Western Shoshone - Religion and Expressive Culture

Religious Beliefs. Western Shoshone religion was animistic. Supernatural powers were acquired through dream and vision experiences.

Religious Practitioners. Steward noted three types of shamans: general curers, curers of specific sicknesses, and those who used their abilities for their own benefit only. Both men and women could become shamans, but only men practiced so far as is known. Some groups denied the presence of shamans. Shamans were also used for help in the hunt—for example, an antelope shaman capturing the souls of antelope through dreams and charming them into corrals for slaughter.

Medicine. Injuries and sicknesses that were not thought to be caused by supernaturals were treated with a very large riety of herbal remedies (reaching into the hundreds of Different plant medicines). Sicknesses caused by supernatural agencies were cured by shamans, often by sucking out offending objects or blood. An unsuccessful shaman sometimes Returned the fee. Shamans were sometimes killed for refusing aid.

Death and Afterlife. Customs at death were variable. Sometimes bodies were buried in caves, rock slides, or talus slopes; at other times the bodies were cremated, abandoned, or burned in their dwellings. Some groups had an annual mourning ceremony; others cut their hair and abstained from remarriage for a time. In times of great food scarcity, the aged and infirm were sometimes abandoned. The ghost was believed to leave the body at death and return to the Land of the Coyote, and was feared by some groups.


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Ryan Reese
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Apr 29, 2013 @ 4:16 pm
Why is the religion of the Shoshone referred to in the past tense? It is not extinct, and continues to exist in various forms in the Wind River Reservation.

The information is general to the point of inaccuracy. The information on the Shoshone afterlife misses the point of Shoshone religion. The Shoshone hold few solid claims about an afterlife, and rather focus more on the effects of the supernatural on the living rather than the dead. This is not to say that their burials are very important indicators of beliefs in regards to spirits, but the amount of time spent on the afterlife is undue.

The lack of mention of vision quests is concerning, seeing that the Shoshone use vision quests and dreams as the primary method of learning of the supernatural, much more so than ritual. Only in the Pueblo culture group are visions not used as the primary method of learning of the supernatural.

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