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23 In Carson City, Nevada, on a hot summer day in the 1880s, Dr. Simeon Lee treated an elderly Washoe man who had fallen face-down in a dusty street. Lee ruled the collapse a result of heat exhaustion. On his follow-up visit the next day, Lee found the man sitting between two women who were chanting rhythmically. Also in attendance was a boy Lee described as a “bright faced young full blooded Washoe lad of, perhaps 19.” The boy offered his own diagnosis for the collapse: witchcraft. He explained that “an enemy at Double Springs had blown poison into the sufferer although they were separated by twenty long miles.” When Dr. Lee asked who the victim was, the young man replied: “He is captain of all the Double Springs Washoe, all Carson Valley Washoes, all the Markleeville Washoes, all the Reno Washoes, Captain Jimmie.” In the Washoe world, even the most influential were susceptible to a witch’s power.1 The difference between Lee’s diagnosis and the boy’s exposes the gulf separating the Washoe world from mainstream America in the nineteenth century. This distance gradually narrowed as American cultural impositions altered the Washoes’ healing traditions and worldview. A Washoe individual interviewed in the 1950s noted the almost complete disappearance of Washoe shamans. He believed that diseases could be cured effectively with American medicine and Washoes no longer needed the “real powers” formerly cultivated and used by shamans.2 In the pre-American Washoe world, wegeléyu (power) permeated the universe. This autonomous force existed independently from living beings. Neither good nor bad, wegeléyu’s essence animated the living world. A select few Washoes, the dreamers and shamans, developed extraordinary skills when they tapped into wegeléyu’s constant flow.3 A clear distinction separated “curers” from shamans. Generally, Washoe t h r e e Real Powers 24 cave rock   women knew herbs and plants intimately and could prescribe cures for common ailments. Shamans, those who healed and those who used power for other purposes, could be male or female. They exercised power on a different level.4 Power could not be gained through vision quests or solitary pilgrimages . It came of its own accord, usually through dreams. The content of power dreams varied, but generally they included significant figures such as bears, eagles, deer, rattlesnakes, water beings, or apparitions. One shaman’s son, speaking in the 1950s, said that the dream could “take any form, a skeleton or an animal but you know it’s always the same thing . . . just taking different shapes.” George Snooks, son of Tom Snooks (who trained to become a shaman), said that power dreams adopted different shapes but emphasized that the dream “must have life.” Tom Snooks’ mentor, Mike Dick, considered power dreams that included animals or water beings to be “most important.” Dick explained unequivocally that power chose the person, not the other way around. “It depends on the spirit. If the spirit wants to help, you become a shaman.” The best-known Washoe shaman of the twentieth century, Henry Rupert, echoed Dick’s assertion that the dreamer has no choice in the matter, “The dream has to come to him—even though he wants it bad.” More recently Darrel Bender explained that power “comes to you, then you train. It is not something where you say, ‘Oh, I am going to be an Indian doctor or a medicine man,’ and start training. Washoe way is not that way—it comes to you.”5 Dreams also offered songs and procedural practices to potential doctors . Henry Rupert’s dreams taught him ancient songs of the loon and bear that he used in healing rites. Tom Snooks followed the instructions given in dreams. Eventually he received four or five songs, roughly one per year.6 The role of dreams in the acquisition of power is not solely a Washoe phenomenon. From the aboriginal dream time of Australia to the dreaming doctors of California, dreams have served Native communities around the world. The last of the Cache Creek Losel Pomo medicine people in California, Mabel Mckay, relied on dreams for curing and for her weaving designs. Mckay claimed that all guidance came from the spirit, which visited her in dreams. When asked her age when her dreams started, Mckay responded, “It didn’t have no start. It goes on.” With real powers   25 regard to her weaving Mabel said that the spirit showed her “everything. Each basket has a Dream.”7 Yuman...


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MARC Record
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