Pomo Shaman

William Heick and Gordon Mueller
William Heick and Gordon Mueller
Production Date: 
Run Time: 
University of California

Establishing shot:
Named locations:
Stewarts Point Indian Reservation
Major themes covered: follows a female Pomo shaman conducting a ritual healing ceremony over a man with body pains
Native activities shown:  
Individuals Named:
Essie Parrish is named in general, as "a Pomo Shaman" 
Native language spoken: Pomoan (Kashia/Kashaya), Hokan (broader language group)
Noteworthy elements: 

"POMO SHAMAN documents the second and final night of a Kashaya Pomo healing ceremony lead by Essie Parrish (1903-1979), a spiritual, cultural and political head of the Kashaya Pomo community and one of the only southwestern Pomo sucking doctor who still practiced this ancient form of doctoring. Along with her good friend, Cache Creek Pomo medicine woman and fellow basket weaver Mabel McKay, Parrish would be the last of the sucking doctors in California—and probably the last in the entire country.

The ceremony took place June 1, 1963 in a ceremonial roundhouse of the Southwestern Pomo (now more commonly referred to as Kashaya or Kashaya Pomo) near Stewarts Point, California. During the ceremony (which is presented without narration), Parrish enters a trance and cures a patient with the aid of a spiritual instrument used to suck out the patient’s illness. Parrish only gave the film crew one chance to shoot the ceremony, with no equipment allowed inside the roundhouse where the ceremony took place. All cameras and lighting were setup to shoot through knot holes in the walls, which explains the films dark, high contrast appearance.

William Heick made POMO SHAMAN while Director and Chief Cinematographer for the University of California at Berkeley’s National Science Foundation supported Amercian Indian Film Project. It is an edited version of Heick’s larger work SUCKING DOCTOR (1963, 45 minutes). Heick’s POMO SHAMAN grants us a rare chance to experience a ceremony generally off-limits to cameras. According to Essie’s son, Parrish only agreed to be filmed knowing that their traditions were going to be preserved on film for both their community as well as the outside world. To this day, the Kashaya watch this film before performing healing ceremonies since the film, according to Essie’s son, is 'infused with her healing powers.'

CFA is aware of the sensitivity in presenting indigenous cultural heritage and have sought permission from the Kashaya Pomo of Northern California, or more specifically Essie’s son Otis Parrish, to present this film. He has given us their blessing, as well as a warning that our audiences may feel signs of his mother’s healing powers and begin to 'heal for ourselves individually.'"   http://www.chicagofilmarchives.org/current-events/out-of-the-vault-2012-...

Other notes:

Presenter/Shaman: Piwóya (Essie Parrish)

Fire Tender: Clement Marrufo

Patient: Sidney Parrish

Producer: University of California Extension Media Center

Singers: Bernice Dollar, Bertha Antone, Julia Marrufo, Emmett Antone

Print Resources:

Bean, Lowell John and Thomas Blackburn. Native Californians: A Theoretical Retrospective. Ramona, CA: Ballena Press, 1976.  Print.

*This volume contains sixteen articles by anthropologists (including Bean, Blackburn, and several of their contemporaries) about the spiritual cultures and practices of California Indians. This collection of aritcles provides a general sense of the ways in which Pomo spirituality is interrelated with the spiritual practices of other California tribes. This collection also provides specific information about Pomo spiritual practices.


Brown, Vinson and Douglas Andrews. The Pomo Indians of California and their neighbors. Healdsburg, California: Naturegraph Publishers, 1969. Print.

*This publication contains a map, which locates the Pomo Indians in relation to neighboring tribes and other California tribes in general. This book also makes connections between the tribes through photographs, illustrations, and a basic, informative narrative. This book is also contemporary with the film-"Pomo Shaman"-as it was published in 1969 (the film was produced in 1963).


Du Bois, Cora Alice. The 1870 Ghost Dance. Lincoln: Univ. of Nebraska Press, 2007. Print.

*A more recent account of Pomo spirituality, as well as the spiritual practices of fellow California tribes.

From the book's description on ProjectMuse: " The 1870 Ghost Dance was a significant but too often disregarded transformative historical movement with particular impact on the Native peoples of northern California. The spiritual energies of this “great wave,” as Peter Nabokov has called it, have passed down to the present day among Native Californians, some of whose contemporary individual and communal lives can be understood only in light of the dance and the complex religious developments inspired by it.

