NATIVE AMERICAN RITUALS
THE INFLUENCE OF FREEMASONRY
By Frederic L. Milliken
The scope of this subject is so large that more than once in my research I got sidetracked on trivial and dead end issues. For instance I spent hours trying to track down verification that Freemasonry existed in North America before any European White man landed here. Well there is absolutely no proof that Native Americans did not get Freemasonry from the White man. But one factor that makes life difficult for the researcher is the lack of written records by the American Indian. Native Americans did not write down anything, in fact it was not until 1920 that written records were kept by Indians and that is probably only due to their homogenization into general society. Everything was passed down by word of mouth. Sound familiar? So there will be many areas and much information that will not be covered in this paper. We will confine ourselves to similarities of Indian customs and mores with Freemasonry and some of their secret societies.
The Number Four
There seems to be a sacred number in many religions and bonding societies and even in certain cultures. In the Hebrew Scripture the number 7 is said to occur over 360 times. Masonry reveres numbers and so does the American Indian. For Masonry it is the number 3, for the Indian it is 4. Being a hunter the Indian is always has super awareness of the points of the compass whence comes the importance of the number 4. Equally important it is from these points that the Creators and spirits come from. In the ceremonies of the Mide-wiwin of the Ojibwa, which we will explore in detail later, there are 4 degrees. In each degree the Indian paints a different colored band or stripe on his face – 4 colors. The Mason will have of course the 3 different displays of the apron in the 3 degrees. The Chippewas initiated a candidate into Meda craft by sending him to a Lodge of 4 poles, with 4 stones before its fire and there he was to remain for 4 days and sit at 4 banquets. The Otoe and Missouri Indians buried their people by keeping a fire at the grave 4 days and 4 nights. On the fifth day the spirit would gallop away to the Happy Hunting grounds. The Zuni Indians believe that a spirit hovers about their village 4 nights after death. The Indian believes that spirit that looks over the deceased lives in the North and in Freemasonry is not the North also a place of darkness? The Cherokee Shaman (Medicine Man) prepares his tribe for war by situating the warriors of the tribe at the edge of a stream facing east. Thus placed the Shaman sings the war song and this is repeated on four successive nights. The Creeks had a celebration called “The Busk” or the making the new fire. It was a celebration to the four winds and was commenced by placing four logs in the center of a square, end to end forming a cross pointing to the four cardinal points. In the center “new fire” was made which was symbolic of wiping the slate of sin clean. This for the Native American was the day of Atonement. In the snake dance of the Moqui Indians they use four kinds of medicine utilizing four different roots. Not only does the number 4 appear in the four cardinal points of the compass, it is revered in the peace pipe ceremonial, the four colors ( generally red, black, yellow and white), and what might be referred to as the four essential virtues of Native American spirituality, respect for deity, respect for Mother Earth, respect for one’s fellow man, and respect for individual freedom. This all according to Robert G. Davis who states that because of the four virtues it is very rare to find American Indians quarrelling about religion. Jim Tresner talks about the four arrows at the cardinal points in a circle all pointing inwards. The circle represents the world and also an individual. The arrows represent “the attitudes or attributes with which a person must view every event and consider every problem if he is to find enlightenment. Thus he must look at things from:
1) The direction of wisdom (arrow of the North)
2) The direction of innocence (the arrow of the south)
3) The direction of Introspection (the arrow of the West)
4) The direction of far sight (the arrow of the East)” (3)
The points of the four arrows all meet at the exact center of the circle. This symbolism is quite similar to the Masonic point within a circle.
He also tells us that an Indian’s life was divided into four periods:
1) “The age of learning -- 0-12
2) The age of accepting -- 12-24
3) The age of refining -- 24-36
4) The age of wisdom -- 36 until death” (3)
There were four elements -- earth, water, fire and wind. For the Navajo there were four sacred plants: corn, beans, pumpkin and tobacco.
Closely allied with the number four is the Indian use of the Cross long before contact with the White Man. The swastika and the Maltese cross show up in war shields, sand paintings and medicine shirts of various tribes. The often designation of four gods at the four points of the compass for the Native American was a story illustrated by the symbol of the cross. This is noted in Indian illustrations long before the White Man tried to convert American Indians to Christianity. The Blackfeet would arrange stones on open land in the form of a cross to honor “Natose” the “old man who sends the winds”. These four winds were explained as the “tree of life” which provided for our nourishment. Most nations have revered some shrub or growing thing. The Egyptians revered the lotus and the Mason the acacia. The Indian revered his ghost tree.
