THE DREAM-VISION EXPERIENCE OF THE IROQUOIS: ITS RELIGIOUS MEANING

DONALD PATRICK ST. JOHN, Fordham University

Abstract

This dissertation is a study of change and continuity in the religious life of the Iroquois from approximately 1600 A.D. to the present. The dream-vision experience provides the constant focus of this study. By understanding this religious phenomenon within the context of several significant periods and events in the history of the Iroquois, its many functions and meanings become evident. The main contexts within which the dream-vision is investigated are: the archaic universe of early contact, the prophetic career of Handsome Lake, the Longhouse Religion that was founded on the revelations of this Seneca Prophet and the emerging planetisation of humankind.^ The investigation of the first period relies heavily on ethnological and historical data compiled by the seventeenth century Jesuit missionaries of New France, especially as found in the Jesuit Relations and Allied Documents. This material is supplemented by later compilations of myths, folklore and legend. The archaic universe is reconstructed from this data and the Iroquoian understanding of the place, meaning and function of the dream-vision is elucidated from within this context. Certain neo-Freudian attempts to reconstruct the archaic Iroquois psyche and explain the function of the dream-vision are critiqued. More adequate categories that are non-reductionist are suggested.^ Historical data are used to portray the gradual erosion of the Iroquois way of life during the eighteenth century. These changes influenced the Iroquois religious system and the dream-vision. A study of the content and meaning of the dream-visions of Handsome Lake, the Seneca Prophet, is made, relying on the written accounts of the revelations of the Prophet. The main sources for this effort are the Code of Handsome Lake and the journal entries of Quaker missionaries. The implications of the incorporation of elements from the Christian tradition into the Iroquois religio-cultural system are examined. In order to avoid an over-simplification of the nature and role of Handsome Lake's new synthesis, an investigation of Iroquoian shamanism, Native American prophetic figures of his era, and Near Eastern prophetism is made. This comparative study brings out the similarities and differences that Handsome Lake shares with these other traditions. This study also demonstrates that attempts to understand Handsome Lake's revelations solely as a means to work out his own emotional problems are inadequate.^ A bridge to the study of the dream-vision within the Longhouse Religion is constructed by an investigation of the response of the Iroquois to the intense evangelization efforts of Protestant missionaries in the nineteenth century and the social, political and economic changes forced on the Iroquois by the loss of most of their land. The Longhouse Religion is studied in its three main components: the ecological cycle of feasts, the shamanistic medicine societies and the constant call to moral behavior in the face of a transcendent ethical deity. The dream-vision is seen as not only having shaped these traditions, but as continuing to enliven them.^ The writer contends that as an historian of religions he must go beyond the phenomenological and historical study thus far presented in order to show how such an effort can contribute to the present efforts at a planetisation of human culture. He suggests how the cosmic-earth-human process as presented by contemporary science might form the basis of a global context within which the revalorisation of traditional religious phenomena, such as the dream-vision, might take place. ^

Subject Area

Theology

Recommended Citation

DONALD PATRICK ST. JOHN, "THE DREAM-VISION EXPERIENCE OF THE IROQUOIS: ITS RELIGIOUS MEANING" (January 1, 1981). ETD Collection for Fordham University. Paper AAI8123469.
http://fordham.bepress.com/dissertations/AAI8123469

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