Curing, the restoration of well-being for the community and health for the individual, was a vital part of native religious practice. The best known of several curing societies among the IROQUOIS of the lower Great Lakes was the False Face Society. The False Faces had special powers over the winds, ill luck and illness affecting the joints and shoulders, as well as toothaches, earaches, swelling and nosebleeds. Public and private ceremonies were held at certain times of the year to drive out disease; amid dancing and chanting the sick were cured by having ashes rubbed onto their heads or having hands laid on them. In return, the False Faces demanded tobacco and hot corn mush.
False Face masks represented portraits of mythological beings whose help was requested; the performers themselves were initiated into the society, originally secret, upon seeing Faces in dreams or being cured by them. Members were men, but the leader or keeper of the False Faces was always a woman. Masks, which were given curative powers by offerings of tobacco, were carved from specially selected living trees, then painted and adorned with fibres of hair. The distorted or exaggerated features, although human, were often terrifying or even comic. The society was witnessed by Europeans in the late 17th century, and has continued into the 20th century. Masks are still carved in traditional styles, for sale rather than for ritual use.
See also NATIVE PEOPLE, RELIGION.