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The Steven Michaan Collection of North American Tribal Art : The Art of the Spirit World : Northwest Coast
Shaman’s Amulet
Mountain Goat Horn, 3⅞" Length, c.1880
Tlingit Shaman's Horn Amulet

Amulets were shamanic talismans, carved of bone, ivory, and sometimes horn, as is the case for this unusual example.

Mammalian ears, four legs and long stout tail suggest that this amulet represents one of a shaman’s universal helper spirits, an otter. The head of the creature is not only unusual for being depicted as a comparatively flat face looking straight upward, but also because of a small humanoid face carved in the otter’s mouth.

Transformation is a common theme in shamanic objects and designs, and the human face may indicate the shaman’s spirit within the otter, assuming the animal’s form. Frequently seen in Tlingit shamanic imagery, land otters sometimes appear as emaciated forms with exposed vertebrae to emphasize their otherworldly aspects.

Amulets were sometimes carved by the shaman himself, and sometimes by commission with recognized artists, made to manifest the shaman’s helpers for the patients and observers involved in a healing ritual or divination. The artistry displayed in this amulet suggests that it was created by a skilled traditional carver, and the broad brow and large eyes indicate a Tlingit origin for this sculpture. Tlingit shamanism remained strong into the last decade of the nineteenth century, while in other regions, such as among the Haida, missionary influence had greatly curtailed their traditional activities by that time.

The shaman would imbue an amulet with his spirit, and sometimes left the amulet with a patient, held in place or bound to the afflicted area, in order to better affect a cure. Shamanic objects were held in high and cautious esteem by the general populace, who feared and respected the unfathomable power of the shamans.


Exhibited: Jackson Pollock et le Chamanisme
Pinacothèque de Paris, 2008