Thursday, August 23, 2012

The Red Record: The Wallum Olum: Oldest Native North American History (???)

Book Review: The Red Record: The Wallum Olum: The Oldest Native North American History – translated and annotated by David McCutchen (Avery Publishing Group 1989)

Before I read this book and began the review – I was unaware of the disputed authenticity of the Wallum Olam.

At first glance, this is a remarkable and apparently not well-known hieroglyphic and written/oral history of the Lenni Lenape, or Delaware tribe. This history would include the history of all Algonquian-language family tribes stretching from Western Canada to the Atlantic. The Delawares, or Lenape, are often called the “grandfathers” so they are perhaps the history-keepers of this whole lineage. The author presents some interesting supporting data to the migrational history which is recounted here. He not only utilizes the Wallum Olum itself but also legends and known histories of the Delaware and their many relative tribes, such as the Shawnee and Ojibwe (Chippewa) as well as legends from other tribes.

It is stated that the Wallum Olum is the only surviving pre-Columbian written history north of Mexico. The author mentions that the Natchez tribe of Mississippi (possibly the remnants of the Talega, or mound-builders, driven southward) were also said to have a written history and lineage of kings until it was destroyed by the French in the mid-1700’s. The Wallum Olum is written in both words and in symbols. The symbols resemble some current Algonquian symbols.

The author lists the story of the circumstances of the discovery of this document and how the document supposedly came into the hands of Constantine Samuel Rafinesque circa 1830’s. There is now good evidence that this document is a fraud perpetrated by Rafinesque. The whole story can be accessed through the Wiki article. Apparently, this book by McCutcheon and the authenticity of the Wallum Olam were both endorsed by Lenape elders as it had been for the most part for 150 years – but not without some controversy.  But in the late 1990’s there was detailed ethnographic analysis done on Rafinesque’s original manuscripts and it was determined that Rafinesque conceived and presented it as an elaborate hoax. Crazy ideas about mound-builders and ancient Native Americans abounded in the 1800’s. Much of it centered on the Lost Tribes of Israel and in vogue arrogant notions that the ignorant natives that we are rightfully subjugating could not have produced works of art of this caliber. Rafinesque may have had other motives. He did present a migration scheme that has some plausibility. He also presented the migrating tribes encounters with moundbuilder cultures – specifically those at Cahokia Mound area near St. Louis. He depicted their migration from Siberia. These ideas may have been promoted by Rafinesque as a way to substantiate his own ideas of Native American migration – several of which are considered correct these days, generally speaking. One interesting thing is that linguistics confirms that proto-Algic and proto-Algonquin languages proceded from west to east across Canada and later southward to the Ohio Valley.  It is also now widely thought that these central Algonquians such as the Ojibwe, Shawnee, Miami, Potatomi, and others may be the descendents of the Adena-Hopewell aged moundbuilding cultures.

Hoaxes of this sort fill the archaeological theories of 1800’s North America. Belief in the origins of humans from biblical ideas and the flood of Noah was still considered scientifically valid at the time. Some people still choose to believe in the authenticity of the Wallum Olum but most certainly as the Wiki article reads – the burden of proof is on them. After the spread of serious doubt through scientific analysis in the late 90’s the Lenape elders officially withdrew their endorsement of the record.

Some of the ethnological proof of hoax has to do with Rafinesque’s notes regarding the Algonquian language. Recently, I learned of the similarities of the accounts to Joseph Smith’s Book of Mormon. One fellow in an on-line group in which I participate thinks that Rafinesque was Jewish but sought to hide that fact and perpetrated the whole thing as a clever parody of the Book of Mormon - which apparently is known to have anti-Semitic sentiments. Rafinesque was brilliant, a child prodigy, a master of languages, and known to be rather eccentric. He was also broke. In any case, I did enjoy reading the book. When I read it, of course, I took it in good faith that the text was authentic. Now I see the evidence in favor of hoax and the lack of evidence in favor of authenticity.

The author, McCutcheon presents facets of the text, the hieroglyphs, migration patterns, and the list of chiefs that can seem quite plausible. He also constructed many maps that support the stories of places in the text. He also managed to integrate lore from the many scattered Algonquian-speaking tribes. All this interweaving gives the book a sense of plausibility. Even so, the evidence that it is hoax is very strong. Algonquian peoples did and do have a system or systems of glyphic characters. They were known to carve glyphs on trees which fade rather quickly and there are many petroglyphs considered to be Algonquian all over North America. I have seen and read about many. The story in the Wallum Olam is that they were carved and painted on birchwood, buried to keep them preserved, then recopied every so many years by lore keepers – the first lorekeeper known as “history man.” The dedication of such lore keepers over many centuries – about 1600 years – using this method would have had to be immense, never being deterred by the turmoils of the times. Yes there are many reasons that this is almost certainly a hoax. Archaeology is full of hoaxes and that of the Moundbuilders especially so. This is likely one among many. It is unfortunate that people are misled but it happens.

Now I guess I will have to see if I can find some Algonquian lore that is more authentic. This lore interests me for a few reasons. One is that these people (from the Algonquian language group) were most numerous in the areas which I live and work. They also have interesting petroglyphs, lore, and shamanistic traditions. They may have been the same people who built the mounds rather than the
multiple-race idea that also peppered 19th century thinking. In other words they may be the descendants of the Adena peoples.

It was a fun and compelling read but a tale if you will. Yes I have been had but I am glad to have read it anyway since it stimulated some ideas.

I encourage anyone interested to read the Wiki article that follows:



Saturday, August 18, 2012

Eirik the Red's Saga

Book Review: Eirik the Red’s Saga (translated by the Rev. J Sephton) – read before the Literary and Philosophical Society of Liverpool (January 12, 1880)

This is a Kindle edition and may not be an ideal translation. It is also likely a bit more pro-Christian than might be, although like most sagas it was likely an account of Christians, since most but not all had been converted, somewhat converted, or were being converted by then. The text was translated from Dr. Gudbrand Vigfusson’s Icelandic Prose Reader. A few passages also come from “the Hauks-bok version given in Antiquitates Americanae. The translator gives praise to Vigfusson’s works after the text.

This was an interesting Nordic Saga of the earliest settlements in Greenland and voyages to various islands and places including Vinland, or North America. Erik the Red (950-circa 1003), or Erik Thorvaldsson, was the son of a Norwegian nobleman. He was the father of the famed explorer Leif Ericson. Erik was exiled for three years from Norway (as was his father previously) for manslaughter, or killings in some sort of blood feud with another prominent family.

The saga begins with genealogy lists and past history which helps to set the stage. Overall, this saga seems much more historical than mythical, compared to some, as it is often an account of travels and hardships. Indeed, this saga has important historical connotations as it is the only account of the early history of the Greenland settlements, the only written account of Norse discovery and settlement in North America, and the earliest account of encounters with Native Americans.

Erik buys a ship and sets sail for the west towards Greenland. Apparently, there were already small settlements there as the text indicates but he is also credited with discovering it. He explores various parts of Greenland for a few years and travels to Iceland as well. The accounts of a few other travelers are noted and also of Thorbjorn’s expedition from Iceland to Greenland where they were received early in winter of a harsh year. Due to this time of troubled fate there is an account of the consultation of a “spae-queen” (prophetess) which may be similar or equivalent to a “seidr-kona” or female seidr shaman. This is an interesting account and one of few such detailed accounts in Nordic literature. Her name was Thorbjorg. She would make a circuit around the countryside dwellings to divine for the season for people. She was customarily welcomed heartily.