Cora Du Bois’s historical study, The 1870 Ghost Dance, has remained an essential contribution to the ethnographic record of Native Californian cultures for seven decades yet is only now readily available for the first time. Du Bois produced this pioneering work in the field of ethnohistory while still under the tutelage of anthropologist Alfred Louis Kroeber. Her monograph informs our understanding of Kroeber’s larger, grand and crucial salvage-ethnographic project in California, its approach and style, and also its limitations. The 1870 Ghost Dance adds rich detail to our understanding of anthropology in California before World War II."

[retrieved from: http://muse.jhu.edu/books/9780803206960. NOTE: This webpage also contains PDFs for each section of the book for those interested in the full text.]


Gonzalez, Nancie. Review of "Pomo Shaman." American Anthropologist, 77.1 (March 1975): 177-178. JSTOR. Web. 18 June 2013.


Goodrich, Jennie, et al. Kashaya Pomo Plants. Los Angeles: American Indian Studies Center, UCLA, 1980. Print.

*This book contains practical information about Kashaya use of plants. This following link leads to a YouTube video showing Vana Lawson (a relative of Essie Parrish and co-author of the book) discussing the use of some of the plants from the book:



This video provides a sense of contemporary Pomo practices and the continued legacy of the spiritual work of Essie Parrish through plant usage. It is an excerpt from the 1993 documentary, Vana Parrish-Lawson Native Plant demonstration at Ya-Ka-Ama.


McLendon, Sally. Ethnographic and historical sketch of the Eastern Pomo and their neighbors, the Southeastern Pomo. Berkeley: Univ. of California, Dept. of Anthropology, 1977. Print.

*McLendon's book is a more general "ethnographic and historical sketch" of Pomo and surrounding California Native cultures.

Online Resources:


*This is link to a website that contains a brief history of Pomo Indians. This history focuses predominantly on the time proceeding European contact.



*This website provides a more general, brief account of the history, culture, and customs of the Pomo Indian. This website also provides a list of Pomo villages.



*This is a link to the Chicago Film Archives' event page for "Out of the Vault 2012: THE SPIRIT OF AMERICA." For the 2012 "Out of the Vault program, CFA offers films that speak to the spiritual realms that cleanse, cure, uplift and replenish the American soul. Religion and spirituality are deeply ingrained in our history and culture. Enhanced drama and high ritual spring from religious ceremony and are reflected in many films from CFA’s collections. Join us for an unusual Sunday afternoon with films of the devoted and infuse your souls with some of the good stuff."



*This webpage provides some biographical information about Essie Parrish. It is an event page for a lecture on Essie Parrish that took place in 2002 at The Marin Museum of the American Indian. The lecture was "presented by Ottis Parrish Family and a Native American Grave Repatriation Act representative from the Hearst Museum of Anthropology."


*This is a link to the website for the California Language Archive. This particular webpage lists all of the Kashaya texts that are housed in the archive. Essie Parrish is listed as a consultant under several of the listings.



*This is link to a photo of a doll made (by Essie Parrish) of redwood bark. The piece is part of the permanent collection at the Hearst Museum of Anthropology.


The webpage provides the following information about the doll: "Made by Essie Pinola Parrish (1902-79), ca. 1962.California, Kashaya Rancheria, Sonoma County; Kashaya Pomo Donated by Essie Parrish, 1962.

Essie Parrish, healer and basket-weaver, gave this doll to Samuel A. Barrett. The first UC anthropology doctorate, Barrett collaborated extensively with Essie Parrish while making a series of ethnographic films, 1960-65."


*This is a link to the full text of S.A. Barrett's seminal work on Pomo shamanism, Pomo Bear Doctors. Barrett's work is, naturally, somewhat dated; however, this source is an important jumping off point for learning about the shamanistic tradition in Pomo culture. On the other hand, the film-"Pomo Shaman"- provides a sense of the actual circumstances behind a shamanistic healing ritual, as well as the feelings that are evoked as the ritual unfolds.


*This webpage provides some background on Essie Parrish, her "sister," Mabel McKay, and Pomo Shamanism in the 20th century. There are also several photographs of Essie Parrish and Mabel McKay.

--Emily Thomas, 2013