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The Shamanic Gift and the Performing Arts in Siberia

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"When I was young we had no television, no radio, no movies," said Choodu Mindriyaa, a storyteller in southern Tuva in 1993. "Instead we used to go out and watch shamans. They could do the most amazing things! I remember one who walked on a tight rope, and another who could walk on coals and stab himself in the chest with a knife. When he drew the knife out there was no blood, no scar. The shamans were our entertainers, and we would travel a long way to see them."

Shamans were the greatest performing artists of pre-Soviet Siberia. Their sacred gifts created and maintained a live connection with the world of spirit, helping to heal and protect their people, and their power was often judged by their ability to produce improvised poetry, music and dance. The dramatic parts of their ceremonies allowed community members to enter an altered state of consciousness, as we all do when watching a brilliant performance. This raised the collective energy in which spirits came present and the miracles of "classic shamanism" took place. It was a group phenomenon, embodied by the shaman and supported by the community.

Elements of artistry and "show" fell away during the religious and political persecutions of the Soviet era, which eliminated the majority of the most powerful and dramatic Siberian shamans. Others went underground to evade the attention of the authorities, who were trying to eliminate the most visibly influential opponents of the new regime. In most areas some shamans continued to practice quietly and without fanfare.

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In the post-Soviet years young shamans have been creating modern healing and ritual practices with the help of surviving older shamans, their helping spirits, and other people who remember the old ways. In Tuva they are working openly in urban clinics and in small villages. Tuvan musicians have attracted world attention to their small republic and its spiritual culture through their highly successful tours. In Khakassia talented and visionary performing artists are considered to have a gift almost identical to that of a shaman, and their work also serves to heal the community as a whole by raising self-esteem and continuing the shamanic traditions of transmitting culture and history and appeasing ancestral spirits through the gifts of creative energy. Shamans have a visible presence in the republic's politics and cultural development, and in the summer of 2000 they were cooperating with professionals in education, culture and health to write a proposal for the government concerning the recovery and development of the Khakass people.

The Sakha Republic has developed ritual theater alongside shamanic practice. In Buriatia and other Central Asian republics, shamans are conducting clan ceremonies and doing healing work, while "shamanic" performers build touring careers and are active in the national theatre. All of these artists acknowledge openly the spiritual basis and purpose of their work just as shamans are enriching their practice with the arts of music, poetry, and storytelling.

In other areas, such as the Amur River region, few if any new shamans have yet emerged and the older ones are dying out rapidly. Creative gifts are showing up in the visual arts, education, and politics. Traditional herbal medicine and other healing practices still survive, but very quietly. With the exception of a few doctors who use shamanic methods in conjunction with mainstream and alternative medical practices, creative people are not considered to be shamanic. The most powerful community leaders devote their attention to education and resolving issues of land tenure and ecology. Some talented young people leave the area to study and do not return, developming their talents in non-traditional directions. Although the region's excellent visual artists, mostly wood carvers and embroidery artists, display their work nationally and internationally, the performing arts are directed more toward educational work with children than toward adult audiences. None of the peoples of the Amur has a national theatre, although there are many music and dance performance ensembles.

This situation could change at any moment. But for now I would like to look at possible reasons for the difference between the regions, and see whether the performing arts are as necessary to the survival of shamanism in the modern world as they were in the past.

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New Shamans in Tuva, Khakassia and Buriatia
The lives of four young people illustrate the ways the traditional shamanic gift translates itself into contemporary life in the Turkic/Mongolian republics. The world they live in is very different from that of their ancestors, and their practices adapt accordingly. Looking at their stories will show us what they have that may be missing in the Amur region. There are many such stories to be heard, each unique but with some basic common features.

Today's Siberian shamans and their clients are products of a Soviet upbringing, which denied the reality of spiritual life and called shamans primitive charlatans. They must cope with conflicts between what is left of the Communist party organization and the new mafia and religious cults from the outside, as well as serious diseases and injuries brought about by careless approaches to industry and the environment. Most are urban dwellers, feeling both a desire to be of service and a profound need to make a living. Today's shamans emphasize the importance of human interaction with nature, its calming effects on us and our need to care for it. This is what gives people the strength to survive hard times like the ones they are living in.

