How can I find more information about this Seneca Indian legend?
March 7, 2007 6:48 PM   Subscribe

How can I find more information about this Seneca Indian legend?

So I was reading the book Weird Pennsylvania from the Weird U.S. series. One of the local legends in it, titled "The Lost Hills of Eternal Youth," is about a Seneca brave who wins a bet with the deity known as Flying Head and is shown a view of two mountaintops that grant eternal youth to anyone who looks at them. According to the book, this is supposedly somewhere around what is now Mercer county.

Anyway, now we get to my question. I wanted to read more about the details of this legend, but I can't seem to find anything other than the few paragraphs in the book. Does anyone know about this story or at least where I might start looking? Is it possible that the authors just made this up for the book?
posted by magodesky to Religion & Philosophy (4 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Go to a library near you and check out Seneca Myths and Folk Tales. I just grabbed it off our library's shelf and flipped through the contents and index. Although I didn't see the legend you describe, there is a mention of a being that appears as a flying head named Storm Wind or Dagwanoeient. Even if the legend you want isnt' in there, which it may be, the bibliography at the end should lead you further on. Google around for Dagwanoenyent, which is apparently a more common spelling of the being's name. And try broadening your searches to include the term Iroquois.

Also search for American Indian Myths and Legends. It's broader in scope than the first book, but is a good resource.

Finally, check out this article: Who or What's a Witch? Iroquois Persons of Power. David Blanchard.
American Indian Quarterly, Vol. 6, No. 3/4 (Autumn - Winter, 1982), pp. 218-237.
posted by cog_nate at 8:30 PM on March 7, 2007

Check out Seneca Myths and Folk Tales on Google Books. Also The Pow-wow Book by A. M. Aurand. I didn't see anything in either of these on Google Books, but take a look. The Aurand book (and his others) are generally pretty available in tourist traps sown in PA Dutch country, maybe you'll be able to find them out there. Also, is there a Mercer County Historical Society? Maybe they have the downlow.
posted by jessenoonan at 8:42 PM on March 7, 2007

You might also contact the Mercer County historical society. The legends in the book may have come from local tourist bureau pamphlets. Also, the historical society people may be able to point you to anyone at a local college who has done research on local native lore.
posted by LobsterMitten at 9:23 PM on March 7, 2007

Definitely nthing the suggestion to expand your search to Iroquois links and general and the other tribes of the league; Flying Head is one of the classic monsters, and you'll probably find more variant stories if you don't stick purely to Seneca sources. Also try searching on "Cyclone" or "Whirlwind" which are the usual translations of the monster's name.

I'm not familiar with the immortality-bet take you have here, but there are a couple of common variants you can find online: this modern anthology has one common version where the monster is defeated by a resourceful young woman, this 1922 collection has a couple of other stories: see "Dagwanoenyent (Whirlwind)", "The Feast of the Whirlwinds", "The Twelve Brothers and their Uncle, Dagwanoenyent". (There are several other whirlwind stories there, but on a quick scan through those are the only ones where they're in flying-head form instead of whole bodies.)

For more contemporary takes on Seneca supernatural tales, Duce Bowen's collections are really good -- unfortunately my copies are packed away right now so I can't doublecheck if he had any Flying Head stories in those books.
posted by Smilla's Sense of Snark at 10:33 PM on March 7, 2007

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