The Iroquois, Hiawatha, and the Way of Grief
The Legend of Dekanawida
The Iroquois are intimately linked with the roots of peace. The path of peace ( peace is not the opposite of war – think of it as the path of harmony) connects with the legend of Dekanawida (The name means “two river currents flowing together.” – we will see that these are the rivers of life and death.)
When Dekanawida grew to manhood he built his canoe of white stone (this is an image of going to the world of the dead — this is where we got to in the last two blogs — Coatlique). His intent was to stop the shedding of blood among human beings.
He crossed Lake Ontario in his canoe of white stone and approached the land of the Iroquois. The five Iroquois tribes were at war with one another. When they saw Dekanawida’s boat of white stone, they were filled with wonder.
Dekanawida brought the message of peace to the tribes. The message has three parts: Righteousness – justice between men and nations; Health – soundness of mind and body; Power – the authority of law and custom. (In the U.S. Constitution, which was modeled on these three principles – they became Life (Health), Liberty (Righteousness), and the Pursuit of Happiness (Power) ). These principles were to be worked out among the tribes in the Longhouse (This became Congress) – where there are many fires. The five nations live as one household – under one chief mother; the women have the power to name the chiefs. The Mother of Nations is called “New Face.”
This was the plan. But, it was not easy. The tribes practiced cannibalism at that time. Dekanawida went to the house of the ‘man who eats humans’. He climbed to the roof of this man’s dwelling and looked straight down the smoke hole. The man below was looking into the water of a kettle – he was about to cook a man. He saw Dekanawida’s face reflected in the water and he thought that it was his own face. He had never seen such wisdom and righteousness. He thought –“now I will no longer kill humans and eat their flesh”. He then asks if there is anyone who can tell him how to make amends. Dekanawida came down from the roof and sat with him. “The New Mind” has come to you – to heal the memories by working to make justice prevail and bringing peace to those places where you have brought pain.”
Dekanawida names this man Hiawatha (He who combs).
Dekanawida sent Hiawatha to visit Atotarho – a great and evil wizard. Hiawatha combs the snakes out of Atotarho’s hair… there is much more to the legend – this is the part we need to work with.
Dekanawida was an initiate who tries to introduce new spiritual principles – by going through the depths of soul (that is, one has to go inward and down – down to the region of Coatlique, for example –remember, her head is a vicious snake and she wears a skirt of snakes) – in fact, the Iroquois are related to the Mayans).
Hiawatha is a soul-being between two initiates – Dekanawida – good, and Atotarho – evil. He is an imagination of how we are to work with evil. Evil cannot be fought against because to do so requires using the means of evil to do so.
The clue to the beginning of the healing of greed: feeling the sorrow of Earth and her people; and an unending meeting of our ‘failures’ – shortcomings – not simply knowing about them, but meeting them in soul.
Hiawatha goes through extreme sorrow in seeking the transformation of Atotarho – that is, the transformation of evil. His three daughters and a fourth were killed.
He establishes the ritual of Condolence —- The ritual of Grieving
Hiawatha combing the Snakes out of one who is possessed by Otatarho
Wampum Beads with the White Tree of Peace
He invented wampum – we take that word to mean a form of money – initially it was not (later, in another blog, we will see what happened, how wampum became “money.. Wampum beads were a way of marking sorrowful stories. After the death of his family, he was wandering and came to Tully Lakes, where he walked in desolation, picking up shells. He threaded them onto three strings. Hiawatha says:
“If I found anyone burdened with grief even as I am, I would console them for they would be covered with the night and wrapped in the darkness. This would lift with words of condolence and these strings of beads would become words with which I would address them –
Presenting the first string of wampum beads to one grieving, he would say:“With these words, I wipe away the tears of your eyes so that you may see clearly”.
Presenting the second string, he would say: “With these words, I wipe away the obstruction from your ears so that you may once again have perfect hearing.”
Presenting the third string, he would say: “ With these words, I remove the obstruction from your throat so that you may once again have perfect speaking.
These are the basic three words of the Condolence Ceremony, calling people to the three principles of righteousness in conduct, health of body and mind, and equality among people.
You may know that the Iroquois influenced the forming of the American Constitution – it was modeled on their ways of the Longhouse and the way of Condolence. — this is long lost on us.The story just told contains within it the qualities of the Spiritual Way of America – which we have been getting to, which we have been touching into all along.
Cannibalism still goes on – eating one’s neighbor – cannibalism is a far better word that greed!
In this midst of the cannibalism of greed, the spiritual path of America is the spiritual path of life/death – and condolence.We do not see, do we – that the constant violence – bombings, school shootings, the lying, corporate cannibalism, are the pathology of the spiritual way of death, the spiritual way through death — if you do not die, you are killed! That is the pathology – killing – because the cannibalism of greed has not been seen as killing and killing as a way to avoid coming to terms, within oneself, with the great mystery of dying, that is, the dying of ego and the entering of soul. A mystery that needs to be met daily as a way of entering the deepest depth of soul. As a nation, and even as individuals, we no longer go through the mystery of dying, the mystery of soul; and we do not experience condolence (when 17 children are slaughtered, there is, at best, a moment of Silence – that passes as condolence, or a few political words); we cannot even phantom the three ways of condolence.
We either enter the way of death (do not take death here literally or you wind up right back where we are – killing) – or we are killed. Think of 9/11! It is a large picture of what is happening to us all. When greed takes over, we no longer go through dying. We are killed – by terrorism, tornadoes, floods, fires, hurricanes, Ebola, criminals. – these ways of being killed are a necessity in the absence of living the mystery of life/death happening each moment. ( It is important to deeply contemplate this – yes, we are the cause of earthquakes, volcanoes…and all the rest).
The choice is not one of living or dying – it is how we live with our dying. Greed denies death, chooses not to live with our dying – pretending that having everything we desire can kill consciousness of dying – and It does — it necessarily then means we meet our dying through violent means. It is a matter, for each of us – is death an angel or an executioner?