The original five tribes of the Iroquois Confederation were the Mohawk, Seneca, Oneida, Onondaga and Cayuga. They were later joined by the Tuscarora.
As with Inuit mythology the exact names and roles of the major Iroquois deities varied a bit from tribe to tribe but there is an overall pantheon that is recognized as belonging to the Iroquois belief system. I will be using deity names selected from each of the nations of the Iroquois League so be aware that when looking into the beliefs of one particular tribe the names may be different from the ones I use here.
As always my goal is to restore the figures from these neglected pantheons to their rightful place alongside other world deities like Isis, Odin, Aphrodite and others. The following entries are done in the same style as my examination of gods and goddesses of the Navajo, Choctaw, Polynesians, Vietnamese and many others.
15. DOENDZOWES – The Iroquois earthquake goddess. She lived in a longhouse lodge in a large crack in the ground caused by one of the tumultuous tremors she controlled. Earthquakes were caused by the wild dancing that often took place in her lodge. Her son Thagonhsowes had a handsome face that was split down the middle by a scar like the crevices that Doendzowes’ earthquakes tore in the ground.
The swan goddess Oweeyegon had her two daughters bake Marriage Bread and sent them to marry the earthquake goddess’ son. After a suitable time Doendzowes invited Oweeyegon to come live in the longhouse lodge with them and join in the raucous dancing that causes earthquakes. “Doendzowes’ parties are NUTS, dude!”
14. OTGOE – The wampum god. Otgoe’s tears, mucous and vomit were wampum, like the white shells found in sandy deposits near bodies of water. When he smoked from his pipe and then spit the spittle also turned into wampum.
As highly prized as wampum was Otgoe was a very valuable deity and was once kidnapped by an evil and very powerful medicine man to provide wampum for him and the malevolent tribe he ruled over. The tribe did this by prodding him with firebrands to make him cry wampum tears.
Eventually he was freed by his brother, Hodadeion the god of magic. Later Otgoe was devoured by a gigantic bird, who from that point on grew feathers made of wampum. The storm god Heng slew the bird to stop it from feeding on the Iroquois, shattering it into countless pieces with one of his lightning bolt spears. The Iroquois then gathered up the slain monster’s wampum feathers.
13. GENDENWITHA – The goddess of the Morning Star (actually the planet Venus) and the most beautiful goddess of the Iroquois pantheon. Gendenwitha was originally a mortal woman beloved by the hunting god Sosondowah. The dawn goddess Doyadastethe was jealous of Sosondowah’s love of Gendenwitha and of the fact that the mortal woman was often described as more beautiful than she herself was.
In anger she elevated the woman to godhood and fixed her in the sky as the Morning Star so that Sosondowah and all the other admirers of Gendenwitha could forever see her beauty but be unable to reach her. In some Iroquois tribes the Morning Star is a male deity, however.
12. GEHA – The wind god and father of the good and evil twin deities whose battle represents a large part of the Iroquois Creation Epic. Geha mated with the goddess Eithinoha to produce those twin sons. Like the wind god Sila in Inuit myths Geha is also looked on as the source of sounds and music, especially music produced by wind instruments since they are blown with human breath, an approximation of the wind.
The wind god has always lived in a longhouse lodge under the sea since wind was on the Earth even before there was any land. The lodge is entered by diving into its doorway which floats on the waters. In Iroquois myths the wind is often depicted as the whisperings of Geha, who frequently offers advice to the heroes of those myths.
In addition to advice he often provides new weapons and also aids heroes in winning races by blowing them along past their opponents and by blowing trees or other obstacles into the path of those opponents. This benevolent deity is also the protector of orphans.
11. DOYADASTETHE – The Iroquois goddess of the dawn. She often plays the role of the willful, spoiled and resentful “chief’s daughter” in myths. The other gods in the pantheon have learned to tolerate her impetuous demands and to accommodate her whenever possible.