“A high seat [common to seidr mages] was prepared for her, and a cushion laid thereon in which were poultry-feathers. …. she had a blue mantle over her, with strings for the neck, and it was inlaid with gems down to the skirt. On her neck she had glass beads.” She also wore a hood of lambskin, lined with ermine. She carried a brass and gem ornamented staff. She wore a girdle of soft hair. She carried talismans in a skin bag. She wore calf-skin shoes and ermine skin gloves. Food prepared for her included kid’s milk porridge and the cooked hearts of “all kinds of living creatures.” She slept there for the night and later the next day prepared for the rite. She requested women who knew the “Weird-songs” (songs to call the spirits). Thorbjorn’s daughter, the noblewoman Gudrid, though Christianized and reluctant, did know some Wyrd-songs and was convinced to sing. Her songs were said to be lovely and enchanting. The spae-queen noted how the songs made the spirits open up to her. Thorbjorg’s prophecies were well-received and said to have come about. Thorbjorn was there as well enjoying the heathen festivities.

Later he (Thorbjorn) went on to visit Eirik in Brattahlid (still in Greenland) and there got land from Eirik. Eirik’s sons were Thorstein and Leif. Leif sailed to Norway and spent time with King Olaf Tryggvason who had converted to Christianity and insisted by the sword that his subjects would as well. Olaf convinced Leif to travel to Greenland to preach Christianity which he did. Leif did note that it would be a hard sell in Greenland. Leif returned to Greenland and converted many to Christianity including his mother but Eirik was not interested. On his way Leif discovered new lands, presumably Vinland, and rescued a shipwrecked crew. Eirik’s son Thorstein marries Gudrid in a big wedding production. Soon thereafter a great fever came and many people died, including Eirik’s son Thorstein. Before he died he convinced more people to take up the Christian way and bury the dead in the consecrated ground of the Church with Christian rites rather than on the farms.

The next year a traveler came with a ship of forty men from northern Iceland – Thorfinn Karlsefni. He stayed with Eirik and was accepted to marry the widowed Gudrid (as her predicted fate  - by Thorbjorg – would have it. The winter was passed in joy, telling stories and playing backgammon.

Next they prepared for a trip to “Vinland the Good” with the ships of Thorbjorn and Karlsefni and others. They made it to Vinland, explored the shoreline and islands. One island was described as dense with birds and bird eggs. They spent the first winter there on the shoreline which was harsh and the fishing was poor. One of Eirik’s confidants, called Thorhall (he may have been a son of Eirik) was a good explorer taken to going off by himself to learn lands and hunt. Thorhall went off to meditate one day and soon thereafter they captured a whale for food. When they convinced Thorhall to return he had this to say:

“Has it not been that the Redbeard [Thor] has proved a better friend than your Christ? This was my gift [presumably the whale] for the poetry which I composed about Thor, my patron; seldom has he failed me.”

When the men heard that none of them would eat of it. The text also says that bad effects came from it and that they begged for God’s mercy and their food luck got better as the season progressed. So we see in the text some conflict between the old heathen ways that were gradually dying out and the new Christian ways. It seems the Christian ones tolerated but gradually marginalized their pagan brethren. When summer came they split up with Thorhall (the pagan hunter) proceeding north to seek Vinland and Karlsefni going south along the land. Only nine men went with Thorhall – which indicates the dying influence of paganism. The text says that Thorhall’s ship encountered a gale which pushed them to Ireland where they were severely treated.

Karlsefni discovered lowlands full of wild wheat and wild grape vines as well as abundant fish along the mouth of rivers. There was abundant wild game. They also had their cattle that they brought with them. Then they saw nine canoes made of hide. This was their first encounter with Native Americans. The canoes came to meet them and were astonished at them. They were described as short men with disheveled hair with large eyes and broad cheeks. The settlers stayed there that winter and there cattle grazed without enclosure. It was noted that there was no snow at all that winter. They had dwellings spread out near a lake and inland as well. In the spring many of the Natives came in hide canoes and there was trade set up. The natives brought furs and the Norse people gave red cloth. The text refers to the natives as ‘SkrSlingar’ and the author equates them with Eskimos. They wanted to buy swords and lances but these were not traded. When a bull came out and bellowed the SkrSlingar were startled and got in their canoes and left. They came again three weeks later in great numbers and ready for war. The SkrSlingar had arrows, slingshots, and catapults. The Norse had to retreat inland. The woman Freydis spurred them on with shouting. She took up a dead man’s sword but was pursued and caught by the SkrSlingar. She then tore open her shirt and cut herself with the sword which apparently scared them off. After this battle the Norse decided to leave for fear of further attacks from great numbers of natives. They went north.

They spent another winter there further north. The author seems to think they made it as far south as Cape Cod but others, supported by archaeological evidence of Norse settlements suggests that they were further north along Newfoundland and Labrador. They found a river mouth further north and there is a curious tale recounted of a race of one-footed men (or perhaps just one). The One-footer shot an arrow at them hitting Eirik’s son Thorvald. They chased the One-footer but could not catch him. They spent a third winter a little further north. There is also mentioned that some people/ships may have split up and settled in different places.

Karlsefni and his people set sail toward home after three years. On the way they captured two SkrSlingar children and taught them their speech and baptized them.

“The children called their mother VStilldi, and their father UvSgi. They said that kings ruled over the land of the SkrSlingar, one of whom was called Avalldamon, and the other Valldidida.”

They also mention that they lived in caves and holes, that people wore white garments and fringes. Some land they called “white man’s land.” This and other indications from the saga suggest that there may have been other Nordic settlements in coasts and islands in the area.

Karlsefni’s ship made it to Greenland and the native children stayed with Eirik the Red (I wonder if Eirik taught them some of the heathen ways). The ship of Bjarni, son of Grimolf, made it to the Irish Ocean where their ship became infested with ship-worms. They had a ship’s boat coated with seal-fat but it could only hold half the men. Bjarni decided to cast lots. Bjarni’s lot was to stay but a young Icelander convinced him to trade places. The men on the ship perished but the ones on the boat must have survived to tell the story. Karlsefni and Gudrid returned to Iceland and started a family.

Overall, this was an interesting read with the themes of the dying vestiges of Norse paganism and growing Christian influence, the explorer-spirit and homesteading-spirit of the post-Viking Norse, and the earliest accounts ever of European encounters with Native Americans.

The Norse had settlements in Greenland for about 500 years until the documented “Little Ice Age” beginning in the late 1400’s made life more difficult there so they left. The increased cold also sent Greenland Eskimos further south in numbers and they may have clashed with them adding to their decision to leave. Norse archaeological finds as recent as 2009 in Labrador and much further north and west on Baffin Island (dated about 1300) suggest that either ships continued to traverse from Greenland to North America and back or that some of those from the original settlements made it further up and continued – although the second scenario is unlikely as there would probably be more archaeological evidence of continued settlement.

Below is an article on the recent settlement discoveries, a Wiki account of Erik the Red, and a youtube link for Tyr’s song – Eric the Red – which compares the spread of Christianity to a virus and expresses perplexity at the notion that the idea of “one true divinity” is somehow superior to the older gods. I think the words to the song capture the view of the situation – perhaps from the view of Erik, Thorhall, and Thorbjorg the spae-queen. See lyrics below the song on the site.

Saturday, August 11, 2012

Blessed Unrest: How the Largest Social Movement in History is Restoring Grace, Justice, and Beauty to the World

Book Review: Blessed Unrest: How the Largest Social Movement in History Is Restoring Grace, Justice, and Beauty to the World by Paul Hawken (Penguin 2007)

This is a very useful and pertinent book for understanding the foundation for the current Occupy Wall Street movement and indeed for comprehending the nature of all social and environmental movements.

In the future it is possible that more people will work for non-profits and NGO’s as their influence grows and their services and skills are desired. This may provide a more stable check and balance against the power of corporations but there is likely to be some bumping around before things stabilize.

Hawken notes the relationship between environmental justice and social justice. Basically, Hawken has counted up organizations involved in these two basic endeavors and lumped them into a single social movement – thus the subtitle as the ‘largest social movement in history’. I think this is perhaps a bit misleading as many of these are basic local issues as well as trends and they are quite diverse and some quite specific. Generally speaking they can be lumped together as similar and of comparable orientation but a single social movement it is not. He acknowledges this but goes on to redefine what constitutes a movement. He suggests that it is an “instinctive, collective response to threat.” Indeed he likens it to an ‘immune response’ of humanity towards the earth and one another. He defines social justice in terms of the UN Declaration of Human Rights which is fairly intuitive.

