Tarenyawagon: Emerging from Darkness

In this related prophecy, the emergence from darkness accompanies a gathering, similar to the gathering of the people under the Great Peacemaker after first being led into separate lands.
Sarah Schroeder

Sarah Schroeder

Nourish the Word

This post should be read in conjunction with The Great Peacemaker post. I believe they go hand in hand.

There are two Tuscarora sources published 55 years apart from each other in the 1800s, that have been on my mind lately. The first reason is because they describe an earlier people who destroy themselves on this land. (I apologize in advance for not providing all the page numbers. This is because I only have Kindle versions of these books.)

“A blazing star fell into a fort situated on the St. Lawrence and destroyed the people; this event was considered as a warning of their destruction. After a time a war broke out among the northern nations which continued until they had utterly destroyed each other, the island again become in possession of fierce animals.” David Cusick’s Sketches of Ancient History of the Six Nations, by David Cusick, 1826“

A blazing star fell into their fort, situated on the banks of the St. Lawrence, and destroyed the people. Such a phenomenon caused a great panic and consternation and dread, which they regarded as ominious of their entire destruction. Not long after this prediction of the blazing star it was verified. These tribes, who were held together by feeble ties, fell into dispute and wars among themselves, which were pursued through a long period, until they had utterly destroyed each other, and so reduced their numbers that the lands were again over-run with wild beasts.” Legends, Traditions, and Laws of the Iroquois, or Sic Nations, and History of the Tuscarora Indians, by Elias Johnson, 1881

This destruction of a people because of infighting is similar to the Jaredites. The account is too long for me to quote here, but a link to the chapter detailing the entire demise of that people can be found here.

Similar instances of destruction and prophets warning the people about their impending destruction are found in the fourth chapter found at this link.

Emerging From Darkness

Following the destruction of the first people described by the Tuscaroras, is a tradition of the early Iroquoians being confined in a mountain or cave, who are then released by Tarenyawagon, the “Holder of Heavens.”

This is how Elias Johnson (Tuscarora) described Tarenyawagon in his book published in 1881:

“Tarenyawagon united in one person the power of a God and a man, and gave him the expressive name of the Holder of Heavens, and was capable of assuming any form or shape that he chosed (sic), but appeared to them only in the form of a man, and taught them hunting, gardening, and the knowledge of the arts of war. He imparted to them the knowledge of the laws and government of the Great Spirit, and gave them directions and encouragement how to fulfill their duties and obligations.”  Legends, Traditions, and Laws of the Iroquois, or Sic Nations, and History of the Tuscarora Indians, Elias Johnson, p.27

In the telling of Elias Johnson, Tarenyawagon is the same being who later unites the Six Nations, Hiawatha, the Great Peacemaker. But before the Six Nations were united by the Great Peacemaker they were first personally guided by Tarenyawagon out of a darker existence and separated from each other into the lands they should live in.

“By some inducement a body of people was concealed in the mountain at the falls named Kuskehsawkich, (now Oswego.) When the people were released from the mountain they were visited by TARENYAWAGON, i. e. the Holder of the Heavens, who had power to change himself into various shapes: he ordered the people to proceed towards the sunrise as he guided them and come to a river and named Yenonanatche, i. e. going round a mountain, (now Mohawk) and went down the bank of the river and come to where it discharges into a great river running towards the midday sun; and Shaw-nay-taw-ty, i. e. beyond the Pineries, (now Hudson,) and went down the bank of the river and touched bank of a great water. 

The company made encampment at the place and remained there a few days. The people were yet in one language; some of the people went to the banks of great water towards the midday sun; but the main company returned as they came, on the bank of the river, under the direction of the holder of the Heavens. Of this company there was a particular body which called themselves one household; of these were six families and they entered into a resolution to preserve the chain of alliance which should not be extinguished in any manner.” David Cusick’s Sketches of Ancient History of the Six Nations, by David Cusick, 1826“

At this period there were six families took refuge in a large cave in a mountain, where they dwelled for a long time. The men would come out occasionally to hunt for food. This mammoth cave was situated at or near the falls of the Oswego River. Taryenya-wa-gon (Holder of the Heavens) extricated these six families from this subterraneous bowels and confines of the mountain. They always looked to this divine messenger, who had power to assume various shapes, as emergency dictated, as the friend and patron of their nation. 

As soon as they were released he gave them instructions respecting the mode of hunting, matrimony, worship and many other things. He warned them against the evil spirit, and gave them corn, beans, squash, potatoes, tobacco, and dogs to hunt their game. He bid them go toward the rising of the sun, and he personally guided them, until they came to a river, which they named Yehnonanatche (that is going around a mountain,) now Mohawk, they went down the bank of the river and came to where it discharges into a great river, running towards the midway sun, they named it Skaw-nay-taw-ty (that is beyond the pineries) now Hudson, and went down the banks of the river and touched the bank of the great water. 

