A Profusion of Spires: Religion in Nineteenth-Century by John Webster Grant

By John Webster Grant

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Although they left no residue of Roman Catholics in the Iroquois homeland, they attracted a significant proportion of the population to mission settlements in the St Lawrence valley. The Catholic Indians who reside in the portion of the Aquasasne, or St Regis, reserve that lies within Ontario constitute their legacy to the province. Although they were excluded from areas under French control, Protestant missionaries engaged in activities elsewhere that would have a later impact on the province.

In 1962, however, Harold Hickerson argued that missionary records prior to 1700, though eloquent on other religious practices of the Ojibwas, contained no references to the midewiwin. Since mide rites are performed in public and figure prominently in later descriptions, this argument seems fairly conclusive. More recently, Selwyn Dewdney, in investigating scrolls embodying mide tradition, came unequivocally to the same conclusion. 26 There can be no doubt,/ of course, that the shamanic features incorporated into the midewiwin were of long standing, and it is possible that the concept of a medicine lodge antedated contact.

In the northern forests of America, however, to a greater extent than in most other parts of the world, each person was expected to have some of the properties of the shaman. Dreams were a readily available window to the realm beyond, a means of foretelling the future or expressing needs otherwise unknown to the dreamer. Communal rituals stimulated the search for ecstasy, employing for this purpose drums, dancing, and sometimes mild hallucinogenic Spirits of the Land 7 drugs. A decisive turning-point in the life of each Indian was the personal vision quest, which commonly took place in late childhood.

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