The most famous tale of the goddess’ often spiteful nature involved her relationship with the hunting god Sosondowah. The hunting god was obsessed with tracking down a giant elk and proved indifferent to the dawn goddess’ flirtations. She kept him tied up as a guardian outside her longhouse lodge in the heavens after he refused to guard her home willingly.
When he rejected her because of his love for the mortal woman Gendenwitha Doyadastethe made the mortal woman the goddess of the Morning Star so that Sosondowah could forever see her but be unable to reach her. Doyadastethe’s father was Hawenneyu, the chief deity of the Iroquois pantheon.
10. HAWENNEYU – The chief deity of the Iroquois pantheon. He ruled over the land of the gods on the other side of the sky and his word was law for gods and men alike. He held court just outside his longhouse lodge which was situated right next to his sun-tree – a huge dogwood tree whose blossoms each glowed like a sun, providing light for the entire realm of the gods.
In some versions this sunlight is eternal but in others the blossoms close up at the end of each godly “day”. Hawenneyu owned two giant white dogs who guarded the tree for him and helped him test the goddess Iagentci when she came to be his wife. The dogs’s tongues could inflict or cure wounds when they licked.
Hawenneyu was notoriously jealous of the attention that the meteor god Gasyondetha showed to his wife Iagentci and it was his suspicion that the meteor god might be the real father of his and Iagentci’s child. This suspicion gnawed at Hawenneyu and made him ill until he had a dream telling him how to cure himself.
He had his sun-tree uprooted and his wife thrown into exile on the world below (Earth) through the resulting hole in the sky. After exiling Iagentci in this way Hawenneyu had the tree returned to its upright position, blocking the hole.
9-7. DEOHAKO – The collective name for the three goddesses who each protect corn, squash and beans, respectively. They are the daughters of the vegetation god Akonwara. Their leader is the oldest sister, the corn goddess Onatha, who would often transform crop saboteurs into raccoons or other animals as punishment. The goddesses could often be glimpsed walking among the corn, squash and beans.
The three were considered sisters because of the way the Iroquois intertwined the planting of corn, squash and beans. Corn was planted first in little mounds then when the corn stalks began to appear the squash and beans were planted so that as the three crops continued to grow the corn stalks would form a trellis for the bean vines while the large leaves of the squash would cover the ground to form a weed barrier and to offer shade to the soil, thus conserving moisture.
Onatha herself had to instruct the early Iroquois people in this proper way of planting her and her sisters. The harvesting of the three crops was celebrated in one joint festival each year.
6. AKONWARA – The god of all vegetation (except trees), including tobacco, mushrooms (which were considered plants by many ancient cultures) and those plants which are either medicinal or poisonous. This association with hallucinogenic mushrooms and pharmaceutical vegetation made him the patron deity of Iroquois medicine men, especially the False Face Society.
The god was full of both “orenda” (positive life energy) and “otgon” (negative life energy), making him the patron of both good and evil medicine men. Akonwara was known as the Defender partly because of his role protecting the plant life he was the lord of from threats and menaces. Chief among those menaces were the huge flying heads of Iroquois myths. Those winged heads would bespoil crops, feed on human beings and cut down trees by whirling around so quickly that their long hair would act like a buzzsaw.
When Akonwara first met Tharonhiawakon he boastfully pretended to be the creator of the world. Tharonhiawakon proved him wrong by challenging him to summon mountains to them, a task he himself was able to perform but which Akonwara failed to do. Acknowledging Tharonhiawakon’s supremacy, the vegetation god became his friend and ally, often aiding him in struggles with his twin brother, the malevolent deity Tawiskaron.
5. EITHINOHA – The daughter of Iagentci, the goddess who fell from the sky when her husband Hawenneyu banished her from the land on the other side of the sky. She was impregnated by the wind god Geha and gave birth to the benevolent deity Tharonhiawakon and the malevolent deity Tawiskaron.
