Seneca Indian Religious Traditions

In the past, this area had its own Long House (or Council House) where tribal religious services were held. In 1921, the "council fire" was moved to the Cold Spring Long House. It was in turn recently transferred to the new Long House in the Steamburg Relocation Area, where it is now the only place on the Allegany Reservation carrying out the religion as taught by the Seneca Prophet, Hansome Lake.

There are six (6) major religious services during the year, although gatherings for social dances may be held at any time. The worship services are mainly for thansgiving; however, this includes the supplication to the Great Spirit for continuance of His protection.
 
 

The religious services are:

  • Maple Festival, to give thanks to the maple itself for yielding its sweet waters, and to the Great Spirit for the gift of the maple;
  •  Planting Festival, and invotation to the Great Spirit to bless the seeds;
  •  Strawberry Festival, thanksgiving for the first fruit of the season;
  •  Green Corn Festival, thanksgiving for the ripening of the harvests;
  •  Harvest Festival, a general thanksgiving to the Great Spirit for the abundance and gathering of the harvest; and
  •  Midwinter or New Year's Festival, this signifies "The Supreme Belief".

  • It is a time when opportunity is given to all for the general and public confession of sins. The Keepers of the Faith visit each home with an invitation to the ceremonies, telling the householders to "prepare their houses" clean away all "rubbish", drive out evil spirits. Nothing is to hinder the observances. In the past, if a death occurred during this ceremony the family was advised not to mourn, nor any friends to mourn. They were told that mourning could take place after the ceremonies when other members will mourn with them. Also, many years ago, this festival included the sacrifice or burning of a white dog on the fifth day.
     
     

    The Senecas are a matriarchy. There are eight clans: in the first Moiety are the Wolf, Turtle, Bear, and Beaver; the second Moiety are the Heron, Snipe, Hawk and Deer. At one time, marriage within one moiety was forbidden and if it occurred, the participants were in disgrace. Now the system has relaxed and one may marry excepting into one's own clan.
     
     

    Their computing degree of consanguinity was a clear and definite system. The maternal grandmother, the mother, and in the descending line only, the sister's children could be of the same clan, or from whom the degree of relationship was reckoned; e.g., the maternal grandmother and her sisters were equally grandmothers; the mother and her sisters were equally mothers, and the children of the mother's sister were brothers and sisters.
     
     

    A "Tenth Day Feast" (comparable to the White mans reading of the last will and testament) takes place ten days after the date of the funeral. Where there is a death in one moiety, all the clans included in that moiety are considered in mourning, and the opposite moiety provide the help for all the work, running errands, etc., whatever is necessary to be accomplished from the time of death to the completion of the rite of the Tenth Day Feast. At the Feast, the will of the deceased is carried out. The family can retain real property, valuable jewelry, and furniture, but most of the clothing and whatever the family of the deceased wish to give away is distributed to the workers of the opposite moiety and close friends.
     
     

    Thanks goes to:

     Artie Nichols  for her work on transcribing this information
    Lorna Spencer of the Cattaraugus County Historical Museum for providing it for transcription
    and Edith John Daly for the original work in 1977
     

    Last Revision was April 14, 2000
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