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Pomo Bear Doctors, by S.A. Barrett, [1917], at


1. The origin of bear doctors is assigned by the Pomo to the mythical times before men existed, when birds and mammals possessed human attributes. The first bear doctors arose from a relatively insignificant incident, which led one of the smallest of the birds to develop his magic powers.

2. These powers are believed to be now acquired through the wearing of a special suit which endows its wearer with rapidity of motion and great endurance, but which does not itself actually transport him or perform any act.

3. The powers are received through elaborate ritualistic songs and prayers to certain supernatural beings under whose patronage the doctor operates. These songs are largely sung not by the doctor himself but by an assistant while the doctor performs an elaborate dance with the various parts of the costume preparatory to actually putting them on for the first time.

4. In addition to this constant assistant, the bear doctor must have a female aide, who makes certain parts of his paraphernalia and cooks his special food. He is subject to certain restrictions connected with the menstrual periods of this female aide and his wife, and they, in turn, are subject through him to certain other restrictions.

5. Although all-powerful under ordinary circumstances, a bear doctor apparently loses all his magic power as soon as he is captured.

6. Bear doctors are all known one to another, but form no organized group or society. They are also usually known to the chief, to whom they pay tribute and give guarantee of immunity from attack in return for his connivance and protection.

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7. In exceptional cases the bear doctors are harmless, but in the main their object is to kill and plunder, and they carry special weapons for this purpose. They do not practice curative medicine in any form.

8. There are apparently other kinds of magicians similar to bear doctors. One of these, the "panther doctors," has been specifically mentioned.

These statements reflect the opinions of the Pomo. Some of the practices described by them could easily have had a basis in fact. Whether and to what extent they were actually performed remains to be ascertained.


Transmitted November 28, 1916.