Hawken compares the ideological approach beginning with the 19th century Industrial Revolution to the systems approach in terms of ecology. He says ideology tends to promote health through uniformity while ecology promotes health through diversity. Diversity causes inertia in some respects compared to uniformity and he discusses things along this line. He notes that traditional politics and media assess strength by single-mindedness, or uniformity of purpose. He also mentions that many solutions to social problems were and are ‘band-aids’ that offer temporary healing but fail to solve the root problems – ie. GMO’s for hunger, nuclear power for global warming, promoting war to establish democracy. These approaches can have horrible side effects and ultimately lack the ‘social intelligence’ that more well-thought plans might have. As part of his notion that all these diverse groups are related he has compared their mission statements and functions and notes that they are quite similar. Of course, activism has many different levels of radical-ness and approaches are varied enough that one group may strongly disagree with the methods of another.

Hawken likens the first big environmental ‘globalization’ to post-Columbian America where plants, food, animals, pests, insects, bacteria, disease, and toxins were imported to the continent by European settlers. Though he doesn’t mention it – it has happened before, albeit on a much smaller scale – ie. Australian and Native American hunters wiping out species, Middle and Near Eastern farmers ruining farmland by over-farming, deforestation in Europe, sewage and sanitation problems in Medieval cities, etc. Of course, globalization has gotten more efficient, faster, and more thorough, as time goes on and population increases. 

He discusses how the Industrial Revolution has affected species, habitat, and the pace of evolutionary change. Due to massive human population increase and corresponding increases in resource usage and production of toxic waste – quite obviously we impact the environment much more drastically than in the past. 

He surveys the birth of environmentalism through the lives of Ralph Waldo Emerson and Henry David Thoreau and consideration of Darwin’s evolutionary biology. Emerson and Thoreau stressed that we are part of nature and what we do to it we do to ourselves. Hawken contrasts their ideas to those of their 19th century contemporary, George Perkins Marsh, who took a different path in his book – Man and Nature – where he notes that it is necessary for man to dominate nature  - yet he was a naturist and according to Hawken was the first to note the interdependence of society and the environment.

He goes through the history of the conservation movement with the story of John Muir and the Sierra Club and similar groups. This led eventually to the affluence of the well-funded groups of today such as World Wildlife Fund, National Wildlife Federation, the Nature Conservancy, the National Geographic Society, and the Wilderness Society.  The well-to-do upper class conservationists of the past would later bump heads with a more radical element in their midst. We see this in the last half of the 20th century with modern environmentalism being generally more radical and politicized than in the early days.

He tells the important yet sad story of biologist Rachel Carson and her 1962 book – Silent Spring – detailing the damaging effects of pesticides. In this story was revealed the attacks against her, the possible beginnings of “corporate junk science” to verify safety, her own uncomfortable battle with cancer, and the numerous people who confidently ridiculed her – who at long last have been thoroughly proven wrong. The whole affair began an enhanced conflict scenario between business/growth/industry and environmental concerns that continues to this day. The horrors of the Bhopal disaster in India are recounted with the rights of business and of people compared and contrasted.

Early predatory industrial history is recounted as well – resulting in laws against monopoly and trusts. Of course, the power of the corporation is a subject well in the spotlight these days. This book is good for giving background, contexts, and history of these relationships, although I think Hawken is decidedly biased against corporate interests. He even admits he has some biases and at least attempts to be fair in some respects. Indeed nowadays we also need to be aware of “activist junk science” meant to discredit environmental safety.

He also recounts the 19th century beginnings of “civil disobedience” with Thoreau’s protest actions that were subsequently read and studied by Gandhi who used them as inspiration for his non-violent resistance movement of Satyagraha, or ‘truth force’. Of course, both Thoreau and Gandhi were influenced by the Bhagavad Gita and the Upanishads of India. Later history along this trend of course includes the actions of Rosa Parks and Martin Luther King.

The next section is about indigenous peoples and how they have been mistreated in the past by Europeans and Westerners and how they have been exploited by business interests. While this is obviously true, in the past it was more the bias of the times and the people of the times. People actually believed scientifically that certain races were superior to others and nature was subservient to man. This was an assumed part of philosophy, science, and religion. I think he overdoes things in this chapter – making assumptions that indigenous cultures were more naturalistically advanced than industrial ones and somehow superior – it is almost a reversal of beliefs. He also goes on to make a long list of companies and corporations who have exploited indigenous peoples as a sort of indictment against them. Most of these are mining, resource, timber, and dam-building interests – typically those industries requiring access to land. He also contrasts these with environmental organizations just in the Amazon as if to suggest that more people are gathering to restore exploitation than are exploiting. Of course, many of these people have been exploited by business interests and many unjustly compensated for the effects of the exploitation and pollution. There is no doubt about it but he does not note that regulations, transparency, and accountability are much improved over the past. There is obviously less corruption in most of the world than there has been in the past as more people and groups watch things more closely.

The next section tackles the massive 1999 demonstrations in Seattle against the World Trade Organization and ‘globalization’. Hawken does acknowledge some of the positive effects of globalization such as: “dissolution of exclusionary political borders, increased transparency of political actors, connectivity among people around the world, and in general a wealth of new opportunities in employment, education, and income.” He lists the liabilities of globalization as: “resource and worker exploitation, climate change, pollution, destruction of communities, and diminished biological diversity.” It is true that local communities can become casualties of globalization and this has happened particularly among small farmers and unskilled workers. He notes, correctly I think, that focusing strictly on the benefits of free market ideology downplays the downsides that can happen to local economies that can represent vast amounts of people in the grip of poverty. It is ideological thinking that sees de-regulation and free market economics as universally good and any regulated, subsidized, or socialized functions as universally bad. Hawken, and the Seattle protestors, equate the WTO as pro-business and anti-people. While this may be true in some ways it is certainly not across the board. He sees such orgs as the WTO, World Bank, IMF, etc as totalitarian. Perhaps I am not as familiar with these orgs as I should be but I think that assumption may be a bit unfair. Sure, they may need some reforming, as they were likely convened as ‘band-aids’ to help solve crises. He notes that they have the money to invest and allocate and that investment is all put into free market strategies – but is there really a better overall alternative? I don’t know. Unfortunately for the Seattle protestors, they ended up being depicted as fanatical due likely to a combination of factors – ie. over-reaction of the police dept., over-reaction of radical anarchist fringe-elements, etc. The large protests against the dawning of the Iraq War perhaps went off better – as they were held in many cities and were particularly strong in Europe. He goes on to document some of the disastrous cases to which these orgs like the World Bank have been linked. Of course, these results were not planned and may have a lot to do with mis-calculating local situations such as culture, corruption, and local ecology. Of course, all these arguments end up with the same old tired and typical polarized ideological situation of reg vs. de-reg, liberal vs. conservative, free market capitalism vs. some form of socialism, etc. Hawken does note that current globalized economics are set up to prioritize growth over all else and this is often problematic as human social and environmental issues can slow growth. One of the strengths of Hawken’s ideas is his focus on promoting ‘healthy commerce’ which requires being mindful of social and environmental issues.

In the next section about – Immunity – he goes more into the notion that social and environmental orgs are a sort of immune-response of humanity to social and environmental ills. This is apt as an analogy to a certain extent but it does not mean that every environmental and social org has the right solution to problems. I think that it also continues an agenda of conflict (between antibodies and pathogens in the analogy) rather than collaboration which would be an improvement in my opinion. Hawken seems to waffle back and forth as to who the true villains are – sometimes they are corporations, sometimes orgs with too much power and sometimes we the people with our consuming habits -- “There may be no particular they there, but the system is still a disease, even if we created and contracted it.” He equates the environmental movement with humanity’s response to an illness of the earth. While this may be true in general, this is certainly not the only agenda of the environmental movement, as it can be just as deluged with ideological and political agenda as industrial interests.

