Was^o Shamans [surrounding Lake Tahoe, NV-CA]



Was^o culture



The nature of Was^o shamanism



2.2 Spirits



2.3 Acquisition of Power



2.4 Paraphernalia



2.5 Dance-house caerimonies



2.6 The nature of disease



2.7 The curing caerimony



2.8 Feats of prowess



2.10 Social status of the shaman



Affiliations of Was^o shamanism



3.3 Spirits



3.5 Acquisition of power



The clash of shamanism/peyotism



5.11 Impact of peyotism






6.1 Was^o shamanism since 1939



6.3 Was^o world-view



1. Sketch of Washo Culture

pp. 3, 7 the name & language

p. 3

"The name Washo (sometimes spelled Washoe), is derived from the name they give themselves, waju. Waju is the name of a seed gathered annually by the women."

p. 7

"Their tongue is ... Hokan."

pp. 22-3 the nature of spirits




"The dream might come in any form – skeleton, eagle, bear, or any animal or human form. It must have life." {The "skeleton" must "have life" (like Mictlantecuhtli).}


"Spirit is ... synonymous with dream ... . The reason for this ... identity is seen in the circumstance under which spirit visitation takes place. The communion occurs in dreams."


"The dream comes in different forms – eagle, bear, rattlesnake, water baby. These are most important. ... Eagle brings back the spirit of a person who has died. He is the only one who will do it."


"When a shaman, or anyone who dreams, sees a water baby, he loses consciousness, such is the power of this spirit. ... Water babies ... are small, about two and a half feet tall, are either male or female. Their hair is long, reaching the ground "but somehow not touching it." Girl water babies are pretty, their complexion "reddish ... ." Their hands are large and broad. ... They live in the water."

pp. 24-5 abducted by a water-baby




"he had been doctoring. He had fallen into the fire at the end of the session and his pants had been practically burned off, although his flesh was unsinged. ... On his way home, he intended to stop at Walleys Hot Springs.

Suddenly he lost consciousness. {viz., fell asleep} A water baby came and took him down into the slough. They dove down together, arriving shortly in another "country" where the water babies live. Having emerged from the water, they started to walk along the path to a water baby settlement. In the distance were houses made of obsidian. The water baby, who was a girl, was leading him and point out places of interest. ... They reached the house for which they were bound ... . There were twenty girl water babies there. ... [The dreamer] sat in the middle of a circle formed by the water babies and they sang to him. After singing, ... the water baby who had


brought him took him down to the spot from which they had emerged. She dismissed him ... . He dove in and came up. "He didn’t notice that he came up." He awoke".

pp. 25-7 spirit-helpers, encountred by shaman in dream




"The assignment of spirits is predetermined ... . "It was discussed in the spirit world beforehand which spirit would guide a certain person." The Washo term for the spirit world means "land of the dead," "dead people’s home."

A shaman may have more than one spirit helper and his power increases in accordance with the number of familiars. However, his principal one remains the first one dreamed ... . ... In doctoring all dreams work together.


... If a person dreams of a normally dangerous animal, he will never be harmed by that animal."

A shaman "refused to talk about his own spirit unless paid his regular fee, which the spirit shares with him. "It would be unfair to the spirit to tell without being paid," he explained."


"A spirit may direct its possessor to undertake seemingly pointless, to say nothing of arduous, tasks. ... Apparently such directions are invariably carried out."

pp. 28-9 vocation (via dreaming) to shamanhood




"The dream, or spirit, which he dreams about puts something into him – whatever the spirit thinks is best. ... Much later, at the age of thirty-five or forty, the dream will visit him in earnest, "will start to work on him." Now he is ready to assume the ... apprenticeship which prepares one for the office of shaman. ... A prospective shaman would dream often. ... "If you are friendly with it, it will return – like a dog." The dream gives instructions ... . ...


