Windham Life and Times – March 24, 2016

Passaconaway – Strong Magic


We all are aware of the legends of the Native Americans and how their lives were interwoven with the natural world which surrounded them. Charles Leland in his book The Algonquin legends of New England writes, “…the poetry of nature, has quaint and beautiful superstitions. To every Algonquin a rotten log by the road covered with moss, suggests the legend of the log-demon; the Indian corn and sweet flag in the swamp are the descendants of beautiful spirits who still live in them; Meeko the squirrel, has power of becoming a giant monster; flowers, beasts, trees, have all loved and talked and sung, and can even now do so, should the magician only come to speak the spell.”

“Both before and after accepting Christianity, Passaconaway was famous for his almost superhuman feats of strength and magic. While he performed some of these elsewhere as he went among the tribes from the Winnepesaukees and Ossipees on the north, to the Narragansetts on the south, his best work in this line was done at Amoskeag, where was to be found the perfect setting for all that he desired to accomplish in maintaining his position among the tribes.”

“Many of the things he did seem difficult to explain, but he did them, in full view of both Indians and whites, there is no doubt. Both official and unofficial groups came from afar on divers occasions. Ample testimony to the authenticity of these events was given both verbally and in writing, to the authorities at Massachusetts. One member of an investigating committee reported that he did so with the aid of his ‘Consort the Devil.’ After he accepted Christianity he sought the advice of the Apostle Eliot who advised wisely, in view of his intimate knowledge of the Indian mind, that they might continue so long as he did not ascribe what he did as due to the favor of deity.”

“What did the Amoskeags and their visitors witness at Amoskeag Falls in what is now Manchester? They saw ‘rocks move, trees dance, green leaves in winter, blocks of ice in summer, squirming, harmless adders in winter, frozen fish and frosted branches in summer, and at any season dry leaves curling up and burning in a bowl, without apparent cause.’ ”

“He could seemingly call mists to envelop himself together with all those immediately near him, and to disperse the same mist at will. He would stand erect upon a pile of small dry sticks, have them ignited until he seemed to be a veritable flaming man. The mist would come and when presently it had gone, he would be found calm and unharmed. Reversing the process, the mists would come while there was no fire. Instantly flames would appear, only to have entirely vanished when the fleecy clouds passed on.”

Perhaps the most spectacular feet was accomplished while there were a number of his own and white visitors grouped on the river bank. The mist would come and when it was gone he would be found on the other shore with arms upraised. The watchers would soon be again en-veiled in mist, which soon passed on, when,  Passaconoway would be found coming up the river bank, dripping wet as one just out of the water.” This is similar to the legend told by Charles Leland, who writes, “There are stones in the forest with names on them. They give great power to dream. I have seen in my dreams the m’teoulin of ancient times,—the magicians my father told me of long ago. I have seen them diving under the waters from one island to another. I have seen them, dive ten miles.”

No Indian ever attempted to explain how these things were done. Was not their Passaconaway, greatest chieftain of them all, able to do great things that no other Indian could do? The Great Spirit himself had given him these powers. Why should they inquire? Many a white man who did, received a stern rebuke, as was his due. Among the whites, whether sent officially or as voluntary visitors, there was much verbal and many written explanations, but the fact that almost none of these ‘explanations,’ were like any of the others, is an indication of how well the great bashaba guarded his secrets, which he carried to the grave. It is well, for they served their time and served it well, and helped cement the confidence that existed between the leader and his people.”

William Wood, was one of the original sources of the information which he reported in his New England Prospect, written in 1634. “…their powwows betaking themselves to their exorcisms and necromantic charms by which they bring to pass strange things, if we may believe the Indians who report of one Passaconaway that he can make water burn, the rocks move, the trees dance, metamorphise himself into a flaming man. But it may be objected, this is but deceptio visus.  He will therefore do more, for in winter, when there is no green leaves to be got, he will burn and old one to ashes, and putting those into water produce a new green leaf which you shall not only see but substantially handle and carry away, and make a dead snake’s skin a living snake, both to be seen and felt, and heard. This I write but on the report of the Indians, who constantly affirm stranger things.”

“But to make manifest that by God’s permission, through the Devil’s help, their charms are of force to produce effects of wonderment, and honest gentleman related a story to me, being an eyewitness of the same; a powwow having a patient with the stump of a small tree run through his foot, being past the cure of his ordinary surgery, betook himself to his charms, and being willing to show his miracle before the English stranger, he wrapped a piece of cloth about the foot of the lame man and upon that wrapping a beaver skin through which he—laying his mouth to the beaver skin—by his sucking charms he brought out the stump which he spat into a tray of water, returning the foot as whole as its fellow in a short time.”

Much of the foregoing comes from C.E. Potter in his History of Manchester.




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