Religious Beliefs. The Nootka believed in supernatural forces, which they tried to control with public or private Rituals. Nootka rituals sought to secure good luck with nature, as in their magical attempts to control the weather. Still other rituals tried to cure sickness. The Nootka conception of the supernatural did not include gods and was in general vague and unsystematic. Nootkans believed in numerous spirits, some malevolent, others not. Men acquired supernatural powers by undertaking vision quests, during which time they came into face-to-face contact with a spirit. That spirit then became a man's ally, or spirit-helper, and bestowed upon him special powers and abilities. Successful whalers, warriors, and fishermen, among others, had supernatural helpers. The traditional religion has been modified by the decades of European-American contact, and today few Nootka follow traditional beliefs.
Religious Practitioners. Shamans, the most powerful Supernatural practitioners, acquired their special powers to cure illnesses during a vision quest.
Ceremonies. The Nootkans' main ceremony was the Dancing Society (the English translation of the word for it was "The Shamans," although initiation into it was not restricted only to shamans) ; the performance of the Dancing Society was called the Wolf Dance because dancers wore wolf masks. Feasts and potlatches were also performed. Four main groups of people attended Nootka potlatches: the host/giver, the people in whose honor the potlatch was given, the guests who attended and witnessed the transfer of rights, and the groups who helped the host by contributing goods and Services. The Nootka always potlatched to their relatives. After a cash economy had been established, many potlatch gifts were European (dressers, woven blankets, sewing machines). In traditional days, goods were native (canoes, cured animal skins, large quantities of food). During a potlatch, the social status of the host was elevated, and rights and privileges were transferred, often to children. Potlatch guests publicly witnessed and confirmed the validity of those changes. High-ranking chiefs possessed numerous titles, prerogatives, and privileges, and held many potlatches. Acculturation has altered the social role and symbolism of the potlatch, with today's feasts and dances only reminiscent of the great traditional potlatches. Intertribal dances have become a meaningful social event as well as a means of maintaining contact between the Nootka and non-Nootka neighbors.
Arts. The best known Nootka art is their woven conical hat displaying whale-hunting scenes. The distinctive Nootka wood sculpture was the giant figure carved into longhouse support posts. Ceremonial masks carved without the color and fantasy of other Northwest Coast cultures were a hallmark of Nootka art. The Nootka also excelled at carving redcedar canoes; canoe carvers were thought to be inspired by a woodpecker spirit-helper. The accomplishments of a carver were publicly recognized at feasts and potlatches. Nootkans also transformed themselves into objects of symbolic expression. Men painted their faces with colors, including black, Ted, white, and brown; they pierced their ears, often several times, and wore earpieces of abalone shell, bone, quills, shells, or pieces of copper; and they wore their hair in many styles, including pulled to the back of the head and tied English-style. Men also wore woven hats, bracelets, and anklets.
Medicine. Cuts and bruises were treated with home Remedies. Serious illnesses were treated by shamans.
Death and Afterlife. The Nootka feared the dead, and handling a corpse was taken seriously. They believed that the dead had some power over whales. A corpse was placed into a wooden box and taken to a burial place distant from their villages.