Hawken goes on to describe different types of groups. First is what is known as Keeper Groups. These are groups who take care of a specific area – ie. river-keepers, lake-keepers, reef-keepers, coast-keepers, etc. These groups may function as scientist, lawyer, public relations people, lobbyist, or investigator. Watch Organizations are those that monitor corporations, institutions, projects, and places. Friends Organizations are those that do things like clean-up, support, and improvement of places. Other types of groups include Defenders – perhaps a more militant mode, Coalitions, and Alliances. There are also protest groups such as those that do street theatre and those known as culture jammers, who subvert and ridicule corporate advertising. The general sarcasm of the liberal internet can be seen as a mild form of this. He also mentions ideas such as that of the social entrepreneur – which refers to seeing beyond monetary success to include improvement in social and environmental impacts. He mentions groups like the Green Building Council that helps certify the ‘greenness’ of buildings which advocate innovative design, new technology, and renewable energy. He also covers the phenomenon of localization of NGO and non-profit aims and Stewart Brand’s ideas of ‘slowing down’ of fast food, fast decision society. Of course, the localization of food is sensible for several reasons – less transport, fresher, supports local economy, connects one to local nutrition, etc. Though he mentions different groups (NGO’s and non-profits) working together for successful results, I don’t think he emphasizes enough the possibilities of putting industry into the mix, especially as business has access to much more money. Personally I think more collaboration between business and non-profits will be necessary to solve more and more problems in the future, especially as more business models come to embrace social and environmental causes as sensible and even helpful to their overall bottom line.

The final section is called – Restoration. He goes on with the biological analogy in detail and perhaps a bit much. Here is good general quote defining important terms:

“Ecology is about how living organisms interact with one another and their environment. Sustainability is about stabilizing the currently disruptive relationship between the earth’s two most complex systems – human culture and the living world. The interrelation between these two systems marks every person’s existence and is responsible for the rise and fall of every civilization.”

This section also discusses things like the resilience of ecosystems and their thresholds, breaking points, and carrying capacities. Also discussed are climate change scenarios and assessing their urgency. Hawken suggests that these localized movements can be very efficient because they have few financial resources and must make do with what they have. He also notes that many of them are not real structured, authoritative, or centralized and again he compares them to – life organizing itself with the flow of information.

Regarding the laws and mechanisms of ecosystems he notes Wendell Barry’s idea of solving for pattern which is a systems way of thinking that entails solving multiple problems in terms of the whole system. This is in contrast to “fixes”. He suggests thinking in terms of a “cyclical biological system with a self-correcting bias.” Another notion of systems thinking is “feedback loops” and indeed (positive feedback) is a key mechanism behind prevailing theories of climate change. Other ideas covered are ‘zero-waste’ systems intended to emulate nature by recycling everything, ‘cradle-to-cradle’ approaches to manufacturing and re-cycling, ‘waste equals food’ where waste of one system is food or fuel for another, and promoting optimization over maximization – again in emulation of biological systems.

Hawken does note that it is the values of social and environmental activism rather than the biases that are beginning to permeate society and that can be a good thing – especially as more industrial and corporate management types begin to demand and promote more sustainable practices in their companies and industries. I do prefer the idea that people who have a desire to ‘heal the earth’ think of themselves as doctors rather than warriors. Healing should be collaboration between healer, patient, and those who create the conditions that allow the disease to develop – which is often the system itself or some sub-sector of it.

Hawken’s book is a good one to read in general. It is a bit wordy and over-intellectual at times and I think he over-details a few things. However, it is an honest attempt at understanding the vast number of groups with an interest in environmental and social justice and how they mesh and often complement one another in a sort of bio-net – to use his immune-response scenario. He also includes a very long appendix noting the types of groups and what they might do. This reads like encyclopedia or even dictionary entries and I guess serves merely to define these things in order to support his notion of a single social movement under one umbrella.

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

The Egyptian Revival or The Ever-Coming Son in the Light of the Tarot

Book Review: The Egyptian Revival or The Ever-Coming Son in the Light of the Tarot by Frater Achad (Kindle Edition, originally 1923)

This is Frater Achad’s scheme of re-ordering the Tarot trumps, as the 22 paths between the Qabalistic Sephira, into a formulation which he found to be more intuitive. Actually, he reversed the entire order of the trumps as indicative of the ascending Serpent of Wisdom path rather than the descending Lightning Bolt of Creation path as is usually depicted. He noted that this new configuration united the Sephira with their planetary rulers which he saw as an ‘astrological harmony’ that confirmed his intuitive gleanings. Achad acknowledged that multiple interpretations of the Tarot trumps are possible and not contradictory. He introduces his new interpretation in light of the New Aeon (of Thelema) which he seems to equate with the Aquarian Age.

Achad referred to the Egyptian Revival as a revival of interest during the time of this book (the 1920’s) in Egyptology and deciphering the civilization of Ancient Egypt. He mentions the brief period of King Khu-en-aten where a so-called mono-theistic religion of Aten, the solar disk, was established (circa 600’s BCE I think). I have heard Neo-Pythagoreans assert that this was the doctrine that informed Pythagoras and perhaps the Orphics as well. Of course, after his reign, the (possibly more polytheistic) cult of Amen-Ra was re-established by King Tutanhkamen.

Achad links Christ and Osiris, as many others do. He mentions that the ‘Ever-Coming Son” of the title of the book refers to Horus as the Crowned and Conquering Child from Crowley’s Neo-Egyptian mythology. He considers the earliest myth patterns of Egypt as the Son and the Mother – Sut-Typhon. The earliest mother was the Hippopotamus goddess who later became Typhon, the Water Dragon. Also he mentions the Great Star Goddess, Nuit of the Heavens, as a figure of the Great Mother. The child, or son, he describes was from the earliest time the twins Sut-Horus as the gods of the two horizons – so it is Sut the opener and Horus the closer, or Sut as darkness and Horus as light. He notes that the word Pharaoh comes from Har-Iu (Horus) as then Coming Son of two houses. (IU refers to two or twin). Har also refers to Hak as Harpocrates (Greek) as the hidden babe God of Silence, another twin of Horus.  “Har-Makhu was the Star-God of both Horizons. SutHar developed into the Solar Deity afterwards called Aten, or Atum.” The twin lions of Sut-Horus are equated with Atum-Ra. He says this attests to the Typhonian origin of Aten. He then mentions the “Four Suts” (sons) as perhaps the equinoxes and solstices and then asserts that a fatherhood of the son was proposed as Tum – the god of sunset, and so Aten becomes Atum. He gives a progression from Tum to Atum to Atum-Ra. (I have also heard that Atum is a very old god and a god before creation – so perhaps a bit contradictory). He then says that the Osirians branded Sut-Typhon as ‘fatherless’, perhaps ‘Harlot and Bastard’ of a sort as mother and son without father and so Sut was seen as orphan. Achad equates ATUM with ADAM of the nearby Hebrews. Achad notes that King Khu-en-aten made god-figures in human form rather than as human-animal hybrids. Achad goes on to say that IU (as two or twin) refers to male and female in one. He sees IU as the root of the word Jew and Iu-Sif as the origin of the Hebrew name Joseph. Iu-Sif as well as Har-Iu refer to this ‘Ever Coming Son.’ He then says that, “IU, as the Genetrix, became IU-Pater or Jupiter; and IU the Son who Comes, became IU-Sus, or Jesus. The Ever Coming Son was the prototype of the Wandering Jew, originally a symbol of Eternal Youth.” (most IE students would equate Jupiter with the Dyeus-Pater – or god as father, of the Indo-Aryan tribes.) I guess the bottom line is that Atum, as Child of the Mother, later became Atum-Ra, as God the Father. He describes this as a transition from the first man being derived as ‘blood of the mother’ to being derives as ‘essence of the male.’ He also goes into much astrological symbolism such as the Precession of the Equinoxes to equate the Piscean Age (the Fishes) as that of Jesus, as many seem to do, as well as Osiris/Horus. However, he also sees Crowley’s promulgation of the Aeon of Horus (proclaimed in Liber Al vel Legis in 1904) as the Age of Horus the Avenger (of his father Osiris) as Ra-Hoor-Khuit. Again he sees this new time as the time of Man, as the water-bearer Aquarius. I should note that although this is an interesting summary or sketch of Egyptian doctrine of this time period, it is not explained as clearly as would be ideal.