The new shamans serve many facets of society. Some believe that a shaman's place is in the village, working with rural people like the shamans of the past. One of the things they do is to conduct clan rituals, since in many cases the ancestors and the spirits of their sacred places are discontent. The shamans raise consciousness about how those places should be treated. Other shamans serve urban people, ranging from individuals with physical, emotional and economic problems to nationalistic political movements, and new business elites formed from old party hierarchies. One shaman in Tuva told me in 2000 that most of his clients require treatment for concussion, caused either by domestic violence or by fighting resulting from abuse of alcohol. Some shamans travel abroad to share their culture and shamanic techniques, and to make money and gain a world-wide reputation, although the latter may not benefit them at home.

Although there are many who doubt the authenticity of the new shamans' claims, virtually all had shamans among their ancestors, and say that heredity is the main thing that sets them apart as shamans from other kinds of healers and diviners. The gift can pass down either the female or male line, and many trace lineage on both sides. The hereditary tradition has maintained itself through the dry years in the memories of older people, in books of ethnography and folklore, and even in subconscious or genetic memory. Today some people receive unexpected information directly, through dreams, visions, meditation, or their contacts with nature, in the same way their ancestors did.

Each of these people has had an initiatory experience and found a way of confirming its validity with their elders. Each has found support for their practice among people their own age, and viable ways of developing the gift and being of service to their community. Each lives in a semi-autonomous republic, as opposed to a province of the Russian Federation, like the Khabarovsk Territory.

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Ai-Churek Oyun(1)
Tuvan shaman Ai-Churek Oyun tells of a terrible storm which raged when she was born, but calmed down as soon as her first cry rang out. The moon came from behind the clouds, which led to her parents' calling her "Moon Heart." In early childhood she had frequent contact with spirits, encouraged by her mother who was also a shaman(2). But after the mother's death Ai- Churek was sent to live with relatives, since her father was a hunter who spent little time at home. The relatives punished what they perceived as her eccentricities, and later she spent several periods of time in psychiatric institutions because of the voices she heard. The doctors were unable to diagnose or cure her. This continued while she was studying near Moscow, until she began to pray in an Orthodox church, attracted by the music and the peaceful appearance of the people she saw coming out. Her problems cleared up completely with the birth of her first child.

She became a practicing shaman in her thirties under the guidance of Tuvan shaman-scholar Mongush Kenin-Lopsan, who worked tirelessly during the Soviet years to preserve shamanic culture. He now heads the shamans' association, which coordinates the training, certification, and placement of new shamans. At the first Tuvan conference on shamanism in 1993 he recognized her gift and she heard shamans (including Tuvans and members of the Foundation for Shamanic Studies from the U.S.A.) tell their own stories, which were similar to her own. She feels this support from people like herself has been very important in developing her gift.

There are now at least four shaman's clinics in Tuva. Clients can sign up for a session with one of the shamans, who come from villages or towns to work for several weeks at a time. They do a thorough diagnosis, taking a case history and using several means of divination, and then either do a healing or recommend a further course of action. Sometimes Russian and other foreign healers also work in the clinics.

Ai-Churek carries out ceremonies and works at the clinics, using soul retrieval and shamanic massage, a type of deep massage that removes foreign energies as well as loosening muscles. She is actively engaged in training new shamans, working with children in her home village, and teaching intensive workshops in Italy, where she helps westerners understand how they can adopt shamanic methods to their own culture.

She emphasizes to her students the importance of discovering one's own creative gift and directing its power to help others, recognizing spiritual freedom in ourselves and others, sensing and taking strength from the environment in order to use it for healing, and the many healing and invocational uses of musical sound.

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Tatiana Kobezhikova
Khakass shaman Tatiana Kobezhikova tells of signs which appeared at her birth, as they did for many shamans of the past(3). Her family had driven a sledge onto a ferry where she was born—a gypsy assisting with the birth. An eagle, which was to become one of Tania's helping spirits, landed on the hitching post.

In childhood Tania began healing with plants, diagnosing clairvoyantly. She learned from her grandmother's brother who was a storyteller and herbalist. Her mother and sister are also well-versed in herbal healing, but because of the persecution of shamans during the Soviet period, the family was distressed when Tania began to predict things that were about to happen, and could see auras around people. They tried to dissuade her from developing her shamanic gift, but have given their support to her more open practice since the fall of Communism.

