1999 Expedition to Tuva, Page 5
By Paul Uccusic
© Shamanism, Fall/Winter 2000, Vol. 13, Nos. 1 & 2

The next morning we took part in an ash divination. It is very simple to do: one looks at the ashes and tries to see things such as beings , landscapes, and faces. It is essentially like the rock divination we do in the Basic workshop. The main purpose of this divination, according to the local shamans, was to call the spirits of lake and taiga, trees and meadows, and rocks and animals to see themselves and their traces in the ashes. According to Tuvan belief, it only can be done if there are no wind and no rain overnight, which would destroy the patterns in the remnant of the holy fire from the evening before. Nina and Nikolai gave broad explanations of their divinatory findings. At the eastern part of the red taiga its spirit showed up: a horse with a woman rider could be seen. In the west, a footprint of a horseshoe was found. “This means property, wealth, and good luck,” they said. A black ring was seen surrounding some smaller rings. “This is the ninth heaven which is the outer border of all heavens we know in Tuvan mythology.” The Prolessor added: “Christians know two heavens: we have nine.” Most of us could also see the manifestations in the ashes. (I later did this divination in Europe with a group with good results. As always in shamanism, when you ask a clear question and invoke the spirits for help, you will get it. In this case, on the next morning you look at the ashes and learn how the things you see there answer your question).

Later we went out to the lake and over the land. The local shamans gave blessings to the lake, the taigas, and to the directions. Fishermen brought fish from the lake (it originally had no fish; it was stocked from Lake Baikal , mostly ormuls) and we had a delicious meal. It was also a good opportunity to talk with the Professor and Nikolai about the present slate of Tuvan shamanism and its future.

Following the first shamanic congress in July 1993 sponsored by the Tuvan government and the Foundation for Shamanic Studies in fall 1993, it was reported in Shamanism that the practice of shamanism was included as an official “religion” of Tuva in its constitution in October '93. In November, the two shamanic societies Dungur and Tos Deer were founded. They are a little different. Dungur is regarded as the “city organization” of Kyzyl. Its chairman is Sailyk-Ool. Tos Deer has expanded and founded branches in Ak-Dovurak and Kyzyl-Mazalyk in the west, and Ersin in the south. At present, about 170 shamans are known, forty of which are registered as members. Younger shamans called by the classical “shamanic disease” are watched by elder shamans; gifted ones can apply for training with the elder shamans.

“Sometimes we have a problem with false shamans,” the Professor abruptly complained during our conversation.

“What is a false shaman?” I asked.

‘They deceive people. They do not really help the sick. They charge lots of money and promise a lot,” he replied.

“What do you do to protect people from them?”

“We publicize their names on the radio and television, and in papers. We recommend that people not patronize them. We suggest they contact one of our 40 members, who can be identified by their membership card.”

In post-Communist Russia, shamans appear everywhere. Even some ethnic Russians pretend to be shamans. Some of these can be found on the internet.

The Professor stated that Tuvans have contact with authentic shamans among the Altaians, the Khakass, the Buryat, and the Mongols, as well as in Russia itself. The main problem for native shamanism the Professor sees is the missionary work of the Buddhists and the Christians. “They have lots of money, a lot of literature. They construct temples, churches, and schools, even hotels for their people traveling around. They have influence through radio and television. We have nothing like that, nothing except a little support from our government and of course, the trust of our Tuvan people who know shamans will help them. Shamans are sincere and modest. We are lacking in the skills of propaganda.”

Then Nikolai Oorzhak took over the conversation. He is 50 years of age, has been a gifted throat singer from his youth, and worked later in the theater as a playwright, stage manager and actor. Once he had to play a small part of a shaman and became interested in shamanism. He told us that he “read a lot about shamanism and then traveled around talking with shamans and learning from them.” By this time, he had practiced shamanism for a few years. Two years ago he became chairman of Tos Deer.2 His major achievement is the extension of the organization through the whole of Tuva. Among his other plans is the construction of a “shamanic center” in Kyzyl. To this end, he said, negotiations are underway with the President of Tuva for “a piece of land in the center of Kyzyl where we can build a two or three-story building for our shamans, clients, and also visitors to stay with us, coming from all over Tuva and from abroad.”

Later that day we said farewell to the “milk-lake.” On our way, we made an intermediate stop at a yurt, owned by a friend of the mayor, who had seen me taking pictures and wanted me to take some of this man's (Monguish Naaren-Ool Darzhaevich's) family. As an honorarium, we were given incredible pastries there: a special type of doughnut eaten with cream. It was like Sacher's (a Vienna Hotel famous for its pastries)! Naaren-Ool is regarded as wealthy by Tuvan standards. All of his six children (five boys and one girl) were studying at different schools and colleges in Kyzyl. We learned that he owns several horses, 300 sheep, and 20 cows. His biggest problem is wolves, which killed 30 of his sheep.

On our way home that evening, we had a ceremony at Sug-Aksy, which involved giving blessings to the people there and to the riverside. The next day we left for a tiny village named Chyraa-Bashy where an old site, sacred to this region, was to be sanctified by fire. Despite the distance to the site, many people attended the ceremony. Schoolchildren got out of school to attend. The Professor welcomed them and preached about doing good, helping the old, and keeping shamanism alive. He also had the good luck to meet some of his relatives there: a sister who married into this village, and her husband. Here, the old people took care of the fire, the wood, and the offerings. It was a nice place on the banks of a creek. Then it started raining, so the ceremony was ended earlier than planned and we went to the central “cultural house” of the settlement for lunch.

The last planned stop on our tour was Khondergei, the birthplace of the Professor. The school there was adapted for us as a shaman's clinic. After an opening ritual in the town (without fire, only smoke), each of us was given a classroom in which to receive sick people.

We worked there for two or three hours until it was time for dinner. We stayed the night at the local kindergarten. The beds there were tiny, but these things have to be solved creatively in Tuva (mattresses on the ground without beds can be joined together to any length).

On the way back to Kyzyl, we passed the town of Chadan where there is a famous shaman's tree we knew about from former trips to Tuva. Three years ago a bad storm had knocked it partly down, so our prayers at that time included some for the recovery of that tree. What we did not see on former occasions was a second tree about 200 yards away from the first. It had a skull on its trunk with a shaman's grave atop a nearby hill. Nikolai was eager to search the area. He found two more skulls. They were placed near the first. The explanation by the Professor was that: “This is the really holy tree here, a little apart from the other. There were originally four skulls, one for each direction. This is the holy place for all our shamans, the right place to send prayers to the Upper World.” He accused “evil people” of having taken the skulls away. The scaffold of the shaman's grave looked new, but the Professor claimed it was in its original condition “from the Twenties.” The body of the deceased shaman and his shamanic gear, like his drum, eeren {fetishes) and his headgear, were traditionally placed on the scaffold. In this case, the nail where the drum once hung was still there, but not the drum.

Let us see what the future will bring to Tuvan shamanism…

1. The actor, Kherteg Oolbezegovich Shiriin-Ool, remains in good health as of this writing.
2. Sailyk-Ool recently took over the presidency of society, Tos Deer. The vice-chairman is now Ai-Churek.

1 2 3 4 5


Please consider joining the Circle and receive the Foundation's journal, the Shamanism Annual as part of your benefits.