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A cannibal, snake-haired misogynist: What 2019 America has in common with the founding of the Iroquois League

UPDATE March 30, 2020

Psychotherapist Martha Crawford’s dream project about Donald Trump has just been profiled in The New Yorker, by Stephen Marche: It’s in Dreams that Americans are Making Sense of Trump . More spookiness.


Twitter is going crazy with a 2-minute segment of a 1950s TV series called Trackdown. Thanks to Alex Hirsch and others for Tweeting.

Here’s Hirsch’s introductory Tweet: “What the fresh hell. This is REAL. Filmed in 1958- about a conman who grifts a small town of suckers into building a wall. History not subtle enough for you? GUESS THE GRIFTER’S NAME (And watch until the end)” did a fact check.

Spoiler alert:  The grifter’s name is Trump.


Here’s another woogie-woogie connection — between the founding of the Iroquois League and the Constitutional crisis that we are now experiencing. To use Hirsch’s phrase, “History not subtle enough for you?” Read on.

A misogynist snake-haired cannibal shaman

Of interest to Americans during this Constitutional crisis of 2019 is a chapter of Native American history that features a misogynist cannibal shaman who was the last leader to accept the Great Law of Peace — the five-nation agreement that created the Iroquois League.

There are different versions of the story, but most seem to agree that Adodarho (alternatively Atatarho) had a headful of snakes, an indication of confused thinking. Another salient feature of the story and of Adodarho is that he had a seven-foot penis wound about his waist. This was not related to sex (according to one scholar, Barbara Alice Mann) but indicated some “seriously bad medicine” (see quote below, Resource A, p. 277).

Most versions also seem to agree that the climactic moment of the story is when the people of all five nations surround Adodarho to demonstrate how far out of consensus he is. Ultimately, he was rehabilitated (at least partially) by making him the nominal first leader of the men’s Grand Council and by combing the snakes out of his hair.

Here are some quotes from various resources (both indigenous and non-indigenous) and various versions of the story. Let the reader draw her/his own conclusions.

A good question to ask in terms of these similarities and in light of Resource D below (Stephanie Morningstar’s invocation of restorative justice in Adodarho’s case): Is there anyone actively proposing a rehabilitation process for Donald Trump—and/or his colleagues? How would that work?

(For more details on the Great Law of Peace as the template of the U.S. Constitution — and containing some important missing links that the U.S. founders left out, read my recent blog: In Case of Constitutional Crisis…Start Here: The Great Law of Peace. Contains current indigenous American resources.)


A. BOOK: Iroquoian Women: The Gantowisas
by Barbara Alice Mann (Bear clan, Seneca), professor of humanities at University of Toledo.
Peter Lang publishers, 2000

The Haudenosaunee (modern name for Iroquois) Second Epoch is calculated to run from 800-1000 C.E. (Great Law of Peace) through 1799-1801 (the era of Handsome Lake).

p. 36
Generally, however, the Second Epoch opens on the Iroquoian world at war. The insane Onondaga chief and shaman, Adodaroh, was terrorizing the people with his foreign-inspired cannibal cult, in a strong-man raiding society with its roots in the fading world of the hunt.

p. 37
Adodaroh, the terrifying shaman who wore live and writhing snakes in his hair and the severed heads of snakes on his fingertips, so that snake eyes looked out wherever he might point.

p. 38
Then, Adodaroh stood alone. In a ploy suggested by the Jigonsaseh, the peace trio confronted Adodaroh in body with all their supporters from all the nations, silently encircling him, thus dramatically demonstrating to him the strength of the peace movement. Instead of threatening Adodaroh, however, they offered him the chairmanship of the new League, should he agree to the peace. He did. The Peacemaker then assigned Ayonwantha the gigantic task of unwrinkling the mind of Adodaroh. Accordingly, Ayonwantha combed all the snakes from the hair of Adodaroh (i,e., he straightened out his twisted thoughts), thus becoming He Who Combs, a spiritual designation indicating a gifted counselor.

At last, the Peacemaker gave the Kaianeraserakowa, or the Great and Binding Law of Peace, outlining the form and operations of the participatory democracy of the League….

p. 130-31
…the Keepings state directly that the final negotiations leading to the Great Peace were guided by the Jigonsaseh. In the end, after she, Ayonwantha, and the Peacemaker had spent a lifetime lobbying for the Corn Cause of Peace, only the fearsome shaman, Adodaroh, remained opposed to the Great Law. The Peacemaker and Ayonwantha had already attempted to cross a lake to approach him on two occasions, but had been rebuffed by his extreme command over natural forces, which had caused the waves to rear up, pushing back their canoes.

