There are many different religious entities on each Iroquois territory with Catholics and various other Christian denominations ranging from Baptists to Mormons, all of whom follow the Gregorian calendar as set by Pope Gregory XIII in 1582. Affixed to this are celebrations which are rooted in the various pagan rituals among is Christmas and Easter.
Among the other spiritual disciplines is the “longhouse” or “traditional” element which traces its customs and beliefs to a time long before European contact. It is not an organized religion nor is it “faith” based but does involve a set of complex communal events directly related to the movement of celestial elements, the growth of plants and the changes in weather.
The rituals are celebrity by design, emphasizing words of gratitude to the natural world and marked by verbal acknowledgements of the intimate connection between humans and other species.
There are 13 communal ceremonies-one for each lunar month. During these gatherings specific plants such as corn, beans, strawberries and the maple tree will be cited. Songs and dances are conducted since music is an essential part of Iroquois spirituality. It is taught that animals, plants, rain and wind all respond to the human voice so that which leaves the human body determines how other living entities react.
Voices raised in anger or negativity result in an animal or plant becoming defensive and hostile but songs of praise and gratitude produce goodness. Even something as basic and necessary as water needs to be sang to with respect otherwise its positive energy diminishes.
When the world is at rest during the winter the Iroquois watch the stars and moon to determine when a new year begins. It is determined by the lunar phase-five days after the first new moon following the solstice. A group of men and women called “faithkeepers” oversee the eight days of the Midwinter Ceremony. They will also note the apex of the Pleiades star cluster-when both are at the right time the people are called together to “stir the ashes” of the longhouse.
It is a real fire which cools to red ashes inside an iron stove inside the longhouse. Every person has an opportunity to physically stir the remnants of the fire nd upon doing so reignite the flames with hope for a good year.
Other events are done each day all of which are designed to lift the spirit and reaffirm the connections with the world and the spiritual beings. The emphasis is on enjoying life and sharing its gifts among the families and community.
Despite the most intense efforts by Christian preachers, authoritarian government officials and oppressive educational systems the “old ways” are thriving on most Iroquois territories. During each of the eight days of the Midwinter-the new year-hundreds of young Mohawks put aside all else to honor the Creation without any reference to coercive tactics used by organized “religions”.