Valley of the Spirits [upper Skagit], 10-12.


10. (pp. 190-205) "The Shaman".

10.1 (pp. 190-201) "Curing".




"A MAN KNOWN AS A DOCTOR was called dxw-da`>eb or xw- da`>eb. ... He was paid for his services. Even if he did not undertake a cure ..., he was still given a token payment for his expenses and time incoming to visit. ... People could begin to practice as shamans at any age; many waited until middle age ... .


The shaman always had several shamanistic spirits ... . ... The shaman had lay spirits (s-qela`litut) as well as the shamanistic. ... Shamanistic spirits in contrast to the lay might be used only for curing ... while lay spirit granted other powers. ... However, sickness caused by spirit capture and soul loss could be cured only with the aid of shamanistic tutelaries. The same spirit could convey either shamanistic or lay powers.


In each case, the song and properties given differ, but the spirit was called by the same name,

{In the Zaratustrian theology, in some cases an ahura and a daeva may have the same identical name, but nevertheless be regarded as distinct.}


for example, cougar (s-wewa`>) was acquired either as a shamanistic or a lay spirit. ... Several persons expressed the view that shamanistic spirits were more easily obtained than lay spirits. This was in reference to the idea that shamanistic spirits present in oneís own family were likely to take the initiative in approaching one after the death of the owner. The person so approached had no choice; he had to begin practicing whether he like to do it or not."


[account of personal introduction to Lizard-power] "I lay down there in a cave and slept. Finally an old lizard came up to me in my face, and he talked to me, and he told me how to sing the song. ... He came inside my mouth. ...


The lizard spirit was one of the most powerful and feared shamanistic spirits."

{This is likewise the case amongst the Maori of New Zealand.}


"After a shamanistic spirit had appeared to a child, like a lay spirit, it did not return until some years later. At the time of spirit return, the owner, unlike the owner of a lay power, did not fall sick. He did give a dance. "... With s-qela`litut, you got sick first and sang. With dxw-da`>eb [shamanistic spirit] you didnít need to sing." All the owner had to do upon spirit return was to begin using his shamanistic spirit to cure the sick.


Lay powers, with the exception of tubs^a`dad, warrior spirit, and a few others, came to the owners during the winter season each year. The shamanistic spirit ... could come at any time. ...


Most of the Indian doctorís power travel in the water, thatís their road. The Indian doctorís power comes in any time of the year. Any time they sing their power, it comes to them, but it is not right with them all the time. .. Thatís why the old Indians say when you call a Indian doctor, call him loudly so his spirit will hear and come to you."


[interfering magic] "He could also send a lay spirit, s-kayu`> (skeleton) into the victimís body. He did this by executing certain gestures in the presence of his victim or by sending his spirit a distance of miles to his victim.

... one evening I watched a man ... throwing his spirits into certain people. ... He cupped his hands


as though he were holding ... waist high and parallel with the floor. Then he opened his hands as if to release an object ... . Then ..., the doctor rubbed his hands, palms flat, briskly together. Then, separating his hands and raising them palms upward on a level with his lips, he blew across both with a great gust of breath. Another tactic consisted of a simple movement of his right arm. He stretched it out at full length with forefinger extended and, starting with his [adversary]ís feet, slowly raised his arm the full length of the manís body. All these gestures were executed with great precision. ... .

... the movements could be identified by similar accounts from nearby peoples (Stern 1934:78)."


"Spirit capture" : "A doctor took a manís spirit and hid it away in the mountain, put it in a container and buried it in the ground or threw it into the river. ... Shamans could rob a man of his spirit merely by looking into his eyes and "right through him," ... with doctor powers by his eyes."


"When a shaman cured, he sang his spirit songs in the order in which he had learned them. ... Illness caused by an intrusive spirit might be cured only by a sucking shaman (cu`qw). Sucking doctors always used water when they cured. One Upper Skagit shaman always had his water in a cedar root basket beside him. The shaman put his spirit in the water. Through the action of the spirit, the man could extract the harmful spirit causing the illness from the body of the sick person. Sometimes the two spirits, the one belonging to the shaman and the other causing the illness, fought in the basket of water, making drops of blood appear as they bit one another. The harmful spirit was sometimes in the form of a worm or insect ... . A doctor cured a man whose spirit was captured by sending his own spirits to find and bring back the missing power."


