Yurok Indian Spirituality [on Klamath river , in Humboldt county, CA], 4

[a period (.) is used (instead of a macron) after a vowel to denote prolongation; there are glottalized surd mutes (k>, t>, p>)]


title of chapter



Double Helix



Native Authors



Seeing with Their Own Eyen









The One Who Flieth All around the World



The World









Jump Dance


0. pp. 6-7 tribe-names, historic & mythic

p. 6

tribes on the Klamat river : Yu-rok (‘Down-river’); Ka-ruk (‘Up-river’)


Yu-rok "spoke ... sa.>agoh, one of only two known Algonkin languages west of the Rockies. (The second is Wiyot, ... spoken ... to the south.)"

p. 7

"They were the "human beings," >o.lekwoh, "the ones who stay here" after the wo.gey, the Spirit People or First People, had invented culture and ... departed at the beginning of "Indian Time." Some early American visitors called these >o.lekwoh "the Allequa"; Yuroks came to call the whites wo.gey". {cf. the Aztec belief that the European were the departed folk of Quetzalcoatl; and the Quechua belief that the Europeans were the departed folk of Viracocha}


2. Double Helix pp. 50-61

p. 284, n. 2:4

"There were certainly transvestite men, wergern, who did women’s work, like basket weaving."

p. 57

"he heard the First People making the Rek>woy jump dance ... beneath the rock Oregos at the mouth of the river."


3. Native Authors pp. 62-84

p. 63

Kroeber’s book "Yurok Myths was finally published posthumously in 1976".

p. 77

Robert G. Lake’s book (Chilula) "broadcast (secret) sacred knowledge" of the Hupa.


4. Seeing with Their Own Eyen pp. 87-126

pp. 95-97 acquisition of spiritual power from proximity to spirits

p. 95

"seeking the aid of Lightning and of the ten Thunder Brothers, the spiritual allies ... . ... In the wintertime, when it thundered and the lightning just kept on and on ... – then they’d take a boat ... and drag it down to the gravel bar to see if the lightning ... would give them strength here on earth ... . Now, ... there’s different kinds of thunder and some of it sounds like trailing gravel, [at] the end. That’s when ... you ... Take the boat and drag it along the gravel bar to see if it will please the Thunder ... . Then he gives them part of his strength."

"some Hupas training ... customarily slept in a cleft in a rock near the village of Matildon ... through the night as they sought spiritual aid ... . Others seeking power ... ran in the hills at night and knew that they’d "got it" if lightning struck and split a tree near them. ...

p. 96

When spirits appear unbidden, in a dream for instance, they come to announce that a person has a certain option, or potential. It is now up to that person to realize this potential through application of will power ... . A person might dream of powerful beings or a place where "power" is available, for instance, but it remains to obtain the spirit’s blessings and to bring them under control."

"He’d started training ... to spend the night on a downed tree that hung over a creek".

Yurok : "a man diving in a lake on Red Mountain can encounter waterdogs (redwood salamanders) eight feet long, hear a loud noise, and jump out --- with power. ... there are giant skeleton-ghosts, so>o., running in the woods at night near Klamath Glen ..., with sparks flying from their eye-sockets. One of these ghosts said, in the beginning, "I shall be the

p. 97

bringer of what is bad. If a man is to have bad luck, I shall be the first to tell him" ... . However, ... if a man can catch one of the so>o. and embrace him, with his arms all the way around the spectre – not just touch him – he will become "brave." Other men once encountered other sorts of ghosts that gave them "spirit medicine," the power to deal with spirits unafraid, and to be a brave person," wr.gryrs."

