Shamanic Odyssey, II : Specific Accounts


pp. 21-4 Chehalis account (recorded by Thelma Adamson, unpublished MS in Melville Jacobs Collection at U of WA Archives)

p. 21 Chehalis terminology


its meaning


"a yard long cane"


"a log over a river that bounced up and down at one end"


"immortal partners"






"the immortals of shamans"


"any extreme danger"

pp. 21-3 shamanic ritual journey

p. 21

"they are going to cross the XwaniXwani; they always name themselves when ready to jump over. ...

p. 22

When the smuk!- start now, they’ll go dancing right here. ...


Then, they will come to a great, large snake lying across the road. .... They use kits!stani to "hit" the snake right The sxanixamix who hits the snakes’ [snake’s] heart will make the snake just disappear ... . ...


When the sxanixamix pass the snake and go on, then they will come to a prairie which increases all the time in size. All use their Kit[s!stani] ... . ... When this smuk!- pass[es] this prairie, ... [it] watches everything now on the road going.


Pretty soon, they will get to a mais)um [girl at menarche], [who’s] been a mais)um a life time. ... She always tells to the Mak!wt what is coming. They use this Kit[s!stani] to the mais)um to make her forget herself, and never tell about them. Her name is tipule:mailn.


When the smuk!- pass her, they will ... come to the village. [They] now go secretly ..., so that the mak!wt will never know. Sneak in where [they] keep the skwaukute:ns. ...

p. 23

When the xan[i]xami[x] gets through looking in ..., he ... calls the skw[aukute:ns] to come out and then he will keep them. ... Pretty soon, one of them will start hollering, and all will holler, "Elk, Elk, Elk," and the mak!wt will hear it and it will wake them up. ... So all will go and hunt ... . When all [of them are out], the xab will go inside the houses and will get everything. When the ghosts get back, they ... go to bed again ... . So, it is early in the morning when the ghosts are asleep that the doctors get after them. Maybe doctors will bring back fifteen or twenty. ...


If one of the rescued people should look back, his soul will be still and he will soon die ... . He wanted to stay there, that is the reason he looked back. ...


The doctor man will tell them : "Tomorrow morning, all of you that have been brought back, women and old men, must go and clean yourselves early in the morning." When they get through ..., ... the doctor man will start singing ..., he will work on them and clean them".

p. 24 the unborn; metempsychosis

"Children went to the land of the dead on the path of daylight, clearest when dawn first struck the earth. The unborn came to this world from the east, the sunrise (same:98).

"When an old fellow dies, he’s going to be born as a baby again. ... Will be born into his child, grandchild, or great grandchild" (same:340-1)."

p. 24 distinctions between the recently dead and the antiently dead; no ghosts during the spring season

"A lonely trail led to the lands of the dead. The first one was occupied by the more recent dead, and the second one by ancients. In the second, people became all together different and walked on their heads (same:144).

Ghosts did not come to the living during the spring because the bright flowers in bloom looked to them like the world was on fire (same:352)."

p. 24 inadvertent encountres of layfolk with Little-Earths

"Little Earths, called Brownies by one woman, lived in a bad place and were small people. Meeting one would make a human crazy, babbling, and stricken with soul loss, which could only be treated by a doctor with this power (same:257)."


pp. 26-33 Snoqualmie account (recorded by Marian Smith, unpublished MS in Box 5, Folder 2:40-62 at the Library of the Royal Anthropological Institute)

pp. 27-8 Little-Earths; boards

p. 27

"each shaman also had a permanent small humanoid effigy that always went along ... . Apparently, those of non-participants might also join the crew since Little Earths enjoyed going along. According to shamans, who alone could see them, these fearsome dwarfs came running when they sensed a ceremony was about to begin, out of breath but demanding to be taken along."


"Carried by helpers, each board was made to act as if it were alive. Each peeked, snout first, through the door, to look around before the rest of the board entered."

p. 28

During the shamanic voyage, "The Little Earths kept them informed of their general progress, the human partner interpreting for everyone what his effigy was saying."

pp. 28-33 stopping-places along the shamanic voyage to the house of the dead; the aftermath {The meaning of the name /Iason/ is ‘healer’; so the voyage of the ship Argoi must needs have been a shamanic voyage for healing.}

p. 28

"When the water was shallow, they poled ... . ... The first lake was very wide ... . ... It was here that any weak spirits still clinging to the boards became distracted and wandered off ... .

{cf. the pool of Pegai, where Hulas wandered away from the Argoi (GM 150.b).}


They came to a forest filled with Deer {cf. Aztec day-sign ‘deer’ = Maya glyphic day-sign ‘gesture’} ... [:

{Amukos, who "fancied himself as a boxer" (GM 150.g),

p. 29

these they] killed. ...

was "killed" (GM 150.h).}


Next, the doctors reached a swamp full of enormous Mosquitos, big as birds, whose bite caused instant death. ...

