During his last years ethnohistorian Frank G. Speck turned to the study of Iroquois ceremonialism. This 1950 book investigates the religious rites of the Cayuga tribe, one of six in the Iroquois confederation that occupied upstate New York until the American Revolution. In the 1930s and the 1940s Frank Speck observed the Midwinter Ceremony, the Cayuga thanksgiving for the blessings of life and health, performed in long houses on the Six Nations Reserve in Ontario.
Collaborating with Alexander General (Deskáheh), the noted Cayuga chief, Speck describes vividly the rites and dances giving thanks to all spiritual entities. Of special interest are the medicine societies that not only prescribed herbs but used powerfully evocative masks in treating the underlying causes of sickness.
In a new introduction, William N. Fenton discusses Speck’s distinguished career.
William N. Fenton, a Distinguished Professor Emeritus of anthropology, SUNY at Albany, is the author of The False Faces of the Iroquois.
“The charm of [Dr. Speck’s] book is matched only by the quiet dignity and poetic imagery of the Cayuga. Immersing himself in the native scene, the author entered sympathetically into the spirit of their thought. . . . Both the prayers and myths are remarkable for their power and loveliness.”—Canadian Historical Review
“Since Speck’s attitude towards native religion was charged with the highest respect and sympathy, he always was extremely successful in eliciting the cooperation of informants in securing reliable information. . . . Speck’s linguistic gifts also facilitated such inquiries.”—American Anthropologist