The company made an encampment at this place and remained for a while. The people was then of one language. Some of them went on the banks of the great waters, towards the midway sun, and never returned. But the company that remained at the camp returned as they came—along the bank of the river, under the direction of Taryenyawagon (Holder of the Heavens).

This company were a particular body, which called themselves of one household. Of these there were six families, and they entered into an agreement to preserve the chain of alliance which should not be extinguished under any circumstance.” Legends, Traditions, and Laws of the Iroquois, or Sic Nations, and History of the Tuscarora Indians, by Elias Johnson, 1881

I don’t doubt the possibility that there may have been an actual cave they lived in for a time, but real cave or not I can’t help but see the metaphor which the Creator often gives us in real world situations. This theme of darkness and light was spoken of  by Jesus when he said:

…I am the light of the world; he that follows me will not walk in darkness, but shall be guided by the light of life. Testimony of St. John 6, paragraph 12

That they are freed from a dark place and led to a better existence by a being like Tarenyawagon tells me the darkness they existed in before was a spiritual one, and like a true messenger of God, Tarenyawagon instructs his people, bringing back the light. True to scriptural themes, they are then led by God to a land for them to live in. Most scriptural versions put requirements on the people in order to keep their right to the land. They must live in righteousness. I have to ask myself if this was the case for Tarenyawagon’s people too. Since his teachings came along with him leading them to their lands, I have to assume that yes, they had such a requirement as well. The following two quotes from each source confirm this to me.

“About this time it is supposed an agent from superior power solemnly visits the families, and he instructs them in various things respecting the infinity, matrimony, moral rules, worship, &c.; and he warns them that an evil spirit was in the world and would induce the people to commit trespasses against the rules he had given them; and he offers them favorable promises obedience to rules, the souls would enter the place of happiness; but to the disobedient their souls would be sent to a state of misery. And he gives the seeds for corn, beans, squashes, potatoes and tobacco, with directions how to cultivate them; and he gives them the dogs to aid in pursuing the game; and he repeats the administration of the game; and that the great country was given for their people’s maintenance. When he ended the interview of consolation he leaves.” David Cusick’s Sketches of Ancient History of the Six Nations, by David Cusick, 1826

“If we unite in one band the Great Spirit will smile upon us, and we shall be free, prosperous and happy; but if we shall remain as we are we shall incur his displeasure. We shall be enslaved, and perhaps annihilated forever.” Legends, Traditions, and Laws of the Iroquois, or Sic Nations, and History of the Tuscarora Indians, by Elias Johnson, 1881, p. 30

Furthermore, we have a cautionary tale given to us through the Tuscarora tradition (in my own opinion) of what may happen to a people who remains in darkness. The people who lived here before utterly destroyed themselves. We have two directions we can choose from in these examples: a path disconnected from the Holder of Heavens that leads to complete destruction, and a path that leads to light through the guidance and teachings of the Holder of Heavens.

This theme of being freed from darkness and captivity has an obvious parallel in the tradition of God freeing the Israelites from Egypt through Moses. There are other examples that exist too in the accounts of Lehi’s family, the Jaredites, and even the Mulekites of Zarahemla.

Here are examples of Lehi emerging from a corrupt society (darkness) to be led by God to a better land:

For it came to pass in the commencement of the first year of the reign of Zedekiah, king of Judah — my father Lehi having dwelt at Jerusalem in all his days — and in that same year there came many prophets, prophesying unto the people that they must repent or the great city Jerusalem must be destroyed. 

Wherefore, it came to pass that my father Lehi, as he went forth, prayed unto the Lord, yea, even with all his heart in behalf of his people. And it came to pass as he prayed unto the Lord, there came a pillar of fire and dwelt upon a rock before him, and he saw and heard much. And because of the things which he saw and heard, he did quake and tremble exceedingly. 

And it came to pass that he returned to his own house at Jerusalem. And he cast himself upon his bed, being overcome with the spirit and the things which he had seen. And being thus overcome with the spirit, he was carried away in a vision, even that he saw the Heavens open and he thought he saw God sitting upon his throne, surrounded with numberless concourses of angels in the attitude of singing and praising their God. 

And it came to pass that he saw one descending out of the midst of Heaven, and he beheld that his luster was above that of the sun at noonday. And he also saw twelve others following him, and their brightness did exceed that of the stars in the firmament. And they came down and went forth upon the face of the earth. And the first came and stood before my father and gave unto him a book and bade him that he should read. And it came to pass that as he read he was filled with the spirit of the Lord. 

