Siberian shamanism

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An interesting hypothesis about the origin of the Siberian shamanism coming from ancient Indian priests – samaneyans that were expelled from their homes or were exterminated by the Brahmins, was first expressed in the 17th century by the Dutch geographer N. Vitzen, and later developed by G.F. Miller. “Outcasted from their former abodes, scattered across the Mongolian countries and driven to Siberia, samaneyans little by little turned aside from the wisdom of their ancestors, so that their children and followers do not have any trace of it ... If the religion of the Brahmins of India spread through the lands of Tibet, China, Mongolia, Kalmykia and Siberia, then why can we not assume that shamanism which is more ancient than Brahmanism penetrated the same way into Siberia?”. I can agree with the idea that the Siberian samaneyans forgot the wisdom of their ancestors. Even if the magicians and sages who escaped from Brahmins had magical skills such as yoga, many of these procedures and rituals are unlikely to be realized in the harsh Siberian frosts and abundance of midges and mosquitoes. And the lack of rites practice for 2 or 3 generations could reduce any skill to nothing. And there remained just few skills to help people.

In the modern interpretation shamanism is regarded as development of individual aspect in the religious practices of ancient people. From all the clan a man was chosen, a man with a special mystical talent who was different from others by his inherent ability, force, spirit; this person in religious rituals became clairvoyant and medium (from Lat. medius “intermediate”), an intermediary between spirits and humans. It’s interesting to mention that the word shaman in a number of Indo-European and Finno-Ugric languages literally means “one who knows”. So, it was, above all, a person who possessed more extensive information about the world, about the invisible and mysterious connection between a man and the powers of nature and who was able to convey all this information in some form to people contacting with him.

Psychologically, a shaman was needed in any small community of people, because it was important for this community to have “their own man”, who would be able to protect his relatives and tribesmen from the attacks of evil. A tribe needed an individual who could remove the psychological stress of their helplessness before the sky and diabolical powers, especially in a situation of the loss of beloved people, illnesses, injuries, etc. A shaman usually acted as a “healer”, and his rites among relatives and neighbors were intended to release them from sufferings, to expel evil spirits or to attract support of good ones, etc.

If we talk about ethnic shamanism, it is worth noting that it encompasses all forms of primitive beliefs. The same can be said about the “new shamanism”. This term was introduced by an outstanding man, Dr. Claudio Naranjo. In his book “The End of Patriarchy” he wrote: “I use the expression “new shamanism”, referring not so much to a borrowed term of shamanism introduced by anthropologists and physicians who got trained by traditional shamans, but shamanism as a combination of both transcultural and western approaches, in which the most typical aspect of this phenomenon culminates, namely, the individual creativity over tradition and the primacy of the consciousness transfer – that is, outside of ideas, rituals and other components of consciousness”.

The shamanic talent sometimes develops suddenly, at the drop of a hat, sometimes even when a person is not aware of the hereditary predetermination of his vocation. It can be a child of three to five years old, who suddenly begins to avoid games with his peers, to fall into reverie, to hum something, beating rhythm with a pebble or a twig, to see unusual dreams. It can be a teenager whose behavior seriously disturbs his parents, as he does not have a usual teenage desire to be an obedient member of the group, and his dreams acquire a very definite character. In particular, in his dreams he can see people who call themselves shamans – his ancestors who invite him to shamanistic activities, etc. It can also be an adult, even a very mature person, who has never thought about anything like that, at certain times being shy of his gift, as he was given an atheistic upbringing and education. Now that there is an intense revival of shamanism, to be a shaman becomes prestigious for both a child and an adult. But the shaman's vocation was to be supported by his personal qualities as well. A candidate for the shaman role must be distinguished by many virtues, and above all by a gift of intuition.

The possibility to highlight the shamanic cultural system of the Baikal region in social terms is due to presence on the shores of the Sacred Sea of at least two aboriginal peoples – the Buryats and Evenks – whose religious views interact and (or) overlap each other. In addition, there are neighboring peoples practicing shamanism, which the Baikal “old timers” have a long-standing relationship with. Among them there are, first of all, the Mongols, then the Yakuts (Sakha), Tuvinians, Tofalars, etc. And the Yakuts once used to live on the shores of Lake Baikal, and left the memory of this in some names of places, and in their legends. Living of all these peoples at the Baikal for a long time was possible due to the wet climate, species diversity of flora and fauna and the sustainability of the ecosystem that ensured beneficial fishing and hunting.

A peculiar kind of a religious branch, which conventionally (because of its geographical proximity) can be attributed to the Baikal branch of shamanism, is the shamanism of the Tofalars. Even though there is not so much data about it, it can be surely attributed to conformable-to-nature religion. Let us dwell on this very briefly. B.E. Petri singled out a number of leaders in the divine pantheon of Karagases (Tofs). Two deities, Burkhan and Ehrlich-Khan, dominated being respectively the lords of the upper and lower worlds. Next lower order there were the master of the mountains (Dug-Ezi) and the host of water (Sun-Ezi) who, in their turn, governed the owners of separate natural objects: ridges, gullies, rivers, lakes, streams and springs. Due to the territorial proximity to the Tuvinians, the perception of principal deities of the Tofs was largely similar. The Tofs believed that all people were guests in the realm of the master of mountains. He gave people animals, furs, success in all affairs, and above all success in hunting depended on his attitude. Dug-Ezi also guarded deer herds upon which the welfare of the Tofs was dependent. Unfortunately, in the 30s of the last century the institute of shamanism of the Tofalars was eliminated, leaving spiritual uncertainty in the soul of the taiga and mountain people, which now resulted in the alcoholism of many Tofs and their moral degradation (we will speak about it later on).