Like the shamans of the past, Kobezhikova went through a period of illness. In her case it came at the age of 33, beginning with a tick bite. Before this she had also studied with traditional Russian healers and an Evenk shaman. She describes the moment when her real shamanic work began. "I was going with friends to some ancient caves where I had been many times, but this time we lost the way. We stopped at a mountain pass to rest. My vision began while lying on the ground. The sun in my eyes was bothering me. I turned away, and then jumped up and began to run so fast that two men could not catch me. I began singing prayers in the language of spirits, and conversing with them. My friends felt the presence of spirits, but didn't understand the words, which were probably not in a human language. In the vision a drum was given to me by spirits. My friends also heard it clearly. Through the process of initiation I have gained strength and an increasing sense of responsibility to people. I can now attune to vibrations even without my drum or jaw harp."(4)

In 1996 Tania sought consecration from hereditary shamans in Tuva and Mongolia. She has made a costume and drum, and her practice involves traditional methods of soul retrieval, divination, and massage. She conducts her healing practice out of her apartment in Abakan, and also uses her psychic abilities to help archaeologists find and interpret sites. She was part of the Khakass shaman's organization but has since parted company with the other shamans.

Tania has also developed something which I am calling "eco-tourist shamanism", in which she guides people, both locals and outsiders, through the many sacred sites in Khakassia: kurgans, ancient observatories, caves and petroglyph sites. She helps her clients to feel the energies of the earth, developing rituals which contribute to personal growth and ecological awareness. A ritual at the gate to the valley of kurgans outside Abakan allowed us to let go of unwanted energies from the past, while circling through an ancient cave brought about a ritual rebirth. (Tania says this cave has been used this way for 30,000 years). Although serious problems including damage to delicate terrain and commercializing spiritual traditions have resulted from spiritually oriented ecotourism in Central and South America, so far in Khakassia it is on a very small scale and has created no damage either to the land or to indigenous culture—in fact so far it is more likely to be beneficial in increasing public awareness about ecology and the importance of sacred places.

Valentin Hagdaev(5)
Buriat shaman Valentin Hagdaev divides his time between his home village of Yelantsy on the west shore of Lake Baikal not far from the south end of Olkhon Island, and the city of Ulan Ude in Buriatia, where he is studying in a graduate program which combines his shamanic knowledge with a western education. In Ulan Ude he finds a mix of Tibetan Buddhism and esoteric western tradition in addition to ancient Buriat-Mongol philosophy, while in his own village he helps people deal with physical, social and economic difficulties by doing family rituals, individual healing and divination, storytelling and ecological work.

This is the way he described his initiation to me in 1996. "At the age of six I went to sleep and couldn't wake up. My parents took me to the hospital. I saw the other world—it was many-coloured and took the form of a sphere. Answers appeared before I had a chance to frame my questions. At last I came back to my body, feeling that our world is full of suffering but that in the other world everything is easy.

"One time years later, while walking on the road I saw a black horse. It happened just beyond the edge of the village of Yelantsy, where the mountain begins. I was walking along and suddenly felt frightened. I had an intuitive feeling of horses, the sounds and names of them. I heard the voices of dead people. I knew the traditions and so I was prepared—I had brought a knife, a staff and a light, but as I crossed the footbridge over the river my flashlight went out. It was 4 PM and already dark. I heard footsteps behind me and a strange feeling passed down through me from my head. I knew that if I made a sound, my soul would go out through my head. I stuck the staff into the ground, then turned around and threw it. It was then I saw the black horse with white teeth.

"I went home. An elderly man told me that long ago there had been a black horse like the one I saw—a horse that won all the races. It became a tribal animal. The fact that this horse appeared to me was a special sign. Some years before there had been a shaman who could move up through the chimney to the upper world, starting from a black horse skin. Another sign is that I have six fingers on my right hand, the hand for making offerings. People came from village and city and said I was to be a shaman, but at first I refused. Later I agreed and began to learn my path."

