Religious Beliefs. Prayers and ritual manipulation of Spiritual powers believed to be invested in nature were the active instruments of Washoe religion and were deemed essential to any successful human endeavor. Nature must be propitiated to ensure its bounty and goodwill. All natural phenomena were thought to be imbued with sentient spirit power. Animals in particular were personified as autochthons in myths of geologic and human origins. Spirits of the dead were feared, and there is little evidence that notions of a supreme being existed prior to the historic period. The modern Washoe retain many of these beliefs and the practices associated with them. Some have been participants in the Native American church while the Assembly of God and the Baptist church have attracted others.
Religious Practitioners. In former times, the shamans were the principal specialists in the use of magical powers for rites of diagnosis, curing, and divination. Their skills also might be exerted to defend against the hostile powers of Others or to destroy one's enemies. There were many other Individuals acknowledged to derive their abilities from tutelary Relationships with specific powers of nature, especially those persons exhibiting exceptional skill in subsistence, Ceremonial, medicinal, or martial activities, but they did not command the degree of obeisance afforded the shamans. In the 1930s and 1940s the shamans had obtained such a powerful hold among the Washoe that they were finally denounced by an irate community for conspiracy to defraud and for their exorbitant fees. This movement was led by the new local Native American church which was itself under attack by many White as well as Washoe citizens for its use of peyote as a sacrament. Nevertheless, the control of the shamans was weakened and, in recent times, none is acknowledged in the area. Christian ministers, itinerant preachers, and a few remaining roadchiefs of the Native American church continue to provide religious guidance, while Western medical practitioners and some native herbalists administer to the ailing.
Ceremonies. Important annual ceremonies involving large numbers of people took place at the first harvest in the Pinenut Range, in the easternmost extension of the acorn oak groves near Honey Lake, and at the locations of major fish runs associated with the rivers and lakes of the region. A more localized, but equally important rite was the celebration of the commencement of menses by a girl's family and friends. Other special rites also took place at the birth of a child, boy's puberty, marriage, and death. Many of these observances continue today in diminished and variant forms among some families.
Arts. Most expressions of aboriginal artistry disappeared early in the historic period. These included ornament in shell, bone, and seed; distinctive styles of body painting and tattooing; feathered headdresses; decorative skin and fur accessories; and dyed and woven fibers. There was also an extensive repertoire of songs, tales, and legends, very little of which has been retained. The major surviving art has been the exceptionally fine basketry that became internationally renowned in the early twentieth century through the work of the famous Datsolalee and a number of other expert weavers. Elaborate woven cradles still are constructed for infants, and fancy beadwork and some baskets are made for sale.
Medicine. Illness was attributed to the intrusion of alien objects, offended supernatural agencies, sorcery, or bad feeling. A wide range of herbal and mineral substances was employed in treatment by shamans and various categories of curers endowed with special derived powers. Modern Washoe rely mainly on Western medical facilities, but many also utilize traditional knowledge of herbs and customary practices passed down through elder family members.
Death and Afterlife. Except for old age and chronic infirmity, death was seldom attributed to natural causes. Thus, the occasion of a death was fraught with concern for the safety of the living: every effort must be made to protect the immediate family from whatever malevolent forces might be at work. The spirit of the deceased must be pacified by a period of public mourning and prayers beseeching it to leave the area swiftly and without rancor. Burials in a remote place or cremation were the most common. The personal belongings of the deceased were interred or burned with the body. There was a prohibition against speaking the name of the deceased in the presence of close relatives, for this might call the spirit. Ideas of an afterlife were ambiguous: recorded lore suggests variously that the dead live underground, that some are reluctant to leave the area where they died and wander aimlessly about doing inadvertent or purposeful harm, or that there is a land to the south where spirits of the dead reside. The cosmological beliefs of the modern Washoe are generally similar to those of the American society of which they are now a part but also are influenced by the spread of pan-Indian Philosophical concepts among Native American communities. Funerals are of major importance, and though they are usually conducted in accordance with the contemporary rites of local Christian churches, traditional prayers and funeral customs are often observed as well.