Tangible Visions: Northwest Coast Indian Shamanism and Its Art

by Allen Wardwell

Hardcover, 1996

Call number

NWC 306.4 WAR



The Monacelli Press (1996), Edition: First Edition, 336 pages


Northwest Coast Indian art is famous for its spectacular totem poles, house posts, feast dishes, boxes, and painted house fronts. Less well known but equally important is the art made for use by shamans, particularly those of the Tlingit, Tsimshian, and Haida tribes. This volume presents the first comprehensive illustrated study of the various kinds of painted and carved objects that were carried and worn by shamans as they went about their duties. In order to form alliances with animal spirits, Northwest Coast shamans deprived themselves of food, water, and sleep during long vigils in the wilderness. The spirits that came to them in dreams and visions at such times could then be summoned to assist in healing and divinatory séances. Much of the ceremonial paraphernalia represents the helping spirits in the shaman's service. Certain examples, which show complex juxtapositions of many animals and human figures, depict the dreams or trance experiences of the shaman at the time he was forming his alliances. This study places Northwest Coast shamanism in a world-wide context and demonstrates the ways its practices and beliefs are similar to those found elsewhere. Throughout the book are archival photographs—portraits of shamans and their decaying grave houses—as well as descriptions of their lives, exploits and performances. A discussion of the complex iconography, which includes such creatures as land otters, devilfish, oystercatchers, mountain goats, and drowning men. The heart of the book is a catalogue of the objects—masks, amulets, storage boxes, drinking cups, clothing, drums, rattles, figure sculptures, soul catchers, staffs, crowns, and combs—employed by shamans. More than five hundred photographs, a large number published here for the first time, show the finest examples of Northwest Coast shamanistic art in museums and private collections throughout the world. This ground-breaking study brings attention to a corpus of Northwest Coast art, that, until now, has not received the attention it merits. It will be of importance to scholars and the general reader as well as those interested in the history and practice of shamanism.… (more)




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