Because of the interaction of the peoples the Baikal shamanism could not help absorbing similar ideas, rituals and sacraments of different ethnic groups. Moreover, M.N. Khangalov tells a legend that the first who came down from the sky as a Buryat shaman was an eagle who because of men’s misunderstanding subsequently had to hand over his shaman dignity to a Tungus woman (Khamnigan-Ezhi). That Tungus woman gave birth to a boy, who became the Buryat shaman Bokholi-Khara. However, such legends are prevalent among the Irkutsk Buryats. Their fellow tribesmen on the other side of Lake Baikal have somewhat different ones.

B.D. Tsybikov, a famous scientist and traveler, has some informative notes about the Buryat shamanism. He wrote about some of its peculiarities. Firstly, the shamans were spokesmen for the ideology of specific tribes; they did not become mass and respected for a long period after their death “deities”. This did not happen, at least, because of two reasons. On the one hand, unsustainable gains of shamans’ rites, when sometimes they made serious mistakes in treating people or predicting their fate and future, in bringing supernatural forces to help, dropped their reputation. “The changeable fate did not let any shaman to consolidate his authority over a kin, in other words, history has no examples of such cases of when a shaman became famous on the tribal scale” (328, vol. 2, p. 165). On the other hand, shamanism did not develop written records of dogmas and rules till the 20th century, and that is why it was a religion, the experience and the rituals of which passed down orally, and therefore, this experience often turned out to be a property of a few close relatives and tribesmen of shamans. Secondly, the omnipotence of shamans was strongly resisted by the top of clans and tribes. In the Mongolian world there is a well-known case that happened to Genghis Khan, it was when he came to power with the help of a reputable shaman. “Shortly after the consecration of his power by the shaman the power-hungry Khan caught the wish of the shaman to influence him, and therefore, the affairs of the state. Genghis Khan organized the murder of the aspiring shaman. They declared to people, that the sky seeing the unworthy intrigues of the shaman, deprived him of his life”. Naturally, following such an example, many tribal leaders did not allow shamans to go beyond the limit.

One may say that shamanism in Mongolia and Buryatia in psychological terms was a “generic”, “clan” kind of religion, and the power of leaders was in proportion to the status of their inner circle on which they had a direct impact. It was often impossible for them to rise above their circles, and even more, to go beyond them.

The analysis of shamanism, of its substance and its role in the formation of the attitude of natives to the nature of the Baikal region is simultaneously simple and complex. It is simple, because shamanism in its views, positions, and beliefs is an ancient and hence somewhat primitive system of philosophy that all the nations experienced this or that way. A person of any nationality, when seeing some ideas of shamanism, may, after rummaging in the folklore, mythology and common everyday philosophy of his own people, find very similar and consonant views. Long-standing historical past of the people, similar conditions of development and unity of their psycho-physiological mechanisms formed the universal similarities of their inner world. That is precisely what allowed Carl Jung to develop his theory of the collective unconscious and archetypes.

What makes the analysis difficult is the fact that the shamanism’s main feature is what can be described by the Russian common expression “every city has its character”. Only in this case we can substitute cities with genera, tribes, uluses that unite people not only by their klans, but also by neighbors. The most noticeable it is on the example of the Western Buryats: among the Bokhan, Ossinsk, Ekhirit-Bulagatsk and other representatives there is always not only a variety of beliefs, but also peculiar variations of the same belief. From the standpoint of modern pluralism, this has its own charm: it is nice to see the nuances of identity and common traditions and legends, they act in particular cases every time in a new coloring and that moment makes them attractive again. We can say that in the time of absolutism under the communist ideology, polyphony of shamanism was alien and therefore was strongly suppressed, but the triumph of pluralism made it again meaningful and relevant. It is not by chance that in many foreign countries the interest in shamanism grows. But in terms of interaction between clans and tribes people have many problems in understanding each other, and there is a certain divergence of views because of the dissimilarity of ancestral beliefs, and even conflicts between the descendants of various ethnic genealogical branches. It is not occasional that there are many contradictions not only between the Eastern and Western Buryats, but, for example, between different tribes of the Western Buryats.

No need to wonder about the dissimilar versions of the same myths, legends, stories in different genera and tribes of the Siberian peoples. After all, we are not surprised, for example, that the Germans and French had their own ideology and philosophy, their own views on life. Here it is the influence of the language and distance. And the distance from the village of Ust-Ordynsky (the capital of Western Buryats) to Aginskoye (the capital of Eastern Buryats) is no less than from Paris to the eastern German lands. By the way, the Germans have a particular difference in the psychology connected with peculiarities of inhabitants of particular regions. These differences remain even with the active interaction of people today. Here is an interesting contemporary testimony of one of the federal lands of Germany – Bavaria that throughout its history was a duchy, a principality, and a kingdom. “Having such a rich history, the Bavarians are inclined to consider themselves to be special, and strongly emphasize this. The television basically broadcasts Bavarian channels, not German nationwide TV shows, and along the whole area there are monuments to the Bavarian historical figures – dukes, princes and kings”. The Bavarians even dress in a special way, and by all means try to show their uniqueness; at the same time they regard an idiocy any proposal to withdraw from the united Germany.

The discrepancies in the status of the Buryat traditions and beliefs are compounded by the fact that many shamanic rituals in Siberia are combined and integrated with the techniques and rituals of other ethnic groups. P. Pallas in his “Journey ...” described the rituals of the Buryat and Tungus shamans and remarked “in what and how great the difference among these various peoples is”, though still noted: “...the main element is deception and sorcery which they try to hide as much as they can, depending on the level of their skills because the basis of all Siberian pagan superstitions does not differ much”.

In connection with the named feature the author insured in advance against the criticism of informed readers that “some aspects of shamanism are not disclosed”, “he does not take into account...”, “wrongly interpreted”, etc. I work on the principle “I sell my goods at the price I've paid for them”, but, as mentioned above, the abundance of shamanistic beliefs combination does not allow one person “to buy and sell them all”. In my personal opinion the abundant variations of shamanistic beliefs in different genera deserve nothing but approval because it makes it possible to see the outside world in a unique, interesting and colorful way. Adding some details to a tale or subtracting an “unnecessary” part from it, in my opinion, is a pretty usual action for people. This can be clearly seen even when one listens to two stories told by different people about one and the same event: they will often differ. And, hence are all the variations. Having made such stipulations, let us consider the specific aspects of the environmental essence of shamanism.

