The Spirit of the Cowlitz: Their Religion, Part 2



The Cowlitz sent girls as well as boys into the mountains to seek their personal spirit power, their tomanawas. When a girl went, they sent her into the mountains and she took her work, perhaps a basket. They told her, "You must work yonder at the end of the mountain; you will make your basket, you will sit facing the sunrise, and then it may address you." Then, in her vision a woman might speak to here and show her a large hard basket, a soft basket, and a pack rope, and say, "You must make these things, girl. You will not be in poverty, these things will be your products, everyone will approve of your things, they will give things for them, and then you will be a satisfied girl. You will never be poor. You will always have many valuable things." It turned around, it went away, and then of a sudden the girl saw that "You yourself are really a wild lily." The Cowlitz women believed that the wild lily was the guardian spirit of the great basket-makers.

When an Upper Cowlitz boy was sent into the mountains for his vision quest, he would first spend the night in the sacred lodge with his elders, and then in the middle of the night he would go with them to the sweat lodge. At the break of dawn he would take his spirit bath in the creek or river nearby. Then he would run up into the mountains to a high place, and continue to swim and fast for a minimum of four days. Traditional use of the mountains was shaped by the belief that these areas were sacred, places of spiritual power and home of special medicine power beings.

A Lower Cowlitz youth would be sent into the woods to swim in pools, slow moving rivers, or ponds to seek his medicine spirit. He would swim and dive, scrub his body with bracken ferns and cedar boughs, cleansing his body, while thoroughly fasting cleansing his soul. When his song came to him he would go home to his longhouse and family where he continued to learn his song and dance. He or she was secluded for an entire year, and the next winter his or her family took the new dancer to a longhouse doings. At this time the new dancer sang and danced for persons other than their family. The new dancer would sing his song and dance his dance for that year as a Qasalic, or new dancer. At the end of that season he would put away his new dancer gear. At the end of the last day of the Smoke House season, when the sun came up, after being in the Smoke House all night, the dancer would run out of the Smoke House (Dance House) and run towards the mountains. When he or she could run no longer, they would find a cedar tree and climb it planting their Smoke House new dancers gear, (hat, staff, etc.) in that tree. Foresters falling virgin forest trees in the early to mid-twentieth century often came upon a fallen tree with a hat and staff still tied to it. The youth would stay there fasting and in prayer waiting for his tomanawas, his medicine spirit, to come to him. He might be there for four days, eight days, fourteen days, or twenty days. The time spent in his quest was not important, but the receiving of his tomanawas was very important. This was the way it was done in Cowlitz country for many generations until the non-Indian came and restricted the Indian religion and our accessibility to the land.

A Cowlitz might go on a number of vision quests in his lifetime, receiving the spirit of an animal, or a supernatural spirit. The Cowlitz word for supernatural power is "stulimihl;" whereas, the word for themselves is "stipulimuhkl."

Next week: Their religion – Part Three