{The Argonauts came to the Harpuiai : "winged, female creatures" – blood-sucking mosquitos all being female --, who were promised (GM 150.j) to return to Kretan Dikte (‘net’ – cf. mosquito-netting).}


Then they came to a swamp inhabited by Beavers ... . ... One shaman ... whistled ... . ... Sometimes, those at the dams pretended not to hear the whistle ... . ...

{PhINeus (GM 150.k-m) : /PHINi-/ is a variant for /phene/ ‘sea-eagle’ (G-EL). Sea-eagles’ bones were used for North American eagle-bone whistles.}


They moved to a place full of blackberries ... . ... The berries were alive like birds, flying around and playing hard to get. ...

{Euphemos let loose "a dove or, some say, a heron" (GM 151.a) to fly ahead of the Argoi. It played hard-to-get, so that only its tail-feathers were nipped off.}


Other doctors were scouting along the path, looking for a solitary ghost. ... Once they were able to startle him ..., they chatted, pretending to be ghosts on the way to play the slahal [bones game] with the dead ... . ...

{Daskulos (‘little pointer’ -- GM, vol. 2, p. 388a) "to guide them" (GM 151.c). cf. pointing-bone used in Australian aboriginal death-sorcery.}


By now, dawn was approaching and the doctors prepared to "lift the daylight". ... The boards watched for the approach of day and began to shake when it appeared. The shamans put the ends of their poles together {as in a teepee} and lifted the daylight over the length of the canoe five times,

{At the islet of Thunias, Apollon "deigned to appear before them in a blaze of divine glory. Orpheus at once raised an altar ... to him as Apollo of the Dawn. At his instance,


helped by the audience ... beating on square drums [a peculiarity of Lake Sammamish].

the Argonauts now swore ... an oath ... in the Temple of Harmonia since built on this island." (GM 151.b)}


When they reached the edge of a bluff, they had to decide to jump down, although the area below was obscured by ... fog. ...

{The Argonauts came to Sinope (GM 151.d), a city afterwards renowned for its Cynics’ political satire (satire resembling befogging politicians’ reputations)}.


The dead always locked the doors to their houses, so a shaman climbed onto the

{The Argonauts sailed by the country of the Moisunoikhoi, "who live in wooden castles" (GM 151.e).}

p. 31

roof, ... lowered a rope, and climbed down to open the door for the others.


The doctors ... also found others in this midst who had not yet realized that their spirits had been stolen. They carried all of these patients into the canoe ... . ...

{The Argonauts rescued 4 Aiolian castaways who "had been shipwrecked" (GM 151.f).}


The shamans in the stern used new bows ... . The bows had never been used before ... . ...

{The Argoi passed (GM 151.g) the island of Philura, mother of the Kentaur (who is depicted shooting an arrow).}

p. 32

... one man looked up to see a head peeking through the smoke-

{Aietes was accompanied by his wife Eiduia (‘knowledgeable’ [-- cf. loss of knowledge by spitting (GM 90.f)]) when they first met Iason (GM 152.d).}

p. 33

hole. He watched it spit on him and then on other people. ...


Sticks were quickly put between their teeth".

{Iason "must yoke two fire-breathing brazen-hoofed bulls" (GM 152.e).}

GM = Robert Graves : The Greek Myths. 1955.

G-EL = Liddell & Scott : A Greek-English Lexicon.

p. 32 the 2 distinct lands of the dead

"the existence of a second land of the dead beyond the first one, apparently occupied by those only dimly recalled, or the remote, ancient dead. It appears that anyone who died in this second land, was reborn as a mortal."


pp. 34-6 Suquamish account (recorded by Marian Smith, unpublished MS in Box 5, Folder 4:24-35 at the Library of the Royal Anthropological Institute)

p. 34 power to retrieve souls; painted boards; costume; humanoid effigies

"When the dead came and took away the guardian spirit of someone, only certain shamans had the ability to retrieve it from the land of the dead. Power to do so was given by an immortal who looked like a man, finely dressed and painted, who could be encountered either on water or on land. He gave to the most courageous a song with a characteristic tune and a personalized text."

"When the doctors went after the spirit, they had boards made by a carver on which they pained pictures of their powers. Each board had a slightly different shape, following the directions given to the doctor by an immortal. The boards were used only on the trail, not in the canoe.

In all, each shaman had a pole, a board on his left, and a human effigy on his right. When they were supposed to be going fast, a boy helper shook the board back and forth.

Every shaman wore a cedar bark headband and a long scarf of shredded cedar to wipe off perspiration and collect his saliva. ...

