The soulcatcher was an amulet used by the Medicine man of the Tsimshian, Haida and Tlingit tribes of the Pacific Northwest Coast of British Columbia and Alaska. It is believed that all soulcatchers were constructed by the Tsimshian tribe, and traded to the Haida and Tlingit tribes.
Soulcatchers were constructed of a tube of bear femur, incised on one side, and often ornamented with abalone shell. Bears have powerful shamanic connotations among the people of the Pacific Northwest Coast. Soulcatchers were decorated with a serpent, land otter, or bear head at both ends of the tube, and an anthropomorphic face in the middle. This form may represent a mythological land otter canoe, imbued with shamanic power. The soulcatcher was plugged at both ends with shredded cedar bark, to contain the lost soul or hold the malevolent spirit of a patient. The amulet was usually worn as a necklace. They range in size from six to eight inches in length.
Sickness incurable by secular herbal means was believed to be caused by soul loss. Dreaming was thought to be the soul leaving the body and traveling to the spirit world. If the soul was unable to return to the body by morning due to disorientation or supernatural interference chronic illness would follow.
To cure the patient the shaman would wear the soulcatcher as a necklace. He would then travel to the spirit world by calling helper spirits using trance music and employing helper spirit masks and staffs. Shaman would also work in groups, constructing a representation of a land otter canoe of shaman and spirit boards or flat totems as a vehicle to travel to the spirit world. Once the missing soul was located, the shaman would suck the soul into the soul catcher, and return to the patient. The soul would then be blown back into the patient. Another use of the soulcatcher was for sucking malevolent spirits out of a patient in a similar manner.