Academic journal article Transactions of the American Philosophical Society

Chapter 1: The White Dog Sacrifice

Academic journal article Transactions of the American Philosophical Society

Chapter 1: The White Dog Sacrifice

Article excerpt

One of the more interesting uses of wampum beads among the Five Nations Iroquois was as part of the WDS at the beginning of the nineteenth century. Following an earlier exploration of the WDS (Becker and Lainey 2008) we recognized that these rites had originated within and became an important aspect of the Midwinter Feast among some of the Five Nations. To understand the role of wampum in these ceremonies, we undertook a review of the literature. We began with the efforts of Tooker (1965, 1970) to review Iroquoian midwinter rituals. Several contradictions and strained interpretations in her work led us to generate a number of interesting questions that we have resolved through this study. Of specific note were our earliest findings that the WDS, embedded within the midwinter ritual, was only reported from among the Onondaga and Seneca and that the WDS itself was a modem, or post-1799, phenomenon.

In seeking the origins of the WDS, we reviewed the Jesuit Relations and other documents recording early ethnographic information. The presence of the Jesuits among the Iroquoian tribes generally dates from after the 1650s, when their confederacy had largely dispersed or dislocated the Huron confederacy. The complete absence of Jesuit commentary on anything resembling the WDS as part of native midwinter rituals (cf. Deardorff and Snyderman 1956) is notable. The few references to dog sacrifice reveal elements that appear ancestral to the WDS, which took on its Christian aspects about the time that Handsome Lake (ca. 1735-1815) had his visions, ca 1799. The lack of evidence for the rituals of the WDS among the Iroquoian peoples with whom the Jesuits interacted prior to 1800 demonstrates that the WDS did not evolve until a later date. Had anything like the WDS existed in the 1600s and 1700s, the Jesuit Relations surely would have included mention of it. The suggestion that the WDS had been kept secret from the Jesuits is negated by the ample Jesuit descriptions of the rituals and ceremonies of the Iroquoians. The only rituals reported that involved the killing of any dog or other animal for a specific sacrifice almost always included eating the flesh. Feasting with dog meat often is noted.

The earliest account known derives from observations made among the Huron during the winter of 1623-1624. Gabriel Sagard's (1865: 197 [154]) description of a dog "sacrifice" from among the Huron in 1623-1624 reveals the ritual consumption of a dog during a midwinter feast, a rite distinct from a sacrifice, in which the flesh is not eaten. The "white" color of the dog appears to have been a modem addition to his text.

An account from Ihonatiria in Huronia in 1635 suggests that the sacrifice of a white dog was made for the purpose of gaining "information," as in augury. Unlike later sacrificial white dogs, the meat of the 1635 dog was eaten, and there was no apparent association of the event with midwinter ceremonials.

There are here some Soothsayers, whom they call also Arendiouane and who undertake to cause the rain to fall or to cease, and to predict future events. The Devil reveals to them some secrets, but with so much obscurity that one is unable to accuse them of falsehood; [page 123] witness one of the village of Scanonaenrat [174] who, a little while before the burning of the villages before mentioned, had seen in a dream three flames falling from the Sky on those villages. But the Devil had not declared to him the meaning of this enigma; for, having obtained from the village a white dog, to make a feast with it and to seek information by it, he remained as ignorant afterward as before.

Brébeuf 1634-1636, in Thwaites 1896, VIII; 121, 123

Dogs were a source of meat throughout much if not all North America. Dog meat was a delicacy among all of the Iroquoian peoples, commonly consumed only on special occasions. Ritual components of this feasting, such as the selection of a white dog, had been incidental to these celebrations. …

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