The striking accoutrements of shamanism give us a rare window into the deep past of humanity and an insight into one of the world’s oldest religions. Shamanism goes back to the Ice Age. It spread with migrating ancient settlers around the remote lands of the north Pacific, where the practice survived into the early 20th century.
Shamans communicated with the spirits, supplicating them for success in hunting, healing and divination, to help humans survive in the harsh northern lands. Clothing and regalia varied as cultures did, but always embodied the shaman’s mystery and power. Without this paraphernalia, he – more rarely she – could neither establish authority among humans nor venture safely into the spirit world. Elaborate, heavy costumes featured rare and valuable elements of metal, ivory and wood. Fantastical masks, drums, amulets, staffs, fringed headdresses, coats and gloves were the tools, armour and weapons of the shaman, requiring a lifetime of training to wield.
In these richly illustrated pages, Patricia Rieff Anawalt explores the diverse shamanic regalia and traditions of the lands of the Far North: Siberia; the Arctic and Alaska; and the Northwest Coast of British Colombia. These strange and often beautiful objects have inspired Western scholars, artists and sculptors, including the Surrealists, and the artifacts still speak to us today of humanity’s multivalent connections to the natural world.