THE STORY OF FALSE FACE

as told by Mad Bear Anderson

As acts of intertribalism increased between the Six Nations and the Western Abenaki, the two cultures began to share many ceremonial traditions. One of these traditions, that continues up to the present day, is the existence of False Face Societies. These masks have been used in ceremonies asking for success in hunts, abundance in harvests, and for the passing of loved ones to the other side. Members of False Face societies also used these masks to cure illnesses, alleviate pain and drive out demons.

False Face studied and learned all the basic things about the universe. He also studied all the medicine ways and, though it took centuries, he also developed all the spiritual powers on Earth and knew all the ways of the Great Spirit.

One day, False Face stood out in a large field looking at the skies and mountains in the distance and thought: Knowing as I do all the ways of the Creator, all things in this world are possible for me. I now understand how all things are done. If it should be my will, those mountains should have to move. He then heard the voice of the Creator whom he knew as the Great Lord of the Universe. The voice said, 'Yes, I am the Lord and the mountains are there by my will.'

False Face paused for a moment. Many times he had heard the voice of the Creator; but now he was thinking only of himself. Speaking aloud, he announced in a powerful voice: 'I have come to know the ways of the Lord and I can duplicate them all! I can move these mountains if I wish!'

The Creator repeated: 'Yes, I am the Lord and I can move mountains.'

Not you, shouted False Face. 'I am referring to myself. I am talking about me. Have I developed all this for nothing? Can I do nothing myself? I have learned all the rules of power and creation! Do you still think I am useless without you?

'You are never without me, the Creator answered in a gentle voice, for I am always with you.'

'But I know all your secrets now, False Face protested, I know how you do all these things.'

'It is because you have come to me, said the Great Spirit.'

'In spite of all that he had learned, in spite of all his training and wisdom, False Face experienced a rush of pride and anger, and shouted at the Creator, 'Go away. Leave me alone. I don't need you anymore. I am now powerful and you want to think of me as your little child. I am not your little child anymore. I can do anything that you can do. So just leave me alone.'

'Alone?' said the Great Spirit. 'There is no alone. How can I leave you? We are one and cannot be apart.'

These gentle, loving words only made False Face more angry. It seemed to him, in his anger, that the Lord was discrediting him in spite of all his long efforts and the remarkable knowledge and power that he had attained. It seemed to him that the Great Spirit was still claiming all power for himself. In his angry state, False Face determined to have a contest with the Lord of the Universe and he challenged Him: 'I know you don't want these mountains moved, Lord. But I am going to move them against your will. Then you will see that I am something in my own right. You can pit your power against me if you wish, Lord!'

'I do not pit anything against anything, answered the Lord. This idea of a contest is a temporary dream. Wake up and come to me now and you will see that nothing is anything in its own right apart from all that is.'

But False Face repeated his challenge: 'You are trying to take everything away from me, Lord. You cannot take this chance away away. Do what you like. Oppose me if you like, but I am going to move these mountains anyway, knowing that you want them where they are, so that it will be clear that it is done by my will alone.'

False Face waited there in the field, grim and determined, and there was nothing but silence. So he went about the contest. Though he strained with all his might, trying everything that he had learned and developed over the centuries, nothing happened. Nothing at all. There was only a soft breeze, and the mountains stood in the distance as always. He flew into a rage, cursing violently, and when there was only silence, daring the Lord to respond. He called the Great Spirit a fake and a liar, claiming the Creator had pitted his Great Will against him despite of promising that he would not.

Suddenly, an idea came to him. He would have his contest yet. He shouted at the Lord, daring Him to move the mountain while he tried to block Him with his own will as the Lord had done to him. He believed that if the Lord had neutralized his power that he could do the same to Him. But he also believed that the Lord might well want the mountains where they were and would be unwilling to move them. In either case, nothing would happen. He craved to claim victory over the Lord and felt sure he would win his dare. He shouted his challenge again. He clenched his fists and squinted his eyes and screamed into the sky; and before he could finish his sentence, he heard a trembling and a rumbling. He spun around to look just as the mountain was coming to his side. That was a mistake, for that caused the mountain to strike his face and break his nose.

At that, the gentle voice of the Great Spirit was heard again. 'Now look what we have done to our beloved self. No matter. It is only temporary. We shall now set it right with our collective will, shall we?' False Face felt a moment of great pain, and then he had a sudden awareness. There was no contest. There never had been any contest. This was another of his countless lessons. But this was the ultimate lesson and he had arranged it--he and His Own Self--so that he could be free from being apart and alone.

Source: MAD BEAR by Doug Boyd, 1994.

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