"Certain Yurok men once acquired guardian spirits through training and medicine-making that imbued they with bravery ... . They were called weskweloy, a word that made reference to the style in which they alone were privileged to wear their hair ... . These ... got their powers through ... vision questing in the winter, usually in the ocean near great rock formations – seastacks – or in riverine whirlpools, in lakes and other places that gave them access to the Thunders. In the waters they encountered the Thunders or one of the water monsters called ka.mes or a sa>al, a bad ghost-spirit that lives in a spring and brings disease. Some trained in the lower hills and mountains and in the hollow or cleft rocks there. ... Falling unconscious, men travel to the underworld to the house of the Thunders, overcoming ferocious guardians – panthers, rattlesnakes – and entering to be cut up into pieces, cooked, and reassembled as weskweloy."

p. 98

how one practitioner "acquired spirit allies" : "He used to go up in the mountains ... on windy nights. Tenth night he was up there Chicken Hawk [spirit] ... was blowing in the wind – must have knocked him down, too [in trance]."

pp. 104, 286-287 tobacco species

p. 104

"The native tobacco of northwestern California is Nicotiana biglovii var. exalta Setchell. ... it would seem the ... psychotropic effect of N. biglovii was itself once a central part of the arts of training and thinking : Indian tobacco helps you thinking become clear and focused."

p. 286, n. 4:5

"the white-flowered,

mildly sedative N. biglovii,

... there are, or were, also yellow- and blue-flowered varieties of native tobaccos,

the former soporific, the latter stimulating."

p. 287, n. 4:5

"Harrington points out that N. biglovii closely resembles the N. quadrivalvis of the Mandan, Arikara, and Hidatsa of the upper Missouri."

BULLETIN OF THE BUREAU OF AMERICAN ETHNOLOGY, 94 = J. P. Harrington : Tobacco among the Karuk Indians of California. 1932.

p. 105 mythic salmon lore

"Wohpekumeu’s theft of the concealed first salmon; ...

the great head-salmon Nepewo and his home Kowetsek across the ocean;

a formula, associated with Wohpekumeu, for luck in salmon fishing"

pp. 108-111 men’s clubhouse

p. 108

"The Yurok men’s semi-subterraean lodge, >r>gr.k, where they once slept ..., is usually called the "sweathouse" or "men’s house" in English."

p. 109

"sweathouses were instituted by Pulekukwerek".

p. 110

"The ritual gathering of sweathouse firewood was instituted by a woman who defined it as a practice to which people should devote themselves single-mindedly for ten days at a time ... . While women (with the exception of doctors) were ultimately evicted from the sweathouses even before "the Indians" arrived at the beginning of Indian Time, the practice of gathering sweathouse wood remained central to training after the indians came and the First People left. Meanwhile, ritual sweathouse wood gathering accompanied by weeping had been established as ... a ...

p. 111

means of focusing will power".

"It’s best to do it during the full moon ... . All along the trail there are spirits, good and bad. ... Each night you go farther and farther up the trail. Ideally, on the tenth night you go all the way to the top [of the hill or mountain]. ... you get back, build up the fire, sweat, and come out to jump in the water just as the sun times. ... You sweat. come out, greet the sun, bathe. Then you rest during the day inside the sweathouse."


Karuk : "a person could train for thirty days total, at one time, broken into three ten-day periods." {cf. antient Hellenic ten-day weeks, approximately 3 such weeks to the month}

p. 114 spiritual requirement of sexual intercourse after shamanic training

"after intensive periods of training, men have to sleep with women".

"He must lie with girls; and also girls who want to become doctors must lie with men; because the Creator said they must or they will get sick".

"men needed sex with women to bring them back into the human world after training had taken them so far into the spiritual."

[p. 155 Sexual intercourse could "weaken her power, and many doctors went back to the mountains, physically or in trance, to regain their power after they had started having sex again."] {this is seeming contrary to the statement on p. 114 that "girls who want to become doctors must lie with men" – but there may be a distinction according as whether some pertinent alleviating rite (in Tantrik style?) were being performed therewith or not}

p. 115 acquisition of luck from spirits

"luck came to him through a stone talisman that he obtained from a spring in the mountains after hard training. Once men made luck medicine in other watery place as well, such as an ocean pothole near Big Lagoon. They might train specifically for hunting or fishing luck, diving down in the Klamath to touch a special rock or making medicine at a "wishing place" in the mountains, where a pure man could hear the barking of hunting dog spirits ... . ... these dog-spirits as being wo., "ancient" or "holy," ... "You hear them barking, a-way off. It’s deep.""

pp. 117-118, 120 contrived weeping in order to acquire spiritual power

p. 117

"Tear, crying, ... attracts the "pity" of the spirituals, ... personified ... . "The spiritual" rewards the human suppliant with ... power or luck".

p. 118

"There’s great power in tears. ... If you don’t shed your tears your prayer won’t work, and you won’t get what you’re after."


