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As I Remember It: Teachings (Ɂəms tɑɁɑw) from the Life of a Sliammon Elder

sohoθot (Spirit Cleansing)

The belief is that we are one with the animal kingdom. That we are one in spirit! And that’s very, very strong – very, very important. They are living things, as we are. And so we are one with all the living beings, living things. So that’s how people were so connected to the land, to the animal kingdom. People were very pure – very, very close to nature. Whenever a person, whether it be a young woman – especially the young men, when they reached puberty, they were sent on a quest, a vision quest, to go and bathe in the river, to go and bathe every morning in the river, get up before everyone else is up. That is so important. You go and bathe in the river, whether it was winter – summer and winter. Yeah. So that was really important. It’s like a purification.

And while you’re there, doing your cleansing with cedar boughs and dippin’ it into the water and just brushin’ yourself, because again, there’s so much good energy from the cedar boughs – that’s a living thing – a living thing, it’s cleansing. So when you’re in the river, you’re using that and brushin’ yourself, like, “Help me today. Help me to be able to do the things I need to do. Help me to be productive today. Guide me today.” Those are the words that are what is said in this morning ritual. And when you’re finished brushin’, then you either leave your bundles by the river, tie them up and leave them there – you hang them on the tree – or you can toss them in the river. So that way it drifts away. It’s washed away. So that’s all your laziness being washed down the river, all your ailments or whatever may be with you that you’re carrying, all goes away from you. You are refreshed. And then you go on with your day.

The ritual is called “sohoθot.” “sohoθot” – it’s what it’s called in itself. You get up, your – whomever, your parents would say, “hoč sohoθot.” “Go and do your cleansing!” That’s it in a nutshell. That’s what you’re supposed to do. Because that’s what the men in the family do. They go in the river and do that every morning. And it was an embarrassment if you didn’t do that. If you are lazy, that was an embarrassment. If you were sleeping in, that was not a good image of you to your community. You’re embarrassin’ your family. So you need to uphold yourself. You need to uphold your family name. Otherwise people will talk, and ridicule your family because there’s a lazy young man in the family. So those are the things that’s really important in one’s life. Especially the beginning of life. Going into manhood from a young boy, teen. It’s puberty. And you gotta do all of these things now, to prove yourself – that you’re trained to be strong, to do things that’s tough, but it has to be done. You don’t give in to being lazy: “Get up and go and do it.”

“You don’t get anywhere – you don’t start your day without doing that.”

There’s just so much around that: the use of the cedar, the use of the river, the water. The water is very powerful, its energy, and that’s always been recognized with our people. It’s cleansing. It gives you life. If it wasn’t there, then we would not survive. So therefore, it’s used for that purpose, for helping you with your energy level. When I’ve gone away to take part in ceremonies, because some of the people that are there do actually go to a creek, or they go to the beach, like in December and January, and they go and bathe. And it’s freezing outside. And I thought, “What? You went down the beach and had a dip in the ocean!” “Oh yeah. I’ve been doing it all my life and it feels really good. You don’t feel it anymore. You don’t hesitate. You just do it.” So, there are still people that do it. And it works. It’s something that’s – it’s medicine. It’s a pick-me-up-er. You don’t get anywhere – you don’t start your day without doing that.

“When you lose someone in your family, and you’re grieving, you really need to focus on that cleansing. Otherwise you’re going to carry your grief.”

That kind of cleansing works for all kinds of things. The old people used to talk about, when you lose someone in your family, and you’re grieving, you really need to focus on that cleansing. Otherwise you’re going to carry your grief. Your grief is very heavy, and it’ll make you sick. Or if you know that people have some resentments to you, or they’re trying to hurt you in some way, with words, that’s when you do that brushin’ as well. Because people’s words can be really hurtful. They can be really damaging to you. And if you don’t take care of yourself, then you’re gonna be feeling heavy. These words will penetrate through your skin with what was said, and it’ll hurt you emotionally and mentally. So in your mind, when you’re brushing yourself, you’re getting rid of all these words that are stuck to you – they’re penetrating you, these statements about you. “I don’t have to take this. I don’t need this. It’s not mine. It doesn’t belong to me,” and you brush it away. The old people used to say that words from other people, sharp words or nasty words said to you, are like sharp objects, they’re like needles, they’re like little knives, they’re penetrating your skin. You’re bleeding, you’re walking, you’re bleeding. You don’t see it, but you are. As you’re walking wounded. So therefore, that’s why you do the brushing. You don’t own it – you push it away: “It’s not mine to keep.”

So, that’s the importance of the brushin’, and with women, it wasn’t necessary for women to go to the river, but they did their own cleansing at home. In, like, a basin of water. Or if they have access to a little creek or something, that’s where they would go and use that cedar boughs to brush themselves too, and especially if they’re grieving, going through a hard time with different losses. I can only relate to my grandmother, in her time, of how many children she’d lost in her life. She had sixteen children in total, and she lost ten children, at various ages, and the eldest being ten years of age. She lost two children in one day. They were living up in Theodosia, and two of her babies were really sick. So they got on the boat to take the children to see the – there used to be a – called her an Indian doctor. She was a psychic. She was a healer. She lived on Cortes Island, on Klahoose reserve there. So she wanted to take the babies there, to this lady. So and – course they didn’t have motor – they rowed or whatever, however means they went there. And before they got there, one of the children died. And so they got there and the other one died. It was too late to save. I don’t know what kind of illness the baby had. But she lost a lot of her babies. Yeah, it was difficult times for people. There were a lot of baby deaths. Just through sickness and whooping cough and whatever other ailments, pneumonia, I guess.

But even with all that, people took that in their stride, and that’s how life was. Just dealing with it, and … lettin’ it go. And through her many losses, she grieved, and in constant grief, but this was how she took care of her grief, was by going and brushing with the cedar first thing in the morning – early, early in the morning. Breaking daylight, was when she would be up. And I would hear her cryin’ and wailin’ out there as she would take a basin of water and go out the back of the house and do her cleansing. And with us livin’ up the coast, I always – I would hear her. She would cry out there and wail. And I think that was good therapy. For her it was really good therapy. And she’d just come in and tell us, “Okay, you all get up now.”

“And she would talk to us: ‘You must have heard me cryin’ out there. But I do that. That’s my medicine. I have to release my pain in the morning. Otherwise, it’s too heavy.’”

And she would talk to us: “You must have heard me cryin’ out there. But I do that. That’s my medicine. I have to release my pain in the morning. Otherwise, it’s too heavy. It’s a burden for me to carry that. Then I brush myself. I sweep myself with a cedar bough. I even take some of that water and I gargle, and then spew it out.” And that’s not only cleansing the surface of your body, your outer surface of your body, but you’re cleansing your mouth – you’re spewin’ it out. You say, “Leave me. Go away.” And you spew it in different directions, some of that water. So that’s releasing? That was good medicine for her.

And she’d come in and, “I’ve done what I needed to do,” and get everybody up and get busy. And she would say, “It’s okay to grieve. It hurts, because I’ve lost someone I love. But we don’t stay in bed and cry all day. Life goes on. You have to get up and get things moving, get things done. We got a lot of work to do.” So for her, it was fine. And we understood that. We all knew that! And it’s quite different today that we’ve lost that practice. That quite often people will go to pharmacy and get sedatives and tranquilizers to deal with the pain they’re carryin’, which only covers the pain. You’re going to have to deal with it sooner or later. And when you do it the way I remember seeing it done, then you’re dealing with it right from the moment of your loss. You gonna keep on doing it.

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