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
Now this is the day.
Into the daylight
You will go out standing.
Preparing for your day,
We have passed our days.
When all your days were at an end,
When eight days were past,
Our sun father
Went in to sit down at his sacred place.
And our night fathers
Having come out standing to their sacred place,
Passing a blessed night
We came today.
Now this day
Have come out standing to their sacred place.
our sun father,
Having come out standing to his sacred place,
Our child, it is your day.
The flesh of the white corn,
To our sun father
This prayer meal we offer.
My your road be fulfilled
Reaching to the road of your sun father,
When your road is fulfilled
In your thoughts may we live,
May we be the ones whom your thoughts will embrace,
For this, on this day
To our sun father,
We offer prayer meal.
To this end:
May you help us all to finish our roads.
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.
- Khetani Machangana: Learn To See