The False Face Society is the best known of many medicinal societies among the Iroquois. The society is best known for its dramatic wooden masks, the “false faces.” The masks are used in healing rituals which invoke spirits and a dream world. 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.
The masks are considered to be living and breathing. They are fed with cornmeal ‘Mush’ and they accept gifts of tobacco as payment for rituals. The design of the masks is somewhat variable, but most share certain features. The masks have long, black, reddish brown, brown, grey or white horse hair. Before the introduction of horses by the Europeans, corn husks and buffalo hair were used. The eyes are deep-set and accented by metal. The noses are bent and crooked. The other facial features are variable. The masks are painted red and black. Most often carry pouches of tobacco on their foreheads and/or nostrils. Basswood is usually used for the masks although other types of wood are sometimes used.
When making a mask, an Iroquois man walks through the woods until he is moved by a spirit to carve a mask from the tree. The spirit inspires the unique elements of the mask’s design and the resulting product represents the spirit itself. The masks are carved directly on the tree and only removed when completed. Masks are painted red if they were begun in the morning or black if they were begun in the afternoon. Red masks are thought to be more powerful. Masks with both colors represent spirits with “divided bodies.
A story about False Face can be found here: The Story of False Face
Words spoken by a mother to her newborn son as she cuts the umbilical cord:
I cut from your middle the naval string: know you, understand that your birthplace is not your home, for you are a server and a warrior, you are the bird called quechol, you are the bird called zacuan, you are the bird and warrior of the One Who Dwells in All Places. This house where you are born is but a nest. It is a way station to which you have come. It is your point of entrance into this world. Here you sprout, here you flower. Here you are severed from your mother, as the chip is struck from the stone.
The Medicine Bundle is a collection of items that has come to you in a variety of ways and that represent the Totems of your Power Animals or Allies among nature. In a Medicine Bundle you might find a seed pod, a Tobacco tie, a ball of dried sap from a Pine tree, a scalplock, an Elk tooth, Horse hair, a quarts crystal, an Otter tail, a Stone Person, a special string of beads, and/or any other item that represents Medicine to the Bundle’s owner.
In ancient times many of the items were of special significance among the Tribes and Nations of Native America. For instance, the Crow believed that an Elk tooth was Medicine that would bring abundance in a material manner to the owner. A piece of blue cloth meant good luck, Bear hair and claws would keep a Warrior’s Horse in prime shape, and a Swallow wing would give the power to evade enemies.
Medicine Bundles were used for many different things. There were bundles for personal Medicine, Tribal Bundles, Warrior Bundles, Sun Dance Bundles, Giving Birth Bundles, Hunting Bundles, Dreaming Bundles, and Vision Bundles. Some Bundles would be created by a Medicine Man or Woman for special needs, or people could create their own. Some were passed down before death to a family member or worthy Tribal Member. This passing of the Medicine was to ensure the proper use and Guardianship of the Medicine Bundle.
Each Medicine Bundle came with its own set of rules.
For instance: if the owner had a Warrior Bundle that gave him great strength in battle, his Allies connected to that Bundle may have forbidden him to eat female Deer meat and never paint his face with blue. The gentleness that is a part of the Doe could inhibit his actions in Counting Coup. Blue face paint could draw him toward the Road of Spirit and might bring an early death.
Every Bundle has a specific purpose, and must have regulations that will strengthen the Medicine of the Bundle’s Allies. Thoughtless actions can create havoc in the harmony achieved between the Medicine Helpers and the person seeking assistance if there is no respect for the Bundle’s natural sense of order. The same rules apply to a smaller Bundle worn on the person, which is called a Medicine Pouch.
Medicine Bundle Copies
Some Warriors purchased special copies of a Bundle from another Tribal Member whom they respected. If these Braves had no vision of what their own Medicine was, they were left with no protection. The Allies of nature had been called upon but for one reason or another, some Warriors could not receive their Medicine Dreams. Possibly the problem was that they were not in touch with their female receptive energy due to the rigors of having to prove their right to be Warrior Clan. In any case, to be an unprotected Warrior meant sure death at an early age.
To lie about having received messages from your Power Totem or a vision of your path was to invite disaster, and yet for a Tribe to have a Brave without a Medicine was worse.
The predicament was solved by wise Medicine Men, Chiefs, or great Warriors. These men would accept Horses or other valuable items for a copy of their Medicine Bundle. The Bundle’s maker never put every object that represented his total protection into the copy. The reason for this was that to Give Away all of your Medicine would leave your spirit at risk. No one should ever know all the items in a Personal Medicine Bundle. If someone was trying to use bad medicine to attack a powerful leader in a Tribe, they could harm that person by knowing their Medicine and using sorcery.
