Myths of the Iroquois
By Erminnie A. Smith
About this book
Terms of Service
69 – 73
birth.] ORIGIN OF WITCHES AND WITCH CHARMS. 69
another. By applying this crystal to one bewitched, hairs, straws, leaves, pebbles, &c, could be drawn forth.
Bhuan-ta-yd: A medicine mau who by the use of a small kettle boiled roots or herbs, and by covering the head with a blanket and holding it over the kettle could see the image of an enemy who had bewitched either some one else or himself.
Yd-tyu^nyuHi: One who performed miraculous feats by drawing out with alder tubes, hairs, pieces of skin, leaves, &C., from people who had been bewitched with these things.
Bd-nunkicd-tcrhayun-ndrhi: Superior medicine man.
UskWrhdrhih: A carnivorous ghost bodied forth in a skeleton.
Uhna”-icdk: A departing ghost who will revisit its dead body.
U-t-kun-tcrhd”k8TMn: An evil spirit, from whom all witches received their power.
U-htk&a-8ii rhun: One who could assume a partly animal shape.
Yd-8kuD-nuand: The ghost of a living person.
Yd tcunnhuhkwdkwd: An apparition which could emit flames of light.
U-ht-kun: A natural-born witch or ghost.
Nd-yunh-ndnyd-rhuaiinyan-a: A witch under the influence or power of a superior witch.
Stories abound in which these personages or spirits are introduced.
The belief in Ydskuniinunnd, or that the spirit of a person could be in one locality and its body exist at the same time in another, explains much of the phenomena of witchcraft, and accounts for the strange confessions oftentimes made by those who were known to have been unjustly accused.
Many customs still existing show that spirits are supposed to continue to experience the wants of humanity after leaving the body. For some time after the death of an adult his accustomed portion of food is often dealt out for the supposed hungry spirit, and on the death of a nursing child two pieces of cloth are saturated with the mother’s milk and placed in the hands of the dead child so that its spirit may not return to haunt the bereaved mother.
When a living nursing child is taken out at night the mother takes a pinch of white ashes and rubs it on the face of the child so that the spirits will not trouble it, because they say that a child still continues to hold intercourse with the spirit world whence it so recently came.
THE ORIGIN OF WITCHES AND WITCH CHARMS.
A great many years ago boys were instructed to go out and hunt birds and other game for the support of their respective families and to learn from practice how to hunt. A certain boy while out hunting came across a beautiful snake. Taking a great fancy to it, he caught it and cared for it, feeding it on birds, &C., and made a bark bowl in which he kept it. He put fibers, down, and small feathers into the water with the snake, and soon found that these things had become living beings. From this fact he naturally conjectured that the snake was endowed with supernatural powers. He then continued his experiments, and discovered that whatever he put into this water became alive; so he went to another swamp and got other snakes, which he put into the bowl. While experimenting he saw other Indians putting things on their eyes to see sharp, so he rubbed some of this snake-water on his eyes, and climbing a tree he found that he could see things even if they were hidden.
Finding that this snake liquid was powerful enough to improve his sight, he concluded that the more snakes he put into the waters the more powerful would be the liquid. He therefore hung a large number of snakes so that their oil dropped into the water, increasing its power and making more lively its strange inhabitants.
He then learned that by simply putting one of his fingers into the liquid and pointing it at any person that person would immediately become bewitched.
After placing some roots (which were not poisonous) into the snake liquid, he put some of the mixture into his mouth and found that it produced a peculiar sensation. By blowing it from his mouth it would give a great light; by placing ^ome in his eyes he could see in the dark and could go through all kinds of impassable places; he could become like a snake; he could even become invisible, and could travel faster than any other mortal. An arrow dipped into this liquid and shot at any living being, even if it did not hit its object, would nevertheless kill it. A feather dipped into this snake water and then pointed at any wishedfor game, would immediately start for the desired thing and would always kill it, and when the game was dissected the feather was always found in it. Having discovered the great power of this snake extract, he took into consideration the finding of counteracting agents. To accomplish this end,he diligently searched for roots and herbs having the required qualities, and finally he was rewarded by obtaining antidotes which would work upon objects which he had bewitched or wounded.