BELIEF IN A SUPREME BEING
Indians may have had many Spirits but they believed in one Supreme Being.
BELIEF IN IMMORTALITY
Heaven was “The Happy Hunting Ground”. The Dakotas believed that the East symbolized life. They laid a dead body east and west (How shall we bury the body?) in the track of the sun so that it may rise again. Several Indian Secret societies acted out the death and rebirth of the candidate as we shall soon see. In the GHOST DANCE of the 1850’s popular among the Paiute, Shoshoni, Arapaho, Cheyenne, Caddo and Pawnee the candidate dies and falls unconscious to the ground. A circle of Brothers form around him chanting and singing. The dead man is brought back to life.
The Honhewachi Society of the Omahas demanded 100 charitable acts before admission. Hospitality and charity were universal rules among Indians -- NO HUNGER, NO ORPHANS NOT TAKEN CARE OF.
It was a common practice for an Indian male to take a partner or Brother. Such pairs often met in associations which were in all reality fraternities. Indians believed strongly in the UNIVERSAL KINGSHIP OF ALL CREATED BEINGS.
The practice of virtue was a must. An Indian was taught to recognize his dependence on his Maker. AND “TO NEVER ENTER UPON ANY GREAT OR IMPORTANT UNDERTAKING WITHOUT FIRST THANKING THE MAKER FOR THE STRENGTH THAT GAVE HIM POWER TO PERFORM THE DEED WILLED.”(1)
In the “Estufa”, or Lodge Room of the Moqui Indians on the East Wall was a prayer to God -- to Omaia -- with black and white stripes symbolizing rain and red and blue lightening. As Masons in this place we would find the letter G.
To the DAKOTAS a white horse and blanket were emblems of purity and badges of the HOLY LODGE SOCIETY. The Lodge taught the Fatherhood of God and the Brotherhood of Man. When the Dakotas met a Brother they placed the hand on the heart and said – “Oh – ho, Ah – ta, Shonta – wash – ta – lo” or “Good morning father, my heart is glad.” They held their secret councils in the hills and a Tyler was mounted on a white horse and clothed in a white blanket.
The KARANKAWAI Shamon of southern Texas wore circular sun disks with a circle and a triangle inside. Its symbolism, like with many ancient Native American customs passed down by word but held by a few who suddenly died without passing on the meaning, was lost. But it was given a new meaning and reinterpreted as “the tent of faithful pitched in the sun”. KOASOITI & KEECHI tribes associated it with a Brotherhood badge. To many others the triangle was a symbol of immortality in their secret Brotherhoods.
The OJIBWAY of Lake Superior, the members of their Brotherhood wore a small badge of cloth adorned with Wampum and surrounded by fringe feathers. The face was a finger pointing to a long road, emblematical of a future life of instruction. This badge was worn on the flesh of the breast. It was the Indians diploma.
SACRED & SECRET WORDS
They were plentiful and many but over time most had lost their meanings. Unfortunately this is a drawback to having everything, every single thing, passed down mouth to ear.
The IROQUOIS called the Great Spirit YOWAH. Contrast that with Yahweh. This tribe in a festival perambulated around their Lodge Room and at each full course of the sun they stopped in the East, where three oldest Chiefs were seated. Each time around certain questions were asked and answers given. The procession was nine men.
OATHS & PENALTIES
(tools of his craft)
With the ASSINIBOINE they were a gun, skin of a rattlesnake and a bear’s claw. The oath was:
“In case my declarations prove false, may my gun fire and kill me, may the serpent bite me, may the bears tear and devour my flesh and may WAHKON overwhelm me with misery”. (2)
RITUALISTIC LEGENDS OF INDIAN SOCIETIES
LEGENDS OF THE ANCIENT GUARDS
OF THE MYSTIC POTENCE
Also known as
The ceremony was held in the Long House of the IROQUOIS, that is the SENECA, CAYUGA, ONONDAGA, ONEIDA, or MOHAWK. Here due to space and time we will cover just the high points of the ceremony.
