The False Face Society
The False Face Society is probably the best known of the medicinal societies among the Iroquois, especially for its dramatic wooden masks. The masks are used in healing rituals which invoke the spirit of an old hunch-backed man. Those cured by the society become members. Also, echoing the significance of dreams to the Iroquois, anyone who dreams that they should be a member of the society may join.
The False Face Society proper performs a ritual twice a year. The ceremony contains a telling of the False Face myth, an invocation to the spirits using tobacco, the main False Face ritual, and a doling out of mush at the end. During the main part of the ritual, the False Face members, wearing masks, go through houses in the community, driving away sickness, disease and evil spirits. Members use turtle shell rattles, shaking them and rubbing them along the floors and walls. If a sick person is found, a healing ritual may be performed using tobacco and singing. The tobacco is burned, and wood ashes are blown over the sick person.
The community then gathers at the longhouse where the False Faces enter and sit on the floor. The people bring tobacco which is collected as they arrive, and burned when the ceremony begins. The ceremony itself is meant to renew and restrengthen the power of the gathered masks, as well as the spirit of Hadu⁷i⁷ in general. The ritual continues with dancing. At the end of the ritual, corn mush is doled out to the assembled crowd, and everyone goes home.
The design of the masks is somewhat variable, but most share certain features. The eyes are deep-set and accented by metal; the noses are bent and crooked; they are painted red and black; most often they have pouches of tobacco tied onto the hair above their foreheads. Horse tail hair is used for the hair.
When making a mask, a man walks through the woods until he is moved by Hadú⁷i⁷ to carve a mask from a tree. Hadú⁷i⁷ inspires the unique elements of the mask’s design and the resulting product represents the spirit himself, imbued with his powers. The masks are carved directly on the tree and only removed when completed. Masks are painted red if they were begun in the morning or black if they were begun in the afternoon. Red masks are thought to be more powerful. Because the masks are carved into trees that are alive, they are similarly considered to be living and breathing.
EDIT: Since I posted this last night a member of the Iroquois has been in contact with me asking me to stress some important facts about The False Face masks. Apparently such masks aren’t supposed to be seen be non-Iroquois (although we came to the conclusion that as the masks above are readily available for anyone to see on Google images they were alright on Tumblr). There’s a bit more about this on the False Face Society’s Wikipedia page (second paragraph down) and I highly recommend people go read it!
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