Title: Shamans and Kushtakas: North Coast Tales of the Supernatural.
Author: (compiled) by Mary Giraudo Beck.
Genre: Fiction, short stories, horror, mythology, folk tales, occult.
Publication Date: 1991.
Summary: A collection of 9 myths from the Native of the Pacific Northwest Coast, revolving around shamans and their struggles with or against kushtakas - evil spirit-beings who are half human and half land otter, and are a mix of history, legend, and adventure that dramatize the values and traditions of Tlingit and Haida societies. How Kaka Won Land Otter Power tells of Kaka, the first person to confront the land otter when, betrayed by his wife by being made susceptible to the power of the Land Otter People, Kaka is taken into their domain, but when he keeps their powers at bay for years, they decide to send him back home, with the gifts of the otter spirits. In The Challenge, the tribe laws become too relaxed among the young men of the tribe, and they bring about their own demise by disrespecting animal spirits and being taken by the Otter People and consequently killed by their own people who try to rescue them. The shaman then has to face the Land Otter People's shaman to atone for the crimes of his clan's youth. In Land Otter Sister, a man and his family that set up camp to look for fish to return to the village running out of food, are helped by the man's once-drowned sister, who has become one of the Otter people, and her children, though the man worries when his own children begin to envy their cousins their otter tales. In Revenge, a mourning husband discovers that his wife has faked her death to secretly elope with the chief's son, whom she always favoured, and, when the shaman refuses to curse them, attempts to become a wizard himself in order to visit evil unto others through magic and gain his revenge. In Dead Man's Bride, a chief's daughter is stricken when she finds out that while she was in customary seclusion, the young man she had hoped to be matched with and his brother had been drowned, until she finds a man's skull in her front yard and they both come back from The Land of the Dead, slowly gaining physical form. Both incredibly accomplished hunters and fishermen, the older brother marries the chief's daughter, while her cousin sets her sights on the younger one, but when he doesn't give her a second look, and believing her cousin has rallied against her as well, the jealous girl decides to turn to witchcraft to punish the lingering spirits. In Ldaxin the Skeptic, a cock-sure young man Ldaxin teases the shaman and makes fun of people believing in kushtakas and other tribal legends learns his lesson when a storm leaves him stranded and he becomes prey to what he claims he doesn't believe in, and it is up to the shaman's powers to rescue him in time. In Xat and the Feather Kite, a mysterious feather plume carries off all inhabitants of the village save for a mother and daughter, and when the daughter becomes pregnant after ingesting a certain root and gives birth to a baby boy, his grandmother raises him on legends of old heroes and encourages him to find his power of grounding himself as a root, which eventually enables him to perform a heroic feat for his people. In The Owl Woman, a vain and spoiled woman refuses to comply to the hierarchy when she moves into her parents'-in-law house and disrespects and spites her mother-in-law at every turn, but when her behaviour becomes too selfish and cruel, her husband, a son of a great shaman endowed with the great weasel spirit, teaches her a lesson that makes its way into legend. In The Love Charm, a young man in line to become chief takes the chief's daughter as wife, but when she fails to warm up to him and embarrasses him by continuously returning to her family, he travels to a neighbouring village to obtain a love charm, which works, but leads him to a surprising realization about his own pride and his own feelings.
My rating: 7.5/10.
From the Introduction:
♥ Kushtakas were human beings who had been transformed by land otters into creatures similar to themselves, but who retained some human qualities. They kidnapped children, frightened women, an caused storms, avalanches, disease, and famine. Kushtakas had been given their dual role by Raven, when he bestowed on land otters the gifts of being able to live both on land and under water as well as powers of illusion and disguise. In addition, he gave them the special mission of saving those lost at sea or in the woods and transforming them into half-human, half-otter beings like themselves.
The Land Otters fulfilled their mission so well that people suspected them of actively luring victims to their kingdom. Deathly afraid of the animals, humans did not hunt them for food or clothing. Children were taught to beware of the Land Otter People, who would appear as their close relatives to invite them into boats or kidnap them in the woods. They were trained early to resist kushtaka influence by developing a strong will and respecting and observing tribal customs.
♥ In these stories, instances of the benevolence of kushtakas suggest a duality in their nature to match their physical traits. A certain ambiguity also resides in the perception of the physical nature of these mystic creatures.
♥ Though these are cautionary tales, the outcome of right or wrong behavior is not always what might be expected. In fact the apparently ambiguous attitude toward good and bad adds a wonderful complexity to the stories.
♥ Ducksta had seen the boys going down to the beach and knew they had avoided him. He would have done the same in those carefree days of his youth, before he accepted the shaman spirit. He remembered his own resistance to inheriting the spirit power of his dead uncle, the previous shaman. Unready to take on that responsibility, he had become extremely ill. When the medicine men were brought in to work over him, they told him he had been "called" and that his resistance to this gift was causing his severe illness. He had no choice but to accept the spirit power and learn how to control it. Life became a more serious matter once he had assumed that great responsibility.
♥ Now on this return to the woods, Ducksta could feel some of the old stirrings. He entered into the fast with the determination of his youth, but without the vigor of youth, the eight-day ordeal was much harder. His hands shook from hunger and his bones ached from cold. Too much time had passed since his last trip into the woods to renew his spirit powers. He felt no strong spirit power ranging within him and no urge to do a frenzied dance. But a feeling of peace and courage warmed him from within, and he began to sense what he must do. Just as in his youth, when he had accepted the call to the shaman's life, he now accepted the role thrust upon him, regardless of the consequences. He would go back to his village, don his full shaman regalia, and go to meet the challenge.
♥ To confront the Land Otter People was life's ultimate test. "Resist the kushtakas at all cost," grandmothers admonished children, and it remained a guiding principle throughout their lives. Children were also warned of wandering too far into the woods or water, the territory of the kushtakas. The spiritual and physical strength needed to resist was gained through diligent adherence to tribal ritual and code, such as bathing daily in the cold water and showing proper respect to animals.
~~Land Otter Sister.
♥ "I was duped by them too," the shaman replied, "and would also like to see them punished. But I have always carried out my duties as a shaman in an honorable way. I cannot visit evil on anybody. Leave them alone. They will soon tire of each other and bring punishment on themselves."
The husband understood the shaman's position. Only witches and wizards visited evil on people and through their evil conjurations caused sickness and death. Shamans were highly regarded for their powers of healing and foretelling the future, all for the good of the community.
♥ The husband went out to the graveyard, where he knew the witches would go, and like them, dug around the bodies and played with the bones in order to make himself a wizard. But he felt no special powers come to him. Then the overwrought husband threw caution to the winds. He paddled out to the island across the bay from the village where the dead shamans' bodies were sent, since they were not cremated, and played with the bones there. This was not only a desecration of the dead but also was very dangerous, as handling even the possessions of a shaman could cause insanity or death. But this desperate act was believed to produce the powers of witchcraft.