The views on the relationship of shamanism and, in the whole, the philosophy of ethnic groups with nature, concern at least two aspects:

a) Animist and other views on the connection of human origin with that of animals, birds and even plants.

b) Features associated with the world of nature in the pedigrees of people who belong to a higher level of society, first of all, khans, noyons (leaders), shamans, etc.

The first aspect can be represented in the views of the Pribaikal Buryats on their own origins, the origin of the Buryat clans and tribes. And the following myths and legends are most prevalent in this respect.

1. The ancestor of many Buryats is the Bear – baabgay, it is their totem animal. It is interesting, in this regard, to consider some Buryat words and expressions. First of all, the word baabgay by its phonetic composition is very close to the word baabay “father”. Baabgayn ongon is an iconic symbol of the totem of the Bear. Baabgayn naadan is a dramatized dance, a mimic representation of the shaman, who is imitating the movements and habits of the bear.

2. The Bodongutsk Buryats, the descendants of the Kidans, have as a totem animal the wild boar – Bodon.

3. The Bulagatsk Buryats believed that they come from the bull. Among them there is the widespread expression Bukha noen baabay “bull – master – father”.

4. Since many of the Buryat tribes are in kinship with the Mongols, some of them have stories about totems of their ancestors.

a) Goa Maral – “a beautiful doe” – is the totem of tribes, descending from the deer.

b) Berte chono – “a gray wolf” – is the totem of some Mongolian tribes. The word chono certain ethnic groups pronounce like shono, hence the corresponding concepts: Shono udkha – literally “wolf's origin” – is the totem of the Verkhnolensk Buryats; Shono ongon is the spirit-protector from wolves; Shonoyn zeme – “the wolf’s guilt” – is connected with a very interesting legend of the Buryats. In their representation, the wolves were ordered by tengeris (“celestials”) to bit to death only the cattle that belonged to the person guilty in something. In this regard, it was forbidden to exterminate wolves, as they performed the supreme will.

5. The Khorinsk and Ekhirit Buryats have a beautiful legend telling that they came from the swan that was the wife of their distant ancestor and that gave birth to his two wonderful sons.

As one of the most sacred birds for the Buryats was the eagle (golden eagle, burged), it became the totemic symbol of the Buryat shamans. Eagles in the Baikal region nestle mostly on Olkhon. The island is also notable by its shamanistic traditions. These two facts are linked in the mind and form the basis for special representations. It was believed that there were birds - noyons, who reckoned the group name of the shamans’ ancestors of Olkhon. And the expression shubuun udkha (“bird-origin”) reflects the totem of the Olkhon and Tarasin shamans.

The holy places of Olkhon were associated not only with the cult of birds. Some of them reflect the existence of other spirits of ancestors. First of all they are the totem animals. For example, there was a legend about Izhimey – the highest mountain on Olkhon, that the immortal bear lives there in chains. You can not climb this mountain: it is a taboo according to the views of believers.

This brings us to the recognition of not only peculiarities of the origin of the Pre-Baikal Buryat shamans, but in general of the value of their bloodlines. Shamans have an expression udkha abakha – “to get hereditary”, i.e., to originate from a particular ancestral shamanic and darkhan (“goldsmith”) family. By the way, along with the shamanists’ origin the Buryats appreciated also the blacksmith one: darkhan roots, darkhan genealogy. Most likely, the man who commanded the fire and iron caused a deep respect and reverence in the Buryats as in many other nations. It would be enough to remember that in different nationalities one of the most common names is associated with the word smith: in Great Britain it is Smith, in Germany – Schmidt, in the Czech Republic – Kovarzh and Kovarzhik, the Hungarians have the Kovacs, and a Russian may be called Kuznetsov or Kovalev. The Kabansk Buryats – one of the largest regional groups in the Pre-Baikal region – honored Darkhan noyon and his wife Daygal – the master and mistress of Lake Baikal (in some tribes there may be just Dair Sagan noyon). Sagan Darkhan Tengeri was the Buryat blacksmith God, the patron saint of blacksmiths.

Another shamanic origin recognized by everyone was connected with fire and the sky: buumal udkha is the phenomenon of becoming a shaman, sanctified by the cult of the meteorite – the heavenly stone. An adherent of shamanism, who had a meteorite fallen on his territory, could be declared the founder of a new family of shamans.

But a special honor was given to Beegey hoer udha – those with double shaman genealogy, when a religious authority of a man has shamanic origins simultaneously on the paternal and maternal lines. This is considered to be one of the most important evidences of gentrice, power and importance of a shaman.

The shamans of the Pre-Baikal region observed extraordinary complexity of deities, saints, celestial beings, etc. connected, as we have said, with the presence of their own myths and legends in different Buryat tribes. Let us study 2 or 3 examples of this.

It is characteristic that the Buryat word ezhen (“a spirit, master”) is a polysemantic word that has many interpretations: tengeris (“celestials”), khans, noyon (“spirit, grandee, lord, and chief”), ongon (“god, spirit, or an image of god or spirit”), and the spirits of dead shamans. All this quite often leads to misunderstanding of the relations between words and their denotations.

There are Buryaaday haaduud (literally – the khats of Buryatia), i.e., the highest hierarchy of earthly gods in the Buryat shamanism. This cohort of khans-khats is in general a group of largely legendary historical figures and totems as masters of various objects of nature. And one of them is Khan Hoto Baabay, the master of the Olkhon Island. At the same time Begeen-Burkhan also lives on Olkhon in a cave of the famous shamanic Cape Burkhan; he is the lord of the Mongols. Oyhonoy ezhen Hoto Baabay Khan has one more partner – Shubuun noen (as the reader remembers – the “bird-noyon”) who is the personification of the sea eagle, or bald eagle. During the rite of sacrifice to Khan Hoto Baabay the Olkhon shamans make up of birch bark three stuffed eagles with tin legs and beaks, with eagle feathers attached to it to achieve similarity.