And he read, saying, Woe, woe unto Jerusalem, for I have seen thine abominations. Yea, and many things did my father read concerning Jerusalem: that it should be destroyed and the inhabitants thereof; many should perish by the sword and many should be carried away captive into Babylon. 

And it came to pass that when my father had read and saw many great and marvelous things, he did exclaim many things unto the Lord, such as, Great and marvelous are thy works, O Lord God Almighty! Thy throne is high in the Heavens, and thy power, and goodness, and mercy are over all the inhabitants of the earth; and because thou art merciful, thou wilt not suffer those who come unto thee that they shall perish! And after this manner was the language of my father in the praising of his God, for his soul did rejoice and his whole heart was filled because of the things which he had seen, yea, which the Lord had shewn unto him. 1 Nephi 1, paragraph 2-3

For behold, it came to pass that the Lord spake unto my father, yea, even in a dream, and said unto him, Blessed art thou Lehi because of the things which thou hast done. And because thou hast been faithful and declared unto this people the things which I commanded thee, behold, they seek to take away thy life. And it came to pass that the Lord commanded my father, even in a dream, that he should take his family and depart into the wilderness. And it came to pass that he was obedient unto the word of the Lord; wherefore, he did as the Lord commanded him.” 1 Nephi 1, paragraph 6

For the Lord had not hitherto suffered that we should make much fire as we journeyed in the wilderness, for he said, I will make thy food become sweet, that ye cook it not. And I will also be your light in the wilderness; and I will prepare the way before you, if it so be that ye shall keep my commandments. Wherefore, inasmuch as ye shall keep my commandments, ye shall be led towards the promised land; and ye shall know that it is by me that ye are led. Yea, and the Lord said also that after ye have arrived to the promised land, ye shall know that I, the Lord, am God, and that I, the Lord, did deliver you from destruction, yea, that I did bring you out of the land of Jerusalem.  1 Nephi 5, paragraph 16

In the scripture below Lehi’s family is compared to a branch being broken off the main tree, or like the Tuscarora traditions, being separated from the main group and led into their own land (I should acknowledge this is also similar to the tribes of Israel being divided in the land of Israel when they finally reach it). And also like the Tuscarora traditions the theme of a Savior or Messiah freeing them from darkness is echoed. Lehi’s version below, though, is a prophecy.

Wherefore, Joseph truly saw our day. And he obtained a promise of the Lord that, out of the fruit of his loins, the Lord God would raise up a righteous branch unto the house of Israel, not the Messiah, but a branch which was to be broken off, nevertheless to be remembered in the covenants of the Lord, that the Messiah should be made manifest unto them in the latter days in the spirit of power unto the bringing of them out of darkness unto light, yea, out of hidden darkness and out of captivity unto freedom.  2 Nephi 2, paragraph 2

In this related prophecy, the emergence from darkness accompanies a gathering, similar to the gathering of the people under the Great Peacemaker after first being led into separate lands:

Wherefore, he will bring them again out of captivity, and they shall be gathered together to the lands of their first inheritance, and they shall be brought out of obscurity and out of darkness, and they shall know that the Lord is their Savior and their Redeemer, the Mighty One of Israel. 1 Nephi 7, paragraph 3

Broken Off Branches

This taking of people out of darkness and leading them into another land is also described in the parable of Zenos, as the Lord of the Vineyard taking “many” branches from his failing mother tree, and dividing them into four of the “nithermost parts of the vineyard.”

And behold, saith the Lord of the vineyard, I take away many of these young and tender branches, and I will graft them whithersoever I will, and it mattereth not that if it so be that the root of this tree will perish, I may preserve the fruit thereof unto myself. Wherefore, I will take these young and tender branches, and I will graft them whithersoever I will. Jacob 3, paragraph 7


And it came to pass that the Lord of the vineyard went his way and hid the natural branches of the tame olive tree in the nithermost parts of the vineyard, some in one and some in another, according to his will and pleasure. Jacob 3, paragraph 9

As I have written about previously, the similarity of the Zenos’ tree and gathering of the branches back to the original tree is similar to the traditions of the Six Nation’s Tree of Great Peace, and the union of their tribes into a single confederacy. Now I can see that they also share the part of the parable about being led by God out of darkness, being broken off from the main group, and placed into their own land. Their traditional history is a smaller scale version of the promises in the parable, mirroring it from scattering to their return. As discussed in my previous post, they even have a prophecy that applies this pattern to all the world, just as the parable does.

I find this a remarkable coincidence!

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