At this impasse, the Jigonsaseh called a council to offer her own alternative plan of approach, which featured a carrot as well as a medicine stick. The carrot was to be an offer to Adodaroh that he assume the position of first chairman of the men’s Grand Council of the League. The stick was to show Adodaroh just how far outside of consensus he really stood in opposing a Peace that everyone else supported. The Cayugas also say that the Jigonsaseh gave Ayonwantha and the Peacemaker a powerful medicine song to smooth their approach and put Adodaroh in a more amenable mood.

Accordingly, as the Peacemaker and Ayonwantha approached Adodaroh for the third time, the Peacemaker successfully sang the Jigonsaseh’s Peace Song [Note: I’ve not included the original language here.]

My offspring, I come to greet them again;
The war chiefs, I come to greet them again;
The body of women, I come to greet them again;
My grandparents, it was their work;
my grandparents, do ye continue to listen to them.

(The emphasis in the line, “The body of women, I come to greet them again,” appears in the original.)

The pair also mustered their supporters in body to face off against the insane old shaman. All the counselors of all the nations who had come over to the cause of Peace stood silently surrounding Adodaroh, in a chilling demonstration of their strength and his isolation. The loneliness of his position having been forcefully brought home to him, the Peacemaker spoke the words of the Great Law to Adodaroh, then gave Ayonwantha the task of combing the snakes out of his hair (i.e., untangling his moral and ethical derangement). Chief Gibson stated that, at this point, “our mother, the Great Matron,” the Jigonsaseh, put the antlers of office on his head, officially designating Adodaroh the first chairman of the League. Having capitulated to the cause of Peace, the once-dreaded Adodaroh transmuted into an honored chief, passing his name down through the generations as the Fire Keeper (chairman) of the men’s Grand Council.

p. 207
Cheerful teamwork was the key to survival. Whereas the European model sought to pare human relationships down into their smallest possible units, the Iroquoian model saw society as a circle of joined hands. Consequently, loners—those “rugged individualists” so prized by capitalists—were looked down upon by the Iroquois as mentally unbalanced or mystically misanthropic as was the lone shaman, Adodaroh, before the snakes were combed from his hair. It was not accidental that the climactic moment in the tradition of the Great Law came when Adodaroh was persuaded to re-enter the Iroquoian community as a contributing member.

pp. 277
…to the Iroquoian mind, the oversized penis wound about Adodaroh’s waist like a python was unrelated to sex. Instead, it signaled some seriously bad medicine. Overgrown things in general were always signs of spirit power, either the negative otkon or the positive uki. In the case of Adodaroh, the oversized penis alluded to his otkon ability to kill people, even from afar. Thus, one of the Peacemaker’s uki tasks in giving Adodaroh a new, human mind was to unwind “the many fathoms” of his perilously elongated penis.

p. 301
To a culture that elected (and deposed) its leaders based on the worthiness of their track records, the Christian God came across as an illogical, irresponsible, immature, and destructive personality. Such characters were not held in esteem by the Iroquois, nor did they consider it sane to put dictatorial power into the hands of such a one. In deed, much of the message of the Second Epoch, through the metaphor of the terrible Adodaroh, was that no single entity should ever be allowed to wield unaccountable power. Thus, however comprehensive to people living in patriarchal hierarchies, the notion of a strong-man God who had to be approached through a privileged intermediary—lest, in a fit of indigestion, His poor impulse control led Him to whack the sorry petitioner—was literally inconceivable to the democratic Iroquois.

Blue Hill, Maine and Grafton, Vermont
Bronze sculpture of Atotarho’s snake-covered head by Jud Hartmann with this text:

Atotarho (First Among Equals)

A reknowned warrior and a mighty magician stands with his hair of writhing snakes, grotesquesly conspicuous through the dim light of tradition at this birth of Iroquois nationality. This was Atotarho (aka Tadodaho), chief of the Onondagas; to this day, his name has been passed down through numberless generations to the present bearer of that name and title: Atotarho – first among equals). “With earthly and celestial aid, the league of the Iroquois was consummated and through all the land, the forests trembled at the name of the Iroquois!” — Francis Parkman, c. 1870

