“Shaman and Sun”
Oystercatcher Rattle

by Al Cole


Yellow Cedar, Paint (13”x4”x5”)

This shaman's rattle is carved of yellow cedar wood and is the effigy of an oystercatcher. On the belly of the oystercatcher is a mountain goat. A human figure, the shaman, lies on the back of the bird and draws spirit power from a deep communion with the Sun.

Rattles were traditionally used by shamans in curing ceremonies. The oystercatcher is an ideal assistant to the shaman, as it inhabits the shoreline -- the border between water and land -- and thus parallels the shaman's role between two worlds -- human and spirit. The mountain goat may carry similar symbolism, as it too lives in a borderline environment between mountain and sky. It also leaps across treacherous chasms, as does the shaman in his visits to the spirit world. The shaman is in a trance in order to receive supernatural power through a communion with the sun.

Near the upper edge of the Nuxalk Sky World, a supreme deity (Atquntam) occupies a great house called Nusmata (“the place of origin of myths and legends”). This ultimate power is the Sun.

Such shaman's rattles sometimes became symbols of the rank and power of chiefs in the late 19th century, and chiefs are often shown holding them.