The proceedings began with 4 raps at the door. The candidate was brought in and listened to the story of Red Hand, the ancient leader. As in the Hiramic legend the candidate assumes the identity of the object of the story.
Red Hand was a young Chief who received certain mysterious knowledge from the Creator of All. He was kind and generous and loved by all.
One day in battle a poisoned arrow felled him. The enemy Indian rushed upon him demanding the secret of his power ( Hiram Abiff) or his life. Red Hand refused to divulge the secrets so he was scalped.
A lone wolf came upon the body and howled so loud he brought all the animals from the forest. They each contributed a part of their bodies and revived the scalp which they put on Red Hand’s head. They formed a circle around him at signs of life and chanted. Red Hand listened with his eyes closed when a voice asked him these questions:
VOICE: “Hast thou cleansed thyself from human guilt and impurity?”
RED HAND: “ I have”.
VOICE: “Hast thou ill will toward any of they fellow creatures?”
RED HAND: “I have not”.
VOICE: “Wilt thou trust and obey us, keeping thyself always chaste and valorous?”
RED HAND: “I will”.
VOICE: “Wilt thou hold this power with which we endow thee for thine own chosen company only?”
RED HAND: “I will”.
VOICE: “Wilt thou endure death or torture in its cause?”
RED HAND: “I will”.
VOICE: “”Wilt thou vow this secret never to be revealed save at thy death hour?’
RED HAND: “I will”.
VOICE: “They death hour will be revealed to thee; thou wilt be allowed to choose thy successor, and at the end of thy journey thou wilt be rewarded for faith and obedience.”(2)
The circle drew closer and the brother who is the bear touched the breast of Red Hand. All stood erect. The bear grasped the hand of the leader who was to be raised thought slain, and by a strong grip pulled Red Hand to his feet.
THE GRAND MEDICINE LODGE
It was more widespread than “Little Waters” and was practiced by the Algonquian tribes – MASSACHUSETTS, NARRAGANSETT, PEQUOTS, POWHATANS, DELAWARES, SHAWNEES, SAUK, FOX, MENOMINIE, POTAWATOMI, KICKAPOO, OJIBWA, CHIPPEWA, CREE, and others. The degree(s) differed slightly from tribe to tribe. There are four distinct degrees although many believed that those degrees beyond the first were very repetitious. What is lost to us that has not been handed down is the actual content of the lectures which comes after the initiation ceremony but is part of the degree. What we do know most about is the initiation ceremony roughly equivalent to our first section of a Masonic degree. The candidate must be prepared to offer many gifts to those who will perform this ceremony for him. He must take on an instructor or preceptor to prepare him for such a major step.
The Long House, or Mide-wigan or Mide-wigiwam or Grand Medicine Lodge was oblong measuring 120’ X 20’ and is situated East & West in a clearing. Four foot openings were placed in the East and West providing entrances and exits. On the four corners outside were planted cedar or pine trees. About 100 yards from the East entrance was placed a wigiwam or sweat lodge. In some Long House in place of a wigiwam is an anteroom separated by a partition. Whatever the case may be it is here that the candidate takes sweat baths to purify himself and it is here that the Preceptor or “Oldster” (Past Master) instructs the candidate. This is done on four successive days, four days of learning ritual, four days of vapor baths. Here the candidate receives the secrets of the Medicine Lodge, rules of fraternity, health, immortality and supernatural powers.
Inside the Lodge there are at the East and West entrances walls creating short hallways. About ten feet in from the East entrance a large flat stone of over a foot in diameter is placed in the ground. This for all extensive purposes is an altar. About ten feet in from the West Entrance is placed a sacred Mide post or cedar. For the first degree it is about 7’ high and 6 to 8” thick. It is painted red with a band of green 4” from the top. In subsequent degrees another Mide post is added. Halfway between the stone and the post is placed a blanket where the presents are placed.
