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University of Washington School of Public Health

About The Soul Catcher

Soul Catcher, logo of the UW School of Public HealthOur distinctive logo, the Soul Catcher, a Northwest Indian symbol for physical and spiritual well-being, was designed in 1981 by Marvin Oliver, internationally acclaimed printmaker and contemporary sculptor and professor of American Indian Studies at the UW. Our Soul Catcher, which depicts two bears, one at each end, has become widely identified with the School and symbolizes our mission: education to prepare innovative and diverse public health leaders and scientists, research to advance public health science and policies, and service to promote the well-being of communities locally, nationally, and globally.

Traditionally, soul catchers were used by Northwest Native Americans, who believed that the loss of one's soul or spirit -- if it became separated from the body during a dream, for instance, or was driven out by witchcraft -- causes disease. Soul catchers were usually made of hollowed animal leg bones, carved at each end to resemble the open mouth of the animal, with cedar bark plugs to trap the captured soul. Shamans or healers were hired to track down the missing soul, capture it in a soul catcher, and restore it to the body in order to prevent illness from invading the "empty" body. Small soul catchers were often worn around the neck as medicinal charms; larger soul catchers were sometimes placed in the smoke holes of houses to prevent souls from leaving prematurely.

Oliverís original artwork for the Schoolís Soul Catcher is displayed in the Dean's Office along with his original drawings for the large totem, Tetons, on display in the National Wildlife Art Museum in Jackson, Wyoming. Visitors to the Deanís Office will also find two framed soul catchers, crafted of wood, bone and abalone inlays, and feathers. These treasures were donated by Mrs. Donna Murphy, widow of Sheldon Murphy, former chairman of the Department of Environmental & Occupational Health Sciences.

(NOTE: The Soul Catcher is a registered trademark of the University of Washington School of Public Health and cannot be used without expressed permission from the School. See Using the SPH Logo)


Marvin Oliver explains the origins of the Soul Catcher at a 2008 Dean's Circle Reception (video)
Marvin Oliver's Website