History From America's Most Famous Valleys
The Skeptic of the Senecas.
The following account of the sacrifice of the Senecas, is taken from the 4th volume of Dwight's Travels, and was communicated to him by the Rev. Mr. Kirkland.
"At the time when the Senecas return from hunting in January or February, they annually keep a feast seven days; the professed object of which is, to render thanks to the Great Spirit, for the benefits which they have received from him, during the preceding years, and to solicit the continuance of them through the year to come. On the evening before the feast commences they kill two dogs, and after painting them with various colors, and dressing them with ornaments, suspend them in the center of the camp, or in some conspicuous place in the village.
"The whole of this solemn season is spent in feasting and dancing. Tow select bands, one of the men, and another of women, ornamented with a variety of trinkets, and furnished each with an ear of corn, which is held in the right hand, begin the dance at the Council House. Both choirs, the men leading the way, dance in a circle around the council fire, which is kindled for the occasion, and regulate their steps by music. Hence they proceed to every house in the village, and in the same manner, dance in a circle around each fire.
"On one of the festival days they perform a peculiar religious ceremony, for the purpose of driving away evil spirits from their habitations. Three men clothe themselves in the skins of wild beasts, and cover their faces with masks of a hideous appearance, and their hands with the shell of the tortoise. In this garb they go from house to house, making a horrid noise, and in every house take the fuel from the fire, and scatter the embers and ashes about the floor with their hands.
"Toward the close of the festival they erect a funeral pile, place upon it the two dogs, and set it on fire. When they are partly consumed, one of them is taken off, and put into a large kettle with vegetables of every kind, which they have cultivated during the year. The other dog is consumed in the fire. The ashes of the pile, are then gathered up, carried through the village, and sprinkled at the door of every house. When this ceremony is ended, which is always near the close of the seventh day, all the inhabitants feast together upon the contents of the kettle; and thus the festival is terminated.
"This mode of exhibiting their gratitude is certainly far from gratifying the feelings of a Christian; yet I think several of the American States might learn from these savages the important lesson that it becomes a people possessing the light of Revelation, to render annually the public tribute of thanksgiving to the Great Benefactor of Mankind for the blessings which they have received during the year from his bountiful hand.
"This, however, is not the only religious service which has existed among the Six Nations. Mr. Kirkland informed me, that while he was crossing the Oneida lake with a fleet of canoes, a violent storm arose, from which the fleet was in the utmost danger of perishing. The chief Sachem, in whose canoe Mr. Kirkland was, took from the box in the stern a small quantity of fine powder, made of a fragrant herb unknown to Mr. Kirkland, and scattered it on the water. This he found was intended as an oblation to the Deity acknowledged by the Sachem."
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