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Choctaw Mesmerism, Eclipses, and Dances

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Mesmerism was known among the Choctaw, though they regarded it with wonder and dread, and it was looked upon as injurious and hurtful in its results; while those who practiced this curious art had often to pay very dearly for it, for they were frequently put to death. Ventriloquism has also been found among them, and used solely for vain, selfish and evil designs, but to the great danger of the life of the person practicing it, for the Choctaws believe that whatever appears supernatural, is suspicious and likely at any time to be turned to evil purposes.

Eclipses

Black Squirrels Eating Up The Sun. Before correctly understanding the true causes of the eclipses of the sun, all heathen nations have had their superstitious belief in regard to them. It was so with the Choctaws. Their notions were strange indeed. When the sun began to get less in his brightness, and grow dark and obscure, they believed that some the real black squirrels of large size, driven by hunger, had commenced eating him and were going to devour him. With this belief they thought it was their duty to make every exertion they could to save the great luminary of day from being consumed by them. Therefore every person, both men, women and children, who could make a noise, were called upon to join in the effort to drive the squirrels away. To do this they would begin in the same manner as persons generally do in trying to start a squirrel off from a tree. Some would throw sticks towards the declining sun, whooping and yelling, at the same time shooting arrows toward the supposed black squirrels.

Dances

Eagle Dance, Choctaw, George Catlin, 1835-7
Eagle Dance, Choctaw, George Catlin, 1835-7

They had various kinds of dances as well as other people, many of which were, however, insignificant and do not deserve a notice here; but there were others which were considered important and national, such as the ball-play dance, the war-dance, eagle-dance, and scalp-dance, all of which seem to have been the result of rude and savage ideas. The training of their young men consisted principally in three things; viz.: War, hunting;, and ball playing. The last was a national play with ball-sticks, in which they all took much pride. In that for war, the young men were required to pass through many hard exercises of the body in order to inure them to hardships and suffering. They were required to receive inflictions of tortures on their naked bodies, once a year, and also to plunge into deep water and dive four times in about one minute, during one of the most cold and frosty morning s. Lectures on the subject of bravery and sincerity, truth and justice, towards their friends, were often given them by some of the bravest of their head-men. In fact, no other, person was allowed to address the young, or the people at any time, but those only whose bravery had been long known and acknowledged among them. They were also carefully drilled in the use of the bow, with which they were expert and perfect. They would hardly ever miss a deer or turkey at the distance of fifty yards.

The girls were trained up to perform various kinds of domestic employments, as well as to work in the field, which was but little at that time. They took no small degree of pride in the latter, viewing it as a proper sphere for their exertions. The women would ridicule and laugh at the men who would dare to undertake that kind of labor, which was considered as properly belonging to the women. Their maxim was men for war and hunting; while home is the place for women, and theirs the duty to work.


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