Quotes on PNW Shamanism: Initiation

Haida shamaness and patient

McIntyre Jorgensen, Grace Miri. A Comparative Examination of Northwest Coast Shamanism. University of British Columbia Department of Anthropology and Sociology, 1970.

On the initiation and training of shamans:

“The spirit powers of shamans were acquired largely independently (the shaman did not normally inherit his spirits but acquired them independently in a solitary quest), and were concerned with affairs such as sickness, the prediction of the movements of game, the detection of witches, or the control of weather which were of general rather than lineage importance.” (p.14)

“The trainee was usually twenty-five to thirty before he experienced anything, some were over forty, and others never achieved success. […]A man could transfer power to his son but the son would still have to train for it and the power ‘would not be as strong as the fathers’. […]Training had the effect of weakening the bonds which united the individual’s vitality and mind to the body, so they could ‘travel’ greater distances to ‘penetrate beyond the veil of the everyday world to the mystic realm of the unseen’.” (p.31-32)

“Like the individual guardian spirit powers, and in contrast to the ceremonial initiations, shamanistic initiation was commonly, if not always, solitary. Acquisition of shamanistic power could be sought or unsought.” (p.110)

“This account is interesting for the way it indicates the extent to which shamans knew of each other and cooperated with each other and for the way in which it suggests that prospective shamans depended on the aid and teaching of other shamans. […]It also suggests that although there was cooperation and exchange between shamans, there was no necessary close association between shamans in terms of tribal or clan affiliation.” (p.112)

Mayne, R.C. Four Years in British Columbia and Vancouver Island: An Account of Their Forests, Rivers, Coasts, Gold Fields, and Resources for Colonization. John Murray: London, 1862.

“Those who have themselves been visited by some serious sickness, and have recovered; or else have been, at some time in their lives, exposed to great peril, but have escaped uninjured […] for it is believed that, during the period of unconsciousness, supernatural power and skill were vouchsafed them; and also, by their recovering, it is concluded that they have successfully resisted the efforts of bad medicine, or the evil workings of some malevolent being.”

I wish I could own the first work, but alas it is a thesis and cannot be purchased. One day I’ll photocopy the whole work so it isn’t lost to time. I hope it gets scanned into UBC’s digital library collection, but I don’t see that happening any time soon. It is, hands down, the best title on the spirit work and shamanism of the Native tribes of the Pacific Northwest Coast. The next best work to get your hands on if you have an interest in this area is the academic work Indian Healing: Shaman Ceremonialism in the Pacific Northwest Today by psychologist Wolfgang G. Jilek.

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Join the discussion 9 Comments

  • Fascinating. The University doesn’t release published thesis? Not even on request? I thought all successful thesis were published at least in obtuse and obscure academic journals.

    • There are a few university-published copies out there, but all of them are in academic libraries and are not for sale. I couldn’t find any way to request such an old one, but I bugged a former UBC student to look into it for me 😉

  • hagofnaedre says:

    Oh awesome, thank you for this! Seriously!

  • Dorilys says:

    Really interesting this post. In Italy there aren’t many info about the shamaninsm. Me and my lover, will to go in Siberia for make a researchs about the folks of this land.

  • Valerianna says:

    Great info, Sarah, thanks. Hope all is well in your beautiful forest! Mine is just starting to perk up after soooo much snow!

  • Shaman Dagaji says:

    Nice to stumble onto this post. Keep up the good work.
    Love Dagaji

  • shamandagaji says:

    Hi. I’ve been following this string with interest! I read the blog on Teacher Myth… very well expressed. Scylla’s comment is right on. But I should say (I don’t know about your exposure or background…) that Shamanism has changed a great deal since the works of Carlos Castaneda and Michael Harner came on the scene in the ’60s. Shaman’s Drum magazine helped us go very deep into current shamanic practice. Since my Initiation as a Shaman began in 1990, I’ve seen the world in ways never mentioned in the literature. We are a global society now. Each Shaman is a product of both his/her culture and the natural environment, both of which have changed radically in the past fifty years. My blog, “Human Sacrifice” (http://shamandagaji.blogspot.com) attempts a brief explication of this, but since reading this dialog, I would re-do it in some ways. I would be happy to discuss this with anyone interested. My world is extremely interesting, in ways far different from Shamans of old.
    Love Dagaji