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Longhouse Religion

A traditional longhouse.

The Longhouse Religion, refers to the religious movement, founded in 1799, among peoples who formerly lived in longhouses. Prior to the adoption of the single-family dwelling, various groups of peoples lived in large, extended-family homes also known as longhouses. During inclement weather these homes served as meeting places, town halls, and theaters. The religious movement known as The Code of Handsome Lake or Gaihwi:io (Good Message in Seneca and Onondaga) was founded by the Seneca Chief Handsome Lake (Ganioda'yo) who designated the longhouse structure as their place of worship.

At the age of 64, after a lifetime of poverty and alcoholism, Ganioda'yo received his revelations while in a trance, after which he formed the movement. While it has similarities to the Quaker in practice, this new Seneca religion has elements from both Christianity and traditional beliefs. Ganioda'yo's teachings were encoded in wampum[1] and spread through the populations of western New York, Pennsylvania, and Iroquois country, eventually being known as The Code of Handsome Lake. The movement is currently practiced by about 5,000 people.

There is also a movement which rejects the The Code of Handsome Lake as being too influenced by the First and Second Great Awakenings. These modern traditionalists follow the teachings of Deganawidah, The Great Peacemaker as laid down in the Great Law of Peace, which is the constitution of the Six Nations or Haudenosaunee. Although this constitution protects the rights of religious ceremonies which have been in practice prior to ratification and acknowledges the duties of positive role models to the community, this movement contends that some of Handsome Lake's teachings may contradict existing articles in their interpretation of the Great Law of Peace.

This Constitution calls for the appointment of a commander in chief of military sciences by each of the member nation-states. This appointee is responsible for civil defense, maintaining a militia, and acting as an advocate for public grievances.[2] These duties, and the responsibilities of this branch of government are commonly referred to as the domain of the Warrior Society.


  1. ^ Johanson and Mann, pg. 310


  • Hirchefekder, Arlene and Paulette Molin. Encyclopedia of Native American Religions. Checkmark Books.
  • Johanson, Bruce Elliot and Barbara Ellis Mann. Encyclopedia of the Haudenosaunee (Iroquois Confederacy).] Abingdon, UK: Greenwood Publishing Group, 2000. ISBN 978-0-313-30880-2.

External links

  • Handsome Lake (1735-1815): Iroquois religious leader - From the Encyclopedia of North American Indians
  • The Code Of Handsome Lake - An introduction
  • The Code Of Handsome Lake, the Seneca Prophet - The foundation of the Longhouse Religion, translated by Arthur C. Parker in 1913.
  • Thomas Jefferson's Letter to Brother Handsome Lake - Washington, November 3, 1802
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