Slavey - Religion and Expressive Culture



Religious Beliefs. Slavey religious beliefs were dominated by concepts of a mythological past, a diffuse power inherent to the world and everything in it, and animal spirits. By reference to the mythological past, people were able to explain many features of the contemporary world. The presence of inherently dangerous, but morally neutral power was also used to explain (and to exert influence over) phenomena in the world. Animal or "medicine" spirits occupied the traditional Slavey universe. Today, the Christian God and other Western supernaturals are also recognized. Individuals could obtain power from animal spirits.

Religious Practitioners. Shamans (usually, but not always men) dreamed and came to "know" about things. Through dreaming they acquired power, which was used for curing and for success at various subsistence activities such as hunting. Acquired power might also be used negatively. Shamanistic techniques included singing, dancing, sucking, dreaming, and incantating. Knowledge of an animal spirit might necessitate an eating taboo.

Ceremonies. Most Slavey ceremonies were relatively informal and not calendrical. Dancing and feasting to celebrate successful hunts or the meeting of groups were common. Girls were secluded at menses and a boy's first kill was celebrated.

Medicine. Curing was primarily the domain of the Slavey shaman. Supernatural techniques predominated, but roots, berries, spruce gum, other plants, and animal products were employed.

Death and Afterlife. For traditional Slavey, death was accompanied by the loss of a "shadow," but further information about this or about concepts of an afterlife is difficult to obtain. Corpses were either placed in trees or buried in the ground. Modern conceptions of death and afterlife are dominated by Christian beliefs.


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