Among the many evidences of a former state of civilization among the aborigines of America which seem to prove their origin from the races that inhabit the Eastern hemisphere, not the least remarkable is the existence of Fraternities bound by mystic ties, and claiming, like the Freemasons, to possess an esoteric knowledge, which they carefully conceal from all but the initiated.
De Witt Clinton relates, on the authority of a respectable native minister, who had received the signs, the existence of such a society among the Iroquois. The number of the members was limited to fifteen, of whom six were to be of the Seneca tribe, five of the Oneidas, two of the Cayugas, and two of the St. Regis. They claimed that their institution had existed from the era of the creation. The times of their meeting they kept secret, and threw much mystery over all their proceedings.
Brinton tells us in his interesting and instructive work on The Myths of the New World (page 285), that among the red race of America "the priests formed societies of different grades of illumination, only to be entered by those willing to undergo trying ordeals, whose secrets were not to be revealed under the severest penalties. The Algonkins had three such grades-the waubeno, the meda, and the jossakeed, the last being the highest. To this no white man was ever admitted. All tribes appear to have been controlled by these secret societies. Alexander von Humboldt mentions one, called that of the Botuto, or Holy Trumpet, among the Indians of the Orinoco, whose members must vow celibacy, and submit to severe scourgings and fasts. The Collahuayas of Peru were a gild of itinerant quacks and magicians, who never remained permanently in one spot."
Brother Robert C. Wright has, in a later work (Indian Masonry, 1907, Ann Arbor, Michigan), made a collection of information on this subject enriched with many shrewd and helpful comments by way of comparison and appraisal of Freemasonry among the aboriginal races of the new world and those who practice the rites from other lands. Brother Wright cherishes no illusions and in regard to claims that Masonic signs have been observed among Indians says:
"Masonic signs, which are simply gestures given to convey ideas, no doubt have taken their origin from the same signs or like signs now corrupted but which meant something different in the beginning. Were we able to trace these signs we would then at once jump to the conclusion that the people who used them were Freemasons the same as we ourselves. The signs which have just been mentioned as given by the Indians could easily be mistaken for Masonic signs by an enthusiastic Freemason, more anxious to find what he thinks is in them than to indulge in sober analysis of the sign and its meaning." Brother Wright shows clearly how the like sentiments and aspirations among mankind are exhibited in signs and ceremonies and his book is a mine of useful information.
Another instructive work of great value is that by Mrs. Zelia Nuttall, The Fundamental Principles of Old and New World Civilizations, 1901, published by the Peabody Museum of Harvard University, Cambridge, Massachusetts. This is a comparative research based on a study of the ancient Mexican religions, sociological and calendrical systems. The work is elaborate and leads to the conclusion that the Men of Tyre, the Phoenicians, had a greater part in the civilization of the world than has been supposed and that they even established colonies in America.
Much that has long been mysterious in the prehistoric remains discovered in America is given light by this book. That there were analogies and resemblances of old and new world civilizations has often been claimed but the work in question does pioneer service in showing how the American continent could have become an area of preservation of primitive forms of civilization, religious cults, symbolism and industries, drawn at different epochs, from the centers or the outposts of old world culture.
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