She died from the pain of giving birth to Tawiskaron due to his razor-sharp Mohawk “comb” or hairstyle made of flint, wounding her severely as he emerged. This is similar to the Shinto goddess Izanami “dying” while giving birth to the fire god Kagatsuchi. (see my Shinto myth articles)
Also like Izanami Eithinoha passed over to the land of the dead. Once there she arranged everything in the afterlife just as her mother had laid out the first land on Earth. Eithinoha not only “molded” the land of the dead but served as the psychopomp of the Iroquois pantheon.
After death Eithonaha’s footprints leading to the afterlife would appear to the spirit of the deceased so they could follow those footprints to the land of the dead. That land remained perfectly flat for easy travel and had no mountains or valleys. As for Eithinoha’s dead body Iagentci cast her head into the sky as the moon and her body into the sky as the sun.
4. HENG – The Iroquois storm god and the chief monster-slayer of the Iroquois pantheon. Thunder is the sound of his voice and he shoots lightning- bolt arrows from his bow just like the Navajo god of war Nayanazgeni (see my Navajo myth articles). At other times Heng threw spears made of lightning. Giant poisonous snake creatures were the storm god’s most frequent foes, including a gigantic horned serpent who was the chief of all snake monsters.
Among the other mythical beasts slain by Heng were an enormous porcupine with quills the size of trees, the giant Wampum Bird that devoured the god Otgoe, cannibalistic wizards who could assume animal form and a worm that fed on so many dead bodies it grew large enough to devour deer and humans and finally an entire village.
Heng was married to the rainbow goddess and had children by her and by various mortal women. As with the storm god Susanowo in Shinto beliefs there is an entire cycle of myths that center around Heng and his family members. Most of his sons and daughters eventually became part of his entourage and helped him generate rain and storms, with the sons causing hard rain and the daughters mild rain.
3. TAWISKARON – The malevolent, destructive counterpart to the benevolent and constructive creator deity Tharonhiawakon, his twin brother. When the two deities were in their mother Eithinoha’s womb their conflict began with the good twin arguing that they should spring forth from their mother’s vagina and the evil twin insisting they should be born through her armpit. (This intra-uterine conversation parallels many African myths which feature deities in the womb discussing with their mother what body part they will emerge from. )
Tharonhiawakon emerged from Eithinoha’s vagina but Tawiskaron insisted on emerging from her armpit instead and his razor-sharp flint-like Mohawk “comb” or hairstyle slashed the goddess so badly she passed over to the land of the dead. Iagentci was furious at this but Tawiskaron lied and claimed Tharonhiawakon was the twin who had emerged in such a way that killed Eithinoha. In her angry grief over her daughter’s death Iagentci cast out Tharonhiawakon who grew up shunned by her.
Later, when Tharonhiawakon was refining Iagentci’s creation (the land masses of the Earth) by sculpting landmarks and by creating trees and animal life through “orenda” (positive life energy) Tawiskaron jealously distorted many of his brother’s creations, making monsters, poisonous lakes and deadly serpents through “otgon” (negative life energy). His brother banished most of the monsters far away.
Knowing that Tharonhiawakon wanted the human race he would soon create to be able to live off of the game animals the good deity had created Tawiskaron at one point stole them all and imprisoned them in caves, making game scarce. His brother freed them.
The evil god also created ice and snow which took Tharonhiawakon some time to drive away, but eventually his indefatigable twin brother would bring it back, and would once again imprison the game animals in caves. All this was a myth explaining the change of seasons, with Tawiskaron bringing winter which drives various game animals into hibernation or migration to warmer climes and with Tharonhiawakon eventually restoring warm weather and freeing the game animals in spring and summer.
Tawiskaron traveled by standing on a grey cloud from which snowflakes fell. Another of his perennial winter undertakings was an attempt to freeze the ocean into an ice bridge paving the way for the return of all the monsters he created but which Tharonhiawakon had banished. The good deity had originally intended for animals to come to humans to be killed voluntarily but Tawiskaron interfered, causing men to have to labor to hunt animals down. The earthquake goddess Doendzowes is one of Tawiskaron’s daughters.