[instance of disenchanting an enchanted woman] "her hands were at the back of her head and her legs were crossed [an unladylike posture]. ... She winked at a man. ... She whistled tunes. ... She laughed at an old man. ...

There was an old doctor sitting down. He called his dxw-da`>eb [shamanistic spirit], started to use it to help the sick. This fellow sang and sang. He got to the place where he couldnít get through. [His spirit met obstacles on their trip to find the girlís spirit.] ... He went after where the girl was. The bad spirit got hold of her spirit and took it away. Two doctors took the bad spirit from her. Four men held the girl down when she got the bad spirit in her. She was sitting on the floor, [One man] was holding her wrists; other men were holding her head and legs. She just raised them right up when the bad spirit was going to run away. ... But the doctors got the bad spirit. They shoved a little stick between her teeth so they wouldnít close tight. The wood scraped and squeaked. The girl lay back as though she were dead."


"When a victim was cured and those attending had captured the offending spirit, they had several choices before them. They might return the spirit to its owner. This was the customary procedure the first three times that they found the spirit of the same man causing illness. If the shaman did not mend his ways, the fourth time he caused illness his spirit was hidden away. One Upper Skagit [woman] listed these "ways to do away with evil spirits" : "Put it in the mountains, put it in a jar, in the river or in the ground."" {Judging from this instance, only an "evil" spirit inducing immodest behaviour in a woman would be kept confined within a container. Was the intent in retaining the spirit thus confined, to employ it afterwards to induce the same sort of behaviour in some other woman Ė perhaps some woman socially disapproved for some other reason, such as a woman attempting to bring about some untraditional social reform?}


[instance of a shaman-doctorís abducted spirit-helpers ("both the lizard spirit and his snake spirit which had both been "taken away" from him") being restored to him with the assistance of another shaman-doctor] "When you lose your power, you are likely to get sick and die. Once I was pretty near dead. An old doctor ... helped me. ... Someone had my dedi`cxay> [lizard spirit] and my snake power too. They took them far away. If it wasnít for that old man, I would be dead. ... He brought me my powers. ... The old man held a stick like that [Here ...


raised his cane parallel with the floor.] dedi`cxay> [lizard] went to help him. He [lizard] got on the stick; he crawled on the old manís hand. ... When the old man walked back to the house, the snake came behind him. ... The snake came right up to the bed. He came right after the old man. ...


Next day they [snake and lizard spirits] gave us smelt. ...

{Animal-helpers brought "smelt (qwela`stiu)." (TN 49.2, p. 18).}


The old man said, "Donít you want to sing your power, snake?" Snake is called bec>a`c. I was not strong {spiritually}; I needed help {to control the snake-spirit}. That old man helped me.

bec>a`c is powerful, strong. He has helped me when people were sick [to cure them]. The old man brought them. I put them in the water. [... put these spirits in a bowl of water when he used them for curing.] I sang for the snake."


"If the shaman had a sufficient number of other spirits to protect him, he might not be greatly injured by the loss of one.


In this situation, a brother or sister or child lacking these additional spirit helpers might take ill.

{These relatives needed a spirit-helper of their own in order to cure themselves with its assistance.}


The doctor could not cure them, because his spirits no longer "knew how." They wanted only to kill."

{Gifting these spirit-helpers to relatives would restore to the spirit-helpers a praedilection to do curings.}


"In addition to curing illness brought about by ... living men, the doctor cured others of two types : those brought about by the action of a small animal,


a white worm with a black head, or

{cf. the bodhisattvaís "white worms with black heads" ("Supina Sutta" =AN 5:196)}


a tiny red insect, which entered the body and fed upon it;

and those resulting from soul loss."