Next Achad gives a brief summary of Qabalistic doctrines of the emanation of the limitless light into denser and denser planes and their centers known as the ten Sephira. In terms of Tetragrammaton he notes that Chokmah is the Father, Binah the Mother, the next six Sephira (Chesed, Geburah, Tiphareth, Netzach, Hod, and Yesod) are the Son, and Malkuth is the Daughter. “The Daughter must marry the Son and so become the Mother, true mate of the Father, before all is reabsorbed into the Crown of Light.” He discusses the intelligences ruling the Sephira and the Qabalistic notions of lower-self and Higher Self in terms of the subduing of ego and the Knowledge of Conversation of the Holy Guardian Angel. He also discusses the Pentagram/Hexagram conjunction in the 5=6 formula of Adeptus Minor in terms of the word of the Aeon, ABRAHADABRA. He speaks often about the Divine Plan, or God’s Plan, as if pre-destination is a major factor. I find that a bit disconcerting, although I can perhaps understand that we may have some sort of destiny based on our karmic tendencies and momentums from the past. I see his ramblings here as similar to Crowley’s – every human-star riding in their pre-destined orbit.

Achad links Kether with AMOUN and also to the sphere of the Primum Mobile, the First Cause or First Whirling Motion. He mentions “the Jupiter-Amoun Tradition of the Fatherhood of God as a Supreme and Concealed Force.”  He goes through the ‘rays’ of the Tetragrammaton as Yod (in Chokmah), He (in Binah), Vau (in Tiphareth), and He (in Malkuth).

Achad goes on to explain the trump-paths of his newly restored path attributions in great detail and he makes the suggestion that this was the original configuration (mainly due to the matching of astrological attributes).  He divides the descent into two sets of paths refered to as the Tradition of Light (Jupiter-Amoun) and the Tradition of Darkness (Fatherless Child and Mother – Sut-Typhon), the first descending from Kether to Chokmah to Tiphareth and the second from Kether to Binah to Tiphareth. He also notes a revision from the Sut-Typhonian tradition of reckoning the year into 365 days through the technique of Sirius (the star of Sothis-Isis) to that of Osiris at 365 ¼ days by virtue of the lunar-solar calendar. Achad proceeds to go through each path explaining the symbolism of the new configuration and comparing to the Rider-Waite attributes.

The Qabala and Tarot traditions require becoming familiar with attribute symbolism which also includes Hebrew letters, planetary rulers and intelligences, and elements. There is also gematria and incorporating ideas from Crowley’s Thelema and Liber AL. Achad here often throws Egyptian symbolism into the mix, the Tarot being sometimes depicted as ‘the Book of Thoth’. He refers to the Light and Dark Traditions as the White and Black Sphinxes which the Charioteer, the Lord of the Aeon (Horus), uses to pull him along. He refers to the High Priestess, the ‘Priestess of the Silver Star’ as his counterpart and he says she holds (Crowley’s) Book of the Law on her lap – as “the lost Thora of the Wheel of the Tarot.” He sees the Charioteer and the High Priestess as the initiators of the Mysteries of Hadit and Nuit, respectively. He mentions a theme of raising the fallen daughter (Malkuth as the animal soul) to the throne of the mother (Binah, or Understanding). Certainly, this reformulation of the attributions of the paths of the Tarot trumps is akin to the reformulation (by Crowley) towards the Aeon of Horus and the Law of Thelema. Achad goes into some detail in explaining the symbolism of the Sun, Man, and Tiphareth as 666. He notes Horus as the opener, the revealer – that all is revealed by the light of the sun at dawn. Regarding the Tradition of Light he says that the Sun  (as Atum-Ra) is indeed the center of the Solar System, and the Father in that sense, but that he is not the Father of the whole Universe (as the Dark Tradition based on Sirius and the earlier reckoning of cyclic time knows). He equates the Tradition of Darkness with Time and the Tradition of Light with Space. He notes the symbolism of Baphomet (as the Devil of the Tarot) as harmonizing in Tiphareth (where they cross) both the Light and Dark traditions. Thus it is the combining of the traditions of Set and Horus. He sees this combining also in the Hermetic axiom – As above so below – as well as in the hand gestures of Baphomet for the two alchemical operations – solve and coagula. He also sees the Beast (666) as the representation of Man as between matter and spirit, with both being necessary for spiritual development. Interestingly, he notes that the Sut-Typhonian tradition became despised and along with it the ‘woman’ became despised and the New Aeon is a means for this unbalanced situation to be reversed, as the woman – as the Mystery of Babalon – to be exalted – by the actions of the cosmic Beast. Hadit, as the infinitesimal and Nuit, as the infinite – he sees as Time and Space as well – and Hadit he mentions as the hidden and lost father (of the fatherless mother-son Sut-Typhonian tradition). So one can see Crowley’s New Aeon symbolism as a restoration of the influence of the lost/hidden/despised Dark Tradition. So in the Mystery of Babalon and the Beast they are seen as the incarnated form of Nuit and Hadit, as Malkuth and Kether – 10 and 1 – so 11 – so Daath. When united in the form of their son – as Ra-Hoor-Khuit – is in Tiphareth.

Achad is quite speculative throughout this text which is quite rich with symbolism, which it seems to me is a key feature of the Western Esoteric Tradition, He mentions the Precession of the Equinoxes and suggests that the ancients knew about this and goes on to note symbolic situations along the zodiacal changes. Again, he sees the Aeon of Horus as equivalent to the Precessional Age of Aquarius. He suggests that the key features of this age are the recognition of the Great Mother of the Stars (Nuit) and the discovery of the Secret of the Lost Father (Hadit). Next he notes Crowley’s progression of the Ages of Isis (past time of Mother worship), Osiris (father god veneration), and Horus (redeeming child-god). He notes these as a recurring triplicity in the formula of IAO – Isis-Apophis-Osiris. He notes Horus as the avenger Apophis, or Horus the Avenger – as the one who destroys those who try to ‘go back’, presumably against the flow of the times. Those who go ‘with the flow’ go along with the “Ever-Coming Son” and the way of destiny and so there is a harmony and this is like the Way of the Tao (which he also notes is a sort of harmony beyond the way of the magician and the way of the mystic). Thus, Destiny is seen as a forward-moving force and to go back is to go against destiny.

Next Achad gives his own understanding of the Law of Thelema and how it has worked in his own life. This is perhaps a more practical aspect of the text. He notes that the statement, “Do what thou wilt shall be the whole of the Law” implies that it is the whole of the law for all so that all might be doing their will and so interfering with the will of others needs to be considered. He found that by striving to not be willfully influential to others by considering their own will-paths, that he benefitted by developing better relationships.

He goes through much more fairly well contemplated imagery and symbolism of Sephira, paths, trumps, planetary symbolism, and gematria. He mentions more astronomically-oriented notions as the orbits of the planets being the ‘aura of the sun’. But as we now know – the sun is not the center of the universe (the true father) but merely the center of the system with which we travel through the universe. The Sun, he says, is the Son of the Star Mother and the Father of the Earth. Symbolically, he sees the sun’s current influence as the House of Aquarius – as the breath or prana of the sun during this cycle when it is in that house at the vernal equinox. He goes on to talk about the ‘Universal Tradition’ but loses me there in the symbolic-ness. Finally, he recites the Emerald Tablet of Hermes with a few comments and suggests that the tablet and this text should be studied together – as the symbolisms relate, presumably.