Valentin Hagdaev feels that one of his important roles is storytelling, since in this time of economic and social difficulty people need to hear about the heroes of the past, and to get a feeling that the hard times will pass. He entertained me on a long hike through cold rain with his lively renditions of stories explaining the origins of the Buriat clans. Valentin also runs ecotourist excursions similar to Tania Kobezhikova's—his are on Olkhon Island in Lake Baikal, working through the National Parks Service. These too are beneficial in raising public awareness of sacred places, although there is strong feeling in Buriatia against further large meetings of shamans and scholars like one held at Baikal in 1996. The event was followed by fires, flooding and unexpected deaths, felt to have been caused by the uncontrolled energies aroused by the gathering.

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Vyacheslav Kuchenov(6)
The most dramatic story I have heard of a performing artist receiving the "shamanic" gift is that of Khakass storysinger Vyacheslav Kuchenov. Now in his late twenties, he was not brought up in the traditions of his ancestors and spoke the Khakass language only when he spent summers with his grandparents in their village. He knew next to nothing about his people's history or of the poetic language of the epics.

Kuchenov spent several years in St. Petersburg in the late 1980s, studying to be a sculptor. What happened when he returned to his native land in 1994 has become a contemporary legend, and is an inspiration to the creative arts and cultural revival.

"He went out to visit his aunt in an isolated village," said my friend the sociologist/philosopher Larissa Anzhiganova excitedly, as soon as I arrived in Abakan in 1997. "He had to walk a long way to get there along a muddy trail. When he arrived, his aunt carefully cleaned his boots and put them up on the woodstove to dry overnight. Slava went to sleep. In the night a strange tall man woke him up and insisted that he come out of the house and up into the mountains. There the tall man told him that he must become a khaiji—or singer of epics. "I can't do that!" Slava replied, amazed. But the man, who turned out to be a khai eezi, or spirit of song, insisted. He explained that Slava would learn to sing khai, a low guttural form of throat singing, and to play several folk instruments including the chatkhan (zither) and khomys (bowed lute) used by traditional storytellers. He explained how the instruments were to be tuned and showed Slava their unusual shapes.

The next morning the young man thought this had all been a dream—until he looked at his boots which were again covered with mud! He told his grandfather about the experience, and the grandfather replied, "Ah well, better to be a storyteller than a shaman!" No one who has frequent contacts with worlds beyond what we see with our eyes has an easy life, but a loved and respected storyteller occupies a more comfortable position than a shaman, who could be respected but feared.

Slava learned to sing and to play. He went to a local musical instrument maker, Petya Topoev, who has had his own meetings with spirits.(7) The instruments Topoev created have unusual shapes, and are replete with symbolism both in their form and decoration. When Slava opens his mouth to sing, the spirit of khai enters him, his voice changes, and he improvises long tales similar to traditional epics of the past. He uses poetic language specific to the epic, forgotten by all but the elders, including words he had never heard before.

He now performs regularly, mostly in small villages, and sometimes at funerals where he sings over the life of the deceased, as did earlier khaiji, in the form of a heroic epic. If he doesn't perform, he feels ill—the spirits are bothering him. Both shamans and storytellers are involved in seeing off the souls of the dead to the next world. A storyteller may sing during the time when the body lies at home before the funeral, which people say is comforting to the soul of the deceased. Forty days after death a shaman should see the soul off, although this ritual happens rarely today in Khakassia.

Slava sang for me in his studio in the city of Abakan. He explained that he could only sing the opening of one of his pieces (about fifteen minutes), since once the spirit truly entered him he would have no choice but to sing it to the end—which must be done in ritual form and could take all night. He sang to the accompaniment of his chatkhan, a seven-stringed zither tuned in fourths and fifths.(8) First he would do a section in khai, and then he repeated the same section in a normal speaking voice. This clarified the khai section, he explained, which may have been in the language of spirits, difficult for ordinary listeners to understand.

Everything about Kuchenov's initiation and practice is in line with traditions surrounding khaiji of the past. First there was his meeting with mountain spirits, who permeate Khakass folklore and shamanic practice. Hunters used to take a storyteller along, whose campfire tales attracted the spirits of the mountains. In turn they sent many animals as a reward, and the teller received an equal share of the hunters' take. These same spirits often help shamans and appear as characters in folktales.

Slava describes his artistic process in the same way as the khaiji of the past. "I close my eyes and see scenes unrolling, which I then describe." Even the fact that his instruments have unusual shapes has parallels in ethnographic literature (Funk 1999:327). His insistence on telling the story through to the end is an essential part of the storyteller's art, and there are legends about the dire fate that awaits a teller who refuses to tell or who stops in the middle.

