A long house on the Six Nations Reserve in Ontario, Canada. Source: The Code of Handsome Lake

Doug George-Kanentiio: Iroquois prophecies warn of grave dangers

On Prophecy and the Enlightened Ones

By Doug George-Kanentiio

Across the broad band of the human experience we have looked to philosophers, seers, psychics and prophets to give us insights into our place within the universe and to provide us with direction as to events which lay before us.

Prophets (Enlightened Teachers: Raonkwe:ta:shon:a in Mohawk) in particular believe they have been selected to carry out specific tasks from the Divine, that they have a unique personal experience with a spiritual entity which delivers to them, in a state of urgency, revelations about future events which are, in turn, based on moral teachings meant to direct, condition, exclude or advocate human behavior.

Generally, prophets are exclusive since other spiritual practices are either condemned or re-defined; social changes are enacted towards a given end, warnings are issued, punishments imminent, selectivity issued and protection given to those who believe.

The prophet may lay claim to be an actual manifestation of the Divine, to claim unilateral authority to communicate with the spiritual world; their sense of self possession precludes natural human error. They cannot make mistakes therefore they have little tolerance for dissent, their moral teachings cannot be breached without sanction or punishment.

In Iroquois society there have been prophets such as Skennenrahowi (He Makes the Peace) and Skeniateriio (Handsome Lake) who have intervened during times of great social stress, bringing stability and direction based upon moral and political directives. The veracity of their teachings is sustained by the immediate effect on the Iroquois.

Skennenrahowi established a confederacy of nations based on an oral constitution which still exists while Skeniateriio provided a beleaguered, dispossessed and dispirited people with the certainty of their place within the world. Both gave meaning and direction along with specific warnings about future events, either distant and impending.

Both prophets were effective because they compelled others to believe but they also overcame physical improbabilities. Skennenrahowi rose unharmed from the jagged rocks of a 50 meter plunge into Kahon:ios (Cohoes Falls) while Skeniateriio emerged from a prolonged coma in 1799 during which he was given a series of visions which were meant to insure the survival of the Iroquois in a time of historic cultural, economic and physical changes.

Each prophet’s instructions were meant to effect political action. Those who embraced the teachings realized that their application had profound effect on the nations, and, in Skennenrahowi’s unique instance, defined the nature of governance and the administration and dissemination of natural resources.

In recent times the Iroquois have looked to seers who can interpret dreams or perceive the future. Seers are not necessarily prophets since most do not advocate social or political reforms nor do they preach any specific spiritual discipline. Their role in Iroquois society can be as effective and as powerful as a prophet in some circumstances as what they see can motivate people to act collectively. They can also provide a summation of physical illness and suggest traditional healing techniques.

In the spring of 2012 an Iroquois seer warned the people that a powerful storm would arise in the fall of that year, its path would begin in the Atlantic, move up the eastern seaboard and then head inland, entering New York State from the south and proceeding towards the St. Lawrence River Valley before striking Ontario and Quebec. There was a chance for the Iroquois to prevent destruction by moving the storm eastwards; this could be done by having the people gather and conduct a specific ritual.

In the fall of that year Hurricane Sandy formed in the Caribbean before entering the Atlantic, its initial projections were for it to enter the Chesapeake Bay and head north on the eastern edge of the Appalachians before reaching the Great Lakes where it would have gathered more strength once it crossed warm waters.

Instead, the storm hugged the coast, causing massive damages to many states and over 230 deaths.

The seer, according to the Iroquois was right as was the people’s response.

Other visions as to future events have been predicted. Since the Iroquois believe the earth has its own form of consciousness there is a direct response to the environmental degradation of the natural world. While humans have a tortuous history when it comes to their own specific relations the current situation has expanded to place other species, and the planet itself, under great duress. The inevitable reaction has been, and will be, quakes in the earth, a rise in the number and intensity of storms, massive flooding and a polarity shift.

Specifically, the seers have warned that there will be a major earthquake beneath the St. Lawrence River which will destroy the dams built in the 1950’s. The river’s channel will be broadened, floods will happen, salt water from the Atlantic will flow further west. The Niagara River will widen and James Bay in northern Ontario will extend 60 kilometers inland. The Great Lakes will find a way to enter the Mississippi River which in turn will divide the US in half.

The seers say that there will be an explosion of volcanic activity and ash will obscure the skies for a number of days. Coastal regions in the U.S. are vulnerable and much land will sink beneath the ocean. It is told that the earth will stop rotating for a single day and the planetary axis will be altered so the poles, both north and south, will be located elsewhere.

As a result of the earthquakes in North America a massive tidal wave will strike western Europe. The quakes will cut the thin strip of land connecting North and South America while the Pacific Ocean slams Indonesia, Japan and Australia. The shape of the earth’s land mass will be forever changed.

How will humans survive? The Iroquois are assured that they will endure by making use of the resources around them. Their ancient skills will come back into use from locating fresh water to the use of natural medicines. Seeds must be preserved and food stored in root cellars. Fossil fuels will not be available but other forms of transportation will be used. Of necessity, a new economy will be created based upon a barter system.

There will be warning signs of the ecological changes before they happen. Birds will become disoriented, bees and bats disappear, fish will perish as the underwater volcanoes heat the seas, a red dust will rise and cover the sun. There will be an increase in the number of thunder storms and the magnetic field above the earth will diminish in power. It is also said that strawberries, the most important of berries, will vanish, the sacred maple tree will die off and the thunder will one day come from the east instead of the west.

Other prophecies were compiled by the Seneca author Arthur C. Parker in his rendition of the Code of Handsome Lake (Skeniatariio). As edited by William Fenton the book “Parker on the Iroquois” has a list which describes the warming of the oceans, the coming of destructive winds, the heating of the planet and other events far ahead of the prophet’s time.

There is also warning regarding extraction of certain elements from within the earth. It is said that at the beginning of time the twins Ohseraseh (Sapling) and Tawiskeron (Flint) struggled for domination with Tawiskeron being cast deep within the earth along with his great lizards. In time, the lizards would emerge from their confinement and cause destruction by fouling the air, land and water. This has come to pass as oil is, in part, the remnants of those ancient beings.

The Iroquois take all of this with sincerity and respond accordingly. Each year those who adhere to Skeniatariio’s Code recite it in its entirety over the course of many days. Such is the Code’s importance that at every social, ceremonial or political gathering the prophet is expressly thanked for preserving the Iroquois as a people.

Doug George-Kanentiio is an Akwesasne Mohawk currently residing on Oneida Territory with his wife Joanne Shenandoah.

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