It should be noted that Achad was first wholly accepted by Crowley as a ‘magickal son’ and great revealer but that later he became less praise-worthy and Crowley eventually rejected him as mad. Apparently, he had some issues, possibly with his ‘messianic complex’ and had difficulties from this. He was noted later to become a Catholic with some others of his group – the Great Brotherhood of Light – presumably as they somehow thought they could reform Catholicism into a new updated enlightened form – which was probably a bad idea from the outset. Even though Achad shows great symbolic ability perhaps he was a bit too tuned into the Tradition of Light as he calls it – seeking to reform it from within – rather than to reject it’s corrupt exoteric form. His occasional mentions of the Great White Brotherhood smack a bit of Theosophy and New Age style thinking and his rather frequent mention of ‘God’s Plan’ and God’s Will show at least a slight tendency towards monotheistic dogmatism. He equates the Will of God to True Will as a will informed by the Higher Self rather than the personal will.

Achad certainly did add much to Crowley’s symbolic tradition regarding the reformulation of Western Esotericism to accord with his Law of Thelema – which is likely the most significant overhaul of this tradition – ever.   

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Iroquois Supernatural: Talking Animals and Medicine People

Book Review: Iroquois Supernatural: Talking Animals and Medicine People by Michael Bastine and Mason Winfield  (Bear and Company 2011)

This book is full of past and contemporary stories of Iroquois ghosts and mythic tales. The Haudenosaunee, or “People of the Longhouse” consists of five tribes – the Seneca, Cayuga, Oneida, Onondaga, and Mohawk, with the later addition of the Tuscarora who migrated up from the Carolinas. These tribes all settled in what is now New York State, most having been there for at least 500 years and probably much longer. These became the league of six nations whose political setup influenced that of the United States. Compared to other tribes they occupied a rather small area and consisted of small numbers but also had a strong influence. They became divided in the colonial wars with most siding with the British while the Oneida and Tuscarora sided with the colonists. This devastated and separated them with many driven to Canada, some to Wisconsin, and some to the west, but the Seneca and small numbers of the other tribes managed to stay on their ancestral lands to some extent on reservations and some are now returning or return often to visit.

Mason Winfield comes from a background of writing about ghosts, the supernatural, and local history. Michael Bastine is an Algonquin who has studied under several Iroquois Medicine People.

The Iroquois are distinguished by the longhouse, a wooden multi-family dwelling that could be 100ft long, 20ft wide, and 25ft high, walled with bark and skins, with a central fire and smoke hole, bunks to the sides, and a door on each end. I have seen a small replica of one at the Seneca museum in Salamanca, NY. The traditional territories of the tribes of the federation are also set up symbolically in the manner of the longhouse. The western door was with the Genesee Valley Seneca and the eastern door with the Mohawk of the Mohawk Valley. The Onondaga in the central territory are the “fire keepers” and this is where the council fire is kept. The Cayuga and Oneida are sometimes called the “younger brothers.” Each of the tribes has separate legends and different origins but they also share much culture and myth. The Iroquois, like many native tribes, adopted many non-Iroquois into the tribes as full members. This included captives and some whites and blacks as well. The Onondaga tribe in the center of Iroquois territory claim the great pine tree of the famed Peacemaker (where they ‘buried the hatchet’). The Onondaga are known as “People of the Hill” possibly due to fortified hilltops. They now have an independent nation near their original lands around Syracuse. I have an old friend that I heard was living there. Hiawatha, friend and assistant of the Peacemaker, was Onondaga, as was the wizard king Tadodarho, who was transformed by the Peacemaker. These events refer to the beginnings of the Iroquois Confederacy which is usually dated somewhere between 900 and 1450 CE. The Seneca tribe was the largest in area and known to be warlike. They have lived on three reservations in Western NY since the Treaty of Canandaigua in 1794. Famed legendary Senecas include the fabled Peace Queen and the hero-trickster Skunni Wundi. Known people include Chief Cornplanter, prophet Handsome Lake, and orator Red Jacket – all who were born in the mid-1700’s. Mary Jemison was a white woman adopted by the Seneca. Another was Arthur C. Parker, a famous folklorist who wrote extensively about Seneca myths and legends. More recently there was the late DuWayne “Duce” Bowen who collected lore and late elder woman Twylah Hurd Nitsch whose grandfather was one of the last Seneca Medicine People. I vaguely remember meeting her briefly at a Seneca powwow many years ago. The Cayuga dwelled around Cayuga Lake from Lake Ontario to the Susquehanna River. Their numbers are very small at a few thousand. Medicine Man Peter Mitten is Cayuga. The Mohawk call themselves “People of the Flint” due to its availability in their lands. The Peacemaker was considered to be Mohawk, though the Cayuga claim him as well. Joseph Brant was a famous Mohawk and the Christianized woman Kateri Tekakwitha (1656-1680). Many in these tribes were subjected to missionaries quite early and Christian and western influence on their beliefs infiltrated so much that it is difficult to tell the age and origins of many ideas. The Jesuits recorded many of the old beliefs, being of service as ethnologists of sorts. Moravian missionaries came and others were Swede, Dutch, French, and English. There is even a legend of the “Lost Dauphin”, son of Louis XVI and Marie Antionette being brought to northeast Pennsylvania and/or NY and raised in a Mohawk community. Oddly, Mohawk are said to have no fear of heights and many have taken to working on skyscrapers. The Oneida call themselves, “People of the Standing Stone”. The Oneida sided with the colonists in the American Revolution and are said to have brought 600 bushels of corn for Washington and his troops at the winter in Valley Forge. Polly Cooper was said to have aided them in how to use the corn and cared for the troops. Chief Hanyerri was a famed Oneida at the time and was said to have had a lifetime feud with Mohawk Joseph Brant. Contemporary singer Joanne Shenandoah (possibly a descendent of Oneida Chief Shenandoah) is Oneida. Her songs and singing are very good. The Tuscarora were known as “Wearers of the Woven Hemp Shirts” They came to NY from North Carolina just after 1700 due to encroachment from white settlers. They were an Iroquoian-speaking people as were the Cherokee who broke off long-ago from the NY branches. Historian David Cusick was a famous Tuscarora as were the medicine men Wallace “Mad Bear” Anderson and Ted Williams who both taught author Michael Bastine.

Many Iroquois today are Christians. This is due to missionaries but also to the conversion visions of the prophet Handsome Lake, half-brother of Chief Cornplanter. His visions called for giving up alcohol and taking a Christianized approach to life. Unfortunately, he was also an avid witchhunter and accuser of witchcraft and this tradition continues among the Iroquois. As many of the stories show there is fear of and strong belief in witchcraft and the alleged perpetrators often do not get a fair chance. Some in the past were even brutally killed. Mary Jemison’s autobiography notes several executions for witchcraft.

The Iroquois had oral traditions but no writing. They were known as avid storytellers. Many of their stories, myths, and legends, were collected in the late 1800’s and beyond, which means Christian influence was likely long a part of them by then. The storytellers had three main types of stories: creation stories (mythic), animal tales (often whimsic), and forest tales (often involving the supernatural).

The life force of humans and of nature is called orenda. Negative energy is generally called otkon. Witches are thought to travel as “witch lights” called ga’hai. There are many stories of seeing these lights, especially in haunted places. These are considered to be the witch in astral form. Witches are said to shapeshift into animals as well.

There are a few stories of secret witch meetings in the woods where everyone shapeshifts into animal form. These are strangely similar to medieval tales of European witches and like those the witches are usually depicted as evil-minded. Even the theology given resembles Christianity as the Great Spirit is known as the Good-Minded One and his counterpart is the Evil-Minded One. There is mention of the “witch bone” which refers to a “tiny, double-pointed, needlelike splinter with a hole in the middle” which may be threaded through with a hair from the witch. This bone was said to be somehow placed in the body of the victim, sometimes through food. It reminds me of similar stories among the African-American Gullah people on the Atlantic coast. A medicine person might retrieve such a bone from the victim though I suspect it is a placebo – the psychosomatic work of the shamanizer. There is a strong belief in the power of cursing and witches are those who divert orenda for selfish purposes. There are said to be witch bundles. These are sometimes bags but they can also be large kettles. There were said to be a number of these found buried in upstate New York and one near Buffalo “surrounded by a ring of skeletons and filled with human skulls.” The sad and violent story of Seneca John Jemison in the early 1800’s  is told. He was a son of Mary Jemison so part white. He is said to have killed 2 of his brothers and himself was killed by two other Seneca during a drinking bout. His killers were said to have taken their own lives after being banished. Cornplanter and Handsome Lake even charged the famed orator Red Jacket  (Sagoyewata) with witchery but he was acquitted. There are quite a few rather sad stories given of blood feuds and so-called bad witches, their subsequent executions, and hauntings where they dwelled and died.

