part two of four
copyright 1998 by Tika Yupanqui (Tracy Marks)
go back to part one        part three: Iroquois Myths!


Above image:
Blue Dreamcatcher posted
with permission (although artist's
web site is now gone)


Above image:
Blue Dreamcatcher posted
with permission (although artist's
web site is gone)

Above image:
Blue Dreamcatcher posted with permission (although artist's
web site is now gone)


Iroquois Ceremonies and Festivals
The  tribes of the Iroquois' League of the Six Nations (Oneida, Onondaga, Seneca, Cayuga, Mohawk, and Tuscarora) have been united for centuries in their celebration of great festivals, at which occur numerous ceremonies of significance to both the spiritual and physical life of the tribes. Sacred ceremonies include feather dances, drum dances, the rite of personal chant, the bowl game, and Sun ceremonies:

The Seneca Sun Ceremony of Thanksgiving is called by any tribal member who dreams that the rite is necessary for the welfare of the community. The ceremony begins promptly at high noon, when three arrows or three musket shots are fired heavenward to notify the Sun of their intention to address him.... The tribal Sun-Priest chants his thanksgiving song while he casts from a husk basket handfuls of native tobacco upon the flames to carry his words upward to the Sun. (1)

The most sacred ceremony geared to the seasons and fertility of the land is the Harvest Festival, but other festivals of fertility, thanksgiving and renewal include The Green Corn Ceremony, Maple Ceremony, Green Corn Ceremony, Planting Ceremony, Strawberry Ceremony and Green Bean ceremony. However, the most important Iroquois celebration of renewal is the Midwinter Festival - a six day festival which begins around New Years or when the Pleiades are directly overhead at dusk, and which focuses on dreamsharing, dream renewal and dream interpretation.

Midwinter Ceremony
The Midwinter Festival, also called the "Greatly Prized Ceremony," celebrates the battle between the creative and destructive forces in the universe, as symbolized by an Iroquois myth which focuses upon the antagonism between the Creator, Sky Holder, and his younger brother. It concludes the old year and begins the new year, and involves both thankfulness for the blessings of the past and hopes for the future. As one Iroquois said, "At the Midwinter Festival we beg the Creator for everything; most of the time we are thanking him for what he gave us."

One of the first rites of the Midwinter Festival is the extinguishing of old household fires, the stirring of ashes, and the rekindling of new fires. As the ashes are stirred, the Iroquois also participate in a tobacco invocation, and  pray:

"I am thankful that I am alive in health. Now the time has come in which the Midwinter Ceremony is marked. So then now do you, Sky-Holder who live in the sky, do you continue to listen? ....You next, the nocturnal Orb of Light, our Grandmother, and now also the Stars on the sky in many places, do you know that every one of those who remain alive has made preparation to thank you now with one voice? Now, our Grandmother, they thank you, and also the stars fixed on the sky in many places." (2)

The rite of tobacco invocation includes a request to the Creator to continue the fertility of the earth in the coming year. All of the other great ceremonies of the Iroquois - the Great Feather Dance, the Drum Dance, The Ceremony of Chanting and the Great Betting, also take place during the Midwinter Festival. In addition, a white dog is sacrificed during the Festival, and the Uncles, the Big Heads, wear shaggy buffalo robes encircled with braids of cornhusks and announce the new year.


Dreammaker Image from Graphics of Bearchele (web site no longer exists).

As attention turns to dreams during the Midwinter Festival, the first focus is dream renewal - followed by dreamsharing and dream guessing. In the renewal of dreams, those who were sick and cured by the medicine society during the year sponsor dances for the members of the society that cured them. The lessons and healings of past dreams are expressed again and "renewed" through expression in song and dance, and through active following of the dream guidance previously received. 

Dreamsharing then follows. The matrons of a family bring forth members who have dreams of the past year which they wish to communicate. The Iroquois both share dreams which they now understand and which have been guides to them in the previous year, AND dreams which they do not understand and wish to interpret.

