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17th century Iroquois and late 19th century Austrian Jew share psychological insights

Here’s an extract from Apologies to the Iroquois by Edmund Wilson, an informal journalistic anthropology of Six Nations Peoples, published in 1960:

Quoting Jesuit priest Fr Paul Ragueneau, writing in 1648:

“In addition” he says, “to the desires which we generally have which are free, or at least voluntary in us, [and] which arise from a previous knowledge of some goodness that we imagine to exist in the thing desired, the Hurons believe that our souls have other desires, which are, as it were, inborn and concealed. […]
“Now, they believe that our soul makes these desires known by means of dreams, which are its language.  Accordingly, when these desires are accomplished, it is satisfied; but , on the contrary, if it be not granted what it desires, it becomes angry, and not only does not give the body the good and the happiness that it wished to procure for it, but it often also revolts against the body, causing various diseases, and even death.”

According to Wilson, Ragueneau thought the Hurons* were mistaken about this , but a few hundred years later Sigmund Freud thought “The interpretation of dreams is the royal road to a knowledge of the unconscious activities of the mind.” (in The Interpretation of Dreams, 1900) – and the first paragraph above is a pretty good rough description of the Freudian unconscious.

A couple of pages later in Wilson, there’s a description of a myth which is very similar to the Judaeo-Christian myth of Jacob & Isaac – testing faith to limit of inhuman practice, with a last-minute reprieve for the tested one. Funny how these ideas go round and round.

Here’s another chunk of Freud which seems to fit with shamanic practices (which is probably partly what he was talking about): “It can easily be imagined, too, that certain practices of mystics may succeed in upsetting the normal relations between the different regions of the mind, so that, for example, the perceptual system becomes able to grasp relations in the deeper layers of the ego and in the id which would otherwise be inaccessible to it.” (in New Introductory Lectures on Psychoanalysis).

OK, to be fair, ideas about the unconscious and the revelatory nature of dreams have been around for ever, but that’s not to devalue the insights of the Native American philosophers, or of good old Sigismund Shlomo.

*note for John LaR: all right, the Huron weren’t actually part of the Iroquoian Federation, but they’re part of the same language broup.


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