Storytellers are in many ways similar to shamans, although some say they hold more knowledge and are stronger. Storytellers, like shamans, have their own ancestral lines, enter altered states of consciousness, and can heal the sick. The storyteller's relationship with his musical instrument is similar to that of the shaman with the drum—both "ride" their instruments, seeing them as horses or other animals. (A story told without a musical instrument is called "a story on foot.")

The content of Slava's stories is new, answering the needs of his times. Current events mingle with history. Some say that for this reason he is not a "real" khaiji. "I'd love to tell the old tales—especially Altyn Aryg,"(9) says Slava. "But when I try to learn them from books it just doesn't work. Again, I get sick. My grandfather says maybe the spirit of the old teller Kurbizhekov doesn't like my telling. Perhaps it will come when I get older."

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The Amur Region
How is all this different from the Amur region? Probably fewer than five shamans still survive among the Nanai, Ul'chi, Oroch, Udeghe and Nivkh of the Khabarovsk Territory, all close to ninety years old or more. As of this writing no young shamans have appeared among the Udeghe and Ul'chi, and few if any among the Nanai. I am referring here mostly to the strongest category of shaman—those who conduct the ceremonies of conducting the souls of the dead to the next world, since domestic shamanism is quietly practiced in many places as it has been throughout the twentieth century.

In 1997 I heard about an Udeghe girl who began hearing words in her dreams whose meaning she did not know in waking life. She discussed this with Valentina Kyalundzyuga, who is one of the foremost speakers and scholars of the language. Kyalundzyuga identified the words as coming from the shamanic ceremony of accompanying the dead (khanyaunya khuni). There was hope that this girl might become a shaman, but to date this has not happened, in spite of the fact that she had a similar experience to that of Slava Kuchenov (if somewhat less dramatic!) and support from her elders.

One Ul'chi ensemble leader, Nadezhda Duvan, began travelling to the US some years ago with elderly shamans Mingo Geiker and Misha Duvan, (now deceased.) She continues to conduct experiential workshops there herself, introducing Americans to shamanic traditions and parts of the bear ceremony. But although Duvan may be advertised in the US as a shaman, her role at home is more one of holder or carrier of shamanic knowledge, some of it secret, which she will pass on to younger people as appropriate.

A few medical doctors have begun using shamanic methods of diagnosis and healing. In 1993 one Udeghe doctor, Lyubov Passar told me, "There was a time when I started having severe visual disturbances. At first I thought I needed new glasses, but that didn't help. I was beginning to see auras around people. Later I studied hypnosis and bioenergetics in Moscow, and my own symptoms cleared up."(10)

People began to come to Lyuba from a wide area to find help when nothing else worked, treating her almost as if she were a shaman. She developed a strong practice treating alcoholics, many of whom successfully gave up drinking. A few years later Lyuba discovered through consultation with older family members that she had shamanic heritage, which she had been unaware of, and she realized for the first time that she might become a shaman. She considered developing those talents more fully, including the ritual aspects. But the last I heard is that she has now taken a different direction in her healing practice, moving into Christianity and away from shamanism.

One reason that Lyuba Passar's practice is so important, whether or not it is shamanic, is that alcoholism is one of the major social and medical problems in the Khabarovsk Territory. Some of the elders explain its prevalence by the fact that the ceremonies of accompanying the dead to the next world have not taken place with any frequency for a long time. In 1995 Nanai shaman Nyura Kile said that this ceremony is especially necessary for those who have died a violent death, and there are still unaccompanied souls of men who died in the Second World War and more recently which are causing problems in the villages. They take away souls of the living, and the soul-loss results in alcoholism and more violence, exacerbated by the economic situation. Unfortunately Nyura herself is not the kind of shaman who is qualified to carry the ceremony out. In 1991 and 1994 it was done by Nanai shaman Lindza Beldi (although she too was not strictly speaking qualified to do it), and filmed by Juha Pentikainen (1998), but it needs to happen more often. Lindza Beldi has since died.