Next we come to Medicine People, those in modern times most like the shaman of more ancient times. Shamans performed many functions: healer, musician, historian, teacher, artist, and mainly the knower of and interface with the animated spirits that typically encompass indigenous worldviews. Medicine people often work with trance. They are similar to the so-called witches except their medicine power is thought to aid the tribe and the people. By the time the Europeans encountered the Iroquois it is thought that the functions of the shaman had already been differentiated into different groups or societies. There were healers, keepers of songs and chants, and specialists who often worked on a case by case basis.

Next we are introduced to the Medicine Men Wallace “Mad Bear” Anderson and Ted Williams. Mad Bear (1927-1985) was a Tuscarora who became very influential in the Native American and indigenous peoples rights movements beginning in the 1960’s. He traveled extensively and appeared with famous people – MLK, Ted Kennedy, Castro, Bob Dylan, and his friend the Dalai Lama. Michael Bastine and Cherokee  Medicine Woman Dhyani Ywahoo traveled with him to visit the Dalai Lama in 1980. Ted Williams was also trained in traditional Iroquois medicine. He was the son of famed healer Eleazar Williams. He noted three types of healing medicine: 1) Simple medicines that are physical cures like herbs; 2) Specially prepared medicines like decoctions gathered according to cycles and times; 3) spirit medicines, often used to ward off spirit influences – these are the types that people often seek from the Medicine People. As they often take on a form like Western psychics, they are also called ‘readers.’ In the code of Handsome Lake there is some info about properly gathering herbs: one should approach with stealth and awareness like a hunter on a hunt. Prayers, chants, and tobacco offerings also accompanied herb gathering. The authors tell many stories involving Mad Bear and Ted Williams. Mad Bear utilized a reading method of observing tobacco movements after sprinkling it into a clear cup full of water. Herbal concoctions included various ‘green goos’. One made by Cayuga shaman Peter Mitten was said to heal a dying man when they snuck it into his IV bag. Stories abound of house clearings, ghost removal, and dream healings. Mad Bear considered the mind the strongest force in healing, with the remedies assisting and other things used as mechanisms to help him focus.

Next we come to the famed False Face Society, Iroquois healing group that stays behind masks, works as a group, and chooses those they heal. They are spiritual healers, always male, though the leader and keeper of the faces is female. They come, often unannounced, at night, with gourd and turtle-shell rattles, snorts, animal and bird calls, and clamor. The end of a healing was when they made a ‘puff of soot’. They collected tobacco and ate corn soup as payment. It is a secret society with identities kept hidden. Old Iroquois graves were found to have small bone and stone trinkets that resemble the masks – strongly suggesting that it is an old tradition. There are several origin-stories of the Faces, often related to the first Face – Headman as one of the Stone Giants. In one story he got a crooked nose when challenging the Great Spirit to a contest and ever since, the Faces are depicted with crooked noses. In another story, instead of the Stone Giants becoming spirit-healers, they are the enemies of humans, and the last of them helped a lost Seneca hunter by teaching him healing through dreams and visions. He was then guided to a basswood tree and carved the first face. The two classes of masks: Doctor (or Doorkeeper) Masks and the Common Faces could be attributed to these stories. The Doctor Masks originally had corn silk hair but this was changed to horse manes after European contact. Some are mythical beings, others gods of wind or disease. Ethnologist William Beauchamp thought that the source of the masks were the Great Flying Heads. These were terrifying heads that could fly and also change their size. There are a few other masked healing societies as well: the Husk Face Society, or Bushy Heads, work with water energy and the Company of Mystic Animals don animal masks and work with maintaining good relations with animals. Some of these societies may function like sacred clowns as well. There are unmasked healing societies as well. Two of these are the Little Water/Animal Society and the Pygmy/Dark Dance Society, the latter which does songs and dances in near or total darkness. One is said to be called to the False Faces by a dream or by a seer who recognizes something in him. Basswood is the main wood, being soft and easily carved but pine, poplar, and maple are also used. Elm is never used. The masks are made on the tree gradually. Even the details are done before it is removed and it is said that the tree does not die. This is perhaps part of the reason they are thought of as living beings. The masks are ‘fed’ corn soup during the midwinter ceremonies.

Next section is more about reservation politics and subsequent magic battles in the manner of the so-called “witch wars.” It also has to do with stories of curses, magic against encroachments like highway building and development, and magically combating injustice against the tribes. Also accounted are some of Mad Bear’s exploits – he was said to travel astrally in the form of a bear. There is mention of a custom described in the 1800’s from the Iroquoian Huron (Wyandot) people where they would every couple of years dig up the bones of ancestors, their families would dress and ornament them, and they would be fed bits of food at a feast. Then they would be re-buried with gifts. The authors note that this could be a powerful way to connect generations and a way to include ancestors in the present – though the rite was seen as fiendish and macabre by the Europeans who witnessed it. Much more recently there have disputes about how to handle native gravesites when they are accidentally discovered during development. National law calls for them to be identified and respectfully moved before work can resume. There have been disputes about how to handle them as there are several tribes involved and some are the graves of the war dead.

Next we come to power places which include sites associated with traditional stories, trade and pilgrimage routes, ceremonial areas, vision-quest sites, grave/ancestor lands, battlefields, petroglyph sites, and observation sites. This part is interesting since one may visit some of these places. A few places may never be seen – as both Cornplanter’s grave and village sites and Handsome Lake’s vision site are now under the Allegheny reservoir in northwest Pennsylvania. This is a result of the building of the Kinzua Dam in the 1960’s to combat flooding downstream on the Alleghany River, which the Seneca call Oh-hi-yo, or beautiful river. This caused a lot of problems at the time with magic and legends and possibly psychic phenomena as mythical beings were said to live in the river. The Great Falls of Niagara is quite obviously a power spot with ample ‘vision sites’. Native legend has it being formed when a Thunder Being destroyed a titanic serpent. Nearby Goat Island was considered the Turtle Island of lore by the Iroquois and so was a great world navel site. The hiss-roar of the falls has apparently caused people to leap that had no intentions of doing so. I remember back when we lived in Buffalo, reading about the Maid of the Mist legends of the falls. Other places are Taughannock falls near Cayuga Lake. I visited there once at sunset. It was eerie yet wonderful, the falls being higher than even Niagara Falls but with far less water. Lilydale in Chataqua County NY is also mentioned where there is now a Spiritualist campus of sorts that has been there for a long time but before this there were earthworks. Many other power sites and their lore are explored. 

Iroquois supernatural beings include the Stone Giants, the Flying Heads, Vampire Corpses, and Little People. It seems that all Iroquoian-speaking tribes, including the Wyandot and the Cherokee have variants on these four.

The Stone Giants were cannibal-trolls who in one story were driven off by the trickery of the hero Skunni Wundi. Some have associated the Stone Giants as armored visitors from Northern Europe but this would be highly speculative. Pre-Iroquois flint points have been found with carved representations of Stone Giants linking the giants with the beings of the past. Like many giant myths, it was them who built and shaped the land. There are many legends in Iroquois country about giant (8-10ft tall) corpses being dug up. I have heard a few firsthand.

