Religion, the False Face Society - The Iroquois in Olden Times for Kids and Teachers Illustration

Daily Life in Olden Times
for Kids

Northeast Iroquois Nations
Religion & the False Face Society

The Great Spirit: The Iroquois believe in a the Great Spirit, the Creator of all things.

Good and Evil Spirit: Next down the line were Good Spirit and Evil Spirit. Both of these spirits had many little spirits to help them. The Good Spirit made all the good things on earth. The Evil Spirit, the twin, was responsible for all the bad things on earth.

Afterlife: The Iroquois believed in an afterlife. They believed their spirit would join the Good Spirit in the wonderful place where the Good Spirit lived provided the Iroquois honored the Good Spirit (and all the good spirit little helpers) and lived a good life. There were always bad spirits around, doing their best to block this from happening.

Iroquois False Face Society: Some bad spirits caused disease. Other caused bad behavior. The False Face Society was an Iroquois healing group. The Iroquois False Face Society knew they could not kill a bad spirit. Their job was to scare the bad spirits. They used masks and chants and rattles and dance to scare the evil spirits and to chase them away.

One bad spirit was the flying head. The Iroquois False Face Society was very familiar with the flying head. He lived in the forest and caused all the disease he could. He was a very bad spirit. If someone had a spooky dream, and saw a flying head, they would go to the False Face Society and ask for help.

To chase the flying head away

1. The dreamer would be told to carve a face on a living basswood tree.

2. Once the face was carved, the tree would be cut down.

3. The piece of tree that had the outline of a flying face carved on it would be taken to the wood carver. All other parts of the tree would be used as always.

4. The wood carver made a wood mask following the lines of the carved face on the log. The masks created by the wood carvers always had twisted features and looked scary.

5. Once the mask was ready, the dreamer and his or her family clan hosted a feast. They were responsible for the preparation of all the food. During the feast, with the help of chants and rattles, the members of the False Face Society, invited a good spirit to take the place of the bad one. The mask became magical. It was able to reshape itself into the home of a good spirit.

6. From that time on, the mask was treasured and honored. It was now the home of a good spirit that had to be protected by the dreamer and the clan.

Most of the ailments that were brought to them were easy fixes. If someone came to them with a headache, the ceremony would be performed in the longhouse for everyone to enjoy. The society would don their masks, and dance, and blow ashes in the sufferers face. In minutes, they were done. Their magic was that powerful.

Their reward was some tobacco and some corn mush given to them by the grateful family, who was sure that the sufferer was now cured.

The person they cured automatically became a member of the society. If you were helped, it was important that you go on to help others. That was the Iroquois way.

Each spring and fall, members of the False Face Society each wore a mask and went from home to home, chanting and shaking rattles, and making as much of a racket as they could. This was the twice-annual evil spirit house cleaning festival. The racket they made was designed to scare any lurking little evil spirits away that they might have overlooked during the months previous.

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