The peninsula Svyatoy Nos also had its own master – hushuun baabay. It is interesting to notice that the Buryats called the cape helmyn hushuun that means “a saber cape” or “the tip of a dagger”. A number of deities’ names were associated with the Angara River, or Angar Muren, the sacred river of the Buryat shamans. First of all this is Ama Sagan Noen, or Angaryn amanay ezhen, the deity of the source of the river. Also there was the well-known Buga-Sagan noyon, the spirit-master of the mouth of the Angara.

Some very beautiful and attractive places of the Baikal also had their own deities. For instance, in the place of Aya in the north-west coast of the lake there is a mountain, a small peninsula and a bay that bear the same name. On the mountain rocks of Aya there is Holy Scriptures (zureg) pertaining to the Neolithic and Bronze Ages; they depict human figures, the figures of animals and birds. Apparently, that is exactly why the mountain of Aya has a spirit-master, named Ergel Sagaan Noyon.

The pribaikalsky taiga also had a lot of spirits, patrons, and owners. One of the most famous of them was Bayan Hangay ezhen, the host of the taiga. Here we also cannot but notice Taygin ezhen Taril Ereen Noyon (literally – “my lord, the master of taiga Taril”). Since according to their genealogy the Buryats are more related to the stock raising peoples, they gave priority in their understanding and mastering the taiga to their distant relatives – Siberian Evenks, the indigenous inhabitants of the Baikal forests. Some of the Buryat tribes had the concept of Taygin ezheduud that assumed 58 Khamnigans (Evenks), the owners of the taiga spirits of the Evenk origin. Besides, they recognized the kinship with some of the Evenk genera, especially if they had been a “sanctified” family. In particular, one can find such words at the beginning of the Muruy family anthem: “From foremothers Khamnigan ... from the great shaman Khatar”, which not only emphasizes the importance of ancestral spirits of shamans, but also shows the ethnic origin of their high-rank ancestor.

The Buryats had many gods and spirits, which were sort of “curators” of specific activities and operations to solve everyday problems, and to supply people with food. Some of them were associated with fishing. For example, there was a well known to the Buryats Gulmeshe khatan,the god or goddess of fishing nets, fishing, and in some places they were regarded simply as ezhins, patrons of fishing tackles. For example, a single fishing gear, which is in Russian called morda, had its patrons – the deity Gureeshe Noyon and Gurshe khatan.

One of the most famous saints to the Buryats in the 18 – 19th centuries became Taryaakay ezhen; this name was awarded to St. Nicholas. The cult of St. Nicholas was associated with the development of agriculture in Buryatia that happened under the influence of imperial authorities.

Many rituals and holy holidays of the Buryats, like those of other peoples, are held in certain traditional dates. Of course, it concerns primarily the New Year. This Buryat holiday in the era of shamanism domination differed in its duration and time of celebration from that of the contemporary holiday when the New Year is based on the Lamaist (Buddhist) cult. In some of the Buryat clans there is an expression (I do not give the Buryat original here): “The beginning of a new year lies at the autumnal equinox, the beginning of new happiness – the equality of a husband and his wife”. These words indicate that once the Buryats celebrated the New Year on the 21st of September according to the modern calendar, and it was associated with the autumnal equinox. Since that day, according to the legend, the ancient Buryats began celebrating Sagaalgan – the New Year holiday, which lasted for a month.

Various sacrifices were held to honor heaven and earth, nature and various deities and spirits by the Buryats; these sacrifices could be both commonplace “bloodless” and “bloody” ones. An ordinary sacrifice is a daily sacrifice of food, tea, and pieces of meat, etc. to the spirit of fire, and in some places to ongons, tangible images of spirits. Passing by sacred places where shamans were buried, or where by beliefs some deities that descended to this place from the sky live, the Buryats stop at it and sacrificed tobacco, matches, ribbon, small coins, or wine here.

The “bloody” sacrifices were usually held in a complex with the “bloodless” ones in a compliance with the established practices. The “bloody” sacrifices were of two kinds: honorary, voluntary sacrifices of pleading utilitarian nature, the so-called taylagans; and sacrifices under duress due to illness, the so-called kherek (“need, require”); the donations in the latter case were propitiatory, redemptive, a kind of lease. Public (collective) taylagans were devoted not only to gods and deceased shamans, but also to the local masters of mountains, streams, lakes, and people in this case asked thespirits to give them prosperity and happiness, talented offspring, cattle, rain, grass, etc.

A notable reduction of “bloody” sacrifice was caused by the adoption of Lamaist faith by the Buryats and its impact on people “in parallel” with shamanism. It is known that shamanism animated living creatures, saying that souls go from one creature to another, i.e. they migrate. “Due to such a view shamanism rejected special bloody sacrifices to the spirits, but left a sacrifice of some parts of an animal bulk (legs, intestines, etc.)”.

There is a tradition in Asian Siberia to pay a tribute and to present gifts to gods and spirits. The Buryats do it in special places for ritual: near stones, trees, in the places specially equipped for this purpose. The Siberian peoples in most cases call all these places obo(o) or their symbols. As for obo(o)s, this reality is of a multiple content. Thus, one dictionary gives the following interpretations of it:

1) The frontier sign in a form of a pile of stones.

2) The pointer of roads built of stone, sand or branches.

3) The sacred gathering of stones on prominent places – tops of mountains, hills, mountain passes, that were created by men as a sign of worship of the spirits of mountains, nature.

4) An ancient animistic custom of many peoples of Asia preserved at the present time (see 195).

Similar explanations and transcriptions are observed, except for those in Buryatia and Mongolia, among other peoples of Siberia:

• the Khakass: oba – “mound”, “barrow”, “hill”, “a pile of sacred stones”;

• the Tuvinians: ova – “sacrificial mound”, “a pile of stones”, “embankment”;

• the Shors: oma – “sacrificial pile of stones on the top of a hill, mountain”;

• the Manchus: obo – “hill”, “knoll”.