The dream world, moreover, teaches the songs and specifies the articles of paraphernalia to be used in subsequent curing."

pp. 29-30 vocation to shamanhood of a particular woman




"These dreams were caused by her power. She was directed to pray to it ... . She had to go to ... where the vision had appeared ... . Some time later she dreamed about the sun. It wanted to become her power. ...


Her mother told her to pray to the sun, according to the old Indian tradition. ... She was treated by an old shaman, who told her that she was sick because she had not tried to please the sun. He instructed her to pray to it ... . She complied ... . She was now ready to enter upon the period of preparation for shaman’s office. She dreamed often. The dream would tell her to ... pray. ... Then she became a shaman."

p. 30 vocation to shamanhood of a particular man : autobiography

"When I start in, something come and whisper in my ear. ... It got me started ... . It talked to me and told me to do that, to do this ... . I do it and follow along. ...

I saw I was dreaming, in my imagination. {definition of lucid dreaming; here, "imagination" = "realization"} Water baby came to me out of the water and told me : "You sing this song." I sing the song. It was a funny song. {joke in lucid dream} Water baby was ... little ..., yellow looking with a small round face, long hair, and naked. ... Water baby then left me and went to Lake Tahoe, ... in water like ice all the way up to the rock. ...

After a while [while awake again] ... I couldn’t see. I was blind. {This episode is similar to the temporary blindness of S^a>ul, cured in Dimas`q by <nani^ : this <nani^ may be aequivalent to the "Rabbit in the Moon" who in the Korean myth witnessed a shaman’s blindness, "running to an outdoor bathroom, losing his steps on the ice" (NB, p. 12, fn. 22) – cf. the ice in lake Tahoe.} ... For three days it lasted."

NB = Yoon Sun Yang : Nation in the Backyard. PhD diss, U of Chicago.

pp. 36-9 shamanic paraphernalia




"All shamans are equipped with eagle feathers. ... They are said to be in communication with the shaman and to possess such power as to enable him or her to track down the illness. ("If it sees anything, it tells the doctor.")"


"Almost as indispensable in the curing se’ance is the shaman’s rattle. ... The principal type found among the Washo is the cocoon rattle, whose occurrence extends widely through California. ...


A rattle will consist of three or four cocoons filled with pebbles found in the gizzard of a grouse or sage hen and bound to a staff ... by deer sinew. Aboriginally the shaman’s rattle was decorated with hummingbird feathers wrapped to the staff with ... weasel-skin ... . ...

Other forms of rattle are known to the Washo. ... The dream will ordain which type of rattle shall be employed by the shaman.


The tobacco ... is usually kept in a pouch fashioned from a whole mink-skin."


"the skin of a squirrel ... talks just like a live squirrel. ... During


... doctoring, it makes a whistling sound just like a squirrel."


"Woodpecker feather headbands, similar in form to Miwok flicker-quill headbands, are reported for both Southern and Central Washo. Again the dream dictates the form."


"The whistle used for drawing out sickness is distinguished from an ordinary whistle. Made out of two wing bones of a wild goose, it is ... hung from the neck by a buckskin string."


"Necklaces are ... of wildcat claws ... strung on a deerskin thong long enough to fit around the neck."


"in the shaman’s dance of the Southern Washo, the singer will beat a split stick on the palm of his hand."


"as repositories for the shaman’s sacred articles ... a whole fawn-skin was fashion into a bag for this purpose."

p. 37 ballock-rattle of the Paiute

"the Paiutes living to the east have a rattle made of a horse scrotum, dried, stretched and shaped, filled with pebbles from the gizzard of a grouse or sage hen." [p. 208, n. 2:12 : "Park (1938:34) mentions for the Northern Paiute a rattle ... containing small pebbles "gathered on an ant-hill," resembling the form described" (but deer rather than horse).]

