False Face Society
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Basic Information

The Iroquois Indians of present day New York State, had a number of Medicine Societies devoted to healing practices and rituals. One of the most striking was the False Face Society. Members of this society wore wooden masks while performing their healing, depicitng a grotesque face with long hair and a crooked nose. The wood for the mask had to be cut from a living tree, because the mask was to contain the tree's spirit; and the owner of the mask was required to maintain it by "feeding" it corn mush and the smoke of tobacco.

According to one old Iroquois legend, when the Creator had finished making the world, he encountered another being, looking exactly like him, who also claimed to be the Creator. The two agreed to have a contest to determine which was the real one. Each would attempt to move a mountain, and the one who moved it furthest would obviously be the more powerful. But they also agreed that they would each turn his back while the other was making his attempt. The Imposter went first, and succeeded in moving the mountain a small distance. But when the Creator went, he moved the mountain to right behind the Imposter, so that when the Imposter turned quickly around to see, he banged his face against the mountain and broke his nose. Humbled, the Imposter promised to serve the Creator by using his magic of healing to help humans.

Traditionally, members of the False Face Society would perform community rituals twice a year in which the story of their origin would be told and they would enter peoples homes, wearing the masks, to drive out spirits of sickness, disease an evil.

Some modern Iroquois have objected to non-Iroquois artists who produce faux False Face masks to sell to tourists, and to collectors who own authentic masks but who do not take care of the spirits within them.

See Also


2. The Iroquois False Face Society retrieved via Archive.org

Game and Story Use

  • Such a False Face mask could make an interesting MacGuffin in a campaign
    • Perhaps a wealthy collector has hired the PC's to acquire a rare mask.
    • Or contrawise, the PC's have been contacted by the spirit of such a mask asking to be set free
    • Suppose a mask has been accquired by a collector as a piece of artwork (or has landed up in a museum) and has not been properly taken care of - perhaps this could result in the spirit inside it becoming angry and/or hostile. Very dangerous for an artifact meant to be used to heal…
  • The PCs might encounter a culture with a tradition similar to that of the False Face Society
    • One of the PCs, or an important NPC, is sick or wounded, and the nearest medical help is the Medicine Society of a nearby village.
    • Perhaps one of the PCs is a member of such a society. He was once gravely ill and healed by a False Face ceremony and was required to join the society himself as a way of "paying it forward".
      • The rituals involved in joining the society and creating ones own unique mask could make interesting events in the game.
  • The wearing of a medicine mask is a common part of shamanistic practice - the mask normally either represents the spirit that the shaman is working with or is used to protect him from potentially hostile spirits as he negotiates with them. This would seem to be a classic example of the first case - and the fact that the shamen in question find a spirit dwelling within the masks may even make them a fetish.
    • Does this make the corn mush and tobacco smoke fetish fuel then?
      • Out! Now!
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