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Impearls: HIC 3.12: Special classes of shamans

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Earthdate 2005-11-12

Special classes of shamans   by A. L. Kroeber

Three kinds of specialists among shamans, of whom there is frequent mention with most of the other Indians of California, are unrepresented among the Yurok — grizzly-bear shamans, rattlesnake shamans, and weather shamans.  The first class, perhaps, have some remote similarity to the uma'a wizards.  The functions of the second and third are replaced among the northwestern tribes by the recitation of formulas.  This is explicitly stated for rattlesnake bites, and was probably true of weather influencing, if the Yurok concerned themselves with this at all.  There were shamans who in their initial dream ate a snake, carried it in their bodies, visible to other shamans, and sucked snakes from their patients; but the disease of which they cured was lunacy, not a bite.  There was a shaman at Murekw famous for his ability to handle hot stones and eat living rattlesnakes, and after his death one of his kinsmen continued the practice.  Such arduous feats, however, are not characteristic of Yurok shamanism, in which juggling is unimportant; and it is significant that both these individuals were men.

A Yurok man who wishes to be brave and fierce — “mean,” the Yurok translate their word tlmei — goes at night to a lonely mountain pond, swims, and is then swallowed or taken below the surface by a monster.  Traditions relate how such men were sometimes “pitied” and helped by the Thunders, and then became wealthy as well as strong.  Most men's ambition did not lie in this direction.  This belief is rather closer to the notions of the source of shamanistic power obtaining among most North American Indians, but stands well apart from the typical aspects of Yurok shamanism.



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