{With this emmet-hill, cf. the emmets dreamt by Aiakos [vide our comment on infra, p. 45], Aiakos being an interlocutor in a comoedy (namely the Frogs 760 sq – "HG") by Aristophanes; a comoedy to produce laughter, just as laughter was produced (in goddess Skadi) by the binding of the ballocks of Loki (according to the Edda). (/SKADi/ is cognate with Irish /SCATHach/, name of the heroine who imparted the weapon /BOLGa/, cognate with /BALLoCK/.) Loki (transmogrified into a female) became a horse for Svadilfari.}

Park 1938 = Willard Z. Park : Shamanism in Western North America. NORTHWESTERN U STUDIES IN THE SOCIAL SCIENCES, 2.

"HG" = http://www.theoi.com/Khthonios/HaidesGod.html

p. 40 treatment of sacred objects

"the sacred objects are always removed from their repository and replaced there in the same order ... . ...

The sacred accessories require care ... . Periodically every object is "given a drink" – sprayed by the shaman with water in his mouth."

pp. 41-2 dance-house for shamanic dreamers




"A candidate would order the dance-house built in accordance with a command received in a dream. ... He becomes a participant in the proceedings ... – carrying out ... the pattern prescribed in preliminary dreams."


"Another ceremony held in the dance-house relating to shamanistic preparation is a "doctor dance" lasting four nights in the course of which novices are given instruction. Such dances, apparently confined to the Southern Washo, ... constitute a stage in the training of the shaman which


precedes actual installation into sacred office. A full-fledged shaman will hold such a dance at the behest of a dream. ... The dance itself ... was ... different from any other Washo dance".

pp. 209, 45 curative herb; witching creature

p. 209, n. 2:20

"used by shamans in supernatural curing : wild parsnip ... . None but a shaman is permitted to gather wild parsnip. ... The shaman takes the dried root ... talks to it, chews it, and gives it to the patient to swallow.

Peyote, in its external character and manner of administration (in some cases), offers interesting parallels." [p. 92 : "the tough buttons are chewed into a soft pellet by the chief and put into the mouth of the waiting recipient."]


"Pismires are an extremely potent agency of witching. It is the only medium which will have any effect on a white man." {The "pismire" allude to may be the species Lasius acarileccari, milker of the aphid-like "feather mite" species Pinnaephilopsis garrulus, located at Pyramid Lake, Nevada ("PP").} {cf. the identification of /man/ ("manna" – S^emo^t 16:15) with secretion of aphids in Sinay : with the birds victimized by Lasius acarileccari, cf. the quail-victims (in S^emo^t 16:13) of Mos^eh. The emmets dreamt (GM 66.e) by Aiakos routed the water-serpents (cf. the s`arapi^m-serpents routed by Mos^eh – B-Midbar 21:6-9) in (GM 66.c) OINone : cf. the name of OINeus whose palace was the site of the accidental slaying of the intentfully foot-washing (CDCM, s.v. "Eunomus") Cuathos, expiated by (GM 142.g) the bird Ceuk-, concerning whom a dream was afterwards sent (O:M 11:585 – "I") to his wife the bird Alcuone via the rainbow.}

"PP" = http://beetlesinthebush.wordpress.com/2010/03/23/pismire-puzzle/

GM = Robert Graves : The Greek Myths. 1955.

CDCM = Pierre Grimal : A Concise Dictionary of Classical Mythology. 1990.

O:M = Ovidius : Metamorphoses.

