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UBC Theses and Dissertations

The Tlingit land otter complex : coherence in the social and shamanic order Barazzuol, Richard A.


This thesis deals with Tlingit notions about death, spirits, land otters and shamans. The linkage between these categories and their relationship to the social order are explored by examining Tlingit mythology. Particular myths are analyzed that embody the concepts and beliefs which the Tlingit used to deal with the unanswerable question: What happens when someone dies? Socially, there was a set pattern of ritual practices and a series of memorial feasts to dispense with the body and spirit of someone who died a normal death. Yet, there was an anomalous situation associated with death by drowning or being lost in the woods. The Tlingit indicated that people who died in this manner were taken by land otter spirits and could become shamans if certain conditions were met. This thesis contends that this explanatory scenario was an important aspect of Tlingit cosmology, since it provided a means of illustrating the source of shamanic power, and also of how that power was related to the social aspects of Tlingit culture. The myths dealing with land otter possession offer information about how shamanic power was attained and also provide a glimpse into the importance of the role of the Tlingit shaman as a mediator between the social and the spiritual domains.

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