An Introduction to Mythology
Page: 135Skasa-it (Robin) is Blue Jay's elder brother, and his principal occupation is making sententious comments on the mischievous acts of his relative. The Skunk, Panther, Raven, and Crow are similar figures. That most of these were anthropomorphic in shape—probably having animals' or birds' heads upon men's bodies—is proved not only by the protean facility with which they change their shapes, but by a passage in the myth of Anektcxolemix, mentioning "a person who came to the fire with a very sharp beak, and began to cut meat"; and another 'person' splits logs for firewood with his beak. Such ideas are notoriously incomprehensible to those unfamiliar with the distorted appearance of Nature—due to an intense familiarity with and nearness to her—in the savage mind.
Evil spirits are many and various. The most terrible appears to be the insatiable Glutton, who devours everything in a house, and when the meat supply comes to an end kills and eats the occupants. In the myth of Okulam he pursues five brothers, after eating all their meat, and devours them one by one, except the youngest, who escapes by the good offices of the Thunderer, Ikenuwakcom, a being of the nature of a thunder-god, and marries his daughter.
Besides being reckoned as deities of zoomorphic or sometimes anthropomorphic type, Blue Jay, Italapas, and the others[Pg 303] may be regarded as hero-gods or culture-heroes, although not always prompted by the highest motives in their activities. They are markedly egotistical, every action being dictated by a desire to prove superior in force and cunning to the foe. To overcome difficulties by craft is the delight of the savage, and those gods who are most skilled in such methods he honours most. In the myths of Blue Jay and his sister Ioi, Blue Jay repeatedly scores against his adversaries, but in the end he is punished himself, and it is difficult to say whether or not the world was any the wiser or better for his efforts. The idea of good accomplished is a purely relative one in the savage mind, and cannot be appreciated to any extent by uncivilized persons.
The shamans of the Chinooks were a medico-religious fraternity, the members of which worked individually, as a general rule, but sometimes in concert. Their methods were much the same as those of the medicine-men of other Indian tribes in a similar state of belief, but were differentiated from them by various thaumaturgical practices which they made use of in their medical duties. These were usually undertaken by three shamans acting in concert for the purpose of rescuing the 'astral body' of a sick patient from the Land of Spirits. The three shamans who undertook the search for the sick man's spiritual body threw themselves into a state of clairvoyance; their souls, temporarily detached from their bodies, then followed the spiritual track of the sick man's soul. The soul of the shaman with a strong guardian spirit was placed first, the next in degree last, and that of the priest with the weakest guardian spirit in the middle. When the trail of the sick man's soul foreshadowed danger or the proximity of any supernatural evil, the soul of the foremost shaman sang a magical chant to ward it off; and if a danger approached from behind, the shaman in the rear did likewise. The soul was usually thought to be reached about the time of the rising of the morning star. If possible, it was laid hands on and brought back, after a sojourn of one or perhaps two nights in the regions of the supernatural. The shamans next replaced the soul in the body of their patient, who forthwith recovered. Should the soul of[Pg 304] a sick person take the trail to the left, the pursuing shamans would say, "He will die"; whereas, if it took a trail toward the right, they would say, "We shall cure him."