Handsome Lake: American Indian spiritual leader

I first heard of Handsome Lake from Dan who commented earlier. Thanks Dan. Please see his comment for some anecdotal information on Handsome Lake's continued influence.

Handsome Lake was an alcoholic Iroquois Indian who was dying from his alcoholism when he received visions in 1799 from three spiritual messengers warning him away from alcohol. So he quit the booze and got healthy. He started to preach among his people. He preached a repentance from alcohol and witchcraft. He eventually came up with the Code of Handsome Lake which forbade "drunkenness, witchcraft, sexual promiscuity, wife beating, quarreling, and gambling." More detail here,
Handsome Lake's vision defined the sins which the Indians had to forgo, including belief in witchcraft, in love magic, in abortion, and in drunkenness. His concern about sin and salvation were not taken from concepts based on Christian theology of original sin or being saved through faith in Jesus, but they addressed the personal weaknesses which had to be overcome to solve Indian shortcomings and to make for more wholesome individuals. Salvation in the new "Religion of Handsome Lake" would come from avoiding the sins he had enunciated, but it also involved the necessity for observing traditional Indian ceremonies.

A second vision followed for Handsome Lake, and this one, which involved social concerns, included:

1. Temperance: The avoidance of family quarrels and the mistreatment of children Here the family rather than the clan was stressed, and this was a break from the old matrilineal rule of the oldest clan female over the extended members of a clan. Clan was thus being downgraded in favor of the family consisting of the husband, wife, and children.

2. Peace and Social Unity: Whereas the teachings of Jesus spoke to the white man, the teachings of Handsome Lake applied to Indians. To be rejected were the centralization of police powers, the private profit motive, social ills such as gambling, drunkenness, dancing, promiscuity.

3. The Preservation of Tribal Lands: It was permissible to sell Reservation lands just so long as the larger Reservation could be increased in size.

4. There Should Be Schooling in English: English should be learned at the Quaker schools to help protect the tribes in the future against white lawyers and government officials. White ways should be learned so as to improve Indian life. Indian society must be transformed from a male hunting and woman farming society into one of male farming and female housekeeping. Nevertheless Indian society must keep to its own ways without acculturation to white standards. There must be an autonomous Reservation community using white technology but retaining Indian identity.

5. There was to be a renewal of traditional domestic morality. Sons were to obey their father, mothers were not to interfere with their daughters' marriages. There was to be a sanctity of the husband-wife relationship—with no divorce. Again, this was a break with the old clan organization of relationships.
[It's interesting to me that abortion was an issue 200 years ago.]
His preaching was successful on many levels,
The rise of Handsome Lake's religion was more successful than most religions during that time, apparently because his code combined traditional Iroquois religion with white Christian values. It stressed survival without the sacrifice of the Iroquois identity, and recognized the realistic need to make adjustments in order to survive in their changing world. The Code of Handsome Lake, published around 1850, played a significant role in the preservation of the Iroquois cultural heritage and was popular throughout the Iroquois nations in Canada and in the United States. Handsome Lake, referred to as Sedwa'gowa'ne, "Our Great Teacher, " died on August 10, 1815, at the Onondaga Reservation. His religious beliefs were carried on by Blacksnake and other disciples, and his teachings remain a compelling force among the Iroquois.
He was opposed by Christian missionaries among the Iroquois but not the Quakers. He didn't think Indian conversions to Christ were a bad thing, but compatible with his revelation. His problem with witchcraft led to an execution of an Indian woman which put him in everyone's doghouse. Handsome Lake's Code was became the Longhouse Religion which currently has 5000 members. Handsome Lake's Code has a story of Jesus, which doesn't qualify as orthodox by mainstream Christianity.
See more posts on native Americans, abortion, church and history.

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

Why did Peter put his coat on before jumping in the water? John 21:7

bike review:men's Simple 3 by Giant

I'm an ex-vanglical but not an ex-christian