Friday, November 17, 2017

Iroquois False Face Society Mask

The False Face Society is probably the best known of the medicinal societies among the Iroquois, especially for its dramatic wooden masks. The masks are used in healing rituals which invoke the spirit of an old hunch-backed man. Those cured by the society become members. Also, echoing the significance of dreams to the Iroquois, anyone who dreams that they should be a member of the society may join.

Iroquois oral history tells the beginning of the False Face tradition. According to the accounts, the Creator Shöñgwaia'dihsa'ih ('our creator' in Onondaga), blessed with healing powers in response to his love of living things, encountered a stranger, referred to in Onondaga as Ethiso:da' ('our grandfather') or Hado'ih (IPA: [haduʔiʔ]), and challenged him in a competition to see who could move a mountain. 

Ethiso:da' managed to make the mountain quake and move but a small amount. Shöñgwaia'dihsa'ih declared that Ethiso:da' had power but not enough to move the mountain significantly. He proceeded to move the mountain, telling Ethiso:da' not to look behind him. Turning his head quickly out of curiosity, the mountain struck the stranger in the face and left his face disfigured. Shöñgwaia'dihsa'ih then employed Ethiso:da' to protect his children from disease and sickness. But knowing the sight of Ethiso:da' was not suitable for his children's eyes, Shöñgwaia'dihsa'ih banished him to live in underground caves and great wooded forests, only to leave when called upon to cure or interact through dreams. Hado'ih then became a great healer, also known as "Old Broken Nose."

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