Listen to the Great Spirit

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“Listen further to what the Great Spirit has been pleased to communicate to us. He has made us, as a race, separate and distinct from the pale faces. It is a great sin to intermarry and intermingle the blood of the two races. Let none be guilty of this transgression.

“At one time the four messengers said to Handsomelake, ‘Lest the people should disbelieve you and not repent and forsake their evil ways, we will now disclose to you the house of torment, the dwelling place of the evil-minded.’ Handsomelake was particular in describing to us all that he witnessed, and the course which departed spirits were accustomed to take on leaving the earth. There was a road which led upward; at a certain point it branched; one branch led straight forward to the house of the Great Spirit, and the other turned aside to the house of torment; at the place where the roads separated were stationed two keepers, one representing the good and the other the evil spirit; when a person reached the fork, if wicked, by a motion of the evil keeper, he turned instinctively upon the road which led to the abode of the evil-minded; but if virtuous and good, the other keeper directed him upon the straight road; the latter was not much traveled, while the former was so frequently trodden that no grass could grow in the pathway. It sometimes happens that the keepers have great difficulty in deciding which path the person should take, when the good and bad actions of the individual were nearly balanced. Those sent to the house of torment sometimes remain one day, (which is one year with us); some for a longer period. After they have atoned for their sins they pass to heaven; but when they have committed either of the great sins, (witchcraft, murder, or infanticide), they never pass to heaven, but are tormented forever. Having conducted Handsomelake to this place, he saw a large dark-colored mansion, covered with soot, and beside it stood a lesser one. One of the four then held out his rod, and the top of the house moved up until they could look down upon all that was within. He saw many rooms. The first object which met his eyes was a haggard-looking man, his sunken eyes cast upon the ground, and his form half consumed by the torments he had undergone. This man was a drunkard. The evil-minded then appeared and called him by name. As the man obeyed his call, he dipped from a caldron a quantity of red- hot liquid and commanded him to drink it, as it was an article he loved. The man did as he was commanded, and immediately from his mouth issued a stream of blaze. He cried in vain for help. The tormentor then requested him to sing and make himself merry as he had done while on earth, after drinking the firewater. Let drunkards take warning from

this. Others were then summoned. There came before him two persons who appeared to be husband and wife. He told them to exercise the privilege they were so fond of while on earth. They immediately commenced a quarrel of words. They raged at each other with such violence that their tongues and eyes ran out so far they could neither see nor speak. This, said they, is the punishment of quarrelsome and disputing husbands and wives. Let such also take warning, and lie together in peace and harmony. Next he called up a woman who had been a witch. First he plunged her into a caldron of boiling liquid. In her cries of distress she begged the evil-minded to give her some cooler place. He then immersed her into one containing liquid at the point of freezing. Her cries were then that she was too cold. This woman, said the four messengers, shall always be tormented in this manner. He proceeded to mention the punishment which awaits all those who cruelly ill-treat their wives. The evil-minded next called up a man who had been accustomed to beat his wife. Having led him up to a red-hot statue of a woman, he directed him to do that which he was fond of while upon earth. He obeyed, and struck the figure. The sparks flew in every direction, and by the contact his arm was consumed. Such is the punishment, they said, awaiting those who ill-treat their wives. From this take seasonable warning. He looked again and saw a woman, whose arms and hands were nothing but bones. She had sold firewater to the Indians, and the flesh was eaten from her hands and arms. This, they said, would be the fate of rum-sellers. Again he looked, and in one apartment saw and recognized Ho-ne-ya-wus (farmer’s brother), his former friend. He was engaged in removing a heap of sand, grain by grain, and although he labored continually, yet the heap was not diminished. This, they said, was the punishment of those who sold land. Adjacent to the house of torment was a field of corn filled with weeds. He saw a woman in the act of cutting them down, but as fast as this was done they grew up again. This, they said, was the punishment of lazy women. It would be proper and right, had we time, to tell more of this place of punishment, but my time is limited and must pass to other things.

“The Creator made men dependent upon each other. He made them sociable beings: therefore, when your neighbors visit you set food before them. If it be your next door neighbor, you must give him to eat. He will partake and thank you.”

“Again they said, ‘You must not steal.’ Should you want for anything necessary, you have only to tell your wants and they will be supplied. This is right. Let none ever steal anything. Children are often tempted to take things home which do not belong to them. Let parents instruct their children in this rule.