The penalty for stealing another’s Medicine Bundle was death. Unless invited, it was forbidden to touch any personal possession belonging to another Tribal Member – man, woman, or child.
Different Types of Medicine Bundles
Tribal Bundles, called the Grandmothers, were the oldest and most sacred. Next came the Sundance Bundles and then the Warrior Bundles. This order of sacredness reflected the Medicine and strength each Bundle had provided the Tribe over long periods of time. Every winter that passed successfully gave further strength to the Bundles.
Individual Sun Dance Bundles were made up by each Brave’s sponsor, who was already acknowledged through acts of courage. The sponsor placed Totem objects into the Sun Dance Bundles that had been passed through many lines of Ancestor Warriors.
No Bundles, however, were more sacred than the Tribal Bundles. These Grandmother Bundles ranked highest in the most ancient, tried and tested Medicines and represented the combined spirits of all Tribal Members – past, present, and future generations. The Grandmothers were so named because they were Tribal Bundles that carry the nurturing Medicine needed by all their children. Like every grandmother in humankind, these Grandmother Bundles seek only the best for their grandchildren.
The Tribal Bundles have been passed down through a line of Guardians. At one time these Bundles had to have their own Tipi and were set up in the camp as a protection for that Tribe. These Grandmother Bundles were protected usually by Warrior Chiefs who had honored themselves and carried strong Medicine. The Tribal Bundles were considered living beings and were never left alone and unprotected.
Today the Grandmother Bundles have been secreted away and many are protected by Grandmother Elders as well as by some Medicine Men. These are among the most sacred objects of the Native American people and still hold the spirit of all the Native American Nations.
The Personal Medicine Bundles can be carried or worn on the person. These Bundles are called on when needed for strength and/or courage during daily activities. Some Medicine Pouches are worn around the neck and are smaller versions of the Medicine bundle. These Medicine Pouches are a reminder for the wearer of the talents, abilities, and Power Animals who will aid them in walking tall and in balance. They are also used for protection.
The Bundles carried by women are not spoken of very much in written history due to the secrets of the Medicine being reserved for the Sisterhoods. The Warrior Clan knew that the women were naturally more adept at receiving due to their female nature, and thus, the women were always honored for their inner-knowing and the Woman Medicine they carried.
These female Medicine bundles could be used to promote fertility, to aid the male Warrior who walked at the woman’s side, to seek new healing techniques with herbs, to aid in delivery of a child, to bring abundance to the lodge, or to maintain a happy family.
The women have always been separate in their use of Medicine and have honored their own societies. They have never had to go through the rigors of physical tests of strength to achieve vision. They are Mothers of the Creative Force of the Universe and naturally receive the messages of their Medicine Helpers to keep and maintain the strength of their Personal and Sisterhood Bundles.
Making and Giving Medicine Bundles
Each object that comes to you to be a part of your personal Medicine can be placed in a piece of hide and wrapped like you would cover a gift, folding all four corners of the hide to the center and then tying the Bundle four times with cords of buckskin.
Medicine Bundles vary in size from something that fits in the palm of your hand all the way up to the size of a newborn baby. Some Medicine Bundles are rolled and some are folded into the pieces of hide. You may want to put some of the smaller objects into a Medicine Pouch and wear it at your waist or around our neck.
If you want to make a Medicine Bundle for a special friend, you would need to look at what kind of Medicine you want to share. Then call on the Four Clan Chiefs (the Four Directions) to send you a dream or vision of what to include. This could be A Bundle for a young wife who fears her first pregnancy, a young man going into the armed forces, a newly-wed couple, someone buying land who would need a Guardian Spirit for the protection of that land, or a friend who is ill. Every kind of Bundle is a gift of Self and is only to be shared with those who will honor the sacred responsibility of the Bundle’s Medicine.
If you are an Elder, you may want to pass your Medicine to a younger person who you know will accept the responsibility with honor and courage. The Bundle may also be passed to another if you do not intend to Drop Your Robe (die). If a person should Drop The Robe before passing the medicine Bundle to someone else, that Bundle and all of the Sacred Medicine belonging to the deceased person should be burned so that the spirit will have no Medicine strings attached to this Wheel of Life and may be free to move on to the Blue Road of Spirit.
Accepting Medicine that has been passed from an Elder or another person with great strengths is not to be taken lightly. It is a great responsibility to respect the life and deeds of another person, carrying yourself in a manner that would allow the original holder of that Medicine to take pride in your action. If you dishonored the life of that Elder or the Medicine, you could receive your share of hard knocks from the Allies.
