Valley of the Spirits [upper Skagit], 9.2-5


9.2 (pp. 169-71) "Shamanistic Spirits".




"The two-headed snake, sulwa`>us, was one of the most highly regarded of shamanistic spirits. [It cured "influenza".] ...


This snake spirit was associated with the rainbow and also with thunder."


"a spirit associated with the black snake, bec>a`c ... [in the guise of] a mass of wriggling snakes under his head ... had come to take away his headache."


"Another famous shamanistic spirit ... was lizard, dedi`cxay>. ... He used this spirit to bring on delivery in the case of prolonged childbirth".


"Still another shamanistic spirit ... was the owllike >ayi`yus. This spirit was very important in finding lost souls. In the trip to the land of the dead to find a lost soul (see pp. 201 ff.), it was this spirit which led the way because it could see in the dark."


"The spirit associated with the loon (s-wukwed), which lived in Big Lake on the Nookchamps drainage system of the Skagit River ..., conveyed the power to cure any kind of sickness."


"The whale spirit k>ak>a`laxic was ... a shamanistic spirit. ... A man on the Swinomish reservation also had this spirit."

9.3 (p. 172) "Ownership of Guardian-Spirits".

"Many, possibly all of the Upper Skagit, attended guardian spirit ceremonies when they were held ... . ... At the time of writing there were still men and women, including some young people, among the Upper Skagit who sang and danced in their traditional way."

9.4 (pp. 173-5) "Criteria of Spirit Ownership".




"After the individual earned his guardian spirit, it came to him in the winter and signified, usually by making him ill, that he should sponsor a ceremony during which the spirit entered his body. When this occurred, the dancer wore the garment, sang the song, and danced the steps taught him by the spirit on the quest. After the dance was over, the sponsor distributed property to the assembled guests."


"A man had to dance before it [the spirit] cured him. If this spirit got into a man he danced and vomited blood out in handfuls. I saw a lady at stu`legwa`bs^ [a village above Arlington on the Stillaguamish River]. ... She turned and poured blood into her hands ... . ... That was ska`yb s-qela`litut."


"The term tu`sted refers to a spirit which animates wooden poles. These, like the s-gwedi`lic^ boards or cedar bark instruments, were held my men who were moved by the action of the spirit on the poles."

9.5 (pp. 177-83) "How Spirits Are Acquired".




"Lots of people receive the spirit under the water. He dreams first that someone lives in a house under the water. He hears directions as to how to get to this house. ... he is awake until he hits the house; then he becomes unconscious. The chief of the house sends his hired man out to ask who is coming. ... The hired man beings him in the house. The chief asks him what he wants. He gives him game, money, or xw-da`>eb [shamanistic power]. The hired man takes him back to land where he will lie sleeping ... . He will be sleeping but he has his song. He comes to. He knows his song. He’s awake."


In a "lake about six miles near Monroe [town on the Skykomish River]", "There was a bad animal q>ala`q>w in the lake. He like to catch persons. He wanted to eat them. ... I felt an animal biting me. ... q>ala`q>w went inside me and chewed. ...

While the narrator told me this story, he paused to show me ... on his legs ... the places ... . Therese were small circular depressions and were blue in the center. He ... had them not only on both legs but also on his hips and back."


"According to another informant, a lake near Bellingham in Lummi territory also held a malignant animal which brought insanity to those who bathed there."


"In practice in the homes in which I visited, children discussed their guardian spirit experiences with close members of the family who then gave them some advice in interpreting these. After the event of the first spirit experience, the child was supposed to forget it. Theoretically he did not recall it until years later when he fell sick and had his sickness diagnosed as the return of the spirit. During the intervening years he was supposed very soon after the initial encounter to show evidence in his behavior of the power he had obtained."


"A spirit with an animal name did not appear first in that guise. ... When a spirit appeared to a person it was always first as a human being. If it had an animal form, it assumed this as it turned around to disappear.. During this visitation, the tutelary told its owner the type of power it was bestowing, sometimes giving him a choice between shamanistic and lay powers, and explained how it was to be used. It also taught him a song, a dance (if it conferred lay power), and communicated certain instructions about the winter dance. These last included the length of the dance period, the type of costume to be worn in the dance, the fasting procedure, and possibly other restrictions to be followed during this period."


"People usually, if not exclusively, acquired spirits which had belonged to one of their ancestors."

"When a man became so old as to be inactive, or shortly before he died, his spirits left him. This was a necessary prerequisite for death; no one could die while his spirits remained with him. This departure was sometimes made known dramatically. The thunder spirit (xek>wa`di) ... caused thunder and lightning as it left his body.

After a spirit departed from its owner, the Upper Skagit said that it "hung around" or "flocked behind" the children and siblings of the owner. This ...w as that ... the spirit wanted very much to be recognized by the close relatives of the deceased. Sometimes it was so eager that the surviving relative did not have to go to much trouble to get the spirit. ...


If the owner was childless, at his death, the spirit went to a sibling. If a man were also without siblings, then a niece or nephew or more distant relative might receive his powers." "A bad Indian doctor, if he sees your power, might take it away from you before you have accepted it. Then you gradually get sick. ... When they take your own Indian power, you get sick in a hurry. If it’s your old parent’s spirit [unrecognized by you], you get sick gradually."