"I" = http://www.theoi.com/Pontios/Iris.html

pp. 51-2 encountres with ghosts




"The ghost is visualized {seen in a vision} in various ways -- ... often as a skeleton, at times as a "devil," ... "bluish-purple flame," and "light." ... The ghost will make demands, and these must be fulfilled under penalty of sickness. ... "The sickness might ask that something be offered to a dead relative ... to be buried on top of the grave." ... Demands made during these dreams must be discharged by the visitant. (Coins are now placed over the eyes of the dead when ready for burial. This is ... a payment which will ... prevent the dead from seeing their relatives and thus making them sick.)" {thwarting the "evil eye"}


"The shaman has ready access to ghosts because he is "friends" with them. In their dreams he visits their abode, the "dead people’s home."

pp. 52, 209 lucky objects induce sleep

p. 52

" "Medicines" that bring good luck in such pursuits as hunting ... and love ... will induce dreams of potent significance. ... Possession of a "medicine" confers a certain amount of power, ... owners periodically undergoing the four-day rites of supernatural replenishment, always the token of rapport with the spirit world."

p. 209, n. 2:24

"The Washo term for medicine means "sleep." ... "It made the animal go to sleep ... . When you have this medicine, you can come up to a deer when it’s sleeping." {Is this sneaking up on a sleeping victim done similarly in "love" as in "hunting"?} ... Medicines were always carried on one’s person."

pp. 52-3 walking abroad by soul of the dying; recapture of soul by shaman


absence of soul from body


"It is believed that before a person dies the soul leaves his body either for the south or the east. Good souls go south {the direction of Yama, the psychopomp according to the Veda}; bad souls start south but soon turn east."


"It is possible, however, to recapture the soul, to bring it back to its former physical vesture. The shaman, who knows when the soul has taken flight, with dispatch his power and commission it to fetch back the departed "life." Eagle, it was said, was the only power capable of succeeding in this difficult mission."


"When shamans go into a trance, their souls are though to leave them, and for the duration of the trance they are counted dead. ...


It is perilous to touch a shaman when he lapses into unconsciousness after removing a sickness-object. To touch him is to court death."

p. 59 behavior by disease-object : its evasions

"Actually, the disease-object ... sees and hears. Sometimes it talks to the shaman. ... It manifests baffling caprices such as hiding behind the joints and wandering elusively in the body. ... The shaman’s custom of mentioning every part of the body in the course of curing, beseeching the sickness not to seek sanctuary there, is also explicable in terms of the sickness’s sinister wanderings."

pp. 60-1 extraction of sickness-object




"Eventually the sickness is concentrated at one point ... . The shaman knows when this occurs. Indeed, he has been aware of every move the sickness has made. He sees the concentration ... . [A shaman] said : "I can see it when the X-ray can’t." And now it dislodges itself from the interior and come to the surface. "It gets light, floats up to the surface of the body just like through water."

Extraction is by two methods : through a whistle or by mouth. ... When in the course of the se’ance the shaman walks around the fire blowing the whistle, the disease will sometimes leave the patient and "go" to it. ... The dirt that is drawn first ... the shaman ... spits ... onto a woodchuck hide." ... When he finally succeeds in drawing out the object itself, ... it passes into his own system. ... When that happens, he usually falls down unconscious. He dare not be


disturbed. Death may befall anyone who touches him. After a while, he regains consciousness and gets up.

He will then light a pipe. The smoking will soon weaken the sickness within him, and although it may seek to elude disgorgement by traveling all over his body, three or four coughs will bring it up. ... He laughs at it to fill it with shame. ... If it is a "strong one," however, he goes outside and throws it away in a northerly direction."

p. 62 ritual food-offerings which are proffered during the se’ance

"Offering of two kinds are made during the se’ance, the object of both being to persuade the disease to leave the patient.

The first is a directional offering ... . From a pile of seeds ..., the shaman takes a pinch, waves it clockwise ... about the patient’s head, and throws it ... . Buffalo-grass seeds are preferred "by the sickness." They are used only for this purpose ... . ... This offering is ... while the shaman addresses the sickness; ... "the one I talk with."

A second offering is made on the fourth night of the extended ceremony. ... four piles of pinenut or acorn meal ... are heaped ... close to the wall near the patient. The belief is that the sickness will accept the offering and leave the patient alone. ... Usually the meal and meat are sampled only by the older folks, "because they know just what to do.""

pp. 62-3 shamanic baptismal cure for patient {N.B. in early Christianity, baptism was commonly administered only to dying persons (as, e.g., in the case of emperor Constantine)}




"the practitioner washes the patient from head to foot. Fire sage leaves are dropped in the water used for washing. ...


