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How to become a Russian shaman?

Not everyone is destined to become a shaman. The chosen few need special genealogy and an explicit sign from the Sky Father—the Creator of the Universe and the progenitor of all that exists. Such a sign can be a prophetic dream, a fallen meteorite, the death of a domestic animal, a sixth finger on the hand or so-called “shamanic sickness.” This sickness can manifest itself in various ways: antisocial behavior, chronic ailments, bad luck, alcoholism. It is believed that the sickness will pass if the sufferer embarks on his destined path and becomes a shaman. If he rejects the hand of fate, it can end badly for himself and his family. Shamans live throughout Russia in many regions. Our stories come from the shores of Lake Baikal, the world’s deepest lake, located in Siberia.
By Julia Rybina, Anastasiya Karagodina, RBTH
Shamans Buryats
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Alina Desyatnichenko

Vladimir Buinov: I was born here. From early childhood I saw how older people performed rituals and said prayers. Under the Soviet Union I worked as a movie technician and then at a weather station for more than 20 years. My father was a doctor, he treated everyone, yet still prayed to the gods. My brother, too, was a doctor of medical science. He died early of kidney failure. I lived to see 11 grandchildren and four great-grandchildren.

The photo depicts Cape Shamanka on Olkhon Island, which is in the middle of Baikal. It is one of the nine holy shrines of Asia.

Shamans Buryats

Alina Desyatnichenko

Mikhail Ogdonov: It comes from above. It’s a gift from your ancestors, who are known as ongons. I have eight ongons—eight ancestors going back to the eleventh generation. I was consecrated as a shaman in absentia, while serving in the police. Ongons can choose any person. Shamans choose people who are physically strong and wise, and test them. A shaman must be a spiritually strong person.

The souvenir shop at Lake Baikal sells T-shirts with the words: “I was at Baikal.” The Irkutsk Region is visited by more than one million tourists every year, including many foreigners.

Shamans Buryats

Alina Desyatnichenko

Albina Ilyina: I was insulted by one girl. I came to perform the shamanic rites, and she says: “Albina Garmaevna, what do you need?” I reply, a bottle of vodka, milk, tea leaves, matches and, if you want, sweets. “How much money?” she asks. I say, as much as you can spare. She says, “But they told me you charge a fee [for performing the rites].” “What fee?!” “A thousand rubles ($18).” I was so angry. “You want to insult me, do you?” I ask. “People come to see me with illnesses, and I’m supposed to take money from them? I’ve been sick all my life since childhood. And you think I want a receipt? It’s a sin!”

The glass statuette depicts the northernmost point of Olkhon Island, known as Khoboy. It is linked to a legend about a girl who is turned into a rock by envious spirits.

Shamans Buryats

Alina Desyatnichenko

Artur Tsybikov: I’ve been doing this since 2007. I’m a hereditary shaman. My uncles and aunts were shamans, and so were my great uncles and my father. I’ve seen all the rituals since childhood. I was consecrated and started working when I was 37. My “shamanic sickness” lies in the fact that nothing in life ever works out for me. I start a project, but it folds immediately. Nothing’s ever come to fruition, even though I studied at many universities in different disciplines.

The tambourine is an integral feature of shamanism. Only dedicated shamans can own one.

Shamans Buryats

Alina Desyatnichenko

Yuri Bubayev: I’m an accountant by training and worked in the tax service as the head of the tax inspection department. Then came three years of shamanic sickness. At the age of 35, people started asking me to perform the rites, but I refused. The salary in the tax service was very good. I often consulted with doctors: two years of therapy, followed by surgery. I wanted to live, so I had to change jobs and serve the will of the gods. I began when I was 37. Since I’ve been helping people, I haven’t set foot in the hospital for 15 years.

Because of the high risk of alcoholism, some shamans suggest substituting vodka for a lighter drink called "tarasun", which is basically milk vodka, produced from fermented milk. Its alcohol content starts from 11% ABV (standard vodka is 40%).

Shamans Buryats

Alina Desyatnichenko

Viktor Motoshkin: I’m a candidate of science [equivalent to a PhD]. When I moved back here to my homeland, I didn’t know anything about shamanism; in my native village all the shamans had died. Then suddenly I had a dream. Five shamans were sitting in front of me. One of them says: “You have to start doing this.” Their word is law. You can’t disobey, otherwise they’ll severely punish you.

The traditional Buryat drink is best drunk from such souvenir glasses.

Shamans Buryats

Alina Desyatnichenko

Valentin Khagdaev: I’m a traditional shaman, and was born in a yurt. My grandfather was also a shaman. I was raised by him and my grandmother. I was born with a sign—six fingers. A Mongolian shaman said: “Shamans with an extra bone are born only once a century, so this is proof of a real, true shaman.” I’m the only one in our region with six bones. It’s like a diploma from the Sky.

The local tea sometimes contains Saagan Dalya—a low-growing evergreen shrub found on the shores of Lake Baikal. It is believed to be a cure for almost all diseases.

Shamans Buryats

Alina Desyatnichenko

Gennady Tutulov: In my youth I didn’t believe in shamanism at all, even though 12 of my ancestors were shamans. It all happened when I was summoned to Ulan-Ude [the capital of the Republic of Buryatia, which adjoins Lake Baikal to the east]. My nephew had problems, and he summoned me to Ulan-Ude to see a shaman. He said: “You must perform the rites and become a shaman.” And so I did. Shamans say that the appearance of a new shaman is preceded by the death of animals. He asked me: “Did any animals die?” I replied: “Yes.” “It's a sign that you are to become a shaman,” he said.

The magnet depicts Shaman Rock, the overhang of a sacred mountain at the source of the Angara River. Legend has it that the owner of the river lives here.

Shamans Buryats

Alina Desyatnichenko

Matvey Bartsev: I used to like fighting, but then I got into Scripture. I did some reading and found out I had shamanic sickness and might be dysfunctional. When I got sick, I began to lose my speech and started fainting once a day. Some acquaintances took me to see a shaman, who is now my teacher. When I entered his house, I saw all these tambourines and shamanic objects, and got this feeling inside that this was life. I was buzzing with joy and happiness that I’d finally found my calling.

According to local culture, the souls of ancestors deliver good fortune and happiness by means of horse hair. Such objects are used as protective charms.

Shamans Buryats

Alina Desyatnichenko

Boris Khungeyev: My ancestors were shamans, on both my mother’s and father’s side. At 55, I began to perform the rites. Not everyone is able to do it. Only those with udha, or genealogy, can perform them.

Shamans believe that after death a person’s soul moves to the ancestral tree, from where, in the shape of a white-headed eagle, it reaches the “supreme world,” which is home to the deities Tengri and the Sky Father.

April 10, 2017
Tags: Russian Siberia, multimedia

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