Soul Catchers

by MSO
Double headed animal heads carved out of the femur of a black bear's femur bone and used to catch souls loose in the spirit world.

Made from the femur of black or grizzly bears, soul catchers were used to capture souls set loose in the spirit world.

When herbal remedies had no effect on curing an illness, shamans of the Tsimshian, Haida, Heiltsuk, and Tlingit tribes of the Pacific Northwest Coast of British Columbia and Alaska were called in because it was believed the person’s soul was lost during dream travels, frightened out of the body or stolen through sorcery. If there was no soul in the body, the body was empty and wouldn’t be able to heal let alone live. A shaman was hired and would use a soul catcher as a means of restoring the lost soul and curing the illness. A shaman would visit a sick person and wear a soul catcher around his neck. The amulets were made of a hollowed out piece of a black or grizzly bear’s femur. It was open at both ends and carved into symmetrical shapes of a profile of an animal’s head on each end. Only the shaman or master carver would know the true identity of the animal depicted. The open ends were primarily carved as open mouths and often lined with pieces of abalone shell which represented teeth.

When a soul became known as a “lost soul” it was thought to be in the “Other World” which was a dangerous supernatural realm of loose spirits and souls. The shaman would go into a trance and search out the person’s soul, wearing the soul-catcher around his neck as a necklace. He would travel to the spirit world and upon locating the errant soul, the shaman would suck the soul into the soul-catcher and plug the ends up with cedar shavings to keep it from escaping again. Once the soul was contained, he would come out of his trance, sing a power song to make the soul strong again, remove both plugs and blow the soul back into the sick person generally in the region of the solar plexus. In other uses soul catchers could also be used to suck the sickness out of a person, trap it and then destroy the sickness by blowing it out of the soul catcher into a fire.

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