"If a spirit was unrecognized by any of the descendants, the formal expression was that he returned to s-qela`litut land. Then people not related to the owner could acquire it as a tutelary."


"If an ancestral power was captured by a hostile shaman, direct descendants of the owner suffered. For example, one Upper Skagit had been told by shamans after diagnosis that one of his spirits had been captured and hidden in the mountains. As a result of this loss, he had severe seizures during which he lay unconscious for long periods. His older son, who was protected by this same spirit, experienced a series of bad accidents ... and died .. . ...


In another family, this evil trend had also begun. ... "She is sick and pretty near death ... . ... Her mother died. If this woman dies, then her sister will die also. This s-qela`litut [lay power] was hidden by dxw-da`>eb, Indian doctor.""

9.6 (pp. 183-7) "Winter Spirit Dance".




"When a child earned a power, he did not make public recognition of this for some years, often not until middle age. Illness was the usual symptom indicating the initial return of the spirit and his desire for a dance and distribution of property. (The spirit ... could approach its owner under other circumstances. Unusual experiences with animals and "spooky" events such as a door opening by itself or a chair falling over were usually interpreted as the appearance or as the prelude to such an appearance.) ... a shaman was always called in to diagnose the patient. If he gave spirit return as the explanation, the ill man knew that if he did not obey his spirit and sponsor a dance, he would not recover but die instead. ... The accepted mode of behavior ... upon receiving the diagnosis of spirit illness was to make immediate preparations for a winter dance. The family first sent messengers to relatives in nearby villages. People with the same spirit as the beginner, kau>sulq>, theoretically did not need to be notified in this way. They were supposed to receive the communication from the spirit which they shared with the novitiate {novice} and to know of the coming ceremony. ... "If I had the power and a certain person down the river had the same power, he’d find out just as soon as the power stuck me. He’d say, "... So-and-So is going to sing his power." He’d tell his powers and then go along to the dance."


The summons were imperative; all who were asked had to cease their own activities and go at once. If the initiate delayed his ceremony too long, he might die. ... Guests entered the house in single file, dancing as they came. They placed their ... gifts in the middle of the house ... . ... The shaman who had made the original diagnosis had learned the identity of the initiate’s spirit so that it could be announced to the guests. However, ... the others usually had already guessed what spirit the man had. ... "People could tell when someone has power; it is easy for them to get things ... . Their power would help them so everyone would know." A man or woman (dsu`uwa`lik), adept at interpreting songs, began to sing verses which might fit the spirit. The interpreter added verses until he hit on the appropriate one, at which time the beginner rose from his bed. ... Two relatives with the same spirit supported the new dancer on each side and took him around the room in four clockwise circuits. After the beginner had sung his song through completely, the stick-pounder or drummer (dsu`uwa`lik), led the rest of the audience in the same song. ...


The drummer, too, had to be skillful in providing the proper rhythm. ... Specific guardian spirits conferred the power to beat drums and to pound sticks skillfully. ... One of the guests surely should be familiar with the type of song required, for those who possessed the same spirit had similar songs.


During the winter ..., a woman from Vancouver Island who was ... living on the Sauk River became sick with spirit return. No one in the neighborhood spoke her language so that there was not possibility of immediate help. She had a warrior spirit tubs^a`dad which is always difficult to control. ... she escaped from her home and fled into the woods. After running wild for two days, clothing torn, body scratched, "like crazy," she was captured. She did not recover until dancers with the same spirit summoned from LaConner arrived to help her. ...


The behavior of the beginner was hedged about with restrictions at this time. He had to obey the orders given him by his spirit during his quest or at the time of return. Usually he was required to fast for the duration of the ceremony and sometimes to drink no water. ... Other requirements were often made also. The dance had to last as long as the spirit ordered, usually the same number of days that the initiate fasted on the quest. ... The guardian spirit ... sometimes instructed its owner to wear certain dance paraphernalia. ... Deer-hoof rattles were worn in the dance of ska`yb, the wound-healing spirit. Red paint ...


was used on the face. Black paint was never used, except for tubs^a`dad dancers. ... drums were not used in that region in the old days. ... The dance rhythms were tapped out by long sticks (t>esa`di, "pounding stick") pounded against the ceiling.

When the new singer became tired ..., he asked someone to sing his songs in his place while he rested. This substitute was called the c>isqwasa`lik, "one who nails the songs together." After the new singer had finished, ... Only old relations could sing; people sing from one family. ... Relatives who had the same spirit were the only ones in addition to the sponsor who sang : "When the spirit comes to one person, another person who had the same spirit could hear him [the spirit] talking, calling him." ...


Each evening during the event the guests sat down to a feast. Each guest carried home in his basket all the food remaining in front of him ... . At this banquet, many formal addresses were given. A member of the host family made the first speech, always beginning with the salutation, >li` swawa`lus da


>i`is^ed ("Oh, my distinguished relatives"). ... When the meal was over, property was distributed. ... Before Europeans came, the sponsor might present each person with a mat, a basket ... . ... "A certain person who has got the same spirit [as the sponsor] will get the most. Then when it comes his [the guest’s] turn to give a winter dance, he [the former host] will get the most from him." ... This gift-giving aspect of the winter dance, together with the festive meals, bore a close resemblance to a potlatch."


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.