Some suggest that shamans have not appeared because the last generations of shamans were not strong enough to pass their spirits on. Others think the gift may skip a generation and then reappear. In the past, accompanying the dead (Nanai kasa) was the highest form of shamanism in the Amur region, and it is particularly this kind of shaman who is most strongly needed today, since entire communities need healing from those unaccompanied souls. This clearing of energy in the villages is part of the community aspect of shamanism, reminiscent of the idea that a shaman's most important role is protecting the whole people and keeping them in harmony with nature. Shamans in Buriatia, Tuva and Khakassia also recognize the importance of healing the land and community, they direct many of their ceremonies to satisfying discontent ancestors and spirits who have not had attention in a long time. They are also concerned with new levels of community disturbance caused by the soul loss sustained by soldiers who served in Chechnya, as well as the spirits of those who died needlessly in that war. Community activists seek connection with those who treated American soldiers who returned from Vietnam in similar condition.

Herbal medicine is still practiced quietly in villages of the Khabarovsk Territory—quietly because people believe the plants will lose their efficacy if discussed too widely. It is also considered dangerous to talk openly about shamans' lives, since allowing those powerful words outside their proper context can attract negative energies. It is ironic that the greater need for privacy of spiritual tradition, which may come about in part because the population is more threatened, in turn threatens to make the traditions disappear altogether.

In spite of the fact that there are no new shamans, many intelligent and energetic people in the Amur region are working to preserve culture and improve their people's health and economy. They focus on political issues and on work with children in the arts, including dance, music, embroidery and wood carving. These cultural areas appeal most strongly to children because they translate easily to the modern world. Art work gives an economic boost to families and communities through direct sales and by attracting tourism. Performance of music and dance is fun and leads to the possibility of travel. Dance and music do not present controversial ideas to the larger non-native public as does shamanism, which is still considered primitive and frightening, and whose religious aspects come into conflict with Russian Orthodoxy.

These activities do not require children to make the effort involved in learning the native language, which for the most part is not spoken in their homes. The languages would enable them to go more deeply into shamanism and storytelling, besides being useful in hunting and fishing. But perhaps because of the small population size there is not much motivation to learn them, when other languages are more useful in the outside world.

Language is a key factor in retaining shamanic rituals, stories, and practices. All of the young shamans described above have full command of the native language, including Kuchenov whose understanding of the Khakass language improved greatly under the instruction of the spirits. The language of shamanism and epic, an expanded version of the indigenous language, has many words and structures containing spiritual concepts which have gone out of everyday understanding, and which are very difficult to describe in European languages. Poetry and sacred stories are almost impossible to transmit without it. Sounds themselves call spirits, and in this way language is almost synonymous with music, although in Tuva Kenin-Lopsan says a shaman's kamlanie can work in any language.

Although Turkic and Buriat languages are also threatened by Russian (and in the future possibly by English), young people can find support for speaking their languages not only among elderly people but among their peers. In rural districts of Tuva, Khakassia and Buriatia, people speak the native language extensively, and it is precisely there that shamans are most needed. In the Amur region it is only with their elders that young people can find validation for following the spiritual path and speaking the language.

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Ironically, because Russian is more prevalent in the Amur region, it has been easier for me, an outsider (Russian speaker), to hear traditional folktales there than in the Turkic and Mongolian world, where I need translation. Although Amur storytellers emphasize that much is lost in translation in terms of poetry and even meaning, I heard a tremendous wealth of tales in the mid-nineties which reflect shamanic philosophy and history, told by elderly people either in Russian or in the native language with immediate translation by younger members of their families. But these tales are not often told publicly and there is a tendency to interpret them in terms of ethnographic/educational value rather than for spiritual value. This may change, and if so storytelling will help young people recognize the shamanic call if they receive it, and make a big contribution to preparing non-shamans to carry out their all-important roles in shamanic ceremonies through educating them to the underlying philosophy.

It seems clear that the root of many of these problems is the fact that the indigenous peoples of the Amur region represent such a small minority in the population. Although shamanism is coming back to the forefront among other peoples with very small numbers, like the Nenets and Nganasan, these people usually live in more isolated areas, and thus represent a larger percentage of their population. The Amur peoples live in overwhelmingly non-native surroundings.

