Instead of the ritual drum used by the male shamans, they carried a silk fan and prayer beads. Unfortunately when Buddhism came to Siberia and Mongolia many of these female healers were ruthlessly persecuted and exterminated by the misogynist monks. As a result their extensive knowledge of herbs and plants used for natural healing was either lost completely or taken over by Buddhist healers and only practised in a debased or diluted form. Another female practitioner was the shaman-midwife, who inherited her power from the maternal line of familial descent.
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As well as ensuring that babies entered this world safely in a physical sense, she was also responsible for their spiritual protection from evil influences during birth and their well-being as children. In this sense she took on the role of a human fairy godmother.
Immediately after a birth the shaman-midwife cut the umbilical cord and then purified the new-born baby with salt water and fire. Any female only witnesses to the birth could only be present if they had first been ritually purified by the midwife with fire and water. These essential rites were the responsibility of the shaman-midwife and her assistants. Another type of shamanic healer was a bone-setter who called upon spirit guides to help them in their healing work.
They mainly repaired broken and dislocated bones and torn ligaments, healed back pain caused by spinal injuries or disease and also skin infections such as boils, rashes, psoriasis and eczema. Most of the shamans worked with what modern New Agers call animal allies or spirit-helpers in animal form. These entities assisted them with their magical work and also taught them. For instance, the shaman-midwives described above worked with an animal spirit in the form of a mountain fox. The first bone-setter is supposed to have been taught his skills by a snake so that creature was sacred to the clan.
Other shamanic practitioners were assisted by reindeer or wolves for attacking and destroying evil spirits, and ravens for getting rid of diseases. Other important animal spirit helpers included owls, wild ducks, geese, squirrels, bears, frogs and toads, dogs, seagulls and eagles. One of the most important and respected types of magical practitioners was the shaman-smith. In all cultures all over the world from Europe to Africa the smith took a central role in tribal society and was regarded as a powerful magician or sorcerer because of his mastery over fire and skill in working with metal.
There are many legends about blacksmiths making pacts with demons, gods or the Devil or tricking and outwitting them to acquire their skills.
Siberia's resurgent shamanism | History | Al Jazeera
There are also many smith gods in ancient mythology who were magicians, made weapons for the Gods or acted as cultural exemplars by inventing agricultural tools. In Siberia the shaman-smiths made and magically consecrated the ritual metal objects used by other shamans. They were only chosen by the spirits and instead of a drum they used their anvils to communicate with the spiritual realm. They obtained their power from the north possibly the North Pole or the North Star and could be easily identified as they always wore black robes with very little, if any, decoration.
The primary function of the black shaman was to deal with demons and the dark gods on behalf of their clients. In this role they were hired to curse their enemies and blight their crops and livestock.
In wartime the black shamans attached themselves to the army rather like the modern padres and helped to win battles using their occult powers. In peacetime they took a more positive role as diplomats, political advisors and emissaries and they oversaw the preparation and signing of treaties with the appropriate magical rites.
Black shamans were greatly feared, even after their deaths.
In pictures: The shamans of Siberia, Russia's Tuvans
They operated at a tribal level almost exclusively as healers and diviners and they only had dealings with beneficent entities. It was their role to pacify angry or evil spirits, exorcise them if they possessed human beings and help the tribe live in harmony with their natural environment and the spirit world.
To this end on a physical level they were often employed in an administrative role to oversee tribal affairs. In Siberian and especially Mongolian shamanism the yurt, a traditional dwelling constructed from a framework of wooden poles covered with animal skins and with a central smoke-hole in the roof, was a microcosmic symbol or representation of the universe. For this reason all movement inside the yurt was conducted, if at all possible, in a deosil or sunways direction. This also reflected the traditional direction of movement used in shamanic rituals and dances. The centre of the yurt, where a fire burnt in a hearth and was seldom extinguished, was symbolic of the actual centre of the world or universe.
The column of smoke that drifted up from the fire and left the yurt through the central smoke-hole in the roof was symbolic of the axis mundi — the World Mountain, World Pillar or World Tree. This links the underworld below with the heavens above and ends at the North and Pole Star around which all the other stars revolve in the night sky.
The shamans believed in three worlds of existence connected together by the World Tree or Tree of Life. They were the lower world or underworld inhabited by the dead who are awaiting reincarnation, the middle world or Middle Earth, the material plane of existence in which human spirits are incarnated, and the upper world or Heaven, the dwelling place of the Gods. Numerous non-human spirits also inhabit each of these three worlds.
The shaman can access these other worlds in trance by means of spirit travel. His soul body ascends the column of smoke from the fire and passes through the aperture in the roof of the yurt. It is interesting to note that in medieval times European witches were supposed to fly to their Sabbats by ascending the chimney on their broomsticks. It is obvious that this was not done physically so they also were practising a shamanic type of spirit flight.