This concept and ceremonies connected with it were also mastered by the Russians in Siberia. Thus, the Old Believers of Zabaikalie, who, as some scientists suppose, were not ethnically and religiously tolerant, still had the word obon in their dialectal vocabulary with the following meaning: “The abon is such a place where you have to say your prayers to God. There is a pile of stones and birch trees are all in ribbons there. Real abons are in the mountains, where people go just on holidays, but these little ones are also named abons”. “We stop the car near the abon, go out and splash (vodka). We learned it from the Buryats. Though they have their own God, and we have our own, we honor these places”.

The author of these lines is not only a psychologist, but also a pragmatist. And he is confident that the oboo as a pile of stones used to have not only symbolic but also practical significance. Ancient people first saw real benefits in something, and just then filled this phenomenon in with sacramental and (or) a mystical sense. In terms of economics and psychology the origin of the “small” oboo formation could be utilitarian observations and generalizations.

• Mountains provide water in the form of rivers, streams, brooks and a variety of springs (besides, the latter can be very useful for health);

• From a mountain, hill, or mound the surrounding can be seen better, the horizons are wider;

• Under the big heap of stones piled by nature or by a man in the summer time in the morning there gathers the water in the form of a condensate formed by the vapor of the atmosphere.

The last feature of the oboo to be a condensate was particularly important for inhabitants of the vast Asian steppes, who sometimes had to carry out long passages and cross almost waterless areas. And this pragmatic circumstance caused the “sanctification” of such places. So this way they made oboo a sacred, highly esteemed place with water, and held ritual gifts there.

Considering the psychosocial nature of shamanism on the example of Pribaikalie peoples, recognizing its visual errors and omissions for people and its persecution by the authorities, I should allocate one of its major socio-psychological features. Shamanism as a whole serves primarily as a family and tribal religion. This is evident not only and not so much in the fact that each clan had its own shaman (or a few persons of that status), but also in the fact that the main function of any shaman was building a consistent picture of the world for their relatives and care about their psychological health. And these functions were interdependent and interpenetrated.

As an illustration let us take a case, when the shaman was asked by his kinsman who fell ill or faced an unexplained phenomenon in his life to help him. The shaman organized the religious rite around this man, often performed in public. During the ritual the shaman turned to the spirits of the earth and the sky, attracting ancestor spirits to the ritual and as a rule found a definite place for any most incomprehensible act, for any disease in the chaotic cacophony of events. The man realized the connection between his problems and other phenomena, that with his vagaries of fate he is not alone in this world, that the supreme power will come to help him, he saw that this concerned people close to him and participating in the ceremony,– and he calmed down. This socio-psychological “suggestion” through the mechanisms of self-hypnosis often led to recovery – a kind of placebo effect (changes in physiological or psychological condition of the subject caused by the appointment of a harmless pill under the guise of a drug).

It is worth mentioning parapsychological phenomena accompanying shamanistic practices as well. These include, as already mentioned, clairvoyance, rectoscopy and proscopy, levitation, telekinesis and materialization of inanimate objects. In order to gain popularity a shaman could demonstrate some tricks, namely, to fly through the roof, to hover under the ceiling, to vomit from his mouth together with blood some accessories (staff pommel, bells for a hat, metal plates “mirrors”, etc.), to swallow hot coals, to impale his chest with a spear or a knife, to inflame the blank space under the outstretched arm, as if singing “feathers”. One of the most effective tricks was riding a sled pulled by spirits, or sail a boat when a vehicle got driven by an invisible force. Some of these tricks were considered mandatory for the shamans of high rank. For example, the Casat-shamans had to be able to vomit from his mouth the mentioned above accessories. However, unfortunately, the information concerning these phenomena was obtained from informants representing the local population and it was not registered by scientists.

By the way, the first scientists studying shamanism of the Siberian peoples treated their magical talents very skeptically. Let’s recall G.F. Miller’s words about the links of shamans with degraded Samaneyans. He spoke about their supernatural tricks this way: “To gain more respect for themselves or to back up their predictions, magicians often make miracles, so, of course, the latter seem to be for ignorant people; for me as I’ve been often present at such ceremonies they seem vulgar and pitiful and not able to be equated even to tricks daily done by our itinerant jugglers”.

It is interesting to mention that two German scientists Miller and Gmelin tried to “expose” one of Yakut shamans, who impaled herself with a dagger. But after the first unsuccessful attempt that was inspected by scientists, for the second time the shaman actually impaled herself and pulled out a bloody knife. “Then she gave a written confession with her signature and the signature of the city interpreter that until that case she had never impaled a knife through her body and that time had no intention to do this, but wanted to deceive us, like she did with the Yakuts... She had heard from her ancestors that people did not die if they stabbed themselves with a knife and ate a piece of their own fat... She recollected this in the interval between the first and second performances, and reluctantly decided to prove us that she did not cheat. And now, when she was peacefully persuaded she admitted that she had been deceiving the Yakuts to instill a greater respect for her art” (see 273, pp. 607 – 608). The scientists received a similar confession from one more Yakut sorcerer.

But there are other evidences by foreign authors. In particular, P.S. Pallas, who participated in the ritual of divination by a Tungus shaman in 1772, was surprised by her quite visionary answer: “However, all three questions, which we asked not without caution, she responded so well and so pleased us, that I was surprised and suspected, of course, that the interpreter who while translating to her our questions told her what we thought. The Tungus people boasted of their shaman that nobody taught her this art, but she herself reached perfection, first in her childhood living for a long time in reverie, like in madness”.

