Six Nations Religion

The pagan, though not so alive to the serene beauties of the Christian life, and not so attracted by the power, the promises, and the assurances of the Christian religion, as to evince the one, and embrace the other, or to make trial of the moral safeguards that its armoury supplies, would yet so honor, one would think, the persuasive Christian influences, operating around him and about him in so many benign and kindly ways, as to abandon many of the practices that savor of the superstition of a by-gone age. Though there has been a decline, if not a positive discontinuance, of his traditionary worship of idols; though his adoration of the sun, of certain of the birds of the air, and of the animal creation, is not now blindly followed, and the invocation of these, for the supposed assuring of success to various enterprises, is rarely put in effect, there is yet preserved a relic of his old traditions, in the designs with which he embellishes certain specimens of the handiwork, with which he oft vexes the public eye. (I must really, though, pay my tribute of admiration for the skilled workmanship many of these specimens disclose.) It is common for him, when at work upon the elaborate carving in wood that he practices, to engrave some hideous human figure, intended, obviously, to represent an idol. Does it not excite wonder with us that such refinements upon hideousness and repulsiveness could ever have provoked the worship or adoration of any one?

One almost insuperable difficulty that the missionary experiences in his attempts to instil religious principles into the Indian mind, is to get him to entertain the theory that the human race sprang originally from one pair. The pagan believes in the existence of a Supreme Being, though, his idea of that Being’s benignity and consideration relates solely to an earthly oversight of him, and a concern for his daily wants. His conception of future bliss is almost wholly sensual, and wrapped up with the notion of an unrestrained indulgence of animal appetite, and a whole-souled abandonment to feasting and dancing. His supreme view of happiness is that he shall be, assigned happy hunting-grounds, which shall be stocked with innumerable game, and where, equipped in perfection for the chase, he shall ever be incited to its ceaseless pursuit.

Of course, such impressions, clogged and clouded as they are with earthliness, have been dispelled in the cases of those, who have opened their minds to the more desirable promises of the Gospel.

The Indian’s expectation of attaining and enjoying a future state of bliss, which shall transcend his mundane experience, is often present to his mind. I remember once walking with rather measured gait along one of the roads of the Reserve, bearing about me, it may be, the idea of supreme reflection, when an Indian stopped me, and asked (though, as my eyes sought the ground at the time, I cannot conceive how his attributing to me thoughts of celestial concernment could have been suggested) if I were thinking of heaven. I should have been pleased to own to my mind’s being occupied at the time with heavenly meditations, a confession not only worthy, if true, to have been indulged in, but one having in it possibly force for him, as helping, perhaps, to confirm the course of his thoughts in the only true and high and ennobling channel, which his question would suggest as being their frequent, if not their habitual, direction.

Truth, however, compelled me to admit the subserviency of my mind, at the moment, to earthly thought.

The pagan Indian celebrates what he calls dances, which frequently, if liquor can only be had, degenerate into mere drunken orgies. Here the war-whoop, with its direful music, greets the ear, carrying terror and dismay to the breasts of the uninitiated; and here the war-dance, with all the accessories of paint and feathers, gets free indulgence.

Mackenzie, J. B. A Treatise of the Six Nation Indians. Guardian Printing Office. 1882.

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