What was a False Face and Why were the wooden masks worn in Iroquois curing rituals?

During some curing rituals, Iroquois medicine men danced while wearing carved wooden masks called False Faces. Many of these masks featured deep-set eyes, a crooked nose, and a huge mouth twisted into a grimace.

Healers wore these False Faces to honor Shagodyowehgowah. According to the Iroquois’ ancient stories, he was a giant who challenged the Creator to a contest to see who had the greater spirit-power.

As both sat with their backs to a mountain, the Creator used his power to move it toward them. When Shagodyowehgowah turned to see what the Creator was doing, the mountain smacked into his nose, crushing it onto one side of his face. Defeated, the giant promised the Creator to use his powers to help heal ailing Iroquois if they showed him respect through their rituals.

The Iroquois believed that False Faces were living things that had to be fed meals of corn mush to stay alive.

About Karen Hill

Karen Hill is a freelance writer, editor, and columnist. Born in New York, her work has appeared in the Examiner, Yahoo News, Buzzfeed, among others.

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