Pomo Dreamers and Doctors

woman in long dress adorned with abalone shells holding decorated wooden staffs

Essie Parrish, Dreamer of the Kashaya Pomo, near Stewarts Point, California.


dreamer in tall feathered headdress standing with medicine poles

Here the great Pomo Dreamer and Yomta stands with her medicine poles in Bole Maru regalia at the entrance of the Roundhouse.

Pomo tradition still thrived at Kashaya up to the mid-20th century. The Roundhouse was full of dancers, and people still spoke the Pomo language. But in the 1950s, Mormon missionaries tore the Kashaya community apart. Initially they said that their religion did not conflict with Pomo ways. But once the Mormons had converted a lot of people, they started demanding that they give up "Indian religion" which they labeled "devil-worship." They turned families against each other, and even got some people who had been Roundhouse singers and dancers to denounce the old ways.





holding a medicine staff

This was a painful time for Essie Parrish. Converts saw her and yelled, "Devil!" As she had prophesied to Dreamer Mabel McKay, people turned away from the Roundhouse and the ancestral traditions that she represented. It got hard to gather people to carry out the ceremonies. But a small core of supporters, including her sister Dreamer Mabel McKay, kept them going. Essie Parrish made sure that Kashaya traditions were written down and had a film made of her doctoring in the Roundhouse.
Before her death, Parrish prophesied that on the day of her burial, there would be rain and thunder, and that later on they would see red lightning. Rain and thunder did come as she said, and a month later, there was red lightning over the reservation like no one had ever seen.


with basket wearing headband

Mabel McKay, master basket weaver in 1934. She came from the Long Valley Cache Creek Pomo, and lived much of her life in Wintun country. Her great uncle Richard Taylor founded the Bole Maru religion in 1870 when Pomo culture was threatened with destruction. As a child, she began Dreaming and receiving instruction from Spirit. "You're a Dreamer, one who trains only by me, not by anyone on the earth." She was told that she would become a doctor, and would receive a pipe, elderberry clappers, and cocoon rattles for her work. See Greg Sarris' wonderful book, Mabel McKay: Weaving the Dream, 1994


woman seated at crafts table

Mabel McKay was "the last Dreamer and sucking doctor among the Pomo peoples." [Greg Sarris] She became the adopted sister of Essie Parrish (they both saw each other in Dreaming before they ever met) and they did ceremony and doctored together many times. She kept up the Strawberry and Acorn Feasts after her sister's death, and continued her own weaving and doctoring.


The spirit doesn't die.
Bernice Torrez, daughter of
Essie Parrish, also
healed in the old way.
Indian doctor removing pains from sick person

>>Shamanic dancing staffs


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