I wonder if the "shamanic" or creative gift in the Amur region is surfacing in other areas instead of identifiable shamanic practice because of this isolation. I do not mean to imply that a person can choose to become a shaman, (they are still "chosen by the spirits",) but it is clear that they can choose not to, and that in some cases people don't recognize the call, misinterpret it as mental illness, or cannot find a viable way for it to fit into modern life. I see communities relying most on people who work actively in politics, ecology, and education. Village administrators, museum directors, cultural workers and teachers are the people who are caring for their communities and protecting them as did the shamans of the past. A positive and "modern" image is necessary to get funding for educational and environmental projects from government, business, and foreign organizations like the World Wildlife Fund and Greenpeace which are active in their area because of the endangered Siberian tiger, and whose focus is more ecological than spiritual. People try to present their culture to the outside world without the stigma of spiritual practices which are still often perceived as primitive, chaotic and dangerous. The Amur peoples do not have even the degree of autonomy involved in having their own republic with the right to direct its own policies and support its own culture.

One factor which has contributed to the resurgence of shamanism in the Turkic and Mongolian world is interest from the outside. They have long been visited by ethnographers, as has the Amur region, but places like Baikal and the dramatic mountain steppes of Tuva, with magnificent landscapes and a reputation for isolation, natural beauty, interesting music, and well-preserved traditions also attract filmmakers, a few rugged tourists, and practitioners of spiritual healing arts. This attention encourages the young shamans in their development, and may also influence the direction they take. An article which appeared in Moscow in the summer of 1999 says that shamanism has now become an "object of export" as well as a tourist attraction, echoing the idea prevalent in Russia that the revival of shamanism is connected largely with financial opportunism on the part of shamans and their promoters (Napsaraeva 1999).

Many of today's new shamans have read the works of Michael Harner, Carlos Casteneda and others. Meetings with foreign psychiatrists, spiritual healers, western and indigenous shamanic practitioners, and anthropologists at home and through travel to the West result in exchange of ideas and methods and sometimes financial support. On the other hand, dealing with visitors is time-consuming, and it also happens that some events are "put on" especially for them, resulting in another kind of shamanic tourism. Besides this, outside contact encourages competition, since connections with foreigners are still considered prestigious.

Visitors to the Amur region tend to be ethnographers and musicologists with a strictly academic orientation, research scientists, ecologists, art buyers, business people, and tourists who take river journeys with stops at quaint villages, looking at arts and crafts, and move on to China or a ride on the trans-Siberian railroad.

The Amur peoples seem not to have produced popular entertainers in the way that Tuvan musicians have made a name for themselves and are now experimenting with combining traditional and pop music. Instead most entertainment comes to the Amur from the outside world, through television. Children do not receive mass-media images of their own culture. The connection between performing arts and shamanism may be particularly weak in the Amur region because performance generally springs from the competitive shows of power often associated with male shamans. People in the Amur region still speak of dramatic male shamans of the past, but virtually all of them disappeared during the purges, probably precisely because they were more visible. In recent years shamanism has been for the most part a female practice, correspondingly quieter and less showy. The women's traditions are associated more with storytelling and the visual imagery used in embroidery and wood-carving—precisely the arts that are most in evidence in the Amur region today.

Both visual and performing arts are vital to the shamanic revival, since they work first to raise self-esteem and encourage traditional values, moving from there to the healing of individual problems. It could be that in the places where shamanism is reviving, people have kept their minds open to a broader concept of what shamanism is and the way the arts interact with it. There is simply more space for the shamanic gift to emerge and a wider possible base of support.

The Turkic and Mongolian peoples have their own republics, with a certain amount of autonomy, although most of them are balked by non-native majorities in the voting public. Nonetheless, even in Khakassia where the native population is only 8%, the public consciousness rose considerably during the formation of the republic in 1991. Urban Khakassians got in touch with their rural roots, country people gave voice to their concerns, and Russians began to learn more about the history and culture of the region where some of them have lived for several generations (Anzhiganova 1997a.) All of this helps prepare the soil for public revival of traditional culture.

The things the Amur people are doing: working for fishing and hunting rights, building an open air museum in a small village, development of eco-tourism, protection of the environment—these also serve to raise self-esteem, although they are certainly not shamanic and may not involve contact with the spirit world. Like the Khakassians, Amur peoples are concerned primarily with survival of the ethnos. There is no way of telling now whether shamans will reappear in the Amur region, although it will certainly be beneficial if they do. It's possible the next generation of shamans will emerge from among the children who are learning about traditional culture in today's performing ensembles.