To start the ceremony all the Priests, Preceptor and candidate holding his presents line up at the door. All the Priests file in and take their stations except for one who stays at the door with the Preceptor and candidate. Then with the Preceptor on one side of him and the Priest remaining at the door on the other side of him, the candidate is marched around the outside of Lodge room four times, stopping at and facing the East entrance where he places his presents on the ground. The candidate is prompted to say “Let me come in and these I put down; my gifts”.(2) The Preceptor goes inside and deposits the presents on the blanket while the Priest at the candidate’s side sings a chant to the Great Spirit. Then the Preceptor leads the candidate inside while all stand. He is led along the South side to the West and around past to the North and back to the East. This circumambulation is repeated four times. As he first starts out the member nearest the East falls in behind the candidate and so forth all around the Lodge until the entire assembly is marching. On the fourth pass all the members begin to drop off in reverse order of their hopping on. The candidate has returned to the East with the Preceptor at his side. The four officiating Priests position themselves in a semi circle in the West at the post facing west and the candidate is conducted to them, facing them and the East. The Preceptor places himself a few steps back and to one side of the candidate and calls on an assistant to do the same on the other side. The Preceptor says: “The time has now arrived that I yield it to you ( the Mide-migis), that will give you life. The chief Priest sings a song and then the candidate is asked to kneel (blankets having been set there for that purpose). The fourth Priest says “Now is the time that I hope of you, that you shall take life, the bead (migis shell).”(2) You see each officiating Priest holds an otterskin or Mide-sack containing healing herbs and a small shell or “cypreamoneta” containing the essence of all the virtues of the medicines of the otterskin. The first officiating Priest then holds his Mide-sack in his left hand extended as if he was holding a gun while with his right hand he holds the bottom. He then thrusts it at the candidates left breast saying “Ya, ho, ho, ho, ho, ho” He repeats this maneuver three times and on the last thrust he makes the motion as if he was shooting the candidate. Meanwhile the Preceptor and his assistant place their hands on the candidate’s shoulders and cause him to shake. The second and third officiating Priests repeat the same ritual. Now the Fourth and Chief Priest also repeats the same maneuvers except at the fourth pass he shoots the candidate in the head felling him lifeless. The purpose here is to “shoot” the migis into the candidate and then have it appear in his mouth. The four Priests place their Mide-sacks on the candidates back and after a few moments a migis shell drops from his mouth, where he had been previously instructed to retain it. The chief Priest picks up the migis and holding it between the thumb and index finger of the right hand, extending his arm toward the candidate’s mouth, says “Wa!, wa!, he, he, he, he”. The same words are repeated as while the migis is held toward the East, then to the South, West, North and finally to the sky. The candidate coming somewhat to life immediately has the migis then thrust back into his mouth and he falls lifeless once again. Now the four Priests take their Mide-sacks and circle around the candidate touching his body with their sacks, attempting to raise him. The chief Priest then commands him to rise and the candidate comes to his feet, whereupon he is sung a song and he sings a song in return.
This concludes the formal part of the ceremony. Then the informal part commences. The peace pipe is passed with offerings of smoke to the East, South, West, North then up to the heavens and then down to the earth. The candidate is presented with his own brand new Mide-sack. He then tries out his new powers on the rest of the assembly. Afterwards presents are distributed followed by a giant banquet, a feast! Such is the First degree with each succeeding degree a little greater manifestation of essentially the same thing.
The Midewiwin Society had many songs. Here are some titles:
Escorting the Candidate
I Am Raising Him Up
We Are Now To Receive You Our Mide Brother
You Are Going Around The Mide Lodge (circumambulation)
Whence I Come (“Whence came you my Brother”)
Toward The East
I Will Bring It Up To Light
Beautiful As A Star Hanging In The Sky Is Our Lodge (starry decked heaven)
The Winnebagos performed a Mankani ceremony or medicine dance. It was held for both men and women. The ceremony was performed in a long tent where candidates were perambulated between five stations representing the road of life. Here they received the esoteric teaching from their conductor while negotiating that rough and rugged road.
