Religious Beliefs. All the Pomo believed in a creator who made the world. Most equated this creator with Coyote, the animal and the mythological trickster. Some Eastern Pomo gave the creator a different name, separating him from the other roles of Coyote. All believed that there was a time in the distant past when animals could speak and had other human as well as animal attributes. Then all creatures changed to their present forms. Supernatural forces abided in everything; specific named supernatural beings could appear to one who broke a rule, such as a childbirth or menstrual taboo on a woman or her husband, and by fright cause coma and death. In the early historical period, the Pomo were performing a Kuksu ceremony, in which dancers impersonated certain spirits. In 1871, the Ghost Dance swept in from Nevada across northern California, predicting the return of the dead and the elimination of White people. This reached the Pomo in 1872 in a modification called the Earth Lodge Cult, which stressed a destruction of the world from which the faithful could be protected by gathering in subterranean lodges. Pomo from as far away as the Kashaya streamed into the Clear Lake region to await this event. When the end did not come, the participants suffered great hardship and starvation, not being prepared for life to go on. A development, known as the Bole-Maru, abandoned the belief in imminent catastrophe and stressed belief in an afterlife and a supreme being. Local dreamers and prophets among the various Pomo groups have guided further evolution, even to this day. Most Pomo now belong to some Christian church, but many still fear the consequences of breaking old restrictions.
Religious Practitioners. Shamans may conduct Ceremonies and preach and prophesy or they may doctor. They may specialize in one function or the other, or do both. In the past, they may have inherited the position, but now the powers are usually received through dream inspiration plus apprenticeship. It is said that before 1870 most shamans were men, but now women predominate.
Ceremonies. Ceremonies were held for certain annual occasions. The Kashaya still hold some of these: in May the strawberry festival for the blessing of the first fruits of the year; in the fall an acorn festival; in summer four nights of sacred dances ending with a feast on the Fourth of July; and in winter possibly another dance. At any time a feast might be pledged, conditional on a sick family member recovering, and then the pledge is carried out by the kin group. The Pomo had a great variety of amusements, games, and sports. One rough team sport that could involve an entire village was a game similar to lacrosse. But, the game in which they took the most passionate interest was that called the hand game (it involves guessing which hand of the opponent holds a marked bone). This they could play all night and would often wager all their possessions on its outcome.
Arts. Pomo baskets are considered by many to be the finest in the world. They are admired for the great variety of weaves and styles; the delicacy, evenness, and tightness of the stitching; and the artistry of the design. Most spectacular is the sun basket whose surface pattern is made of feathers of different natural colors. The art form still lives and appears to be expanding; the finer work sells for very high prices. In the past century the women have vied in producing the largest baskets (which take many years to complete) and the smallest (which approach pinhead size). The art of singing is well developed for almost any occasion: ceremonial dancing, blessing, doctoring, warding off evil, bringing good luck in the harvest, hunting, attracting a mate, gambling, and so on. Two-part singing is common: one sings the melody while another, called the "rock," keeps the rhythm vocally. Rhythm was also kept with a split-stick rattle, a foot drum, and a two-toned whistle. Tattooing of both the face and body were formerly common, but now the type and frequency of tattoos are no more than among the rest of the populace.
Medicine. Minor physical ailments like rashes, boils, sore eyes, diarrhea, constipation, or indigestion are often treated herbally by poultices or infusions of various plants and plant parts. For obvious physical injuries and recognized diseases, a White doctor is now usually consulted. Other ailments of unobvious origin might be attributed to the consequences of breaking some taboo or to poisoning (more magical than chemical) by enemies. A shaman, locally called an Indian doctor, is often successful in treating the latter problems by singing powerful songs, by the laying on of hands, or by sucking out the disease or poison. Indian doctors still practice their profession and are sometimes called in by local White people for relief of chronic ailments not helped by modern medicine.
Death and Afterlife. The deceased were formerly cremated, but about 1870 a shift was made to burial. Mourners would bring gifts (beads, baskets, robes), some specifically designated to be burned with the dead, some to be distributed later; the bereaved family would later return an equivalent in value. The house and personal property of the deceased were also burned, lest the ghost linger around the objects. The Supernatural paraphernalia of a doctor, however, might be turned over to a successor apprentice. One year after the Funeral, the bones of the deceased were dug up and burned again, along with more gifts, thus terminating the period of mourning. Even now, after the shift to burial, valuable gifts may be thrown into the grave. All the Pomo believed in an afterworld. It was important to have a sacred Indian name, bestowed from the family's ancestral stock (from either the maternal or paternal side, or from both), to announce on reaching the afterworld so that ancestors who were already there could greet the newly arrived family member.