2. THARONHIAWAKON – The benevolent and constructive counterpart to the malevolent and destructive deity Tawiskaron, his twin brother. When he was cast out by his grandmother Iagentci after Tawiskaron falsely accused him of causing their mother’s death the young god raised himself. When he came of age his father, the wind god Geha, invited him to his undersea lodge where he gave him the gift of a bow and arrow and instructed him on his role in the world.
Tharonhiawakon then set forth on his mission, roaming the Earth his grandmother had created and refining it into mountains, lakes, rivers and other landmarks. He also created all trees, beginning with maple trees, since maple syrup is an important food item for the Iroquois. Each year the rising of the sap in maple trees is looked on as an important indicator of the return of Tharonhiawakon as he brings in spring to drive away the winter caused by his evil twin brother.
Next Tharonhiawakon created all of the land animals (sea and air animals had existed on the world even before Iagentci fell from the sky and in some versions were created by the wind god Geha) and as his final creation, he made human beings. As before, his brother Tawiskaron jealously tried to imitate him, but created nothing except monsters and evil spirits. The two brothers often clashed violently, with Tawiskaron’s blood drops turning into flint.
Once Tawiskaron went so far as to steal the sun and moon, binding them to a tree by his lodge in an attempt to imitate the sun tree of the twin brothers’ grandfather Hawenneyu in the land on the other side of the sky. Tharonhiawakon had all the powers of the animals he had created and used those powers to retrieve the sun and moon from his brother’s clutches and return them to orbit.
1. IAGENTCI – Also called Ataensic. The goddess Iagentci was born in the land on the other side of the sky. Her father was the first god to “die” and he became the patron deity of Iroquois funerary practices, offering instructions from beyond the grave about the treatment of dead bodies and the rituals of mourning.
Iagentci was the only goddess able to communicate with her father and he told her many prophecies of the things to come.
At her late father’s urging Iagentci made Marriage Bread and went to visit the chief deity Hawenneyu. Their courtship established all of the customs that the Iroquois people would go on to observe in their own society. The courtship culminated with Iagentci stripping naked and cooking mushed corn, stoically enduring the spatters of hot meal that her naked form was assailed with from the open pot she used for cooking.
Next Hawenneyu had the two gigantic white dogs that guarded his sun-tree come into his lodge and lick the spattered food from his prospective bride’s body. Their abrasive tongues wounded and bloodied her body further but she endured even this without flinching or making a sound. Hawenneyu then realized Iagentci was a fit bride, so he tended her wounds and agreed to marry her.
Eventually Iagentci became pregnant and Hawenneyu’s jealousy of the attention the war god and the meteor god paid to his beautiful wife consumed him. Suspicious that his wife might be bearing the child of one of his two rivals he banished her to the world below, casting her out through a hole in the sky created by temporarily uprooting his sun-tree.
Iagentci fell from the sky toward the world below which was nothing but rolling seas at the time and was populated only by sea creatures and water-adaptable birds like ducks. The goddess summoned countless ducks to cushion her fall and lower her to the back of a gigantic continent-sized turtle she had ordered to rise to the surface and to use its shell to provide a resting place for her.
Next Iagentci ordered all of the muskrats to swim to the bottom of the sea and retrieve soil for her in one of the many examples of “earth diver” myths in Native American beliefs. It took countless trips but Iagentci was eventually able to use the retrieved earth to create the known world (to the Iroquois) on the back of the enormous turtle. She even created a large monument of stone at the furthest limits of the world and this “rock at the end of the world” is often mentioned in Iroquois myths.
Iagentci bore Hawenneyu’s daughter Eithinoha, who mated with the wind god Geha. Eithinoha bore his twin sons, the gods Tharonhiawakon and Tawiskaron, thus setting the rest of creation in motion.
FOR 6 MORE IROQUOIS DEITIES CLICK HERE: https://glitternight.com/2013/02/05/six-more-iroquois-deities/
CHOCTAW INDIAN MYTHS – https://glitternight.com/2012/06/03/the-top-twelve-deities-in-choctaw-mythology/