Skip to main content

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.

(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. )

Marvin Oliver's Website