ORIGIN OF THE SENECA MEDICINE
Nearly two hundred years ago a man went into the woods on a hunting expedition. He was quite alone. He camped out in a field and was wakened in the night by the sound of singing and a noise like the beating of a drum. He could not sleep any more, so he rose and went in the direction of the sound. To his surprise the place had all the apSmth.] A “true” Witch Story. 71
pearance of being inhabited. On the one hand was a hill of corn, on the other a large squash vine with three squashes on it, and three ears of corn grew apart from all the others. He was unable to guess what it meant, but started off on his hunting once more, determined to return some evening, being both curious and uneasy. In the night, as he slept near by, he again heard a noise, and awakening, saw a man looking at him, who said, “Beware! I am after you; what you saw was sacred; you deserve to die.” But the people who now gathered around said they would pardon it, and would tell him the secret they possessed: “The great medicine for wounds,” said the man who had awakened him, ” is squash and corn; come with me and I will teach you.”
He led him to the spot where the people were assembled, and there he saw a fire and a laurel bush which looked like iron. The crowds danced around it singing, and rattling gourd-shells, and he begged them to tell him what they did it for.
Then one of them heated a stick and thrust it right through his cheek, and then applied some of the medicine to prove to him how quickly it could heal the wound. Then they did the same to his leg. All the time they sang a tune; they called it the “medicine song,” and taught it to him.
Then he turned to go home, and all at once he perceived that they were not human beings, as he had thought, but animals, bears, bea\ ers, and foxes, which all flew off as he looked. They had given him directions to take one stalk of corn and dry the cob and pound it very fine, and to take one squash, cut it up and pound that,and they then showed him how much for a dose. He was to take water from a runningspring, and always from up the stream, never down.
He made up the prescription and used it with very great success, and made enough before he died to last over one hundred years.
This was the origin of the great medicine of the Senecas. The people sing over its preparation every time the deer changes his coat, and when it is administered to a patient they sing the medicine song, while they rattle a gourd-shell as accompaniment, and burn tobacco. Burning tobacco is the-same as praying. In times of trouble or fear, after a bad dream, or any event which frightens them, they say, “My mother went out and burned tobacco.”
The medicine is prepared now with the addition of meat.
A “true” Witch Story.
Among the Senecas dwelt an old woman who was very stingy. All at once she began to suffer great pain in her eye. She consulted a conjurer, who went out to a bush and covered it with a tent and then began to sing, keeping time with his hand. After the while he returned to her and said: “Yon are bewitched. Yon refused to give milk to a poor woman who came to beg of you, and she has bewitched you. I have had her house revealed to iiie, and I saw her, but she was combing her hair over her face, so I could not see her features. I would not recognize her again.”
Next day he tried again; then he said: “Now I know who she is.” So they sent for a chief and told him all about it, and he brought the woman before them. She was a Chippewa and a witch. The chief had her brought to the old woman’s cabin. She owned that she had bewitched her, and said, “Fetch me the thigh-bone of a beaver from a man who is the child of Molly Brant, the child of Governor W. Johnson.” The bone was brought, and by the time it arrived she had scoured a brass kettle, and had clean water poured into it. As soon as she received the bone, which was hollow, she placed it against the eye that was not painful and spat through it. After a while she ceased spitting, and looked in the water. A spider was running around in the kettle. She covered it over with her handkerchief, then removed it, and a feather lay there instead of the spider. The pain left the old woman but the sight was not restored.
A CASE OF WITCHCRAFT.
The victim in this case was a Mary Jemison, who, having severe pains in her chest, concluded that she was bewitched, and consulted the witchdoctors, who applied their extractive bandages, which greatly relieved her. She saw a dog as an apparition coming toward her, and directed her friends to shoot it, but they did not succeed in killing it. In like manner a oat, which was invisible to other people, was seen by her. She finally recovered, but Andrew John, who was pronounced her bewitcher, and who was outwitched, is now dying from consumption.
AN INCANTATION TO BRING RAIN.
In a dry season, the horizon being filled with distant thunder heads, it was customary to burn what is called by the Indians real tobacco as an offering to bring rain.
On occasions of this nature the people were notified by swift-footed heralds that the children, or_sons, of Thunder were in the horizon, and that tobacco must be burned in order to get some rain. Every family was supposed to have a private altar upon which its offerings were secretly made; after which said family must repair, bearing its tithe, Bkith.] CURE FOR ALL BODILY INJURIES. 73
to the council-house, where the gathered tithes of tobacco were burned in the council fire. While the tobacco was burning, the agile and athletic dauced the rain-dance.
