October-ganza Day 4: The Real Old Gods of New England

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October 4, 2015 by Bret Kramer (aka WinstonP)

(A note on spelling – the Native names I am discussing below come to us from the attempted transliteration by English colonists of the oral traditions of the peoples they encountered and as such, much as in English at the time, there was no fixed way to spell a proper name. I have simplified things and gone with a single spelling for each divinity.)

We too often forget that for as “old” as colonial New England might seem to us, it was built atop the actual ruins of a real civilization wholly unconcerned with the works of Lovecraft – the various Native Nations – Massachsuett, Narragansett, Abenaki, and many many more – that had dwelt there for millennia previously. Writers, for Call of the Cthulhu and beyond, can quite profitably look to the myths and legends of New England’s Native peoples for inspiration (just so we do not fall into the same reductionist notions that equates ever traditional deity with some Mythos god)…

The most widely recognized Native New England divinity was Hobbamock. Edward Lenik says of him “[He] appeared to people in dreams and visions in a variety of forms such as a man, deer, or eagle and was often seen at night. His name was associated with death, the spirits of the deceased, the cold northeast wind, and the color black. Hobbamock with his spirit helpers was the source of personal spiritual power and knowledge. Shamans called to him in help in treating the sick and wounded and to preserve them from death.” (Lenik, Making Pictures in Stone, p. 6) Some sources cast him in a more malign role, working in opposition to Kautántowwἱt (see below). Unsurprisingly Hobbamock was widely assumed to be a form of Satan by the Pilgrims and other English colonists, but hopefully modern readers can recognize this as a rather gross simplification.

Numerous geological features in New England are named for it, including Hockomock Swamp in Southeastern Massachusetts. He was also said to dwell, among other places, at Minot’s Ledge, a series of dangerous rocks off of Cohasset in Massachusetts (and home to the notorious Minot’s Ledge Lighthouse).

Moshup, also called Glooscap or a host of similar variants, was a super-human giant who, along with his spouse Granny Squint (possibly a corruption of the female divinity Squáuanit, see below) was responsible for the creation of much of New England’s geography, from the rivers and lakes of Maine, to the creation of Martha’s Vineyard and Nantucket. He was often cast as a champion of mankind (sometimes even its creator), albeit one who was accidentally quite destructive.

Roger Williams, founder of Rhode Island, recorded the names of a dozen of the gods of the Narragansett people in his book Key into the Language of America:

First many Gods: they have given me the names of thirty seven which I have, all which in their solmne Worships they invokate: as

Kautántowwἱt, the Southwest God, to whose House all soules goe, and from who came their corne, beanes as they say.
Wampanand – The Easterne God
Chekesuwànd – The Westerne God
Wunnanaméanit – The Northerne God
Sowwanànd – The Southerne God
Wetuómanit – The house God.

Even as the Papists have their He and Shee Saint Protectors, as St. George, St. Patrick, St. Denis, Virgin Mary, &c.

Squáuanit – The Womans God.
Muckquachukquànd – The Childrens God,

Obs. I was once with a Native dying of a wound, given him by some murtherus English (who rob’d him and run him through with a rapier, from who in the heat of his wound, he at present escaped from them, but dying of his wound, they suffered Death at New Plymouth, in New England, this Native dying call’d much upon Muckquachukquànd, which of other Natives I understood (as they believed) had appeared to the dying young man, many yeares before, and bid him whenever he was in distress call upon him.
Secondly, as they have many of these Fained Deities: so worship they the creatures in whom they conceive doth rest some Deitie:

Keesukquànd – The Sun God.
Nanepaûshat – The Moone God.
Paumpágussit – The Sea.
Yotáannit – The Fire God,

(If you’d like to see what Roger Williams’ book looked like in its first edition, it is available online.)

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