All washing strokes are downward and outward, never the reverse. The reason is given : "... Upward there’s danger of forcing out what you’re thinking.""

pp. 61, 64 miraculous feats by shamans

p. 61

"Feats demonstrating imperviousness to injury by fire when in a state of trance are not uncommon. When the sickness-object strikes, a shaman can fall into the fire and emerge unscathed. On two occasions [a certain shaman] fell into the fire with all his clothes on – once he lay in the fire for fully five minutes – and was not burned."

p. 64

"A number of shamans will sometimes gather outdoors and test their respective powers. ... At these exhibitions of ... power-testing, ... feats reported include

walking straight up a cliff,

making oneself invisible and suddenly reentering the dance-house,

and walking and dancing in fire."


3. The Affiliations of Washo Shamanism

pp. 70-1 derivation of supernatural power from midget deities, in practices of other tribes




"In the Great Basin, the Northern Paiute, Northern Ute, Wind River Shoshoni, and White Knives recognize water babies as potent supernaturals. The same is true of the Plateau tribes Thompson,


Shuswap, and Klamath. ...

In northern California among the Shasta, Yuki, and Northern Maidu, where the conception of "pains" as a familiar is common, an undifferentiated class of dwarf-like spirits is an important source of power."

p. 74 importance of dreams to southern tribes

"As we proceed south, dreams dominate ... . This is true of southern Californians, where they are often associated with jimsonweed ceremonialism, and lower Colorado Yumans. In the non-Pueblo southwest, ... in the great majority of cases the dream is fundamental."

p. 80 exalted social status of shamans, including in other tribes

"The unrivalled position of the shaman in Washo society ... renders the Washo ... unique. ... Gayton’s Yokuts-Mono Chiefs and Shamans, reveals the shaman as the functionary of crucial influence in the tribe."

A. H. Gayton : Yokuts-Mono Chiefs and Shamans. U OF CA PUBLICATIONS IN AMERICAN ARCHAEOLOGY AND ETHNOLOGY 24(8). 1930.


5. The Clash of between Shamanism and Peyotism

p. 162 deposition by a shaman

"I, the undersigned, ... have been given the power which I possess, known as supernatural power. My power is a miracle one . When I am at work on my patient, ... the spirit would whisper above my head ... . This spirit talk ... explains the condition or cause of the patient’s sickness. ... My work is scientific healing."


6. Epilogue

p. 176 a particular shaman and his helping-spirits

"he had a power dream indicating that his spirit power would be water ... . ... From books he learned how to hypnotize and would display his prowess as hypnotist ... . It was at this time that he began shamanizing, and ... he ... achieved his first successful cure aided by his spirit helper, water. Not long afterwards he acquired another familiar, ... a skeleton ... . ... As the years went on he became well known as a healer. ... Now he had a third spirit helper, ... bequeathed to him by his friend, ... a ... curer himself."

p. 199 power; categories of spirits

"Power is all around you. It’s everywhere. ... It’s up to you if you want to use it."

"he believed in spirits. ... Washo had theirs –

mountain men,

girls with long hair who had a swing,

water babies."

pp. 202-3 visitations by spirits to a particular curer-man; his dreams




"Not until old age ... did [a certain man] ... experience a dream encounter with his spirit helper. He began to be visited at night by two women clad in gray."


"his dreams were not of the world I knew but of the supernatural world of the Washo which he ... knew." {All dreams occur in (and therefore by definition of) a world other than the material world; even if they may illusorily appear to be in and of the material world.}

Edgar E. Siskin : Washo Shamans and Peyotists. U of UT Pr, Salt Lake City, 1983.