Systems of North American Witchcraft and Sorcery

By Deward E. Walker Jr. | Go to book overview

CHAPTER X
SORCERY AMONG THE NEZ PERCES 1

Deward E. Walker Jr.

The Nez Perces, a Sahaptian-speaking group, are located on the eastern edge of the North American Plateau culture area and presently number about 2,300 (see Figure 16). Sorcery was a frequent concern of the Nez Perces and an integral part of their tutelary spirit-based and shamanist-centered religion. The purpose of this chapter is to elucidate and account for the acculturational changes that have taken place in the Nez Perce witchcraft complex. Sorcery remains very much a live tradition for some Nez Perces, but it should be emphasized at the outset that it is a belief system currently adhered to by only a minority of the group. This is a recent development, however, and the majority of elderly Nez Perces have few doubts about the reality of sorcery. For this reason the data on which this analysis is based were collected primarily from informants over 50 years of age. In all, eleven informants over a four-year period contributed 30 sorcery accounts; 20 are used here.2 In Appendix 7 sorcery accounts group into two primary types, aboriginal and contemporary. Accounts from the past all tend to conform to a rigid, ideal pattern; sometimes accounts no more than ten years old already have been modified to resemble those of great antiquity.

As is common in sorcery studies, accounts are primarily secondhand because of the obvious danger of showing too much firsthand knowledge. Kluckhohn ( 1944: 13-16) and Faron ( 1964: 156-157), among others, have noted this phenomenon in widely divorced contexts, leading me to conclude that it is a general characteristic of sorcery-related behavior. A further, widely encountered behavioral pattern is a certain covert pride in knowledge of sorcery. Once a Nez Perce informant's confidence has been obtained, he often becomes loquacious on the subject, implying that he has more than a passing familiarity with sorcery. By deftly manipulating public opinion through innuendo some Nez Perces have been able to develop widespread fear and respect as peléyc, or "hidden" sorcerers.

A further device helpful in overcoming the general reluctance to discuss sorcery is the "stranger" role (cf. Nash 1963) played by the ethnographer. For the typical Nez Perce it is much more dangerous to discuss sorcery with a member of his own society than it is with a visiting anthropologist who may never be seen again. Similarly Kluckhohn ( 1944: 13-16) has noted the ease with which many Navaho will discuss sorcery with a perfect stranger. It was also useful to appeal to the dramatic impulse in certain Nez Perce informants knowledgeable about sorcery. They obviously derived pleasure from involvement either as suspected sorcerers or as victims of sorcery.

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Systems of North American Witchcraft and Sorcery
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page i
  • Preface iii
  • Table of Contents v
  • Contents vi
  • Introduction 1
  • References Cited 9
  • Chapter I - Western Apache Witchcraft 11
  • Chapter II - Pueblo Witchcraft and Medicine 37
  • References Cited 70
  • Chapter III - Witchcraft in Tecospa and Tepepan 73
  • References Cited 92
  • Chapter IV - Two Views of Obeah and Witchcraft 95
  • References Cited 108
  • Notes 122
  • References Cited 123
  • Chapter V - Sorcery in Santiago El Palmar 125
  • References Cited 145
  • Chapter VI - Introduction Skokomish Sorcery, Ethics, and Society 147
  • Appendix 5 166
  • References Cited 181
  • References Cited 182
  • Chapter VII - Menomini Witchcraft 183
  • Chapter VIII - Witchcraft AMong Kaska Indians 221
  • References Cited 235
  • Chapter IX - Iroquois Witchcraft at Six Nations 239
  • References Cited 262
  • References Cited 264
  • Chapter X - Sorcery Among the Nez Perces 267
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