A Rite to Appease a Wood Spirit

by Julia DeCora

Julia DeCora

   A wood spirit is very much like a black cat but he had the power of changing himself into a man. He is one of the most malignant spirits and we were taught from infancy to pacify his unreasonable outbursts of rage.

   The medicine men would tell us that a certain wood spirit was angry at some harmless member of our family and oh, how we used to begin to prepare our peace offering of red feathers, and tobacco cut into small pieces!

   The youngest as well as the oldest member of the family would go about in subdued silence. Sometimes we were even required to kill a dog and then there was weeping among us for the departed pet. We would put our tobacco and dyed feathers on the dog and it was carried to some secluded spot. The tobacco was for the spirit to smoke and the dog was intended to satisfy his hunger. I do not know what use the feathers were to him but I guess they were for his personal decoration.

   Even all these offerings would fail at times and one of our relatives would get very ill and die.

   These spirits help people but it is always on conditions.


Julia DeCora, “Indian Superstitions,” Talks and Thoughts, Hampton Institution (July 1898).