Soul Catcher, c. 1990 by Richard Lavalle, adopted Tlingit
Soul Catcher, c. 1990 by Richard Lavalle, adopted Tlingit bone, abalone inlay 7" long x 2" wide x 1.75" deep
Soul Catchers are among the most sacred objects created and used by the Haida, Tlingit and Tsimshian Nations of the Pacific Northwest Coast. The soulcatcher was worn as an amulet by a shaman, and critically important in their healing practice. Its use stems from the belief that when a soul is separated from a person’s physical body it can cause illness and damage. It is a shaman’s unique gift to find the person’s soul, capture it within the soulcatcher, and reunite it with its patient, resulting in healing and wholeness. The tool was designed so that the Shaman could suck in a wayward soul once it was found, and secure the spirit in the hollow tube by plugging the ends with cedar bark. Upon removing the cedar bark, the soul was blown back into its person, reuniting body and soul.
Soulcatchers were constructed of a bear femur, incised on one or both sides, and often ornamented with abalone shell. They were decorated with a wolf, land-otter or bear head at both ends, and sometimes an anthropomorphic face in the middle. This form may have represented the ability to shift shapes, or the mythological land-otter canoe, implying the ability to travel between the three realms: air/god realm, earth/human/animal realm , and water/spirit realm. The land-otter was the source of all shamanic power. Bears had powerful shamanic connotations among the people of the Northwest Coast.
Richard Lavalle has been a carver working in the tradition of the Northwest Coast Native Peoples for thirty-five years. He has been carving for the Tlingit for eight years. Rich is a Raven and his wife is a Killer Whale, and they are both Deishu Hit, Deisheetaan.
The George family adopted them into the Tlingit tribe in October 2000. Richard’s Tlingit name is Kut Daa Jaa Gu and his wife’s Tlingit name is Shawat Googh. They are authorized to wear symbols of the Raven Cave, two headed raven, raven, killer whale, bull head, sockeye salmon, wood worm, rat and North Star. They currently spend part of their time each year at their cabin on Killisnoo island which is part of the town of Angoon, Alaska.