scare the bad spirits away
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