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Power + Beauty in Healing: Exploring themes of Shamanism 2020

Online exhibition April 25th through to August 31st, 2020

INSPIRED by the dedication and resilience of the doctors, nurses, caregivers, family and friends who are committed to serving the people presently suffering globally, this exhibition delves into the ancient Shamanistic practices of healing in their honour.

Our fascination with Shaman, both male and female, originates from their powerful connection to healing by way of extraordinary spiritual experiences that expand a sense of self in relationship to the human, natural, and supernatural worlds.

In Northwest Coast culture, the Shaman held a central role in society and was either a person of high-ranking stature or Chief within the village.  Similarly in Inuit culture, the Angakkuq was a wise and discerning individual who went through a process of becoming a Shaman and developed the ability to visualize and hear things unattainable to others.

The community considered Shaman a specialist in phenomenal knowledge, which he gained by accessing the spirit world.  Through an altered state of consciousness, he would go into a trance-like state to journey through the spirit world and bring back aid to the community.

This transformational form of ecstasy could be induced and achieved through a rhythmic combination of chanting, singing, or drumming, and would lead the Shaman into becoming an entity necessary to communicate with the spirits causing the illness.

While Shaman performed several duties, their main task was to heal people who were ill.  It was believed that Shaman possessed the ability to cure individuals from their illness brought about by undesirable spirit possession and, more importantly, to protect the entire community.

To facilitate the healing process, Northwest Coast Shaman would carry out ritualistic ceremonies and call upon their spirit helpers, such as Frog, Hummingbird, Otter, Dogfish, Halibut, Octopus, Loon, Bear, or Owl, to assist them.  As well, they could call upon the celestial being of the Moon as a spirit guide due to its transformative capabilities.  Amongst the Inuit people, most any animal could be considered as a spirit helper.

These culturally indigenous creatures were considered messengers of spirits, whether good or evil.  They often acted as guides, influencers, or protectors to the Shaman during their journeys together throughout the supernatural world.  At times, they could transform to embody spirits and appear to the seer to take on human-like qualities.  Shaman could placate the malevolent forces inherent in animals and accentuate their benevolent qualities for curative purposes.

Inuit Shaman would drum and call upon the helping spirits, tuurngaq, which could be animate or inanimate objects living or dead, and could be kind human-like spirits or ambivalent animal-like spirits. Often a Shaman would change an ill person’s name to one that would become a source of strength and power to heal them.  To rid children of their fears, Aarnguat or amulets, were given to them to wear.

Additionally, there were various ceremonial ‘tools’ used by Northwest Coast Shaman including drums, rattles, masks, soul catchers, amulets/charms, necklaces, clubs, headdresses, aprons and bearskin robes.  These special tools were kept secret and hidden in bentwood boxes and brought out only for the use of Shamanistic practices.

Throughout the centuries, the Shaman’s seeking of knowledge has represented an endowment of gifts and wisdom to humankind.  By virtue of their visionary experiences, they served as a means to instill values within a culture to achieve social organization and personal power.

Today, it’s essential that shamanistic icons exist in First Nations art as it expresses an act of communication that is paramount to the sharing of knowledge for the betterment of society.

At this particular moment in time, while physical, emotional and mental burdens continue to take their toll on all of us, we are uplifted and comforted by those healers who have sacrificed themselves for the greater good.

First Shaman Story as told by Stan Greene (Coast Salish Artist)

Long ago, there lived a husband and wife. One day the wife grew ill and fell into a very deep sleep from which she never awoke. Her husband, struck with immense grief, cried continuously and felt as if he did not want to live, but rather wished to join his wife.

One day, the husband ran out of the Longhouse and when he awoke, he discovered that he had ended up at the foot of a mountain. He then began to cry out to the Creator, “Why did you take my wife. Take me instead.” He cried so intensely that he became weary and fell asleep. When he awoke, he overheard a slight voice, which happened to be a Frog. At first he thought he was [having visions], but then he realized it was the Frog speaking to him.

As the Frog began to convince the husband to head home to help his wife, he suddenly transformed into a grizzly Bear that towered over him. “Why do you not believe me!” exclaimed the Frog; now a Bear, “Go home and help your wife!” he exclaimed further. As the man looked at the Bear’s face, he noticed his own reflection. The Bear then instructed the man on the methods of performing specific healing. After following the Bear’s exact instructions, the husband succeeded in reviving his wife. Hence, he became the First Shaman of the land.

































Photo Credits: 1. Northwest Coast Male & Female Shaman; 2. Tlingit Shaman (Case & Draper, Courtesy of Library of Congress); 3. Inuit Shaman; 4. Inuit Shaman (photographed by Edward Curtis)

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