In many Indian myths we read how the shamans, singly or
in companies, seek the Spirit-Land, either to search for the
souls of those who are ill, but not yet dead, or to seek advice
from supernatural beings. These thaumaturgical practices were
usually undertaken by three medicine men in concert. Falling
into a trance, in which their souls were supposed to become
temporarily disunited from their bodies, they would follow the
track of the sick man's spirit into the spirit-world. The order
in which they travelled was determined by the relative strength
of their guardian spirits, those with the strongest being first
and last, and he who had the weakest being placed in the middle.
If the sick man's track turned to the left they said he would
die, but if to the right, he would recover. From the trail they
could also divine whether any supernatural danger was near, and
the foremost priest would utter a magic chant to avert such evils
if they came from the front, while if the danger came from the
rear the incantation was sung by the priest who came last.
Generally their sojourn occupied one or two nights, and, having
rescued the sould of the patient, they returned to place it in
Not only was the shaman endowed with the power of
projecting his own 'astral body' into the Land of Spirits. By
placing cedar-wood charms in the hands of persons who had not yet
received a guardian spirit he could impart them his clairvoyant
gifts, enabling them to visit the Spirit-land and make any
observations required by him.
The souls of chiefs, instead of following the usual
route, went directly to the sea-shore, where only the most gifted
shamans could follow their trail. The sea was regarded as the
highway to the supernatural regions. A sick man was in the
greatest peril at high water, but when the tide was low the
danger was less.
The means adopted by the medicine-men to lure ghosts away
from their pursuit of a soul was to create an 'astral' deer. The
ghosts would turn from hunting the man's soul to follow that of
"Myths of the North American Indians" by Lewis Spence.