CHAPTER VIII. 1636, 1637. THE HURON AND THE JESUIT.
There was another sorcerer, whose medical practice was so extensive, that, unable to attend to all his patients, he sent substitutes to the surrounding towns, first imparting to them his own mysterious power. One of these deputies came to Ossossane while the priests were there. The principal house was thronged with expectant savages, anxiously waiting his arrival. A chief carried before him a kettle of mystic water, with which the envoy sprinkled the company, [ 1 ] at the same time fanning them with the wing of a wild turkey. Then came a grand medicine-feast, followed by a medicine-dance of women.
[ 1 The idea seems to have been taken from the holy water of the French. Le Mercier says that a Huron who had been to Quebec once asked him the use of the vase of water at the door of the chapel. The priest told him that it was "to frighten away the devils". On this, he begged earnestly to have some of it. ]
Opinion was divided as to the nature of the pest; but the greater number were agreed that it was a malignant oki, who came from Lake Huron. [ 1 ] As it was of the last moment to conciliate or frighten him, no means to these ends were neglected. Feasts were held for him, at which, to do him honor, each guest gorged himself like a vulture. A mystic fraternity danced with firebrands in their mouths; while other dancers wore masks, and pretended to be hump-backed. Tobacco was burned to the Demon of the Pest, no less than to the scarecrows which were to frighten him. A chief climbed to the roof of a house, and shouted to the invisible monster, "If you want flesh, go to our enemies, go to the Iroquois!" - while, to add terror to persuasion, the crowd in the dwelling below yelled with all the force of their lungs, and beat furiously with sticks on the walls of bark.
[ 1 Many believed that the country was bewitched by wicked sorcerers, one of whom, it was said, had been seen at night roaming around the villages, vomiting fire. (Le Mercier, Relation des Hurons, 1637, 134.) This superstition of sorcerers vomiting fire was common among the Iroquois of New York. - Others held that a sister of Etienne Brule caused the evil, in revenge for the death of her brother, murdered some years before. She was said to have been seen flying over the country, breathing forth pestilence. ]
Besides these public efforts to stay the pestilence, the sufferers, each for himself, had their own methods of cure, dictated by dreams or prescribed by established usage. Thus two of the priests, entering a house, saw a sick man crouched in a corner, while near him sat three friends. Before each of these was placed a huge portion of food, - enough, the witness declares, for four, - and though all were gorged to suffocation, with starting eyeballs and distended veins, they still held staunchly to their task, resolved at all costs to devour the whole, in order to cure the patient, who meanwhile ceased not in feeble tones, to praise their exertions, and implore them to persevere.
[ "En fin il leur fallut rendre gorge, ce qu'ils firent a diuerses reprises, ne laissants pas pour cela de continuer a vuider leur plat." - Le Mercier, Relation des Hurons, 1637, 142. - This beastly superstition exists in some tribes at the present day. A kindred superstition once fell under the writer's notice, in the case of a wounded Indian, who begged of every one he met to drink a large bowl of water, in order that he, the Indian, might be cured. ]
Turning from these eccentricities of the "noble savage" [ 1 ] to the zealots who were toiling, according to their light, to snatch him from the clutch of Satan, we see the irrepressible Jesuits roaming from town to town in restless quest of subjects for baptism. In the case of adults, they thought some little preparation essential; but their efforts to this end, even with the aid of St. Joseph, whom they constantly invoked, [ 2 ] were not always successful; and, cheaply as they offered salvation, they sometimes railed to find a purchaser. With infants, however, a simple drop of water sufficed for the transfer from a prospective Hell to an assured Paradise. The Indians, who at first had sought baptism as a cure, now began to regard it as a cause of death; and when the priest entered a lodge where a sick child lay in extremity, the scowling parents watched him with jealous distrust, lest unawares the deadly drop should be applied. The Jesuits were equal to the emergency. Father Le Mercier will best tell his own story.
[ 1 In the midst of these absurdities we find recorded one of the best traits of the Indian character. At Ihonatiria, a house occupied by a family of orphan children was burned to the ground, leaving the inmates destitute. The villagers united to aid them. Each contributed something, and they were soon better provided for than before. ]
[ 2 "C'est nostre refuge ordinaire en semblables necessitez, et d'ordinaire auec tels succez, que nous auons sujet d'en benir Dieu a iamais, qui nous fait cognoistre en cette barbarie le credit de ce S. Patriarche aupres de son infinie misericorde." - Ibid., 153. - In the case of a woman at Onnentisati, "Dieu nous inspira de luy vouer quelques Messes en l'honneur de S. Joseph." The effect was prompt. In half an hour the woman was ready for baptism. On the same page we have another subject secured to Heaven, "sans doute par les merites du glorieux Patriarche S. Joseph." ]