A Soulcatcher ("Haboolm Ksinaalgat": 'keeper of breath') is an amulet ("Aatxasxw") used by the Medicine man (Halayt) of the Tsimshian, Haida and Tlingit tribes of the Pacific Northwest Coast of British Columbia and Alaska. It is believed that all soulcatchers were constructed by the Tsimshian tribe, and traded to the Haida and Tlingit tribes.
Soulcatchers were constructed of a tube of bear femur
, incised on one side, and often ornamented with abalone
shell. Bears have powerful shamanic connotations among the people of the NWC. Soulcatchers were decorated with a sisiutl
-like animal (a serpent, land-otter, or bear head at both ends of the tube, and an anthropomorphic face in the middle). This form may represent the mythological Land-Otter Canoe, imbued with shamanic power.
The soulcatcher was plugged at both ends with shredded cedar bark, to contain the lost soul, or hold a malevolent spirit "sucked out" of a patient. The amulet was usually worn as a necklace. They range 16.3 cm –21.6 cm (6 3/8 “ – 8 ½”) in length.
Sickness incurable by secular (herbal) means was believed to be caused by "soul loss
:" Dreaming was thought to be the soul leaving the body, and traveling to the spirit world. If the soul was unable to return to the body by morning (due to disorientation, or supernatural interference), chronic illness would follow.
To cure the patient, the shaman would wear the soulcatcher as a necklace. He would then travel to the spirit world (by calling helper spirits using trance music [rattles, drums, chants], and employing helper-spirit masks, and staffs). Shaman might also work in groups, constructing a representation of a Land-Otter canoe of shaman and "dantsikw" spirit boards (see sisiutl) as a vehicle to travel to the spirit world. Once the errant soul was located, the shaman would "suck" the soul into the soul catcher, and return to the patient. The soul would be "blown" back into the patient.
Another use was sucking malevolent spirits out of a patient.
- Bancroft Hunt, Norman. "Shamanism in North America." 2002. Firefly Books. Buffalo.
- Wardwell, Allen. "Tangible Visions: Northwest Coast Shamanism and its Art." 1996. The Monticelli Press. New York.