"The Upper Skagit believed ... the soul (seli`>) ... when it was out of the body had the same form as the body but was smaller. It was intangible and ordinarily invisible. The soul might leave the body during a dream, returning so that the person could awake. When an individual to a trip, his soul might go ahead of him and arrive at the destination first. Some persons had the special ability to see the soul; this was conveyed by a spirit."


"Ghosts of the departed were responsible for soul loss. When a near relative died, and the survivor mourned at length, crying too much, he became susceptible ... .


For some time after death the ghost of the deceased tended to linger in the vicinity of his relatives. It was the desire of every ghost to recruit companions from among the ranks of the living. ...

Certain shamans specialized in soul loss. Also some women who were not shamans ... might be ... expert on childrenís soul loss. ... Children were especially susceptible to soul loss as they were to other kinds of illness.

In the curing ceremony, the shaman went to the land of the dead to get the soul back. As he went along, he described the events to the spectators. In the land of the dead, he might have to fight with the ghosts for the newly acquired soul. The ghosts might have the new soul imprisoned in a bag and hung up in their house. The shaman could have difficulty in locating it. If he was successful, he seized the soul, brought it back, and placed it in the body of the sick person who became well. It was possible to use the skeleton or s-kayu`> spirit to diagnose soul loss and to help return the soul. ... . . ... the Upper Skagit themselves did not have be`ltadak, the soul recovery ceremony in which shamans outlines a canoe on the ground to use for their trip to the land of the dead".

TN = William W. Elmendorf : Twana Narratives. U of WA Pr, Seattle, 1993.

AN = Anguttara Nikaya

10.2 (p. 205) "Shaman as Ritual Leader".

"When a man fell sick from spirit return, the shaman was diagnoses his case usually assisted him through the validation ceremony. In this capacity, the shaman sometimes led him in his singing so that the song would be exactly right. The shaman further watched over him to see that he obeyed all the rules of his particular spirit ... . He was also there to warn him and to protect him in the face of challenges of ... spirits ... . ...

People customarily speak of shamans in their own family with great respect and affection."


11. (pp. 206-10) "Magic, World-View".

11.1 (pp. 206-7) "Sanctions".

p. 206

"disobedience to the spirits or deviation from the approved manner of treating them brought illness and death."

p. 207

"A man could become a good hunter or fisherman and supply his family with sufficient food only with the assistance of spirit helpers. No one could acquire wealth ... without the aid of guardian spirits."

11.2 (pp. 207-8) "Magic" (c^a`dad).

p. 207

"When a man wanted a woman or a woman a man, he or she could hire a person who knew love magic."

p. 208

"When someone had lost his appetite because of illness, it was possible to recover it with a spell."


"Some women knew a charm to recite while making moccasins. The wearer then would not become fatigued but could walk for a long time in the mountains."

11.3 (p. 209) "Curing with Herbs".

"Some diseases ... were thought to be caused by tiny red insects or white worms."

11.4 (pp. 209-10) "Conceptions of the World".

p. 209

"The Upper Skagit conceived of the world as an immense round island s-c^egwu`cid in an ocean.


Around this ocean ran a high wall.

{cf. the ocean-enclosing mountain-wall Loka-aloka surrounding the world (according to the Puran.a-s)}


On the other side of this wall was the land of guardian spirits --

p. 210

the place where spirits lived when they were not with human beings. The country of the spirits was pitch-black, with no daylight.

The salmon people also lived on the other side of this wall. The wall lifted up at the south forming an opening through which the salmon people passed in their canoes. As they went through, they tumbled their canoes over and became salmon in the opening, forming the salmon runs. ...

Guardian spirits played the bone game in this outer world."


"the sky formed a roof above which the stars lived as people."


[star-husband myth] "roots in the sky country ... are depicted as hanging through the sky land into the air of earth."

{[Maori myth : living husband of dead woman] Underground, souls of the dead "grasp the roots of plants growing in the upper world." (HM, p. 148)}

HM = Martha Beckwith : Hawaiian Mythology. Yale U Pr, 1940.