The Allies understand that all acts of physical life are sacred in their proper time. The allies teach us how and when to experience every act along the Sacred Path with beauty.
In their traditional system, Ojibwa children are guarded by a spiritual vision they acquire after their births. Their first names are taken from a vision or dream their mothers have during pregnancy, some event of spiritual significance that happens during their early lives or through a medicine person’s intercession with the spirits who seeks a vision and a name on their behalf.
But at adolescence, children are free to search on their own for a vision and a name to serve them through their adult lives. All boys are urged to quest for their names and girls are free to do so as well, though it is not required.
Children are separated from their people for a period of time and left alone upon the land, very often fasting, sometimes journeying, sometimes lying still, but all praying and waiting for a touch from spirit. They seek to learn what dogma cannot tell them, what not even the wisest one among their people can give them: an understanding of their innermost self and an awareness of the greater purpose for which they were born.
Girls may, if they choose, accept the vision of the Earth mother as Guardian Spirit and take their power from her through their capacity to bring forth life. The occasion of their first menstruation would then be an important rite of passage.
Both boys and girls who choose to seek their own visions are isolated from their people, consciously entering the world of the spirits with a willingness to release what they have believed about themselves in the past, while they fast and pray. At the end of three or four days, the elders or medicine people help to translate the visions.
Those who have returned from their fasts very often are named for the Guardian Spirit which revealed itself through their vision, some energy or spirit of nature that is believed to be each person’s personal access to strength and wisdom. The Ojibwa believe that every animal and plant has both a physical and a spiritual purpose in the Earthly ecology. The guardian is often closely associated with purpose, so those whose guardians are involved with healing might become aware of their own healing gifts through the contact.
The name and the vision are shared or kept secret, depending on the nature of the individual vision. But the acquisition of a name from the spirits is a cause for public celebration. Traditionally, this ritual made sure that all adolescents entered adulthood with some vision or purpose to which they were responsible. This was practical psychology, helping to ease the transition period for the young from the dependency of childhood to the responsibility of adult life.
Out of the context of its significance as a specific cultural drama, the ritual of the Vision Quest is a potent reflection of the rite of passage into spiritual maturity that can come at any physiological age.
When we were children, along with the protection and sustenance that we required, we allowed the world to create our contexts and our environments. We were given identities by our parents, our religions and our schools and we tried to match what we had been given. We were rarely encouraged to question or outgrow the visions that had been bequeathed to us, often being rewarded for accepting and staying within the structures, censored for our opposition.
But for many of us these visions just don’t work and we fall into confusion or despair. The moment we begin to grow is the one in which we question the identities we have been given and wonder who we are apart from our relationships with others and the work we do, and what our purpose is for being on the Earth at all.
The first impulse in seeking vision is thus an admission of ignorance. Whenever we release a definition of ourselves which served us for one period of our lives in search of a deeper, more powerful understanding, whenever we question the majority view or leave a group with which we have been an active part, we are beginning a Vision Quest.
With the release of the past and the willingness to leave the people behind and to go on alone, we lose both security and certainty. Fear, depression and confusion are all emotions evoked by the beginning of the quest, symbolized by going alone into the woods and into the night.
~From: A Voice From The Earth
In many ways the Earth is like True-Hearted Woman and humanity the husband who neglects her. Still she provides for us, she feeds us, clothes us and keeps us warm, though we neither recognize nor appreciate her gifts. Our eyes are turned to the objects of our desire which we will attain no matter what the cost. In most cases this price is also paid by the Earth.
But even abandoned, even hurt in some ways beyond renewal, the Earth leaves us a child, the possibility of change and hope for the future – if we can choose to live in a different way.
When we begin to view the Earth and its animals, plants and ecosystems as sacred, we will protect and defend the land because our spirituality depends on it. By our own choice and our willingness to listen to the land, we can become native again, even in our cities whose concrete can cover but not destroy the Earth that lies beneath.
But when we cease to uphold the separation between ourselves and the land, refinding our reverence and respect for it, allowing it to become as intrinsic to our spirituality as our compassion for other human beings, we may find ourselves short of the tools necessary for what that means.
For many non-Western cultures a Vision Quest is one method of direct communication with the Earth. Specific details of the experience vary widely but the basic purpose seems to be universal.
The Vision Quest is a ritual which we have all experienced without even being aware of it, right within the context of our own lives, even in our cities. A passing conversation with a stranger, a sentence in a book, an idle musing on a bus, any of these can provide moments of vision if we have the openness to allow ourselves to understand what is really happening around us.
