Shaman and Shamanism  

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Nadya Stepanova – Isle of Olchon on Lake Baikal, considered the Sacred Isle of the Siberian shamans

Buryatia is located in the South-central region of Siberia along  the eastern shore of Lake Baikal, where Mongolia, Siberia and China meet.

The traditional spiritual practice in Buryatia is a blend of Tibetan Buddhism Gelugpa and Siberian shamanism.  The Buryats  had practiced this path for ages but the shamanic traditions in  Buryatia  are still so little known to the Western world so that’s why I decided to write about that.

Even today not too many know that Buryats, Mongols, Evenks, Yakut and many other Altaic nationalities and tribes of indigenous people of Siberia traditionally practiced shamanism for hundreds of years.

There is some confusion about the origin of the word shaman. Some say it originates from Sanskrit some say from Turkic. The truth is that the  word “shaman” originates from Evenk language and means “possessed”.  It is because the job of the shaman is to communicate with the spirits and let them work through their bodies. It is sort of a possession but it’s made by the will of the shaman in order to gain the access to the spiritual realms. The Russians colonizing Siberia in the seventeenth century, first encounted  the shamans among the Evenk people , that they called Tungus and adapted their local word.

They then used this word for simplicity reasons to describe the shamans of all Siberian people , ignoring local names, such as oyun (in Yakutia), boo in (in Buryatia), kam ( Turkic-speaking people of Central Asia) etc.  In contrast, all Turkic and Mongolian-speaking people called a shamaness “udagan”.

Shamanism is one of the oldest ways of spiritual expression from which all the religions had started. The use of power animals and ani­mal guides, the sacred initiations, the techniques and methods used, symbols and tools and rites of pas­sage are common to all shamanic traditions  on the planet that share a deep and  inti­mate con­nection to the nature, land, the sky, the ani­mals, the energetic universal web and the ances­tors.

In modern days after years of religious suppression and persecution by Soviet government, shamans in Buryatia and Mongolia are free to practice again and are maintaining the balance of the environment and the  community.

In the indigenous cultures of Siberia shamans play an important role in communities and spiritual education of people. Shamans have the rights and conduct blessings, rituals of protection, hunting magic, and divination. They also cure sicknesses that have spiritual causes such as spiritual intrusions, spiritual pollution, soul loss, and when it is necessary can undo curses. Shamans are also the caretakers of Buryat culture. Because of their knowledge of ancient tradition, their counsel has been sought throughout the ages.

The ancestors of Buryats used to  live in yurts,  in the steppes, they were nomads and were travelling from place to place, they worshipped the Great  Mother Earth and the Eternally Blue Sky, in Buryat language "Huhe Munhe Tengeri”, this is where the word "tengerism" comes from that defines better the  shamanism in Buryatia and Mongolia . They cherished the Mother Earth and had a deep respect to the Farther Sky ...
To honor your ancestors, your elders, your parents , to know the culture, to remember the  roots is particularly  very important for people in Buryatia.

In many Buryat families you may see the genealogical ancestral family tree representing family relationship with the oldest generations at the top and the newer generations at the bottom. Some of them are dating back years and years ago.  In my family for example, there is a family tree dating back to the 15th century in the farther lineage and it shows there were many powerful shamans in the tribe.  It is very common for  Buryat people to know their ancestors by name some generations back.

It is especially important and necessary to know what lineage you are from when you go to visit a shaman in Buryatia.  The first question a shaman would ask you is “Where are you from?” meaning what lineage you’re coming from, who are your ancestors, what  tribe etc.

When people go to visit a shaman they usually take some milk or a bottle of vodka, cigarettes, some goodies for offerings to the spirits , money.  All of this has a special explanation and purpose.

Milk is used for offerings to the spirits of the ancestors and vodka is mostly for shamanic divination. People come with all sorts of questions to a shaman: getting an advice and a blessing on the business, getting the help of the spirits in changing or getting a new job, marrying, becoming a shaman, soul retrieving etc, which suggests that a shaman besides his psychic powers also has to be a very grounded and knowledgeable person in all the aspects of life.

