Deganawidah, the prophet whose vision of peace led to the
establishment of the Iroquois Confederacy and the ending of
centuries of strife between the Mohawk, Onondaga, Seneca,
Oneida, and Cayuga Nations, was born at an unknown date,
most likely between 1400 and 1600 C.E., among the Huron people.
According to the oral tradition from which knowledge of
him derives, his mother became pregnant though still a virgin.
His grandmother had a vision that he would grow up and live
among foreigners and raise a great tree of Peace. He would also
indirectly be the cause of the demise of the Huron people. To
prevent the latter from happening, the two women tried to kill
him, but he would not die.
At about the age of 18, Deganwidah left home and made the
first convert to the vision of peace that he claimed he had been
sent by the Master of Life to deliver. The convert was a young
Mohawk named Hiawatha, an eloquent speaker who would become
the public voice of his teacher. Under Deganawidah’s
counsel, Hiawatha changed from a man filled with hate (due to
the massacre of his family) to a man of peace. The message
called people to three principles: health of body and mind,
righteous in conduct and equality and justice among people,
and the maintenance of authority. He also wrote a song of
peace that he and Hiawatha taught to the people among whom
they moved.
When they approached the Mohawks, Deganawidah proposed
a test of his message. He climbed to the top of a tall tree
that hung over the Mohawk River. He then had the Mohawks
Encyclopedia of Occultism & Parapsychology • 5th Ed. Deganawidah
cut the tree out from under him. He plunged into the swift
river. All thought him dead. However, they found him the next
morning cooking breakfast. He explained that the Master of
Life had given him power over his own death.
It took him five years to bring the Mohawks, Oneida, Seneca,
and Cayuga into the original confederacy based on the
three principles. He and Hiawatha then moved to Onondaga
land, the land ruled by the man who had killed Hiawatha’s wife.
Here he performed a miracle of healing on the chief, who was
mentally ill. Deganawidah is said to have combed the snakes
(evil and insane thoughts) from his head. The chief became an
immediate convert. At the ceremony creating the League of
Five Nations, he led in the planting of a Tree of Peace, and uprooting
another tree, the peoples’ weapons were symbolically
tossed into the hole. The league was a representative democracy
well known to Benjamin Franklin and has been seen as one
of the models upon which the United States government was
finally created.
Deganawidah was only about 23 years old when he completed
the task of uniting the people. According to the tradition,
he then got in a canoe and left. Where he went and what eventually
happened to him is unknown. The last prophecy of his
grandmother came true in 1649 when the league attacked the
Hurons and forced the survivors to assimilate into the confederacy.
Colden, Cadawallader. The History of the Five Nations: Depending
on the Province of New York in America. 1727. Reprint,
Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell University Press, 1958.
Hewitt, J. N. B. ‘‘Legend of the Founding of the Iroquois
League.’’ American Anthropologist 5 (1892): 2.
Peterson, Scott. Native American Prophecies. New York: Paragon
House, 1990.