11.6 (pp. 211-2) "Mythology & Folklore".

p. 211

"the Upper Skagit believed in a spiritual being associated with daylight and ... called xuck>u`l. He would think and his thought "landed in a certain place and became a person.""

"The culture hero, du`kwibel, was a supernatural being in a manís form. He was bright and fair like the sun, with which he was associated. ... du`kwibel ... reduced animals to their present size, made them dumb ... .

p. 212

... He said he would return at some time in the future."

11.7 (p. 214) "Beliefs about the Physical Environment".

"Below the village of s>i`layucid near Rockport on the Skagit River, there was a big cedar tree which had long moss, hanging clear to the ground. This particular tree was called bu`buxed. If a person walked near this tree, it caught his soul and threw it across the river to a second cedar tree on the opposite bank. This second tree then tossed the soul back. As each tree tossed the soul, thunder sounded. The trees continued this throwing indefinitely, bringing about the death of the soulless person quickly. ...

Sauk mountain had originally been a man married to three wives, each of whom also became a nearby mountain.

Mear the juncture of the Suiattle with the Sauk lived a dangerous supernatural being >a`>ayhus who is described as an "animal." People who encountered this being in the woods might die."


12. (pp. 215-36) "Life-Cycle".

12.1 (p. 217) "Childbirth".

"If labor was unduly prolonged ..., the father called a shaman ... who specialized in difficult deliveries. [That specialist], without touching the woman, delivered her baby with his lizard spirit. When he entered the house as a specialist, he called out ..., "... Here is my lizard spirit sitting on my shoulder." He said that he put his lizard spirit into a bowl of water on the floor and went home. The spirit then entered the body of the woman and brought the baby out with it."

12.2 (pp. 220-2) "Naming".

p. 220

"The two types of special names were, first, those of guardian spirits, and second, honored names. In the first category, a parent sometimes gave the name of his guardian spirit to his child, hoping that this bestowal would call the attention of the spirit to the child and bring the spiritís protection."

p. 221

For caerimonial bestowal of an honored name, "a master of ceremonies announced the name of the ancestor and the new owner, saying, "So-and-so (the dead name-holder) is coming again." ...

p. 222

Most of these names could not be translated. Some were masculine, others feminine, unlike the guardian spirit names which could be given to either a male or a female."

12.6 (p. 232) "Old Age & Death".

"Old people flirted with each other (in recent times wrote love letters) and sometimes changed spouses. Old age, when oneís children were grown, was regarded as a suitable period for love affairs."

"Before death the guardian spirit of the person left him.

Also before death the soul, seli`>, went to the land of the dead and became a ghost, s-kayu`>, if it was not returned to the body. The ghosts lived together in a village matching the one of the living. The approach to a village of the dead was across a river or a lake. When the ghosts saw a soul approaching, they came out from their houses and shouted in welcome. The language of the ghosts was modeled on that of the living but was backward, the sounds of each word being reversed. Shamans alone could speak this language. The ghosts took their canoe, a rotten log which would not float in this world, paddled across, and took the soul with them to their house. All of the dead relatives ... rejoiced to see their newly dead relative and embraced him."

p. 233 "Sometimes a plank was removed from the wall of the house so that the body could be removed. This was done to prevent the ghost from readily finding its way into the house again. A man with special qualifications was hired to take charge of the burial. He had a s-kayu`> or a skeleton spirit which was said to work right with him. ... The body could also be suspended in a canoe."

p. 235 "the reburial of the bones of the dead" : "this event usually took place about ten years after the death of the person. Bones of a number of dead persons were usually reburied on the same occasion. ... In this ceremony the bones were cleaned, rebundled together, and placed within the branches of a tree". (In contrast, the Nooksack "placed all the cleaned bones in a box ... within the house.")


AMERICAN ETHNOLOGICAL SOCIETY MONOGRAPH 56 = June McCormick Collins : Valley of the Spirits : the Upper Skagit Indians of Western Washington. U of WA Pr, Seattle, 1974. [wife of Orvis F. Collins (p. vii)]