Shamans don’t have set fees for doing their work, but usually people always come with the generous amount of money.  Being a shaman is considered a full-time occupation. It is an occupation much like a doctor, teacher, or public official. In fact, because they serve their communities, a shaman is a public figure. In Ulan-Ude there is an association of shamans “Tengeri” where one can find the list of all practicing shamans in the area. They also organize tailagans and many other shamanic ceremonies every year.

Even though the rituals can be held by any shaman it is better to go to a shaman of the tribe that you belong. It is especially important when someone gets shamanic initiations.

To become a shaman one should first of all have a family history - utha (from Buryat - shamanic roots), ie to have an ancestor who was a shaman. It is even believed that a shaman can be great (most powerful), only if he has  in the family  at least 10 shamans among his ancestors, who actually become the guardian protection  spirits in relation to the newly chosen one.
Evidence of these "chosen by spirits " was a distinguishing mark on the body - tengeriyn temdeg (from Buryat: the divine mark): an unusual spot on the skin, forked fingers, strange behavior. It was believed that a true shaman should have had an extra bone, and that only people whose souls have studied in the other world the shamanic practice, can be good shamans.

To become a shaman at will was not possible. Spirits come only to the chosen ones by themselves, not obeying anyone’s will. The exception was if the person was stroked by a lightning and survived, or his descendant if his ancestor was was killed by lightning (choice of the gods), even if the dead man was not a shaman.

While in the west many are looking for shamanic initiation, want to be a shaman and perceive it as some  sort of entertainment or extreme experience, in the Siberian and Mongolian cultures this subject is treated with great fear and great respect.

Usually the people who received  a calling  to become a shaman are not so happy to find out about their destiny. Many are scared  of responsibility and consequences.  In Buryatia many believe that the shamanic calling is not a gift, but the burden. The “chosen ones” often find out about it suddenly and it is manifested by a "shamanic illness" they suffer, which outside may look like a neuro-psychiatric illness or very often they become alcoholics.

The person could also experience the incredible physical pain. The disease may last up to several years, accompanied by terrifying hallucinations. 

The shamanic illness may start at age of 20-45 but sometimes the crisis begins very early - at age 10 and even 7. The affected one is not feeling well among people and might experience suicidal impulses, he/she sees strange or scary dreams, sometimes losing consciousness. 

Getting rid of such mental illness (or long-term mental and physical health crisis) could only be done through the acceptance of the vocation of shaman and the beginning of shamanic activity. 
A shaman’s training takes a lifetime of work. It takes a great deal of practice and discipline. There are 9 degrees (levels) in traditional Buryat Mongol shamanism. They represent the nine branches of the World Tree. For each level there is an initiation called a Shanar. It takes years of study and training to reach each level.
Depending on his rank  the shaman can have his drum, iron crown, ritual cape and the right to hold more complex rituals. The highest rank - zaarin (9 th level) was rare even in the XIX century.  The first shamans, according to ancient Buryat legends, could rise into the air and soar through the trees, they actually flew in the clouds on their horses and performed miracles that their modern descendants can’t  repeat anymore.

Shaman is the one who is always between two worlds; the invisible world of spirits and our physical realm which is why often he is lonely and is not understood by the society, the one who was chosen to follow this path that he really had little choice but to become shaman. 

Adept  and  Teacher  in  Mystery School  and 
Hermetic  Institute of  Study,  Research, Training and Personal Development 
Elena Baldaeva


James Endredy: Shamanism for Beginners: Walking with the World's Healers of Earth and Sky
Michael Harner : The Way of the Shaman
Mircea Eliade : Shamanism: Archaic Techniques of Ecstasy (Bollingen Series)

This entry was posted on luni, ianuarie 17, 2011 at luni, ianuarie 17, 2011 and is filed under , , . You can follow any responses to this entry through the comments feed .

1 comentarii


Felicitari pentru articol!
Este foarte interesant si captivant.
Ar fi grozav daca ai putea sa scri mai des pe blog despre credintele estice, despre locuri, oameni, traditii...
Cat mai multe post-uri!!

18 ianuarie 2011, 00:05

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