Pacific Northwest

   Among the 11 recognized Native American nations of the North American Pacific Northwest coast, there are numerous village community identities, and shamans are prominent figures: for the Tsimshian, “Of all the people, the shaman, or medicine man, is the most powerful seer, and with the help of the spirits, the shaman sees beyond the present world and uses this understanding to look after the people.” The Gitxsan “believe human beings are neither separate nor different from natural objects, animals and spiritual entities. . . . The haalayt-dim-swannasxw [shamans] . . . see things not ordinarily visible and [are able to] visit non-human realms” (“Listening to Our Ancestors: Native Art on the North Pacific Coast,” National Museum of the American Indian, Washington, D.C.).
   Transformation is a key theme in the shamanism of the region, as expressed in art: split representation, for instance, a stylistic convention that maximizes representation rather than naturalistic depiction and is most famously discussed by Franz Boas in Primitive Art (1955), allows as many identifying and characteristic features as possible to be depicted at once. This means clan totems will be immediately recognizable to the viewer: a killer whale, for example, will always have teeth and a dorsal fin, the beaver will always have two large incisors, and the hawk always has a hooked bill. Split representation refers to the reflection of an image based on a bilateral axis, and further, in some instances we see the body of an animal split lengthways and then opened out, embodying a transformation of the creature, a form of dismemberment.
   Masks worn in such ceremonies as the potlatch take this element of transformation further. During the potlatch ceremony, the clan or family history is traced back to a time when there was no boundary between humans and animals. Often constructed with eyes and a mouth that open and close, such masks are worn by shamans in order to “see” into the spirit world. Other masks with human faces that open out to reveal animals within, such as the ubiquitous raven, assist shamans in transforming into these other-than-human persons. Frequently, the shaman’s rattles convey the importance of transformation and the permeability between the worlds of humans, animals, and spirits: a shaman figure lies on the back of a raven, with his tongue extended to meet the tongue of the frog set in his belly, in order to absorb the potency required to engage with these other-thanhumans. This sophisticated and complex cosmology has been appropriated and decontextualized in the neo-shamanictrance postures” taught by Felicitas Goodman: it is assumed that by simply standing in the pose of the human figure in a shaman-and-bear “spirit” carving, any human can potentially reach an altered state of consciousness. Such interpretations may be empowering for Westerners, but they are incongruous with indigenous practices and may, indeed, be interpreted as a form of disrespectful cultural theft.

Historical dictionary of shamanism. . 2007.

Look at other dictionaries:

  • Pacific Northwest — Pacific North|west the Pacific Northwest the area of the US which includes Washington State, Oregon, and northern California, especially along the Pacific coast. The area is famous for its wild beauty, cliffs, and forests …   Dictionary of contemporary English

  • Pacific Northwest — This article is about the region that includes parts of Canada and the United States. For the U.S. only region, see Northwestern United States. The Pacific Northwest from space The Pacific Northwest is a region in northwestern North America,… …   Wikipedia

  • Pacific Northwest — Lage innerhalb der Vereinigten Staaten Als Pazifischer Nordwesten (PNW bzw. PacNW) wird eine Region im Nordwesten Nordamerikas bezeichnet. Eine exakte Definition existiert nicht, sondern die Bezeichnung wird verschiedentlich verwendet. In der… …   Deutsch Wikipedia

  • Pacific Northwest — noun The region of North America along the Pacific coast, the core of which is the states of Washington and Oregon, variously including southern British Columbia, northern California, Idaho, and the panhandle of or all of Alaska …   Wiktionary

  • Pacific Northwest — Alaska to California, includung the Yukon, British Columbia, Washington, and Oregon …   Eponyms, nicknames, and geographical games

  • Pacific Northwest — region including the northwestern United States and southwestern Canada …   English contemporary dictionary

  • Pacific Northwest — /pəsɪfɪk nɔθˈwɛst/ (say puhsifik nawth west) noun the area of North America situated west of the Rockies and north of the Columbia River …   Australian English dictionary

  • Pacific Northwest — noun a region of the northwestern United States usually including Washington and Oregon and sometimes southwestern British Columbia • Instance Hypernyms: ↑geographical area, ↑geographic area, ↑geographical region, ↑geographic region • Part… …   Useful english dictionary

  • Pacific Northwest Wrestling — Acronym PW Founded 1925 Style American Wrestling …   Wikipedia

  • Pacific Northwest National Laboratory — Established 1965 Budget US$918 million (FY09) …   Wikipedia

Share the article and excerpts

Direct link
Do a right-click on the link above
and select “Copy Link”

We are using cookies for the best presentation of our site. Continuing to use this site, you agree with this.