Shamans can also fly through the air when they spirit travel, either by shapeshifting into the form of birds such as geese or by riding on the back of a flying deer, horse or some other large animal. Again, there are many woodcuts dating from the Middle Ages depicting witches riding through the night sky on the backs of goats and rams. Sometimes the shaman visited the spirit world by ascending the World Tree itself or by travelling along a rainbow. This is another symbol that is found in Northern European paganism where a rainbow bridge connects Midgard Middle Earth with Asgard, the realm of the Gods.
One of the methods used by the Siberian shamans to achieve trance and spirit travel was the hallucinogenic fungi amanita muscaria or fly agaric. This red capped white-spotted toadstool has a symbiotic relationship with both birch and fir trees, which grow profusely in northern and arctic climes. The shamans said that taking it put them in touch with the spirit of the plant, who appeared as small mushrooms with eyes and arms and legs attached. Needless to say that in large quantities fly agaric is highly poisonous and can be deadly.
It must, as with all hallucinogenic plants used in magical practice, be used in small quantities, treated with respect and only taken after the proper spiritual preparation and then only under expert supervision. It should also be noted that in many countries fly agaric and other psychedelic fungi are classified as dangerous drugs and the possession or partaking of them is illegal.
In common with indigenous folk beliefs in the West, it was accepted in shamanism that the spirit world was not entirely separated from the material one. There are special places in the natural environment — sacra loci — where the two realms meet and touch and interconnect. These can be a sacred mountain or hill, a stone, a river, a lake, a forest or any natural landmark in the countryside.
Spooky places, whether natural sites in the landscape or buildings, associated with folklore, paranormal phenomena and hauntings are usually spirit gateways. In shamanistic belief all inanimate objects were inhabited or possessed by spirit energy or force who controlled their environs. Some shamans taught that living beings, especially human ones, could have more than one spirit inhabiting their physical body. Many accepted that humans had an etheric, astral or spirit double and this could be projected in trance or spirit travel to roam over the Earth and also enter the Otherworld.
The shamans believed that the soul of a human being resided in a spherical or ovoid energy field that surrounds each of us. It is probably what Western occultists would refer to as the auric field or aura. It was this energy field that was attacked by demons or black shamans when they psychically attacked their victims and in that way they could cause illness or death. It was the task of the white shaman to redress the balance by healing the damaged aura and if possible bring the victim back to full health.
What is Siberian Shamanism?
Earlier we saw how animals were important clan totems and spirit guides to the shaman. Before the 20 th century and the rise of industrial scale food production, hunting was widespread on the Siberian steppes and in the forests. Unlike Christian belief, it was accepted without question that animals had souls and when hunting them down and killing them it was essential that their sprits were respected and appeased. If they were not, disaster and misfortune could befall the hunter, his family and tribe. When a hunter killed his prey it was always despatched quickly, cleanly and without cruelty.
Before it was killed the hunter apologised for having to do so and after death its remains were treated with care and respect. The same rule applied to domestic animals. A master animal spirit ruled each species and prayers and sacrificial offerings of incense and fire were made to them before the hunt began. Hunting purely for pleasure, as practised in the West, was an unknown concept. Despite the early arrival of the fur traders and merchants in Siberia and Mongolia, shamanism survived. In the 16 th century, however, a Mongolian ruler called Altan Khan invited a Tibetan Buddhist mission to the country.
His motives were political as he wanted to consolidate his own position as the supreme tribal leader by claiming to be the reincarnation of the great Kubla Khan. The Buddhists agreed to recognise his claim and in return the Khan gave the head of the Buddhist Order the spiritual title of Dalai Lama, which of course exists today even though the present holder is in exile in India. In the 17 th century attempts were made by the Mongolian rulers to eradicate shamanic survival entirely.
Shamanism in Siberia
With your help, we can continue with our mission to keep you informed with breaking news, business analysis, thought-provoking opinions, the best of culture and insights into everyday life. Support The Moscow Times! Contribute today. Some researchers consider Siberia to be the heartland of shamanism. Today, this ancient religious practice is still performed in Russia, with spiritual healing techniques and ceremonial rites passed on from generation to generation. In addition to showcasing their unique culture, Russian shamans used the festival as a platform to voice their rights and seek recognition of shamanism as a religion at the state level.
The festival was organized primarily for shamans as a venue for them to meet and exchange professional experiences and worldviews. Shaman rituals in Siberia typically involve healing, purifying and divination. This festival is also part of a public awareness campaign aimed at increasing recognition of shamanism as a profession within Russia.