“Many of our people live to a very old age. Your Creator says that your deportment toward them must be that of reverence and affection. They have seen and felt much of the miseries and pains of earth. Be always kind to them when old and helpless. Wash their hands and face and nurse them with care. This is the will of the Great Spirit.

“It has been the custom among us to mourn for the dead one year. This custom is wrong. As it causes the death of many children, it must be abandoned. Ten days mourn for the dead, and not longer. When one dies, it is right and proper to make an address over the body, telling how much you loved the deceased. Great respect for the dead must be observed among us.

“At another time the four messengers said to Handsomelake that they would show him the destroyer of Villages (Washington), of whom you have so often heard. Upon the road leading to heaven he could see a light, far away in the distance, moving to and fro. Its brightness far exceeded the brilliancy of the noonday sun. They told him the journey was as follows: First they came to a cold spring, which was a resting place; from this point they proceeded into pleasant fairy grounds, which spread away in every direction: soon they reached heaven; the light was dazzling: berries of every description grew in vast abundance: the size and quality were such that a single berry was more than sufficient to appease the appetite: a sweet fragrance perfumed the air; fruits of every kind met the eye. The inmates of this celestial abode spent their time in amusement and repose. No evil could enter there. None in heaven ever transgress again: families are reunited and dwell together in harmony: they possessed a bodily form, the senses and the remembrance of earthly life; but no white man ever enters heaven. Thus they said. He looked and saw an enclosure upon a plain, just without the entrance of heaven. Within it was a fort. Here he saw the ‘destroyer of villages,’ walking to and fro within the enclosure. His countenance indicated a great and good man. They said to Handsomelake, ‘The man you see is the only pale face that ever left the earth; he was kind to you when on the settlement of the great difficulty between the Americans and the Great Crown (Great Britain), you were abandoned to the mercy of your enemies. The Crown told the great American that as for his allies, the Indians, he might kill them if he liked. The great American judged that this would be cruel and unjust; he believed they were made by the Great Spirit, and were entitled to the enjoyments of life; he was kind to you and extended over you his protection: for this reason he has been allowed to leave the earth. But he is never permitted to go into the presence of the Great Spirit. Although alone, he is perfectly happy. All faithful Indians pass by him as they go to heaven. They see him and recognize him, but pass on in silence. No words ever pass his lips.

“Friends and relatives, it was by the influence of this great man that we were spared as a people, and yet live. Had he not granted as his protection, where would we have been? Perished all perished.

“The four messengers further said to Handsomelake that they were fearful that unless the people repent and obey his commands, the forbearance and patience of the Creator would be exhausted; that He would grow angry with them and cause their increase to cease.

“Our Creator, made light and darkness; He made the sun to heat and shine over the world; He made the moon, also, to shine by night and to cool the world, if the sun make it too hot by day. The keeper of the clouds, by direction of the Great Spirit, will then cease to act. The keeper of the springs and running brooks will cease to rule them for the good of man. The sun will cease to fulfill its office. Total darkness will then cover the earth. A great smoke will rise and spread over the face of the earth. Then will come out of it all monsters and poisonous animals created by the evil-minded, and they, with the wicked upon the earth, will perish together.

“But before this dreadful time shall come, the Great Spirit will take home to Himself all the good and faithful. They will lay themselves down to sleep, and from this sleep of death they will arise and go home to their Creator. Thus they said.

“I have done. I close thus, that you may remember and understand the fate which awaits the earth, the unfaithful and the unbelieving. Our Creator looks down upon us. The four Beings from above see us. They witness with pleasure this assemblage, and rejoice at the object for which it is gathered. It is now forty-eight years since we first began to listen to the renewed will of our Creator. I have been unable, during the time allotted to me, to rehearse all the savings of Ga-ne-o-di-yo (Handsomelake); I regret very much that you cannot hear them all.

“Counselors, warriors, women and children, I have done. I thank you all for your attendance, and for your kind and patient attention. May the Great Spirit, who rules all things, watch over and protect you from every harm and danger while you travel the journey of life. May the Great Spirit bless all, and bestow upon you life health, peace and prosperity: and may you in turn appreciate His great goodness. This is all.”



MLA Source Citation:

Johnson, Elias. Legends, Traditions, and Laws of the Iroquois, or Six Nations and History of the Tuscarora Indians. Lockport, New York: Union Printing and Publishing Co. 1881. AccessGenealogy.com. Web. 25 October 2014. http://www.accessgenealogy.com/native/listen-to-the-great-spirit.htm - Last updated on Jun 4th, 2013


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