"going into the mountains to seek the pity and aid of supernatural forces" : "They know you’re worthy of it. Otherwise ... there’d be no tears. ... if you have this feeling that the forces blessed you, the you’re a worthy person".


"individuals think and speak of "the spirituals" ..., ... many "unseen beings" that they can "talk to" – that will listen and respond, if addressed correctly. That correctness, ... often, is signaled by tears."

p. 120

"If you have been trained properly and know the right prayers and procedures, and weep, you will get what you are after."

pp. 119-121 echo in response to prayer

p. 119

"you fast for ten days and then on the tenth day you go there and clap your hands and you tell this rock what you want and then if you hear the echo you’re going to get your wish."

p. 120

"a qualified person can go to Doctor Rock, a place associated with the most powerful shamans, to pray ... for high powers, such as those for doctoring".

"the correct procedure is "to announce yourself. Say who you are, where you’re from, what you want." A man should go "where a rock runs out. ... You sit there, you have your fire in front of you; you stay there all night."


"I went up into the mountains. I had a vision of where I was meant to go."

p. 121

"as a man sits before his small fire he prays and ... when he has attained the proper spiritual state he claps his hands, listening for a clear, ricocheting echo : "The men go there and sit in the [prayer] seat there. Then after a while they clap their hands, and if the echo comes back clear they know they have what they’ve prayed for ... ." Other men shout, listening for an echo."

pp. 122-124 acquisition of spiritual power from conversing with spirits; astral projection

p. 122

"A person who is well prepared ... can go into the "high country," the physically and spiritually highest mountains. He will encounter spiritual beings associated with specific places, and they will teach him – "talk to him." ... these beings are immemorial spirits ... . ... training really ultimately means just sitting down with spiritual beings and talking with them."

p. 123

"A person might meet spirits in the mountains and "sit right down and talk with them," or he night meet them after returning home ... . "Maybe after you come back from the mountains, some night in your home, you wake up ... . There are spirits in the room and it’s full of light. They’ll teach you ... .""


"transformative experience" : "Going into a trance in a "prayer seat" in the high mountains, he saw, as though through a tunnel, a small hole of light opening into a meadow ... in the sky ... . {This is a common form of "near-death experience".} A spiritual being took him up into the world above. He saw people there, "all in the prime of life – about thirty-five years." ...

p. 124

He knew this to be the "beauty world," where the spirits of trained people go at death, waiting, he told me, for the time when they would come back to earth in new forms. He was guided back to the seat by one of the spirit beings, and when returned to his body in the prayer seat he knew what "beauty" truly was, and "walked in beauty."" {"Beauty" is a common perception in spiritual enlightenment.}


" "High men" and women who are doctors are said to be able to return to the mountain precincts ... later, without leaving the lowland villages, through out-of-the-body travel." Legend "told ... about a hero who "left something like his picture at home while he traveled to the end of the world" ... . [One informant] said that he commonly traveled out of his body to the place where his medicine was, in the inland mountains, and ... yet another spoke of retrieving medicine from an inland lake while physically remaining in the sweathouse at Pecwan."

p. 126 adornments for sacred dance

"The black face paint that men wear in jump dances, people say, is to make them look more like spirits. This is also why the faces of the dead are striped with black : so that they will be admitted to the spirit world. The black paint of both dancers and the dead is their "passport."

The brilliant red headrolls applique’d with fifty and more pileated woodpecker scalps on buckskin ... make dancers seem even more like spirit beings, who are said to be red from the eyebrows up.

... the unseen beings ... have come to watch the beautiful regalia dance, standing in an apparently empty space left free for them, and ... the really "real world" is revealed."


Thomas Buckley : Standing Ground : Yurok Indian Spirituality. U of CA Pr, Berkeley, 2002.