Native American Dream Analysis: Iroquois
Most Native American tribes have always held dreams in high regard and given them much respect. To them, dreams are very spiritual and a way of gaining great insight and wisdom as well as guidance for day-to-day life. Most Native Americans believed ancestral spirits would visit them between the hours of midnight and 2:00 a.m. (which may have been during the deepest stages of sleep) to offer them guidance.
A Strong InfluenceThe Iroquois felt very strongly that dreams guided all aspects of their lives – hunting, fighting, even marriage. Dreaming had a big affect on their proceedings during war. If one person had a dream of failure before a battle, they would retreat, viewing the dream as an omen. French missionaries noted that the Iroquois totally submitted themselves to their dreams. Believing the dreams were concealed instructions from their soul, they felt obligated to live out what they dreamed or feel an overwhelming sense of guilt. Through their dreams, they felt they could contact their highest sacred power, Orenda.
To ignore their dreams was madness to them, sure to result in disaster. It also went against the wishes of the god within. They felt dreams could heal them, curing both physical diseases and mental illnesses. The Iroquois would often act out their dreams with those involved in the dream. They would tell others about their dreams, known as dreamsharing, as a way to understand and interpret the dream.
FestivalsThe Iroquois also held several festivals related to dreams and the dream world. The False Face Society festival was an important healing ritual in which the members wore wooden masks in order to invoke the dream world. Members were either those healed by the society or those who dreamed they should be a member. Another important Iroquois festival that focused on dreams was the Midwinter Festival. The Midwinter Festival was held around New Years and featured dreamsharing, dream interpretation, and dream renewal. The men of the Iroquois tribe often ventured out themselves in search of particularly powerful dreams. The men would fast for a period of time, sometimes as long as thirty days, in hopes of having a powerful vision or dream.
Making NoteThe importance of dreams to the Iroquois has oft been documented through the years. One example is that of Chief Cornplanter of the Seneca Iroquois. He had a dream that he did not quite understand, so he asked members of his community for interpretation. One such interpreter told Cornplanter that his name was now Onono and he was to give up his position as chief. Chief Cornplanter was convinced this was the correct interpretation and handed his tomahawk and wampum to a friend, thus making him chief. It is said that Cornplanter never regretted his decision, feeling it restored harmony with the Great Spirit.
Another documented case of dream importance to the Iroquois was the dream of Ely Parker’s mother, Elizabeth. Ely Parker was an Iroquois chief who ended up drafting the final terms of surrender for the Civil War. When Elizabeth was still pregnant with Ely, the young Iroquois woman had a dream that she did not understand. It was that of a broken rainbow. She visited a dream interpreter who told her she was pregnant with a son and that son would be a very wise and great peacemaker.
Native Americans such as the Iroquois saw dreams as real and felt real life was often the illusion. Perhaps it would be in our best interest to take note of their beliefs and give our dreams more credit in helping guide our lives to a healthier place.