Educated people from Russia at different times along with the skills of shamans also identified those manipulations and false wonders that were created by some “magicians”. N. Shchukin in his essays noted that among the shamans one can observe antics, screaming and brutal deception, which is visible to an impartial spectator. “Sometimes he (shaman) hides an intestine filled with blood under his clothing; then after ripping it the shaman shows flowing blood to the viewers who believe that it flows from the shaman's belly. Sometimes he puts on his belly a few rows of birch bark, and he stabs the knife into it and walks with it around the yurta, yanks it and stabs it again into the belly, emitting cries. Unfortunately, the Russians believe shamans as well as the Yakuts and even tell how the shaman, cutting off his head, puts it on the floor; and after he conjured for a few minutes without a head, the shaman puts it back on the neck – and his head immediately adheres to it”.

If we try to analyze the data of the shamans’ manipulations from the contemporary point of view, they can be surely justified in terms of creating their own reputation, as rumors and gossip of people fulfilled their informing functions. It should also be said that such miracles recognized by different people contributed to exalting of the magical power of shamans and, accordingly, the possibilities of affecting the mental and physical health of their kinsmen. And analyzing this in terms of modern psychological effectiveness, it is impossible to disregard the effects of hypnosis, suggestion and autosuggestion that always help a person to improve his condition. We are no longer talking about well-known through television psychic capabilities of individuals that, apparently, are inherent to shamans. These points were recognized and renowned by scientists, who loved and worshipped Siberia, who knew its natural magicians. For example, V.A. Obruchev wrote about it this way: “Among the shamans there are people who reach striking art in their witchcraft, alternate effectively light with shadows, fiery spell with deathly silence, and the people whose voices are capable of exciting modulation, gestures, always appropriate and expressive. Their lips are pouring mysterious puzzles, brilliant stories and great metaphors, so that every viewer, whether it is a narrow-minded Yakut or Chukchi, or civilized Russian or German, is sometimes unwittingly captured, fascinated by the demonic power of this fiery and a wild spirit”.

The family or generic “construction” of shamanism is also manifested in the fact that during shamanistic rituals, each family head installed in a certain place his birch – tuurge that probably indicated the presence in every tribe, every family and even every man of his tree-protector that symbolized the vitality of the tribe, the family or the individual.

The family and tribal nature of the Baikal shamanism and its apparent effectiveness of psychotherapy realized itself, in our opinion, in one very significant fact. The thing is that the Buryat shamans of the Baikal (and of course the Evenks) were only slightly susceptible to the external psychological influence of “alien” religions. On the one hand, despite of a fairly rapid transition of related tribes of Selenga and Zabaikal Buryats to Lamaism (Buddhism), the Baikal (and all Irkutsk) Buryats until the 20th century remained faithful to their deities. The datsans and dugans constructed at that time by A. Dorjiev were of little demand. On the other hand, the baptism of the Baikal Buryats (hence among them there are many typically Russian last names like Egorov, Semenov, Ivanov, etc.) and their being for more than two hundred years in the bosom of the Christian religion did not turn out to be internally perceived attribute either. When the Soviet government started the persecution of the Christian religion and sought to substitute it by scientific atheism, the natives did not resist these tendencies, but quickly turned away from their Christian past. At that many individuals and clans of the ethnic group kept the internal commitment to shamanism.

Shamanism and the overall interaction of religious beliefs were also reflected in some common beliefs and external attributes of nature. Many natural monuments of the Baikal region are meaningful not only in the life of one ethnic group, but also in interethnic interaction. For example, A.V. Tivanenko shows the following aspects of multifunctional role of one of the most sacred places on Lake Baikal – the Shaman Rock (Cape Burkhan) on Olkhon:

1. The cemetery of the Neolithic, Bronze, Early Middle Ages and modern times.

2. The altar with bones and artifacts from the Neolithic to modern times.

3. The shamanic burial place of the nationwide or unitribal shamans of the highest rank.

4. The “entrance” into the underground and underwater world of dead ancestors: the Kurykan era, relics of the Buryat shamanism.

5. The cave – home of the spirit of the master of Olkhon and the entire lake, the god of thunder; a great local shaman.

6. The Lamaist cave temple and a wooden dugan (lower rank of Buddhist temples) in honor of the “evil god” Beg-dze or Zhamsaran.

7. The Christian chapel on shamans' holy place.

We can not, of course, deny or downplay the dual faith and even triple faithfulness that existed in Buryatia in the past two centuries, but it is still worth asking which of all religions (Buddhism, Shamanism, or Christianity) was an organic basis for the mentality of aboriginals and predetermined their internal attitude to the outside world? And most likely, along with just atheism the priority should be given to shamanism. Let’s fortify this thought with one more point: the Baikal shamanism is, in my opinion, a somewhat unique and original phenomenon, the essence of which is approximated as close as possible to the natural world of Lake Baikal. It is still very poorly disclosed to investigators and can make a genuine discovery in understanding the relationship between men and nature.

Analyzing the positive influence of shamanism on the attitude of aboriginals to nature, let us try to identify in the views and traditions of the Buryats, Evenks, Soyots, Tofalars and other shamanist ethnic groups of the Baikal region (as in the ancient beliefs of other peoples) the most important prohibitions and restrictions that are highly rational in relation to the world. Among the most common environmental and household taboos and prohibitions of the aboriginal peoples there were the following “must not’s”:

• Never desecrate a holy place with bad actions, thoughts or words.

• Never kill eagles (the iconic bird), the one who did it is doomed to imminent death.

• Never harm nature.

• Never leave a trail of stay, for example, inverted turf, rubbish; and always damp down your bonfire.

• Never catch or kill young birds.

• Never cut young trees at springs.

• Do not pick plants and flowers without any serious reason.

• Do not throw garbage and spit in the holy waters of Lake Baikal.

• Do not wash dirty clothes in the waters of springs and sources of “live” (mineral) water.

• Do not offend elderly people.

• Never deprive of life any living being without a good reason.

• Do not touch the fire with a knife or some other sharp objects (this reduces or even kills the cleansing power of it).

• Do not spray milk into the fire.

• Ordinary people can not utter out loud shamanic prayers just for fun.