The questions and their solutions may not be as different in the various regions as they seem. Although the connection with performing arts is only one aspect of shamanism, there is such a strong interrelationship that they cannot exist fully without each other. Essential to their synthesis is a supportive community, since shamanism does not exist in a vacuum and others must lend their energy for ceremonies to work. There must be a way for young people to validate their visions, so that when someone does receive the shamanic call, they will recognize it for what it is and want to pursue it. They need the support both of their elders and of their peers. The language and music of shamanism are also very important in communicating with spirits and people. And shamans must have an outlet—a venue for doing their work and communal space for ritual, which is where humans and spirits meet.

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Allione, Costanzo. 1995 "Moon Heart" (video). Mystic Fire Video.

Anzhiganova, Larissa. 1997a "Renaissance of a Culture: How Khakass Shamanism Survived and Flourishes Today" Active Voices: The Online Journal of Cultural Survival.

_____ 1997b. Traditsionnoe morovozzrenie khakasov [Traditional Khakass Worldview]. Abakan.

Funk, Dmitry A. 1999. "Shamanskaya bolezn' sayano-altaiskikh skazitelei" [The shamanic illness of Sayan-Altai storytellers] in Shamanizm i inye traditsionnye verovaniya i praktiki. [Shamanism and other Traditional Beliefs and Practices] Moscow: Russian Academy of Sciences.

Grimaldi, Susan. 1999. "Tuvan Shamanism Comes to America" Shamanism. Vol 12 #1

Kharitonova, Valentina. "Izbranniki duhov, preemniki koldunov, posviashennye Uchiteliami:

obretenie magiko-misticheskih svoistv, znanii, navykov" ["Chosen by the spirits, apprentices of sorcerors, initiated by Teachers: obtaining magical-mystical abilities, knowledge and skills". Etnograficheskoe obozrenie [Ethnographic Review], 1997, N5, S.16-35.

Napsaraeva, Sayana. "Polezno li rodit'sa v Rossii?" [Is it healthy to be born in Russia?] Nezavisimaya Gazeta 8/12/1999

Pentikainen, Juha. 1998. The Final Journey. (film)

_____ 2000. "I lift to you, the dry throats!" in Lauri Honko Religion and Society. Mouton de Gruyter.

Van Deusen, Kira. 1997a. "Buriat Shamans and their Stories" Shamanism Vol 10 #1. pp 7-11.

____ 1997b. "The Voice of the Mountain Spirit: Contemporary Shamanism in Siberia" Active Voices: The Online Journal of Cultural Survival.

_____1998a. "Shamanism and Music in Tuva and Khakassia" Shaman's Drum, No 47, pp 22-29

____ 1998b. "New Legends in the Rebirth of Khakass Shamanic Culture" The Anthropology of East Europe Review, volume 16 number 2, Autumn 1998 pp 35-38. (also available:

____ 1999a. "In Black and White:Contemporary Buriat Shamans. Shaman. Vol 7 #2. pp153-166.

____ 1999b. "Epic Singing in Khakassia" BC Folklore Number 12. pp 14-18

____ 2001. The Flying Tiger: Women Shamans and Storytellers of the Amur. Montreal: McGill-Queens University Press.

© K. Van Deusen 2000

1. These details are from workshops I have attended with Ai-Churek, from the website "Where the Eagles Fly" (,) the film "Moon Heart" by Costanzo Allione and from Susan Grimaldi's article (1999).

2. Ai-Churek's sister Aida is also a practicing shaman.

3. Kenin-Lopsan says signs appeared even before birth.

4. Details summarized from interview with Valentina Kharitonova (Kharitonova 199?)

5. Further details of Valentin's story were previously published in Van Deusen 1997a and 1999a.

6. Kuchenov's story was previously published in Van Deusen 1999b.

7. Recounted in Van Deusen 1998a and 1998b.

8. Legends about the creation of the chatkhan link it with the singing of khai—and the ability to call both wild and domestic animals.

9. Altyn Aryg is a woman warrior, heroine of one of Khakassia's best-loved epics.

10. The Russian word "bioenergetika" is closer in meaning to the North American term "magnetic or energy healing" than to "bioenergetics" in the Reichian sense.

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