The city-dwelling unconscious Vision Quester who is unhappy with his job, the state of the world and his relationships, but who can’t put his finger on why he isn’t happy or “what it’s all for,” takes off from work for an afternoon and goes for a walk in a park, alone.
He is startled when he comes upon a huge spider’s web which crosses his path. It has been raining intermittently but suddenly a ray of sunlight pierces through the trees. The tiny drops of water, which hang like diamonds from the web, turn into flames. Now within the complexity and confusion he can see order, a delicate beauty, a shadowy sense of purpose.
He goes home, more sure of his ability to move through his conflict, to make decisions of positive change and to allow greater intimacy in his relationships. Without even being aware of it, he has successfully completed an ancient ritual and received the healing inherent within it.
We have access to everything the world has known, if we can learn to listen to the stones and the stories they have to tell, if we hear the winds speak who have been everywhere and heard everything since the beginning of time. The world will always provide vision, if we allow ourselves to be alone, then open our eyes and look as if for the first time, at what has been around us all along.
From: A Voice From The Earth
In the very earliest of times,
When both people and animals lived on the earth,
A person could become an animal if he wanted to
And an animal could become a human being.
Sometimes they were people
And sometimes animals
And there was no difference.
All spoke the same language.
That was a time when words were like magic.
The human mind had mysterious powers.
A word spoken by chance
Might have strange consequences.
It would suddenly become alive
And what people said wanted to happen
Could happen ~
All you had to do was say it
Nobody could explain this:
That’s the way it was.
~An Old Eskimo story
A vision quest is a rite of passage, similar to an initiation, in some Native American cultures. In traditional Lakota culture the Hanblecheyapi (vision quest, literally “crying for a vision”) is one of seven main rites.
Vision quest preparations involve a time of fasting, the guidance of a tribal Medicine Man and sometimes ingestion of natural entheogens; this quest is undertaken for the first time in the early teenage years.
The quest itself is usually a journey alone into the wilderness seeking personal growth and spiritual guidance from the spirit, sometimes Wakan Tanka.
Traditionally, the seeker finds a place that they feel is special, and sits in a 10 foot circle and brings nothing in from society with the exception of water.
A normal Vision Quest usually lasts two to four days within this circle, in which time the seeker is forced to look into his soul.
It is said that a strong urge to leave the Quest area will come to the seeker and a feeling of insanity may set in. However, the seeker normally overcomes this by reminding him or herself of the overall outcome of the quest, causing the mind to stop wandering on random thoughts. The individual can generally find solace in the fact that he or she will not die in just two to four days.
Some have claimed grand visions on their first Vision Quest while others have not. It is an individual experience and often subject to the emotional, spiritual, and physical make-up of the person.
Native American totems are said to be capable of speaking through all things, including messages or instructions in the form of an animal or bird.
Generally a physical representation of the vision or message such as a feather, fur or a rock is collected and placed in the seeker’s medicine bag to ensure the power of the vision will stay with the individual to remind, protect or guide him.
Since the beginning of this cycle of time, humanity has returned to nature to connect with spirit and to seek answers to problems of the physical realms, especially in this timeline when the messages of prophecy reveal themselves to the seeker.
There is something about being alone in the wilderness that brings us closer and more aware of the 4 elements and our connection to a creational source. We go to seek truths and divine realization, just as many of the ancient prophets did in their time.
In its own way – the vision quest is an Initiation not unlike the days of the ancient mystery school teachings where one learns about themselves and the mysteries of the universe are often revealed to them. It is a time of internal transformation and renewal.
- Who am I?
- Why am I here?
In a vision quest, conditions are set up that allow the soul to move beyond the illusions of the little self and enter the unity of the inner whole. It is a time of fasting – praying – and being in nature.
It is a period of solitude in which we seek an inner revelation – a vision -which grants profound meaning and direction to our life.
This initiation leads to maturity and an understanding of our responsibility to ourselves, our society, our natural environment, and our soul.
Though the Vision Quest is associated with Native Americans traditions – it is practiced all over the world.
As an expression of the archetypal “Heroic Journey,” the vision quest has been enacted in religious pilgrimages, mythological tales (including the story of the search for the Holy Grail), and our own daily pursuit of truth and purpose.
Today, there are companies which sponsor vision quests. They provide a wilderness area in which it is to occur, and they give instructions and guidance before and after the event.
In Native American traditions these times of inner trial are marked liked passages. Time is set aside to honor them. It might take a day, a week, a month – whatever is necessary to complete the transformation and get the answer one seeks.
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