This is an ongoing US and global project to help enthusiasts, scholars, practitioners, and curious parties learn more about shamanic living in a contemporary culture. The space here is devoted to sharing info, experiences and opinions about all forms of shamanic expression covering shamanism's multiple permutations. Among subjects explored are traditions, techniques, insights, definitions, events, artists, authors, and creativity. You are invited to draw from your own experiences and contribute.

What is a SHAMAN?

MAYAN: "a technichian of the Holy, a lover of the Sacred." CELTIC: "Empower the people...by changing the way we think." MEXICAN APACHE: "Someone who has simply learned to give freely of themselves..." AUSTRALIAN ABORIGINAL: "...a teacher or healer, a wisdom keeper of knowledge... (who) takes people to a door and encourages them to enter." W. AFRICAN DIAGRA: "views every event in life within a spiritual context." HAWAIIAN: "...human bridges to the spiritual world and its laws and the material world and its trials..." QUECHUA INDIAN: "embodies all experience." AMAZON: "...willing to engage the forces of the Universe...in a beneficial end for self, people, and for life in general."

-- from Travelers, Magicians and Shamans (Danny Paradise)

Friday, November 7, 2008

Tuvan Shamans

Here is a link to a short national geographic video about the Tuvan Shamans.

Tuva is a Russian republic that was an independent state until the 1940s, with two official spiritual practices: Buddhism and Shamanism. The report suggests that the government wants to attract people from other countries to preserve the area's shamanic healing traditions. I wonder what kind of incentives they're offering? :)

Below is some info about Tuva and its shamans found at the Foundation for Shamanic Studies website. The full article can be read here:

Shamans and Spirits

A significant part of Tuvan respect for nature is expressed through shamanic traditions. All of nature is considered sacred, the fabric of their world view being woven in the sacred thread of their myths. Here, features of the landscape and the creatures inhabiting it are settings and characters in great stories that describe and explain the world. Principal places and characters of this mythic and natural world are Tuva's nine sacred springs, nine sacred mountains, and nine sacred celestial objects; the Sun, Moon and seven stars of the "Great Bear" (the Big Dipper). There are dragons in the sky, sirens who inhabit the steppe, and a sacred flower that has the power to hold strangers together in marriage. Each place in nature has its special spiritual inhabitants. This spiritual aspect of nature is equally as important to Tuvans as are physical attributes. It requires attention from people who are sensitive to, and trained in, relating to this side of nature. These people are the shamans.

The shamans of pre-Soviet Tuva were healers, diviners, and conductors of ritual necessary for Tuvan life. Both men and women became shamans after they were visited with the "shaman's sickness." Often, a shaman interpreted this as invasion by the spirit of a dead shaman. This invading Being, wanted the living person to become a shaman. The onset of this illness was commonly early in life, but also occurred in people more than 40 years of age. If the person ignored the calling, continued sickness or even death occurred. The illness frequently manifested itself as fainting spells, memory loss, or convulsions. Heeding the call resulted in a complete remission of symptoms.

The shamanic vocation often had an hereditary aspect in Tuva, as in much of the rest of Siberia. Relatives watched children carefully for the appearance of characteristics that signaled a new shaman. Training under an existing shaman was necessary, as was a drum, garment, and feather headdress. Relatives were responsible for making the new shaman's equipment. There was a ceremony of investment for the new shaman during which relatives enlivened the new drum (the shaman's horse) by beating it.

Shamans were central to Tuvan society. Not only did they represent their kin and work for them spiritually, but they were respected repositories of important knowledge. They conducted necessary rituals such as the yearly "fire ceremony" and rituals to bless the land and promote fertility. Tuvan shamanic ceremony was quite colorful, with shamans reciting long verses, dancing, and singing to the accompaniment of their drums. They also employed a jew's harp in their performances. Healing work included extraction, removing harmful spirits from places, purification, and soul work involving the transition at death. Their garments were knee-length shirts, upon which were sewn long streamers that represented their spirit helpers (called "snakes"), bells and rods of metal, and metal effigies. Besides their symbolic value, costume decorations moved with the dancing shaman, producing auditory and visual stimulation.

Secrecy, independence, and competition also characterized Tuvan shamans. They were each unique in the way they worked and typically worked alone. Like tribal shamans in other places, they sometimes engaged in competitive struggles with each other.

Shamans were considered very special people, being revered and feared at the same time. When they died, they were not interred like ordinary people, but were placed in open wooden sarcophaguses elevated above the ground by four posts. Here, their bodies lay exposed to the elements while their spirits continued to serve their people. That servitude was, however, frustrated by the forces of history. The living and dead shamans would have to deal with an ambitious state to the north, called Russia.

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