The Great Flying Heads were fearsome, with no bodies but bear-like arms, saucer eyes, huge jaws, tusk-like teeth, and long manes behind them. They may have originally been associated with a wind-god, whose Seneca name is Dagwanoenyent. Though often brutish there are also many stories of benevolent Flying Heads that would teach and aid lost or lonely hunters or aid wizards in magic battles. Iroquoian Medicine Masks may well have been inspired by the Flying Heads.

The Vampire, or Cannibal Corpse is another mythical being. The stories resemble the European versions, although the Native ones were more like re-animated corpses, or zombies, than suave and sexy ones.

The Super Snakes are another motif. Giant serpents are said to inhabit many of the lakes, large and small, and there are many stories pertaining to them. Some may transform and become seductive. The giant serpents of the Finger Lakes, at least Seneca and Cayuga Lakes, are also associated with the ‘underwater drums’ which are thought to be some sort of geological percussion. There is a legend of a giant horned serpent in Lake Ontario. These great serpents, or dragons, also occur in Cherokee lore.

The Thunder Beings are sky gods who, as in many myths around the world, battle the giant serpents. The Seneca have a Thunder God called Heno. Thunder Beings, or their hybrid human fosterlings, often orphans, are said to hide in the clouds.

Another legendary beast is that of the Monster Bear. The Ice Age had Arctodus, the giant short-faced bear, which was at the top of the food chain in North America, so perhaps this is some sort of ancestral memory. At nearly 9ft tall and able to run 40 mph, this was indeed a demon bear. This demon bear is an important totem among the Iroquois and it is the focus of a dance society. The general area has a decent sized black bear population.

Another being is High Hat, a Big Foot-like creature that wears a stove-pipe hat. There are many sightings and stories about High Hat. Another is the Legs, a night being which is just legs and a bit of torso, with perhaps an eye at the navel. There is a hint that they may be some sort of female sex demons. There is a Mischief Maker, known in Seneca as the trickster Shodisko, also called the Brother of Death. He shapeshifts and plays practical jokes but is considered a minor deity. Longnose is a being with appendages such as snouts, tubes, and tentacles. He is a bogie of dark woods and warning tales. The Giant Mosquito represents the power of mosquitos bundled into one fearsome big one. Apparently upstate New York had more swamps in the past as most were drained in the 19th century and so the mosquito population was probably bigger in the past. The Witch Hawk is an untrustworthy raptor-spirit, unlike the Noble Cloud Eagle. There is the gatherer of the evil parts of the soul (like many shamanistic myths, the Iroquois had recognized several soul components). His name in Seneca is Dehohniot. He is said to travel the Milky Way but when he comes to earth to fetch soul parts his form is composed of a wolf’s head, a panther’s body, and a vulture’s wings and talons. At least the wolf and vulture are scavengers. The Underground Buffalo is another form. These great white underground buffalo were associated with the forces of primal chaos. A whole tribe of the Iroquois Little People (much the like the faerie of the British Isles) was devoted to guarding the gates to keep the chaos-buffalo imprisoned. Another is a pair of odd dear, one white and one striped. Perhaps it was a family of albinos as are sometimes seen. Many legends are recounted of talking animals, shapeshifters, and changelings.

The Iroquois, like many other tribal groups, had animal clan totems. Everyone is either born into or adopted into a clan. The Wolf, Bear, and Turtle Clans are common to all Iroquois. The Mohawk and Oneida have just these three. The Onondaga have nine. Earth clans include bear, wolf, and deer. Water clans have beaver, eel, and turtle. Air clans are snipe, hawk, and heron. Clan affiliation is matrilineal. The Turtle Clan is the default clan which means that if clan affiliation is unknown or someone is adopted in they become Turtle Clan people. One marries outside the clan. Even marrying into a different tribe in the same clan is sometimes discouraged. As a bonding among the tribes, for instance, Turtle Clan Seneca would afilliate with the Turtle Clan of the Cayuga. As well as tribal and family duties, there are clan duties. Hearing the talking animals begins with listening to them. Michael Bastine says it began with the Canadian geese. I have Chinese geese and they are very talkative, occasionally even sounding like human voices from a distance. Dogs are also considered a bridge between the human and animal worlds, between village and forest.

The Iroquois Little People have many stories about them. These tiny spirit-beings fare much in the old pre-colonial lore. As in other cultures, they are nature spirits, ancestral spirits, and they tend to interact with children. They are called Jo-ga-oh or the Jungies. There are said to be three nations of them: their Seneca names are the Ohdowas, Gahonga, and Gandayah. The Ondowas are the hunters. The hunters, or “People of the Underground Shadows” were said to be kindly. They are also the doorkeepers to the Underworld, especially guarding the Great White Buffalo of Chaos. The Pygmy Society of the Iroquois save their fingernails and leave them out or toss them over cliffs so that these little people can cook them into a broth which they wear to disguise their scent so that they can hunt those who escape from hell. The Gahonga are the Stone Throwers who live beside lakes and streams. They sometimes visit humans in dreams. They are appealed to in droughts. The people scoop out ‘dew-cups’ which are hollows along the banks of streams, dry them, and use them as charms to heal droughts and grow plants. They are the most ubiquitous of the Little People. The Gandayah are the Plant Growers. They live with the seeds in the ground in winter and entice them to sprout in spring. They visit as robins to bring good news and as owls to offer warnings. Thay animate the “three sisters”, squash, corn , and beans – the main summer food crops. Since any bug could be Gandayah it is generally discouraged that they be harmed. There is some suggestion that the Iroquois Little People were derived from those of the Europeans since the age of Iroquois folklore coming to print was from 1880-1925 but the authors assert that this lore is older. Tiny tools and weapons are often found in old burial sites and other Iroquoian tribes that broke off long ago, such as the Cherokee and Wyandot, also have similar traditions. The Little People of the Fruits and Grains are said to have made the rule that the tribes save their tales for winter nights, otherwise they might be distracted from their gardening work and the beasts might stop to listen, forgetting their purposes. There are some interesting stories of little people who travel in stone canoes. Fairies are sometimes healers and sometimes tricksters. There are fairy trees, often double-trunked oaks. One interesting result of mystical experiences is the bringing back of a dance or song to benefit the tribe. One is the Dark Dance. A boy saw tiny people shooting needle-sized arrows at a black squirrel. He killed it and presented it to them. They fed him with corn soup, intoxicating berry juice, and hallucinogenic pipe smoke. Here they taught him about the three nations of Jungies. They taught him a dance they said would bless his village. He returned after what he thought was a few days but the people said it was much longer. This dance is still performed but only the dancers know its movements as it is done in near total darkness.

The authors give several Iroquois ghost story motifs: The Offended Lovers – this is when lovers are separated by such actions as murder and rape, the Haunted Battlefield – the Trickster Raptor,  the Spector Wife, the Old Chief’s Grave, the Lover’s Leap, and the Last of the Mohicans. Several stories of these are related.

The mysterious Spanish Hill is related. I used to drive by this frequently. It is an odd low hill, somewhat like a giant mound. It is a glacial moraine. It is private so one cannot go there. Many artifacts came from it. There are many legends about it. The Iroquoian Andaste tribe was said to dwell there, possibly aided in warfare by a couple of Spanish cannon as some legends have it. They fought off the Iroquois federation but eventually they were driven south and further massacred by colonialists. It is now considered haunted. Many other ghost stories are recounted included the several ghosts of Red Jacket and a section on haunted roads.

The Chief of the Blue Heron refers to the Tadodaho, the Firekeeper of the Onondaga. He is considered the chief of chiefs. One such one was Leon Shenandoah (1915-1996). This firekeeper chief traditionally wears the single feather of the Blue Heron, the only chief to do so. Leon was said to be both wise and playful. He was also said to be forgiving. The Iroquois have some rather fascinating dream traditions and Michael Bastine gives some of his own. He recounts receiving dream teachings from Leon Shenandoah. Once he traveled in dream to a place called the Land of the Elders – where one could be taught in dreams – as a tribal medicine method.  

Well, this book was a nice survey of customs and stories, both old and new, a bit annoying at times, boring at others, but there is some interesting information and ideas conveyed.