Friday, January 27, 2012

Iroquois Mid-Winter Ceremony: January 28

The Iroquois Midwinter Ceremony begins in late January or early February, depending upon the moon cycle. To be more precise, it begins when the New Moon appears and when the Sun is in Aquarius. It is then that their spiritual year begins and five days later the Midwinter Ceremony begins. As with all Iroquois ceremonies, the Midwinter began and ended with a prayer giving thanks. The Iroquois did not ask the supreme being for anything, but expressed gratitude for what they had already been given. As with all Iroquois ceremonies, the Midwinter began and ended with a prayer giving thanks. The Iroquois did not ask the supreme being for anything, but expressed gratitude for what they had already been given.  What a special way to live!

We return thanks to our mother, the earth, which sustains us. 
We return thanks the rivers and streams which supply us with water. 
We return thanks to all herbs, which furnish medicines for the cure of our diseases. 
We return thanks to the corn, and to her sisters, the beans and the squash, which give us life. 
We return thanks to the bushes and trees, which provide us with fruit. 
We return thanks to the wind which, moving the air, has banished disease. 
We return thanks to the moon and the stars, which have given us their light, when the sun was gone. 
We return thanks to our grandfather He-no...who has given to us his rain. 
We return thanks to the sun, that he has looked upon the earth with a beneficient eye.
 Lastly, we return thanks to the Great Spirit, in whom is embodied all goodness, 
and who directs all things for the good of his children.

This a time of purification and forgiveness is celebrated by burning the offenses and grudges of the old year in tobacco offerings. It was during the Midwinter Ceremony that the people should beg the Creator for the return of all the plants.  The ceremonies were special times of feasts, dancing, and singing, celebrated with tobacco offerings, confession of offenses, singing, drumming, and dancing. Newly born children receive their names now, and the year ahead is forecast in dream telling, celebrated in music and dance.

An essential part of the Midwinter Festival was the practice of dream guessing. The Iroquois felt very strongly that dreams guided all aspects of their lives – hunting, fighting, even marriage because the dreamer had been in contact with the guidance and wisdom of the soul.    For this reason, it was necessary that any instructions given in a dream be followed. Dreamers came to each festival and shared their dreams with the people there. The people would guess what these dreams meant.On the early northern frontier, it was not unusual for whole Iroquoian communities to base life-or-death decisions on the prophetic dreams. For example, if one person had a dream of failure before a battle, they would retreat, viewing the dream as an omen.  

I've always been fascinated with Native American beliefs, but even more so with the Iroquois. Traditionally, the Iroquois were very religious. As is true of most American Indians, the Iroquois believed that all things on Earth had a spirit. Gods called Creator, Our Grandmother the Moon, and Our Elder Brother the Sun all lived in the sky world. The chief influences directing the religious life of the Iroquois are given as mythology, belief in spirits greater and lesser, ghosts of the dead, gods, dreams, belief in a personal soul, witchcraft, shamans and taboos. 

I think I've mentioned this before, but in case I haven 't, I've been a collector of No-Face dolls for several years.  My mother-in-law told me the dolls had no face because they saw no evil, heard no evil, and saw no evil. The Iroquois offer the following explanation.  Hope you all enjoy this little tale as much as I did. 

The three sisters of the Iroquois, Corn, Beans and Squash are the three spirits that sustain life. In the beginning, the Corn spirit was so happy at being a sustainer of life that she asked the Creator for more ways to help her people. So the Creator began forming a doll from her husks, creating for it a beautiful face, and giving it to the children of the Iroquois. But the doll, as it passed from village to village and child to child, continually proclaimed her beauty, until she became so vain that the Creator disapproved of her and asked her to refrain from such narcissistic behavior. If she continued, the Creator warned, he would have to punish her.

The doll agreed, and attempted to be more humble. But one day, walking by a creek, she glanced into the water and stopped to admire the beauy of her reflection. The Creator, however was unseeing; he sent a giant screech owl down from the sky to snatch her reflection from the water. When she then glaned into the water again to admire her beauty, her reflection was gone. She could no longer see her face or glory in her superior beauty.

Ever since, when an Iroquois mother gives a doll to her child, she usually a doll with no face, and tells the legend of the Corn-Husk doll. The Iroquois want their children to value the unique gifts that the Creator has given to each of them, but not to view themselves as superior to another, or to overemphasize physical appearance at the expense of spiritual and community values.


  1. sometimes I wonder how things would be different if we gave thanks instead of always asking for... Nice post to wake up to Mary... Have a blessed day and weekend

  2. Wonderful - I'd love to read more about this - any suggestions?

  3. ~a beautiful story behind the no face dolls...and what a wonderful collection to have by your side...its seems there is so much asking nowadays and not even thankings...a gentle reminder in the words above...this was a fascinating piece my friend...much love light and blessings~

  4. I am fascinated with Native/Inuit philosophy and art. Really love the prayer of thanks - I was thinking the same thing as Mother Moon while reading - it's a shame we all don't focus our thoughts on the abundance in our lives rather than the lack. Enjoyed the No-Face Doll tale; the Iroquois are a very noble and humble people.

  5. I Have never heard of or seen them.
    Never too old to learn something.
    Nice collection,Mary. (((Hugs)))Pat

  6. What a beautiful story. I love the Iroquois philosophy of giving thanks and not asking for anything else. Very simple, yet powerful (imho)

    Thanks for sharing and I like the doll story too.

  7. To bad our present day politicians can't practice some of this wisdom. Thanks for sharing this. X.