During ceremonies the Bay Miwok would wear ceremonial headresses woven from beads, grass, shells and feathers
by Louis Choris, 1816


Lesson 6: Ceremonies & Beliefs

Lesson 1
The Land
Lesson 2
Lesson 3
Lesson 4
Hunting &

Lesson 5
Clothing & Appearance
Lesson 6
Ceremonies & Beliefs
Lesson 7
Leadership & Trading
Lesson 8
Final Project

Student Guide


Read the information about Ceremonies & Beliefs

Look at all pictures on this page.
Be sure to click on any links or words that are underlined.

Find the answers to the following research questions.
Write your answers on
Student Worksheet 6

1. Why did they dance in religious ceremonies?

2. What do you know about coyote?

3. What was worn during a ceremony?

4. What kind of special powers did the Shaman have?

5.. How did the Shaman cure people?


Extend your thinking! Click on
the activity below:
A Coyote Legend!


Ceremonies & Beliefs



The Bay Miwok were very grateful people who held special ceremonies to pray and offer thanks to their spirits. They believed that everything in this world had a spiritual power—plants, animals, rocks, trees, mountains.....everything! Because of this belief, they only took what they needed from the land and were never wasteful.

The Bay Miwok believed totally in the power of animal spirits and the spirits of each other. They worshipped animals as ancestors, imitated them in dance, and told myths about them. In many stories Coyote was honored as their wisest, funniest, and trickiest forefather. Coyote was the Creator of all the Miwok family of mankind. Coyote legends, and other animal legends were passed down from generation to generation.

Dancing was very important to them. They danced in religeous ceremonies for many reasons: to give thanks for a good acorn harvest, for good weather, for war victories, to celebrate marriage, to cure the sick and to pray for the dead. The men and women wore special costumes during the ceremonies. They painted their faces and bodies red and black and wore headdresses that were woven of beads, grass, shells and feathers. Sometimes they danced for several days or a week!

A very important person in the village was the Shaman. The Shaman was a spirit doctor that was able to speak to the spirit-gods. They were thought to have special powers for curing the sick, predicting the future and starting the rains. Using their special powers, the Shaman would call on animal spirits in their dreams, through their dances, and songs and chants. In addition to using the help of the animal spirits, they also used plants and charm stones for cures. One of the talents of the Shaman was to suck the pain out of a sick persons body. They would place their mouth on the suffering part of the body and actually suck the area until the pain was gone.

The Bay Miwok were very superstitious, this kept the Shaman very busy. Shamans were paid with food, shells, skins and beads.



Artist Wilhelm Gottlieb Tilesius von Telenau

Red, black and white were the body paint colors worn by the Bay Miwok during ceremonial dances
A ceremonial dance

Coyote was the most important animal in Bay Miwok storytelling

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