Land Otter people and Tlingit shamans

Evelyn Elisabeth Wong
2010 unpublished
In the 18th century, the maritime fur trade on the Pacific Northwest coast not only brought changes concerning the native economy of the Tlingit but also altered the approach towards their shamanic spirits: Land otter people as the single most powerful supernatural beings in Tlingit universe and by far the most potent helping spirits of any Tlingit shaman underwent a radical revision. Land otter people had been regarded as mostly benevolent spiritual entities, yet this attitude changed
more » ... ly once the Tlingit got involved into the fur trade. Since the sea otter represented a highly coveted fur bearing animal, the skilled Tlingit hunters were able to make large profits. However, this new prosperity didn't come without psychological implications: Since Tlingit belief made no distinction between land otter people as spiritual beings and their biological counterparts (otters), the killing of otters – as sacrosanct and sacred shamanic spirits – represented a breach of taboo. Thus the consequent conflict in native collective unconscious – as to observe the integrity of the sacred otter and to partake in the new wealth – resulted in an evolving hostile approach towards land otter people. From now on they were seen as extremely malevolent creatures that could cause mental distress and actual maladies. Moreover, their ability to transform from animal to human form at will, combined with their eagerness to metamorphose humans into their own kind, raised fear and terror among the Tlingit. As a consequence, hunting and killing of otter was for the Tlingit now easy to achieve without remorse.
doi:10.25365/thesis.11490 fatcat:wnixsza3q5fobguqbq4jah5btu