Soul Catcher Tsimshian c. 1870 Bear femur, abalone shell, hide cordage 6 5/8” Long "Soul Catcher" is the name applied to a type of shamanic amulet typically in the form of a tube with slightly flaring ends adorned with symmetrical relief-carvings representing a shaman’s clan crest and sometimes, his spiritual helpers. Soul catchers reflect the best of the conventions and traditions of the Northwest Coast two-dimensional design system. They were often carved by master artists or by the shamans themselves, who may or may not have been taught the detailed conventions of the Northern Coast art form, rather like folk art. The delicacy of the carving of this piece and its execution strongly suggest the work of a professional carver who worked under the direction of a shaman. Soul catchers were frequently embellished with iridescent abalone shell pieces inlaid into the bone surface to represent teeth and to highlight design elements. A profile animal head, a common theme, usually adorned each end, suggestive of wolves or sea lions, though only the carver would have known its intended identities. At the center of this soul catcher, a humanoid bear cub crouches boldly with an animated face and possibly represents one of the shaman-owner’s helping spirits, known as yeik in the Tlinglit language. A soul catcher would be worn around the neck and was employed in a spiritual journey of soul recovery. Illness or other forms of imbalance were attributed to spirit intervention or possession and it was the job of the shaman to travel to the spirit world to recover the ‘lost soul’ of his patient. The amulet was used to contain the captured soul within it, plugged in place with wads of shredded cedar bark or other material, and used to return the lost soul to the living world and its rightful owner. The great majority of soul catchers carved of bone had Tsimshian-speaking people as their source, but examples collected among the Haida and Tlinglit also exist and are often made of such materials as mountain goat horn or wood.