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"Banishing the Evil Spirits"(An Iroquois Shaman of the False Face Society, performing a curing ritual) by Jud Hartmann

Shamans were those who claimed to control supernatural powers. Through dreams and visions they obtained special potency from powerful spirits to perform curing rituals and religious ceremonies within Iroquois society. Nothing was more sacred to the Shaman and his society than the mask - the False-Face - which when worn by Medicine Society members enabled them to portray supernatural spirits of the forest and thus become endowed with their "orenda" - the potentiality to do or effect results mystically. Construction of a False-Face was in itself a ritual. Sacred tobacco was burned as an offering to a living basswood tree before the first carving was done. Only sincere men could "ask the life" and carve masks that would contain the life spirit of the tree. Once the carving was nearly complete, the trunk was notched above and below so that it could be split away. The back was then hollowed out to receive the wearer's face. At the council-house meeting, the great False-Face of the spirit whom the mask represented was finally placed briefly in the fire and was supplicated with sacred tobacco thrown onto the burning embers. Thus "baptized", a mask was alive and charged with a power that could do almost limitless good or ill. Buffalo hair was often used on old masks; horse hair on the more recent. The eyes were usually made of polished metal to reflect firelight at night. Bright pigments were painted on the wood before it was carefully oiled.

The Iroquois were not particularly bothered by the guilt that was the focus of European religious rituals. Instead, Iroquois rituals strove to compensate for the sacrifices entailed in living up to the ideal of autonomous responsibility with its stoical endurance of loneliness, discomfort, physical hardship and pain. False-Face ceremonies worked to provide reassurance of continued protection and support from the spirits and thus, in disguised, ceremonial and symbolic form, prevented both mental illness and social disorder.


Edition size 20. Hot cast bronze.
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