It will never be known with certainty when the League of the Iroquois was founded but it is likely that it was established between 1400 – 1550. From oral tradition we learn that the period preceding the league’s formation was an endless cycle of blood feuds which threatened the very survival of the five nations. “At length, says tradition, a celestial being incarnate on earth (Deganawidah and his spokesman Hiawatha), counseled them to compose their strife and unite in a league of defense and aggression. Another personage wholly mortal, yet wonderfully endowed, a reknowned warrior and a mighty magician stands with his hair of writhing snakes, grotesquesly conspicuous through the dim light of tradition at this birth of Iroquois nationality. This was Atotharo (aka Tadodaho), chief of the Onondagas; and from this honored source has sprung a long line of chieftans. (Preeminint among the 50 Sachems – the ‘Confederate Lords’ – who comprised The Grand Council, to this day, his name has been passed down through numberless generations to the present bearer of that name and title: Atotharo – first among equals). “With earthly and celestial aid, the league was consummated and through all the land, the forests trembled at the name of the Iroquois!”

C. PAINTING + ARTIST NOTES:  Steve Simon’s series on The Great Peacemakers
Iroquois Great Law of Peace

Here are the paragraphs on Adodarho, part of a longer retelling of the founding of the Great Law of Peace and the influence that the Iroquois League on the founders of the United States and on the U.S. Constitution.

…there lived an evil chief of the Onondaga Nation. Legend states he possessed supernatural powers and the human flesh he preyed and feasted upon nourished his twisted mind and body. So evil was he that his hair crawled of snakes and birds fell from the sky through the waving of his arms. His body was crooked in seven places. His name was Atotarho, “The Entangled.”
The seven crooks include Atotarho’s menacing hair, the unjust deeds done by his hands, the crooked paths traveled by his feet, the dark visions beheld by his eyes, the unkind words uttered through his throat, the twisted interpretations of his hearing, the unclean urges of his sexuality, and the wicked thoughts of his mind.
The peace, they told Atotarho, would be crowned by the planting of the Great White Pine, which shall spread in all directions and eventually shelter all mankind. Moved but unconvinced, Atotarho questioned what was in it for him. In a stroke of brilliant diplomacy, Deganawidah and Hiawatha offered Atotarho the opportunity to preside over the Great Council that would represent the League of Five Nations—a power greater than even his current one. The offer was indeed one Atotarho could not refuse.

D.  BLOGPOST: “Combing the Snakes….” by Stephanie Morningstar
Herbalist based in Ridgeville, Ontario. Founder of Sky World Apothecary.
About the MeToo movement in the indigenous herbalist community.

October 30, 2018
Mentions the story of Tododaho (Adodarho) in reference to restorative justice:

…If my time working for the Six Nations Justice Program co-creating an Indigenous Dispute Resolution (IDR) framework taught me anything, it taught me how important restorative justice is. The IDR framework centres around the story of Todadaho, the leader of the Onondaga nation and a sorcerer with a “crooked body and snakes for hair” who terrorized his people with violence and cannibalism. Deganawidah, the Peacemaker, worked with a radical woman named Jigonhasee to transform Tododaho’s violence into peace. They began this process with a song that led to healing, straightening his body and “combing the snakes from his hair” (Walker 2009, Stevens 2002.) The story of Todadaho is central to the dispute resolution process, considering the healing of the wrongdoer just as essential as the survivors. Often times this concept falls on deaf ears or even disgust, as it’s difficult to want anything beneficial to happen for those who cause harm. As Haudenosaunee people, we have had to reconnect with our customary practices that never left anyone behind. As herbalists, we were drawn to herbal medicine because of its holism, its ability to address not just symptoms, but root causes that eventually direct the vital force to achieve balance. Restorative justice work is similar- in order to fully heal, to achieve reduced recidivism rates, to stop the cycle of abuse from being perpetuated, we need to hold those who harm accountable to their healing process. This is what harm reduction looks like in action.

E. VIDEO:  [History of Iroquois League], presentation by Barbara Alice Mann (Bear clan, Seneca)
2nd World Congress on Matriarchal Studies (Oct. 2005)

Approx. 7 minute mark:  11th century moundbuilders: patriarchal priesthood practicing spiritual terrorism: large military, hoarding, gang-raping led by Adordarho
Approx. 16-25 minute mark: Peacemaker and Jigonsaseh made Adodarho an offer he couldn’t refuse: If you agree to the Great Law of Peace, you can be first lieutenant (chair of men’s council).

Disclaimer by Debbie Hillman: I am not Native American Indian although I am native American, having been born in Chicago. I try to be indigenous to my home. If any Native American Indians have any objections to this posting, I am happy to learn.