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Yuchi Treatment of Disease

The shaman secretes himself with the medicines, and filling a pot with water, steeps them, all the time blowing into the concoction through a hollow cane. This cane is about two and one-half feet long and has three red ribbons tied on it. (See PI. VII, Fig. 1.) This takes place between the stanzas of the appropriate song. Nearly all of the songs are sung four times, then a long blowing is given the medicine, after which it is thought properly charged with magic power. It is then given to the patient, who drinks it and washes in it, applying it according to the shaman’s advice. The song and ritual is believed to throw the disease into some animal, but not the one causing it. The following are a few of the medicine songs with the corresponding diseases, their symptoms and medicines.

Names of medicine songs, according to the creatures believed to cause the diseasesSymptomsMedicinal Herbs
DeerSwelling, boilsCedar leaves
DeerHeadacheWillow spices (?)
SunHeadacheSunflower
Young DeerSwollen joints and muscles.Cedar leaves and Deer Potato {Licinaria scariosa).
Water MoccasinSwollen cheeks, toothache and sore gums.Dried twigs and leaves.
HogNausea and indigestion(Hicrocicum species).
Water WolfNausea, dysenterySassafras.
Snake HuntingSwollen face and limbsCedar leaves.
Little TurtleCoughing, sores on limbs and neck.Wild Cherry bark.
Panther Nausea, gripes(?)
Wildcat Nausea, gripes(?)
BearNausea, dysentery(Chenopodium species).
BirdNausea, dysentery, stiff limbs.Bird’s nest.
HorseGastritisCom cobs.
BeaverPain in bowels, constipation.Black Willow (?) and tulip (?).
FishInsomniaGinseng.
Great Homed Serpent.Swollen limbs, lameness.(?)
RaccoonInsomnia, Melancholia(?)
Yellow AlligatorInsomnia, Melancholia(?)
OtterInsomnia, Melancholia(?)
GhostFever(?)

The explanation of the origin of diseases and medicines, as given by my Creek informant, is as follows, in abstract, “Our ancestors of the olden time told it. The Deer said that he made the sickness and the medicine for it, thus (for the euro of trouble inflicted by him). The Bear . . . etc. The Many Snakes . . . etc. The Felines . . . etc. The Water Creatures . . . etc. The Seashore Creatures . . . etc.”

Sickness is called galen’, ‘trouble’. The expression for sickness is rather peculiar. There is no regular verb for it, so when a man is sick he says “Sickness, or trouble, feels me” (galen’ dze yu’).

Sympathetic healing appears to be the underlying theory in the use of the formulas and herbs. It characterizes the practices, so far as I know, of most of the southeastern tribes. A very conservative man named Kye’bané is said to be the one best informed in shamanism, and it is likely that a collection of formulas could be obtained from him if he could be induced to part with his knowledge. Shamans hold their formulas in high esteem and will only impart them to chosen or favored persons, even then at monopoly rates of charge. If perchance ordinary persons come into possession of a knowledge of any formulas or remedies they make use of them the same as a regular shaman would. Spiritual appointment to the office does not seem to be entirely necessary’ for success. Anyone who knows some good cures can find employment in his neighborhood. Charges may be made for such treatment, but never need be paid until recovery or at least improvement is obtained.

To illustrate this I will give the experience of a Sand Creek Yuchi. He was quite clever in diagnosing and curing troubles among the Indians. Once while he was lounging about town with some friends, a very emaciated white man whom they knew passed by. He complained of being sick with some trouble which the physicians could not account for. The Yuchi casually remarked that he could cure him. Thereupon the white man declared that unless he could be cured he knew he would die, and that he would make it worth while to the doctor who cured him. The Yuchi became interested, secured the man’s consent and started in with his shamanism. After working over the man for some weeks he began to improve and finally he was cured so that he could continue with his trade. The man did very well after this in health and in business but the Yuchi never asked him for pay. Some time afterwards the two met on the street in company with some friends. They remarked on the man’s recovery and prosperity. He was very profuse in his praise of the Indian treatment and then to show his appreciation decided to be generous before the company. He munificently rewarded the expectant old shaman with the sum of fifty cents. This aroused a great deal of laughter among the Indians for some time after. The old man repeated it to everybody over and over again in lengthy terms, describing how he dug roots, sang songs and blew up medicine until he was breathless, for several months, to make a great case. But he never threatened to undo his cure.

I did not learn of the existence of any women who made a practice of shamanism.

The shamans furthermore possess secret means of divination. The town chief of the Sand Creek settlement gave an example of his power in this direction just before the annual celebration of 1904. I ventured to suggest to the master of ceremonies that I be allowed to fast in the square during the second day of the ceremony and take the emetic with the others. He told me that he would consult with the town chief about it to see whether I had eaten any corn or not, as, it will be recalled, those who have partaken of com before-hand are forbidden the privilege of joining in the rites. In the meanwhile the town chief consulted a pot of medicine for the answer. Just what he did and how the answer appeared to him I could not learn. Shortly afterwards the master of ceremonies returned. I was told that the town chief found out that I had recently eaten corn and thereby violated the taboo. The master of ceremonies then asked me if it were true and I told him that it was.

One process of divination to learn the animal that causes disease is to conjure in some way over a pot of medicine until the image of the animal appears in the stuff. The shaman claims to see the reflection at the bottom of the pot. A similar process is common among the Creeks, and, incidentally, I learned that the Chickasaw seer divined by means of a piece of bear’s dung or by the leaning of an upright pole.1

Footnotes

  1. Chickasaw Ethnology and Folklore, Journal of American Folk-Lore, No. 76, p. 51 (1907). 

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