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Tsimshian Carved Soul Catcher

carved of bone; open-mouthed wolves are separated by a central human figure; remnants of red pigment; pierced through for attachment
overall length 8.25 in. x diameter 2 in.
early 19th century

Soul Catchers are an important subcategory of amulets.  Hollow cylinders that are carved in relief and pierced through for suspensions, almost all are made of bone, which is often said to be the femur of a bear.  Those made of bone are now thought to have been made only by the Tsimshian (Holm, 1983, p. 119, no. 203), but were used by the Tlingit, Haida, and Bella Bella as well....

Shamans, who wore them suspended from their necks, used them to recover souls that had left a patient's body and were thus causing illness.  With the aid of chanting and trances, a shaman could locate a soul, induce it to enter the container, hold it there by inserting cedar bark plugs, and finally return it to the host to effect a cure....

Each end of a soul catcher is carved with an open-mouthed animal that Holm (1983, p. 119, no. 202) suggests could represent a wolf, whale, or bear.  In the center is often a human figure, sometimes with hands, arms, or the entire body shown in a splayed pose.... The double-headed monster is important to Northwest Coast mythology as a being that could change shape and move through the realms of air, water, and earth (see Guedon, 1984b, p. 208). Guedon (ibid., p. 202) believes the inspiration for this motif may have been the otter canoe, "often described as having a mouth at each end.... This is one of the indications that the so-called soul-catcher could indeed be a representation of the otter-canoe."  She (ibid.) also mentions the use of such a canoe by other shamans as they were "traveling to look for the lost soul of a patient or even catching and swallowing the soul." Tangible Visions (Wardwell 2009: 196-206).

Provenance:Purchased from an estate of a prominent and historic Long Island, New York family.

Estimate: $40,000 - $60,000
Price Realized Including Buyer's Premium
$68,750
04/16/2021

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