Religious Beliefs. Because Russian contact quickly devastated much of Aleut culture, we know relatively little about the group's traditional religion. It was animistic, with spirits of humans, animals, and natural entities requiring placation. Russian Orthodoxy was introduced by the early Russian fur hunters, and the first missionaries arrived at the end of the eighteenth century. By the mid-1800s, Russian Orthodoxy had likely replaced virtually all the precontact Aleut religion.
Religious Practitioners. Shamans were the aboriginal specialists in dealing with the supernatural. They cured the sick, foretold the future, brought success in hunting and warfare, and performed other similar tasks. With Russian Orthodoxy came priests, though from the beginning the church emphasized native involvement and leadership, and to this day there has been a large proportion of Aleuts educated and trained as priests. Today, most Aleuts are members of the Russian Orthodox church.
Ceremonies. Prior to contact, Aleut ceremonies were likely held in the winter. Through singing, dancing, drumming, and wearing masks, the people entertained themselves and honored deceased relatives. Social rank was likely bolstered through bestowal of gifts. Today, Aleut ceremonies are those of the Russian Orthodox church.
Arts. Artistic expression took many forms, among them singing, dancing, storytelling, and carving in wood, ivory, and bone. Except for grass baskets made for sale by some Aleut women, few traditional arts survive today.
Medicine. Traditional Aleut medical knowledge was extensive. Aleuts were aware of the similarities of human anatomy to that of sea mammals, and they sometimes autopsied their dead to determine the cause of death. Sickness was treated in various spiritual and practical ways, including forms of acupuncture and bloodletting. By the mid-1800s, aboriginal spiritual aspects of healing were lost. Today, Aleuts can obtain limited medical care in their home communities or obtain full care by traveling to larger cities.
Death and Afterlife. Aleuts believed that death stemmed from both natural and supernatural causes. The dead were treated in a range of ways, including mummification and cave burial of high-ranking men, women, and children, burial in special stone and wooden burial structures, and interment in small holes in the ground adjacent to habitations. Spirits of deceased individuals continued to "live," although details of any notion of an afterlife or of reincarnation are scanty.