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William Thackery


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Friedrich Schiller


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H. P. Blavatsky


Paradoxes of the Highest Science

Eliphas Levi


Onondaga

by Joshua Victor Hopkins Clark

Excerpt:

In the annals of the world, perhaps there never was a people whose true history has been so completely wrapt in mystery and so wonderfully mingled up with false traditions, many of which may have had foundation in fact, interspersed with fables, fictions, types, symbols and allegories, as that of the aborigines of our land. In tracing the progress of their ancient history, we find no distinctive lines, whereby to distinguish what may be true from what is actually false. There is no discrimination made by themselves, and among them, the most extravagant fictions pass for truth. The Indian is acted upon by his superstitions and fears. Seeing some things mysterious and incomprehensible, he believes all things he cannot explain by the evidence of his senses to be so. Thus we find him drifting about without a system or without direction, on the broad ocean of ignorance, driven onward by the accumulating waves of superstition. "He sees God in clouds and hears him in the winds," every strange event is magnified into a miracle, and is transmitted from sire to son, as the work of an invisible hand—the doings of the Great Spirit. His credulity impels him to believe everything marvellous that he hears, and the basest fabrics of the imagination, and the simplest truths, enter alike into his systems of history,

philosophy and theology. Although exceedingly extravagant, and perhaps unworthy of credence, we here would insert a few of the most prominent traditions and beliefs held in repute among the Onondagas.

They have a tradition that Ta-oun-ya-wat-ha, the deity who presides over fisheries and hunting-grounds, came down from above in his White Canoe, and selected a couple of warriors from among the Onondagas, who met him at Oswego. They together passed up the Oswego river, removed all obstructions to navigation at the falls, so that canoes could pass in safety without carriage. As the tradition goes, the devoted trio proceeded up the river until they had passed (Te-u-unghu-ka) Three-River-Point. They here came to a place where the water was perfectly still for a long distance. The channel was straight, the water deep and unruffled. Looking far ahead, they distinctly saw an object lying directly across the stream, apparently like the trunk of a large tree. As they advanced, it seemed gradually to heave and fall; the waters became strangely agitated, and rolled in large waves from the sides of the obstruction. Upon a nearer approach, the object proved to be an enormous serpent, whose body lay across the stream, and such was his unparalleled length, that his head was not in view, but extended far into the country on one side of the river, while his tail was far out of sight on the other. The god of fhe rivers bade him retire, but the reptile would not obey. Then said Ta-oun-ya-wat-ha, die, thou dreadful beast, and know that the Great Spirit rules. He then raised his paddle, which in its descent cleft the hideous beast in twain. So firmly had the extremities of the monster become fixed, that the separation was accompanied with a terrific sound, like a startling peal of thunder. The earth trembled and shook with a rumbling noise, the waters ran red and were violently agitated, while the sudden contractions of the dissevered parts were so violent, that each portion immediately disappeared, and was never heard of more. But the print of the place where the fell destroyer had lain, was plain to be seen through all succeeding generations, till the white man came and leveled the ground with his plow.

The canoe again passed on without interruption. It was the first that had ever moved over the waters, past this appalling spot. All who had before this attempted the passage had been killed and devoured.

A few miles further up the stream, they met with another obstruction of a like nature, which was removed with similar consequences and results.

Upon a more critical examination of the space in the river between the positions of these huge monsters, it was found to be richly stored with an abundance of eels and other delicious fish; the taking of which had not been enjoyed by the natives, because of these terrific spoilers who had constantly guarded it and destroyed all who dared to approach—under the auspices of the wicked spirit, O-nees-hoo-hugh-nu. After Ta-oun-ya-wat-ha, had vanquished the huge serpents, he gave all good people permission to fish there without hindrance or molestation, which beneficent privilege they have so richly enjoyed to the present day.

Ta-oun-ya-wat-ha and his companions now proceeded onward, to where the Seneca river makes its greatest bend to the south. They here made a landing on the southern shore. At this place they were much surprised at hearing an incessant screaming of wild birds. "This," said Ta-oun-ya-watha, "is portentous of some remarkable event—let us examine and see." They proceeded south a short distance, and behold, a great lake lay beautifully spread out before them, extending far away to the south. It had no visible outlet— no communication with the river. "We must open a free passage here," said Ta-oun-yarwat-ha, "for the canoes of good people to pass. Our business is to remove all obstructions to their prosperity and to make them happy." Then the spirit of the rivers took the magic paddle which he had carried with him, and with it made a mark or furrow, from the lake to the river, through which at first the water gradually flowed and in time wore the channel sufficiently deep for canoes to pass with ease and facility. This, according to Indian tradition, was the first outlet of the Onondaga Lake. Previously to this, the lake extended the whole length of the Onondaga valley.* Year succeeded year, and this channel became broader and deeper, and as time rolled on, the lake lessened in size, the water became shallow which before was deep, and trees soon appeared where once the earth was overspread with water; and finally the boundaries of the lake gradually subsided to the ordinary limits of the water, and left the salt springs on its shores bare, which previous to this event, had been covered by fresh water, and were before entirely unknown; so that by this special kindness and interposition of the Great Spirit, salt was introduced for the health and comfort of the Indians, and has ever since been considered by them an inestimable blessing.


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