The entire creed of the Achumawi Indians is contained in these words, spoken to me by one of my friends: "All things have life in them. Trees have life, rocks have life, mountains, water, all these are full of life. You think a rock is something dead. Not at all. It is full of life. When I came here to visit you, I took care to speak to everything around here. That tree at the corner of your house — I spoke to the first night before going to bed. I went out on the balcony, and I smoked. I sent it the smoke from my tobacco. I spoke to it. I said: 'Tree, don't do me any harm. I'm not bad. I didn't come here to harm anyone. Tree, be my friend.' I also spoke to your house. Your house has life, it is someone. It is you who made it. All right, you made it for a certain purpose. But your house is a person. It knows very well that I am a stranger here. That's why I sent it tobacco smoke, to make friends with it. I spoke to it. I said: 'House, you are the house of my friend. You shouldn't do me any harm. Don't let me get sick and maybe die while I am visiting my friend. I want to go back to my own country without anything bad happening to me. I didn't come here to harm anyone. On the contrary, I want everyone to be happy. House, I want you to protect me.' That's how I did it. I went all the way around the house. I sent my smoke to everything. That was to make friends with all the things. No doubt there were many things that watched me in the night without my seeing them. What do I know? Maybe a toad. Maybe a bird. Maybe an earthworm. I am sure all those people were watching me. They must have been talking to each other. The stones talk to each other just as we do, and the trees too, the mountains talk to each other. You can hear them sometimes if you pay close attention, especially at night, outside. Well, I am sure all those people were watching me the other night, the first night I came here. They probably said: 'Who is that man? He is a stranger. We've never seen him before. But at least he is polite. He sends us his smoke. He greets us. That must be a good man. We should protect him so nothing bad happens to him.' That's how you should do it. I tell you this so will learn, because you are young. I myself am beginning to grow old. But I still have a long time to live, because I have many friends outside, in my country. I often talk to them outside at night. I send them smoke. I do not forget them. I take care of them, and they take care of me."
What should we call this? Animism? Or pre-animism? The word animism hardly satisfies me since it seems that animism, as it has been described among certain primitive peoples, carries the idea of souls, of immaterial spirits. These souls or spirits can live in trees, in rocks, in animals. But their material dwelling place is not their only residence. They are not the tree itself, nor the rock itself. They are not even the essence of these. Basically they are immaterial beings distinct from the tree or the rock where they live. And I believe that if you pushed the concept far enough you would find, among all these people, the concept of a personal soul for every living man. For these people, every living man contains two things within him, two things which blend to form his ego. One is his material body, which walks, which drinks, which eats, which talks, which dies. The other is something subtle and inaccessible, which never dies. He feels this thing within him, he is sure of its existence, and he calls it his soul, his spirit. I believe this concept will always be found among those people with whom one also finds animism, as it has generally been described.
Now, among the Achumawi one finds the idea of the soul, but it is very undeveloped. It is barely even present. What we find is really only its embryo. They have the idea of a personal "shadow." They call it the delamdzi. But it is not a soul, as we understand it, nor as the ancients understood it. It has nothing to do with breathing. It is something that leaves you during sleep.
Son-of-eagle, an old shaman, said to me: "You can hear it sometimes in the morning, just before you wake up. It comes from over the mountains. It comes from the East. It comes singing: 'Dawn is rising. I come. I come. Dawn is rising. I come. I come.'" Some time, if you are unlucky, your shadow might leave you. Then you are no longer alive. A man who has lost his shadow is said to be alive, but that is only an appearance. He is really half dead. He can last like that for a few days, even one or two weeks. It is very curious that this soul-shadow is made of light rather than darkness. The real word for casting a shadow is tinala'ti, whereas the word for dawn is delalamdzi, which suggests the word for soul (delamdzi). I call it the shadow-soul because the Achumawi themselves translate delamdzi by "shadow." But we must remember that their own subjective interpretation of their sensations is evidently very different from ours. Thus, judging from their language, it is not so much the black mass that they consider the essential phenomenon of the shadow (even physical), as it is the stopping of the sun's path. But I can't go into a linguistic discussion here, for that would demand too long an explanation of certain details of their language.
So we find the concept of the shadow-soul among the Achumawi. But the Achumawi never imagine that these beings, full of power and of life, that they speak to — the trees, the animals, the rocks — they never imagine that these beings contain their own shadow-soul. I am absolutely certain of that, as I have asked many questions on the subject of young and old alike. They haven't the slightest idea that these beings could also have their shadow-soul. When asked about it they reply: "I don't know. Maybe so, because they are like us. But I never heard that. I never thought about it." No, what the Achumawi speak to is the tree itself, the animal itself...