When this was done, Hi-nun, pleased with the incense of the burning tobacco, called forth huge dark banks of rain clouds and took personal charge of the gathering storm to guide it to wet the dry and parched earth. Hi-nun was considered a great lover of tobacco, but always in want of it.
A CURE FOR ALL BODILY INJURIES.
This was made from the dried and pulverized flesh of every known bird, beast, and fish. Equal portions of this flesh were mixed into a compound, which was divided among all true medicine-men.
A WITCH IN THE SHAPE OF A DOG.
Witches could and did assume animal shapes.
On the Buffalo Reservation a man saw a “witch-woman” coming, with fire streaming from her mouth. Crossing a creek and obtaining his gun the man returned and saw a dog at no great distance resting its forefeet upon a log, and it had fire streaming from its mouth and nostrils.
The man fired at it and saw it fall, but as it was very dark he dared not go near it; but on the following morning he went to the spot and saw where it had fallen, by the marks of blood from its wound. Tracking it by this means he followed its path until it had reached a bridge, where the woman’s tracks took the place of the dog’s tracks in the path. He followed the bloody trail to the Tonawanda Reservation, where he found the woman. She had died from the effect of the shot.
A MAN WHO ASSUMED THE SHAPE OF A HOG.
On the Tonawanda Reservation three boys were coming down a hill, when they saw a large hog, which they concluded to follow to And its home. As they pursued the hog they continually kicked it, and it retaliated by biting at them at times. It retreated toward the bank of a small creek, reaching which it suddenly disappeared. They saw no reason to suppose that it had drowned itself in the stream ; but while searching for it they found on one of the banks an old man, who laughed and said, ” What do you seek f’ They answered, “A hog.”
Myths of the Iroquois
By Erminnie A. Smith
About this book
Terms of Service
74 – 78
After some moments the old man said that it was he, himself, whom they had been chasing, and by this the boys knew that he was a witch.
A Canadian Indian says he saw, one evening, on the road, a white bull with fire streaming from its nostrils, which, after it had passed him, he pursued. He had never seen so large a bull, or in fact any white bull, upon the reservation. As it passed in front of a house it was transformed into a man with a large white blanket, who was ever afterward known as a witch.
A SUPERSTITION ABOUT FLIES.
There was once a species of fly so poisonous that sometimes merely the smell of them would eat the nose from a man’s face. A certain species of woodpecker was the only thing that could destroy them. Their homes were in trees, on which their poisonous tracks could be traced. They often entered the horns of a deer; hence, the Indian hunter’s first move after shooting a deer was to examine its horns, and if they were infected, the hunter would run away, since he knew that the moment the animal died the fatal insect would emerge from the horn.
Around the trees in which they lived deer ever congregated, seemingly bewitched by these fierce and noxious little flies.
Buckskin and deerskin were used to catch them. The bird that killed them for food was colored black and yellow. In the evening it came forth from its home in a hollow tree and scoured the forests for them.
These birds were caught with buckskin traps and their feathers were used as charms, being fastened to the arrows of the hunter. An arrow thus made potent would surely bring down the deer.
Oneida Iroquois Folklore, Myth, And History
Killing A Witch
Once there was someone sick over Nick Hon Yon’s house on the West Road. As they were watching with the sick person at night they used to hear something rubbing against the side of the house; once something peered in at the window and they saw it was a large black dog. This dog had been skulking around the house. Therefore, it was decided that this dog was a witch who was causing the sickness.
So the men got ten cent pieces or something like that–‘we’ll say ten cent pieces’–to make silver bullets for you can’t kill a witch with lead, it’s got to be silver. When night came they arranged themselves on each side of the West Road…with guns and silver bullets, all saying nothing in order to give no warning.
The dog came in sight but just then one man said, ‘There she goes.’ That gave the warning, and as they all started to fire, the dog leaped the fence and started towards the east into the fields of darkness and they could not keep track of it though they felt sure it had been hit.
Now at this time there was an old woman living in the house on the Olmstead place…and at just this time she was taken sick. Her family however kept up the greatest secrecy about her condition and they didn’t call the doctor or let anyone in to see her or say what was the matter. After a time she died, never having had a doctor. Some people forced their way in to help clean up and they found her soaked in blood. They were sure she was the witch.