Klamath Ethnography

Klamath Ethnography

Klamath Ethnography

Klamath Ethnography

Excerpt

Klamath religion centers so largely in shamanism that it may be permissible to describe the whole in terms of shamanistic practices, the spirits with which they are concerned, and the acquisition of supernatural powers. There is little ceremonialism apart from the shamans' performances. There is a rite for girls at puberty, a dance in preparation for war and another in celebration of captured scalps, some formal feasting at marriage, and of recent date the Ghost dance of 1870.

The religion is only weakly developed. Power is sought from a host of spirits whose characteristics are not sharply defined. These are predominantly birds and animals, winds, lightning and the like, and a handful of anthropomorphic beings. They are however definitely localized in many instances and partly identified with the figures of mythology. But there has been no attempt to marshal the spirits into an ordered pantheon. Relations to the spirits have no ethical implication. The belief in a land of the dead, too, stands apart from the spirits and their functions. It has solely a folkloristic existence, for it little concerns the actions of the living.

Power is deliberately sought by almost every Klamath. There are times that are especially propitious; at puberty, in distress, or on the loss of a wife, a husband, or a child. The mode of seeking and the revelation are stereotyped: one fasts at night on mountain tops, running about, piling up rocks, or diving beneath lonely pools. Mourners at least must first purify themselves in the sweat-lodge. The looked- for response is unconsciousness, a profuse hemorrhage at nose and mouth, and a spirit's song revealed in a dream. The spirit is not the seeker's guardian and exacts of him no special conduct, no offerings, no venerations. There is only one obligation; he must accept the blessing and use his power once the spirit makes itself known. The power is motivated by the song; the song and the spirit are one and inseparable. There is little specialization of spirits and their powers: curing, gambling, hunting, love-making, and shamanistic trickery are fields in which any spirit may operate.

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