In the recent time the scientific literature raises the question of the need to revive the traditions of the Baikal region peoples, including those with the religious ground. But experience shows that there is a rather weak basis for these processes. Ts.B. Budaeva who held the research in this field in Buryatia revealed that over 80% of respondents either did not face the facts that contributed to the revival of ethno-ecological traditions or saw no change in this process. The reasons for this situation are related with the:

• lack of initiative people and high level of local population inactivity;

• considerable loss of ethno-ecological traditions and the lack of the basis for their revival;

• poverty of the local population and dominance of a mercantile interests;

• virtual absence of state support and, accordingly, with absence of mechanisms designed to support the revival of ethno-ecological tradition.

From our perspective, oblivion of many traditions is a natural process: time passed, and circumstances have undergone changes and accordingly traditions do not work well with the modern life, the younger generation treats them as bygone. Psychological and economic control is required to revive them. The local community will take care about preserving traditions when it realizes the crucial importance of them in preserving nature and serving a good point of interest for travelers and tourists as well as in awakening the benefits of antique junks, immemorial rituals, folklore legends, folk song and dance groups. As they say, sink or swim.

At the same time the shamanism on the Baikal is experiencing a certain revival which is obvious judging by the fact that famous Russian scientists after K. Naronkho started to speak about the notion of “neo-shamanism in Buryatia”. It has found a further confirmation in the following facts. “Firstly, it is the creation of the Buryat shaman association that pursues publishing and educational activities along with a cultic one. Secondly, it is the shamans’ breakthrough in science, their willingness to cooperate with scientists, participate in scientific conferences and to enable a wide audience to get an idea of how shamans themselves perceive their gift and their role in the society. Thirdly, it is the shamans’ entrance on a nationwide scale from a limited and narrow scope. This is borne out by their readiness to play in the cinema and telefilms, give interviews and take care of the magazines and newspapers not to let them twist of what was said. Fourthly, it is the shamans’ trips to other regions as well as overseas with the aim to share specific nature of their own irrational experience”.

Most likely, this case of neo-shamanism is specific not only for the Buryats but also for some other indigenous peoples of Siberia. But most actively these processes occur at Lake Baikal. It’s based on the following evidences. Thus, the first buryat tailagan, condemned to long-lasting oblivion, was held in 1993, and it was devoted to the master of Olkhon-Oikhoni buural-babaya. In 1996 Lake Baikal hosted the symposium “Shamanism of Central Asia: philosophical, historical and religious aspects”, and Siberian shamans were the most active participants of it.

The neo-shamanism in the Baikal area has the future ahead, because a well-educated body who gave rise to this movement, participate in it, such people as U.A. Karayev known for his long service at the republican library as a chief and a short-term service as the Minister of cultural affairs, N.A. Stepanov known as a lecturer of the East-Siberian Academy of Culture and Arts, the president of the Buryat shaman association and who is famous in such countries as Italy, France, the USA, etc. for his profound knowledge of shamanism.

Valentin Hagdayev who comes from the Olkhon distrcit is a representative of a shaman family and can serve a good example of the shamanism revival at the Baikal. His shamanistic genealogy is evidenced by 19 shaman generations in his family and moreover it has a physical proof, i.e., a forked thumb on his arm which is called an extra bone and which is characteristic of the spirits’ chosen ones. The family totem of V. Hagdayev is a bald eagle. It was a Tungus female, a keeper of the fire, who shared her shamanistic knowledge with this shaman family and who later passed on her gift to her husband who had the Buryat ethnicity. V. Khagdaev believes that a shaman is a keeper of tribal legends, sacred knowledge, traditions and customs of his nation. His aim is to promote a better understanding of shamanism among people as he is well aware that the revival of shamanism after a long-lasting atheistic period can be a hard game to play. V. Khagdaev, the Elantsy museum director, is currently involved in the outreach work of the Pribaikalsky national park and he also teaches regional subjects at a local school. Besides, the shaman is engaged in writing research papers on shamanism and Buryat culture.

On his case V. Khagdaev demonstrates the point when the attitude of people comes to conflict with the sacraments and some modern trends in shamans’ lives. Among other factors is a failure of fellow countrymen to grasp shamans’ striving for their images. Once on Olkhon I’ve heard locals saying that Khagdaev is not a shaman any more, but a showman. The Buryats believe that real shamanism is a religion for few, close people, but not a massive one. It is difficult to challenge the accuracy of this viewpoint but anyway the Siberian shamans will have to act in public to build up their religious, cultural and ecologic brand, which will turn to advantage for the lands they reside in.

Over recent years the shamans strive for solution of real-world problems. Thus, the shamans coming from the districts neighboring with the Baikal hold annual religious ceremonies aimed at protecting Irkutsk against industrial disasters as well as accidents, and the air safety is above all. They believe that the Irkutsk airport is the place where a buryat shamanka (feminine) was unjustly sentenced and put to death by merchants. It is her umbra that is the cause of all tragedies here. For this reason, the praying that takes place in the Irkutsk area is intended to bring prosperity to the city.

The Baikal lakeside is often a place for mass ceremonies when shamans perform shamanistic rituals, knock in their tambourines and call upon their spirits as aides to improve weather and grass stand, to bring luck to families and to rescue people from misfortunes. Thus, in July the Olkhon district hosts a well-known shamanistic ritual called “Erdyn ekhe tailagan”.

At present shamanism is by no means to be isolated from an integral life of a particular nation or from cross-national interaction as they have common trends. The aforementioned interaction is revealed in the prominent explorer of shamanism M. Eliade’s work: “Sociologically and economically the resemblance of prehistoric Indo-Europeans and ancient Turcomen and Tartars is highly expressive: both communities are patriarchally structured when a householder is of great account and they are mostly engaged in hunting and animal husbandry….. Likewise cultism, characteristic of the Turcomen and Tartars, Ugro-Finnic and Arctic nations, i.e., primitive hunters and cattle breeders, can also be traced back to the ancient Greek sacrifice namely the Olympian one. The facts provided above reveal the problem that concerns all of us: we should determine whether shamanism is still peculiar to various Indo-European nations compared to the Turkic and Tartar shamanism and taking into account economic, social, religious symmetry between ancient the Indo-Europeans and the Turkomen (or the prehistoric Turkomen) and Tartars.

