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Stedman and Hutchinson, comps. A Library of American Literature:
An Anthology in Eleven Volumes. 1891.
Vols. IX–XI: Literature of the Republic, Part IV., 1861–1889

The Aboriginal Devil

By William Strachey (1572?–1621)

[Historie of Travaile into Virginia. Written about 1618.]

THERE is yet, in Virginia, no place discovered to be so savadge and simple, in which the inhabitants have not a religion and the use of bow and arrows. All things they conceive able to do them hurt beyond their prevention, they adore with their kind of divine worship, as the fire, water, lightning, thunder, our ordinaunce pieces, horses, etc.; but their chief god they worship is no other, indeed, then the devill, whom they make presentments of, and shadow under the form of an idol, which they entitle Okeus, and whom they worship, as the Romans did their hurtful God Vejovis, more for fear of harm than for hope of any good; they say they have conference with him, and fashion themselves in their disguisments as near to his shape as they can imagyn.

In every territory of a weroance is a temple and a priest, peradventure two or three; yet happy doth that weroance accompt himself who can detayne with him a Quiyoughquisock, of the best, grave, lucky, well instructed in their misteryes, and beloved of their God; and such a one is no less honored than was Diana’s priest at Ephesus, for whom they have their more private temples, with oratories and chauncells therein, according as is the dignity and reverence of the Quiyoughquisock, which the weroance will be at charge to build upon purpose, sometyme twenty foote broad and a hundred in length, fashioned arbour wyse after their building, having commonly the door opening into the east, and at the west end a spence or chauncell from the body of the temple with hollow windings and pillars, whereon stand divers black images, fashioned to the shoulders, with their faces looking down the church, and where within their weroances, upon a kind of bier of reeds, lie buried; and under them, apart, in a vault low in the ground (as a more secret thing), vailed with a mat, sits their Okeus, an image ill-farouredly carved, all black dressed, with chaynes of perle, the presentment and figure of that God (say the priests unto the laity, and who religiously believe what the priests say) which doth them all the harm they suffer, be it in their bodies or goods, within doors or abroad; and true it is, many of them are divers times (especially offenders) shrewdly scratched as they walk alone in the woods, it may well be by the subtyle spirit, the malicious enemy to mankind, whom, therefore, to pacify, and work to do them good (at least no harm) the priests tell them they must do these and these sacrifices unto Okeus, of these and these things, and thus and thus often, by which means not only their own children, but strangers, are sometimes sacrificed unto him: Whilst the great God (the priests tell them) who governs all the world, and makes the sun to shine, creating the moon and stars his companions, great powers, and which dwell with him, and by whose virtues and influences the under earth is tempered, and brings forth her fruits, according to her seasons, they call Ahone; the good and peaceable God requires no such duties, nor needs be sacrificed unto, for he intendeth all good unto them, and will do no harm, only the displeased Okeus, looking into all men’s actions, and examining the same according to the severe scale of justice, punisheth them with sicknesses, beats them, and strikes their ripe corn with blastings, storms, and thunder claps, stirs up war, and makes their women false unto them. Such is the misery and thraldome under which Sathan hath bound these wretched miscreants….

Their principal temple, or place of superstition, is at Utamussack, at Pamunky. Near unto the town, within the woods, is a chief holy house, proper to Powhatan, upon the top of certain red sandy hills, and it is accompanied with two other sixty feet in length, filled with images of their kings and devills, and tombs of the predicessors. This place they count so holy as that none but the priests and kings dare come therein. In this (as the Grecian nigromancers psychomantie did use to call up spirits) eyther the priests have conference, or consult, indeed, with the devill, and receive verbal answers, and so saith Acosta; he spake to the [Greek] or chaplaines of the West Indies, in their guacas or oratories, or at least these conjurors make the simple laity so to believe, who therefore (so much are the people at the priests’ devotion) are ready to execute any thing, how desperate soever, which they shall command. The salvadges dare not go up the river in boats by it, but that they solemnly cast some piece of copper, white beads, or pochones into the river, for fear that Okeus should be offended and revenged of them. In this place commonly are resident seven priests, the chief differing from the rest in his ornament, whilst the inferior priests can hardly be known from the common people, save that they had not (it may be may not have) so many holes in their ears to hang their jewels at. The ornaments of the chief priest were, upon his shoulders a middle sized cloke of feathers much like the old sacrificing garment which Isodorus calls cassiola, and the burlett or attire of his head was thus made: some twelve or sixteen or more snakes’ sloughs or skynns were stuffed with moss, and of weasells or other vermin were skynns perhaps as many; all these were tied by the tayles, so as their tayles meet in the tope of the head like a great tassel, and round about the tassel was circled a crownett (as it were) of feathers, the skynns hanging round about his head, neck, and shoulders, and in a manner covering his face. The faces of all their priests are painted so ugly as they can devise; in their hands they carry every one his rattle, for the most part as a symbol of his place and profession, some basse, some smaller. Their devotion is most in songs, which the chief priest begins and the rest follow him; sometimes he makes invocation with broken sentences, by starts and straung passions, and at every pause the rest of the priests give a short groan.

We have not yet hitherto perceived that any solemn fasti, or feriæ præcidaneæ vigilli, or any one day more holy than other, is amongst them, but only in some great distress of want, fear of enemies, tymes of tryumph, and gathering together their fruits. The whole country—men, women, and children—come together to their solempnities, the manner of which jolly devotion is sometimes to make a great fire in the house or fields, and all to sing and dance about it, in a ring like so many fairies, with rattles and showtes, four or five howers together, sometimes fashioning themselfes in twoo companies, keeping a great circuit; one company danceth one way and the other the contrary, all very finely painted, certain men going before with eyther of them a rattle, other following in the midst, and the rest of the trayne of both wings in order four and four; and in the rear certain of the chiefest young men with long switches in their hands to keep them in their places; after all which follows the governor, or weroance himself, in a more slow or solemn measure, stopping and dancing, and all singing very timable.