The humanoid effigies were carved in the round ... . ... The lower portion was ... pointed to stick in the ground. ... Each wore a cedar bark headband and belt, sometimes with a necklace and small apron. Every figure was the permanent possession of a shaman, who kept it hidden in a hollow tree deep in the forest when not in use."

pp. 34-5 silence is commanded to ritual implements; recovery from ritually-feigned injury

p. 34

"As they departed, all objects, ranging from the poles to the door, had to be urged to keep quiet, otherwise they might yell to let the dead know the shamans were coming. The dance lasted three days while they went to the land of the dead, ...

p. 35

fought with the ghosts, and returned. If a doctor was hit during the fight, ... going to the lower world where the spirits of babies come from, a quiet place with no wind ..., he became clean [renewed?]. Then, toward morning, his power returned to him ... while in the midst of singing."

p. 35 impraegnation of living woman by a chief of the dead

"During one ceremony, the shamans killed a chief ... of the dead. The other dead gathered around his body, wiped up the blood spilling from his wounds with shredded cedar bark, and hid this away. One doctor, however, retrieved it, carrying it back in his cupped hands. Later, in the house, he asked "What woman wants this?" ... . ... she gave birth to ... a double jointed midget".

pp. 35-6 entry into the afterworld by means of a hole; canoe-voyage through the afterworld

p. 35

"They sang for one night and until noon of the next day, when they reached a big hole with mountains on every side. They had to jump this hole. {over it, not into it} ...

p. 36

When all were safely on the other side, they continued on their way. ...


The next day they got to a beach in front of a mountain constantly sending down big boulders. Since they could not get by on land, they had to build the canoe there. ... They used a shallow stroke because a deep one would tangle the paddle in seaweed {When Maori souls of the newly dead at Reinga "perceive an opening in the sea-weed they dive and soon find themselves in the lower world" (BI&WD2, n. 66).} and capsize them. ...


When they reached the patch of elusive berries hopping about, the doctors lined up and sang softly to calm them so a few could be picked ... .


Next, they came to a stone where each of them had to sit and sing in order to continue safely, ... Presumably, this rock was alive and demanded a song and visit in compensation for passing by it. The implication is that this rock was once a woman."

BI&WD2 = James George Frazer : The Belief in Immortality and the Worship of the Dead, Vol. II. Macmillan & Co, London, 1922.


pp. 40-1 Twana account (according to Elmendorf 1935:42-6)

pp. 40-1 theft & retrieval of souls

p. 40

"A soul may be stolen by a ghost or by a Little Earth, here believed to be about eight inches tall ... . A single shaman could recover a soul taken by Little Earths, but several were necessary to bring a soul back from the land of the dead. This land was on a distant shore beneath the earth. Everything there was the reverse of here; what is broken here is whole there,

p. 41

also times or seasons were inverted."

p. 41 incidents in the shamanic journey

"The trees on the road to the land of the dead are alive, and sway back and forth and sing joyously.

The berries are alive and jump away when one attempts to pick them. By tickling them with a feather the shamans induce them to stand still, and sometimes bring some of these berries back to the upper world to make the berry bushes here bear more abundantly (same:44)."

"Most of the trip was made on foot, but the last part required a canoe to cross the body of water in front of the village of the dead. While crossing, they ... sang a special song to bring on a concealing fog ...

The shamans staged a raid on the dead and, thus, retook the soul. If the spirit had eaten in the afterworld, however, it could not be brought back ... .

On the night following the return of the shamans, they publicly restored the recovered souls to the proper patients. Each shaman sang his own song, ... and stroked this chest to bring the soul out of his breastbone, where it had been kept. He held the soul in cupped hands and returned it into the head of the patient seated before him. With his hands away from the body, he brushed along the sides of the patient to settle the soul in place."

Elmendorf 1935 = William Elmendorf : The Soul-Recovery Ceremony among the Indians of the Northwest Coast. MA thesis, U of WA.


pp. 42-3 Lummi account (according to Stern 1934:80-1)

p. 42 spirit-guides for the shamanic expedition

"The medicine men assemble each year ..., very soon after the fishing of the sockeye salmon is over, to discover whether any of the souls of the sick are in the land of dead souls, by means of a ceremony called smatnatc. ... Those consenting to go choose their strongest spirits as guides on their expedition ... .

One says, "I will use the spirit of the woodpecker to bore holes in the house for us to look through."

Another : "I will use my mouse spirit that he may cut all the bowstrings in case a fight ensues."

Still another says : "I will take my magnetic spirit along that he might draw the souls of our friends together quickly.""

p. 43 the raid on the camp of ghosts

"Upon their approach to the camp of the people in the soul world. the man in the bow gives warnings, ... "... Let us wait until they are asleep." ...

When they reach the camp, they disembark ... . Some of the medicine men pick things up occasionally which are understood ... as being the souls of persons who are sick.

Others work together to capture some influential person whom they think will be able to give them information concerning the coming winter. ...

Their return trip is brief ... . ...

Then each returned medicine man announces in turn that he has obtained the souls of certain individuals in the land of the dead souls. He does not at once restore them to their owners, but first retains them on his person until he has ascertained the causes which separated the souls from their bodies."

Stern 1934 = Bernhard Stern : The Lummi Indians of Northwest Washington. COLUMBIA U CONTRIBUTIONS TO ANTHROPOLOGY 17:1-127.


BALLENA PR ANTHROPOLOGICAL PAPERS, No. 32 = Jay Miller : Shamanic Odyssey : the Lushootseed Salish Journey to the Land of the Dead. Ballena Pr, Menlo Park (CA), 1988.