Wiyot - Religion and Expressive Culture

Religious Beliefs. The Wiyot shared with other northern California groups beliefs about creation and culture heroes, although they lacked the latter's belief in a pre-human race. In addition, they had a conception of a supreme deity, "The Above Old Man," and a Noah myth, both without parallel in the Northwest, although the supreme creator belief is found in central California. Powers or guardian spirits allegedly could be heard—that is, sucking healers could be told by the spirit what caused the illness or where the poison objects were located in the body. Ghosts, souls of the dead, were thought to be audible and visible.

Religious Practitioners. Shamans or curers (probably mostly women) were distinguished from priests (men) who directed ceremonies.

Ceremonies. World renewal rites, of much importance elsewhere in northwestern California, were practiced only irregularly by the Wiyot. They did not hold the associated White Deer Dance at all, although the Jumping Dance was performed.

Arts. Apart from the aesthetic expressions described above under Industrial Arts, singing and dancing, especially Ceremonial dancing, along with storytelling, were the only other notable art forms. Ceremonial activities were not as flamboyant as those of the neighboring Yurok.

Medicine. Although detailed ethnobotanical information is lacking, it is likely that the Wiyot, like their neighbors, used a wide range of medicinal herbs in the treatment of common maladies. As disease was believed to be caused by the intrusion of poison objects, soul loss, or violation of a taboo, Serious illnesses required treatment by sucking with or without herbs.

Death and Afterlife. The corpse was carried on a plank or pole stretcher out through the door of the house to a cemetery outside the village. It was buried in a plank-lined grave along with money and valuables. Houses of the deceased were purified with tobacco or other burning vegetation, and taboos were observed by undertakers, spouses, and blood relatives for five days. Ghosts were believed "to go East, five days after burial and good and bad had different destinations." Ghosts of some "bad" were thought to stay on earth.

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