Enter the Shaman

Hamatsa ShamanNow, don’t think I’m gonna get all New Agey on you. Rather, I’m getting old-timey with a close look at the shamanistic culture that existed in the Pacific Northwest during the millennia since the last Ice Age, and still exists today.

The image is a portrait of a Hamatsa Cannibal Shaman photographed by the legendary cameraman Edward S. Curtis at the beginning of the last century on Vancouver Island. He’s taking part in a ceremony whose purpose was to initiate young folks into the rituals of the Cannibal Bird Society. The legendary ethnographer, Franz Boas described the cult as a central part of the old Kwakiutl culture.

Now, there is some doubt as to whether these guys ate human flesh or not, but the legendary cannibal birds were said to consume it whenever they could get it.

I’ll be discussing this, and other interesting shamanistic tidbits from Northwest Native American culture at the Paranormal Fair, next Sunday, April 24, at the Norwescon science fiction convention in SeaTac, Washington. You might consider dropping by my display table to chat about things shamanistic, if it isn’t too far to travel. If you can’t travel that far, consider doing what the ancient shamans of Seattle’s Duwamish Tribe did. They constructed a “Spirit Canoe” with sacred cedar planks and performed a seance-like ritual to travel to the land of dead spirits and retrieve lost souls, which they then brought back to their rightful owners, their sick patients.

I hope to see you, or at least your disembodied emanation, there.

About Tom Hopp

Thomas P Hopp is a scientist and author living in Seattle. He writes medical thrillers, natural disaster novels, and the Dinosaur Wars science fiction series.
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3 Responses to Enter the Shaman

  1. j newell says:

    Haber-Bosch Metabolisms and Shamanistic Trances

    What a slender thread of NITROGEN
    De-twined from out of the very sky
    Sustains us when together we dine
    on Alchemy.

    Fixed by symbiotic nodule root systems
    And lightening split to ground
    When the golden bird guano was gone
    It was in short supply.


    Scaled up from high-pressure-high-heat catalytic
    Bench top experimentation to a factory of
    Ammonia tonnage output it fuels the
    Green-grain-growth of worldwide farmers’ field
    Production sustaining population increase.


    Once upon a hideous time it was plant-light
    Transubstantiated fabricating the next big
    Syn-fuel facilitating a megalomaniacal
    Myth-sick war machinery.

    Taking our daily bread we pick between
    Pathways in the present tense
    And sensitive future scenarios.

    When push comes to the big shove
    Will we hate enough again to manifest
    Death wish mentalities fueled on ignorance
    Forgetting our murderous history?

    Or with optimistic introspection finesse a better Life?

    Considering the actual
    We might take our time deciding mindful of the counter-factual
    “What’s next, Big Sky?”

    Ritualistc cannibalism, taking bread and wine, is gruesome. If only it were only grain and grape, heuristic and simply enjoyable.

    I hope you draw a crowd on Sunday.


    • Tom Hopp says:

      Janice, your notes are always food for thought and very nice poetry. People past, people present, people future: Northwest Native shamans dealt with all and transformed one into the other if the old stories can be believed. As for me, I’m the scientist and lifelong student, so your words provoke a comfortable bemusement with a truly ancient truth. Once upon a time, long before the transformations you and I allude to, this green home now called Seattle lay beneath a hundred million tons of glacier and not one twig of life was here. Just mud, rock and ice. It seems a garden of delight now by comparison.

  2. j newell says:

    Not a twig? That icescape sounds too cool for comfort except it structured the topography we love to see today.

    I trust you to find one beautiful form before the day is over.


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