The traditions of shamanism, its immemorial customs and rituals are manifested in various Siberian nations, and we aim to discover those specific features in business activities of aforementioned nations. It is reasoned by the fact that Asian indigenous ethnic communities are experiencing a rapid revival of shamanism, and other nations are very respectful of this process. From our perspective, the impact of shamanism on social and economic mentality of people should be considered in the following lines:

1. The shamans’ influence on business activities of indigenous ethnic communities.

2. The regulative power of shaman traditions and ceremonies influence on various ethnic groups in some significant areas of human activity, such as environment protection.

3. The influence of shamanism on a better understanding and cooperation between nations that reside in multi-ethnic Siberian regions.

4. The shamanistic items and rituals as good religious commodities for tourists and those who are passionate about fathoming a mystery of shamanism.

Let’s take a short observation of aforementioned issues.

Shamans are known to have an influence over their tribesmen, and it has always been based on the social and psychological principle saying: “He is one of us but we are behind him on some matters”. Thus some simple ideas theshamanism is based on: there are spirits that are mightier than human-beings; they are to be honored; some are good at it and they are preferred by the spirits.

The interconnection, interdependence and psychological capacity of shamans to have an influence over their tribesmen were based on the following principles.

• The majority of shamans inherited the virtues from their well-known ancestors.

• Shamans and their ancestors cooperated with spirits and deities, and defended their tribesmen counteracting the bad influence on them.

• Shamans possessed the ability of conjuring up the spirits of dead ancestors and totems to stand by their side, and in case of their death to bid final farewell.

• Due to aforementioned reasons shamans enjoyed a great popularity in terms of otherworldly and mystic matters as well as daily activities.

• Shamanistic rituals were supported by tribesmen as they acted more than just observers and thus the rituals contributed to pulling people together.

The aspects of the above mentioned realities free from mysticism are of great value in present economic activity. At present shamanistic traditions are of great importance and it finds a confirmation in the ecological policy pursued in this religion.

Shamanism shapes well when it comes to revival in its educative and commercial functions. The emerging novelties contribute to entry of new prospective members interested in shamanistic philosophy and rituals. The well-known explorer of Siberian shamanism V.I. Kharitonova states: "The novelties and traditions are so closely entwined in contemporary shamanism that it’s quite challenging to straighten out this phenomenon. Shamanism, being a current specific phenomenon (not to mention current interpretations of the term,) turned out to be excessively nondescript and vague” (324, p. 234; emphasis added by the author). She points out the following types of shamanism that are in common practice now:

social shamanism;

neo-shamanism;

urban shamanism;

synthetic shamanism;

experiential (“learning first-hand”) shamanism.

A wide range of shamanistic novelties, even if fake ones, promotes the enhancement of their commercial value as it leads to increase of people and companies engaged in advertising the “commodity”. For the past years the regions where shamanism is practiced namely Tyva, Buryatia, Khakassiya and other Siberian regions have been enjoying an inflow of Russian and foreign tourists. It certainly yields good revenue to businessmen and local budgets.

And while discussing the subject of reviving shamanistic and other religious traditions on the Baikal lakeside we cannot side-step the other side of this story, namely the “littered deities” which has reached epidemic proportions.

If you happen to go to the Olkhon Island past the Ust-Ordynsky autonomous district or to Listvyanka from Irkutsk, to Kultuk and Tunkinsky valley, you’ll experience mixed feelings: excitement at the sight of numerous sacred places with various objects of worship but frustrated at the sight of plastics and bottles, broken crockery and cellulose bags near them. These sacred places imply people’s adherence to ancestors’ traditions which is displayed to guests including foreigners. But the garbage found side by side with sacred places will definitely produce a backlash on a neat-minded and reasonable people as the garbage reveals human souls which are “littered”, and the genuineness, efficiency of the religion is open to question. In connection with this we face a challenge to bend every effort to refute this opinion.

We started our discussion of the subject of shamanism in broad terms and on the Baikal lakeside taking into considerarion the following ideas, the first one is that shamanism is a widely-known phenomenon but it exists within the limits of tribes or families; and the second one is that shamanism is of great psychological value for a human being and for ethnic community in the whole. These thoughts are shared by N.L. Zhukovskaya that she represents in her sketch devoted to the significance and mission of the Buryat neo-shamanism. “The cultural and ecological niche of shamanism within which it functions remains the same. It is a small motherland - a birthplace with ancestors’ grave sites, a place where ancestors are treasured in memory; but these family ties are tearing thus turning people to a defenseless position. Thus the challenge set before shamanism is to encourage people to cherish the memory of their roots.

Furthermore, it should be added that shamanism is aimed at preserving nature of the small motherland and running a good environmental policy. I wish a well-known anecdotal to come true; the anecdote runs that the famous Russian businessman, the CEO of UKOS Khodorkovsky was put to jail after the shamanistic ceremony in defense of sacral places which were at risk after the UKOS’s project to build oil pipe up to China. The psychological prospects of shamanism are infinite. Shamanistic thoughts and spells stir human interest and belief in unstudied, unidentified, mysterious and supernatural phenomena. It doesn’t really matter who or what these feelings are guided by. Shamans can be called moribund primeval obscurants, but the truth is that shamanism lives within us. 

Выходные данные материала:

Жанр материала: English | Автор(ы): Karnyshev A.D. | Источник(и): The Many Faces of Multilingual and Mysterious Baikal. Ulan-Ude. 2012 | Дата публикации оригинала (хрестоматии): 2011 | Дата последней редакции в Иркипедии: 30 марта 2015

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Тематический указатель: Irkipedia English