As the dreamguessing, or Ceremony of the Great Riddle begins, the Iroquois tell their dreams to their moiety (a division of their tribe), where experts in dream interpretation are consulted to give hints in regard to the meaning of the dream. In addition, the whole tribe offers suggestions, responding by sharing the feelings the dreams evoked in them, and their own interpretation. If the dreamer believes the dream interpretations are helpful, he/she pays the interpreter a "forfeit" - a gift or favor, and such payment is regarded as creating a bond of friendship between the two parties.

One facet of dream interpretation is helping the dreamer clarify what unmet need, desire or wish is being expressed by the dream. Once determined, the tribe helps the individual to satisfy his "dream wish". If fulfillment of the wish would be considered to aggressive or harmful to others, or too grandiose, then the dream wish is fulfilled symbolically rather than literally. Such symbolic fulfillment often takes the form of giving symbolic gifts, or enacting the dream, with members of the tribe playing roles in each other's dreams, in a kind of psychodrama. Another expression of dream fulfillment includes confronting actual persons who have appeared as hostile in a dream, and attempting to define and resolve any interpersonal problem that exists.

Although often serious and of spiritual significance, the dream interpretation rituals of the Iroquois are also a time of play and gaming as "dreamguessing" motivates tribal members to challenge each other. The desire to receive attention for one's dreams is often intense; some dreamers sing, shout and dance, demanding that their dreams next be "guessed" and satisfied.

In some tribes, the opposite moiety competes with one's tribal moiety, attempting to guess the dream first. In other tribes, members walk from house to house, hinting at their dreams and requesting others to "guess" it. Guessing may involve describing the dream, interpreting it, finding a solution for the problem expressed within it, or making a helpful suggestion.

Sometimes, the Iroquois pantomime their dreams, or describe them in a disguised fashion, requesting that neighbors guess the actual content of the dream, and then satisfy the dreamer's desire in order to restore wholeness. In a real example recorded by Elizabeth Tooker (5), a Iroquois woman repeatedly lay down digging hoe, and  appeared to be digging earth that didn't exist, until her neighbors guessed that in her dream she was asking for her own plot of land, and gave her furrows for planting corn. 

According to tradition, whoever ; best "guesses" the dream is required to help in its satisfaction or fulfillment. Such participatory satisfying of a dream is not viewed as an obligation, but rather as an honor, and as a means of contributing significantly to one's tribal friends, and to the continuity and spiritual traditions of the Iroquois.

According to Indians of the eastern woodlands, The Dreamcatcher (pictured on left; see bibliography for more links) catches all dreams, both good and bad, and protect the dreamer from nightmares. The beads on the dreamcatcher web guide the good dreams through the web through the center hole so that they may gently drift off the feather into the life of the dream, and be dreamed again, in an identical or similar form, on another night. The bad dreams, not knowing the way, become tangled in the web and perish at the first light of the early morning sun. (4)

Although dreamcatchers did not originate with the Iroquois tribe, but were first known to be used by the Chippewa of the Ojibway, they have been adopted by some Iroquois, and also by the "new age" culture. Many New age and Native American gift shops sell dreamcatchers, which are believed by many help in  "improving" one's dream life. Although they may be viewed by many as merely at New Age decoration, those who cherish their dream catchers and treat them with honor and respect often claim that their dream life improves, and as a result enhances their waking life.

Iroquois Dreamwork and Spirituality part 3
The No-Face Legend, Myths and Songs of the Iroquois,
More Iroquois Links

(1) (now defunct)
(2) from Hewitt,: Iroquoisian Cosmology, as quoted in Tooker, Elizabeth, 
     Native American Spirituality of the Eastern Woodlands
(3) Ibid., Native American Spirituality of the Eastern Woodlands
(4) (no longer exists)
(5) Tooker, Native American Spirituality of the Eastern Woodlands

Oneida Indian Nation
Oneida Indian Nation Exhibits
Iroquois Rattles
Tuscararo's Midwinter New Year Festival
(from, now defunct)
Oneida Nation Culture

Legend of the Dreamcatcher

Dream Catcher Ancient Indian Art 
Bearded Wolf/Dreamcatchers
NA Dreamcatchers 

Above dreamcatchers are copyright 1998 
by Aspen Trading Post. All rights reserved.
More at:

Iroquois Myths and Legends
Iroquois Music and Spirituality

Go back to Iroquois Dreamwork Part One
         via Tika Yupanqui's home site