Let us look at some areas of commonality in the ceremonies of the Midewiwin only. The candidate pauses at the entrance and is prompted to say: “Let me come in and put down my gifts.” Thus he has demonstrated that his admission is of his own free will and accord. He is told that he is embarking on a new life and to take it seriously and to guard well the secrets of the “Grand Medicine”. Do we not tell our Masonic candidates pretty much the same thing? One item we did not discuss is that invitation to the Midewiwin ceremonies is sent out via a twig or stick presented to the invitee who deposits that inside the door of the Lodge when he enters. This is in reality a summons just like a Masonic summons. Attendance of the invited is considered mandatory. Is that not how Masonry used to be and still is in some foreign lands? Another item we did not talk about is that those who perform the ceremony have birch bark charts. These correspond to our tracing boards. The candidate is prepared in a separate room or place outside or attached to the Lodge room as in Freemasonry. The Native American never presents his back to the sacred stone or altar. Do we not have similar rules in navigating the Masonic altar? Upon being shot down, notice that the blow is to the head as in Freemasonry. On raising the candidate note that none of the other officiating Priests can raise the body except the Chief Priest. In Freemasonry only on the third try and only the Worshipful Master can accomplish this task. Upon completion of the degree the candidate is presented a brand new Mide-sack which he proudly wears. In Freemasonry we present the candidate an apron. In Midewiwin there is a certain time between the degrees, often a year, and in between the candidate must choose an Instructor to teach him and certify him before he goes onto the next degree. And we in Freemasonry do likewise. And most importantly there is much that is lost in these degrees as the guarders of the secrets failed to see to it that the passing down of the ancient truths were not interrupted. Just as Hiram Abiff had the word and now it is lost so did the Midewiwin have many words that have now lost meaning.
So here we are at the end of our brief tour of Native American Indians and Freemasonry. We have seen much but can conclude little. Did Freemasonry exist in the “New World” prior to European colonization? Dennis Chorenky, having written a great paper on the subject, says this:
“In light of current scholarship, not to mention common sense, it is obviously absurd to claim that Native Americans practiced Freemasonry prior to the advent of European settlers. However, if seriously examined, there emerge many notable parallels and similarities between Western initiatic rites and symbols and those of Native Americans.” *(4)
The “Ghost Dance” of the 1850’s shows a distinct imitation of Freemasonry. Because of that fact we have given it scant coverage here. Dennis Chorenky says this about “Little Waters”.
“In the case of Red Hand and his scalping it should also be considered that scalping was not practiced in North America prior to the advent of Europeans.” *(4)
The bear claw is just too similar to the Lions paw not to be a copycat. So we can say that “Little Waters” could have been corrupted by Freemasonry. A similar case can be made about the “Mankani Society” and many other Indian ceremonies and fraternities not mentioned here. At this point it looks like we can definitely say there is no Indian Freemasonry.
But the Midewiwin ceremony presents a very different conclusion, which is why we have spent so much time on it. A factual case can be made that this ceremony(s) was in place long before the white man set foot on North American shores.
First in the ritual certain words or figures of speech were used which have never been used in usual public discourse of Indians since the white man came. In fact the four days spent in the wigiwam sweat Lodge was one of learning ritual or words that were totally unfamiliar to the Indian of that day. One of the ways to date a ceremony such as this is to see if modern or ancient vernacular was used. In the case of the use of much archaic, venerable terminology we are shown that the ceremony dates back to a much more ancient time.
Secondly, The sacred Migiis shells (cypraea moneta) used by the Midewiwin, have been found in various North American earth mounds, lost and buried long before the first known white contact. Since they only grow in the South Pacific, western Africa and perhaps a stretch, occasionally found in Central America, their prevalence in pre-contact days, that is before the white man, is one of those mysteries that is difficult to explain. It is known these same shells, cypraea moneta, have been immediately valued and desired by nearly every so-called primitive people when introduced by traders. It is as if every tribal people recognize something very "special" about this certain shell. Other cowries are larger, more colorful, and are liked for their ornamental value, but cypraea moneta, the Migiis shell, is revered. So at this point we can definitely say that there is Indian Freemasonry of sorts.
I prefer to take the path of Robert C. Wright who said that “there is no Indian Masonry. There is Indian Masonry.”(2)
1. “FREEMASONRY AND THE AMERICAN INDIAN”, by William R. Denslow
2. “INDIAN MASONRY”, by Robert C. Wright
3. “A SHARED SPIRIT” - Freemasonry and the Native American Tradition -- by Robert G. Davis and Jim Tresner, a joint publication of the Masonic Service Association of North America and the Most worshipful Grand Lodge of Oklahoma
4. “FREEMASONRY AND NATIVE AMERICAN TRADITIONS” by W. Bro. Dennis V. Chorenky.
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