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Tanya Drumming

Khakassian shaman Tania Kobezhikova drumming at the gate to the valley of kurgans
photo by Kira Van Deusen

Siberian Shamanism

From time beyond memory shamans have been healing illness, divining causes for weather patterns and human behaviour, leading ceremonials, and accompanying the souls of the dead to the next world. The word shaman comes from the Tungus language family, widespread over much of Siberia. Shamans make and maintain contact with the spirits of nature and of people's ancestors, who help them to negotiate the world beyond what we see with our physical eyes in order to sustain balance between the worlds of body and spirit.

Over the last hundred or more years, the gift has passed down through certain families. Before that it seems to have fallen more at random—the candidate chosen individually by the spirits.

Both hereditary and non-hereditary shamans and their families report early signs of contact with spirits, (such as predicting the future, memory of past lives, understanding foreign languages, an active dream life, or signs on the body), and/or an undiagnosable illness which may strike at almost any time of life and last over a number of years, and which is only healed through consecration as a shaman.

From the inner point of view, what is going on during this illness is initiation by the spirits, often very harsh. The novice may travel in a dream-like state through the unknown geography of the spiritual world, meeting helpers and opponents. Some do not have enough strength to survive this crisis, and die of the illness. Those who refuse to take on the calling of a shaman may also die of the illness.

Relatives and friends suspect that the person is undergoing what is called the shamanic illness, especially if there have been earlier signs, and they call in an experienced shaman, who confirms the diagnosis. Once the sick person has negotiated the difficult passage, the elder shaman helps to map the non-ordinary reality they have traversed and to design or make the spirit figures, drum, and special costume which will help in their future work. In some societies elder shamans actually guide the novice through the initiation itself, while Siberian shamans only enter the process for the purpose of teaching rituals and performing the consecration that proves a new shaman is ready to begin practicing. The novice is truly alone for the actual initiation.
To read more about Siberian shamanism, please look at my Articles (below), which have appeared in various publications.

Woman of Steel (illustration)

A woman warrior brings her father back to life; Illustration by Alexei Sedipkov

Articles

Here are several of my articles about shamanism and storytelling.

Storytelling in Siberian societies is very closely linked to shamanism. For ways to recognize shamanic elements in stories, and for some of the ways that storytelling can act as a healing, take a look at:

shaman with drum

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