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A Journey in Southern Siberia, by Jeremiah Curtin, [1909], at

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FROM Baronyé Tabin Tabung Tengeri, the first spirit to emerge from the Highest Existence in the Universe, Delquen Sagán Burkan, World White god, often called Esege Malan, came the fifty-five Tengeris. One day the spirit of one of the fifty-five, it is unknown which, entered into a hailstone, fell to the earth, and was swallowed by a girl thirteen years of age, whose name was Mélûk Shin. Soon after swallowing the stone Mélûk Shin became a mother. The son she bore—Qolongoto Ubugun, or, as he was also called, Mindiú Qúbun Iryil Noyon Tunkói—lived three hundred years. He established the Buriat religion, gave the Buriats all their prayers, and told them of their gods. (My translator, a Christian, states that Mindiú is the same for the Buriats that Christ is for Christians).

Mindiú chose and consecrated the first one hundred and seventy-six Shamans, ninety-nine males and seventy-seven females. In a sense he was himself the first Shaman. He commanded to pray to Delquen Sagan, to Tabin Tabung, to the fifty-five Tengeri, and the forty-four Tengeri,—to heavenly spirits only. But in later times Shamans have forgotten or do not follow his command, and pray sometimes to the spirits of dead Shamans, male and female, and to the Bumal (descended) Burkans.

Mindiú's portrait is always made of skunk skin.

There are two kinds of Shamans,—those made directly by Burkans, and those who have inherited from either the male or female branch of their family their right to be Shamans.

A man whose father or mother, grandfather or grandmother, has been a Shaman has the inherited right; he must, however, have this right confirmed by the Burkans. A child or young

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person is supposed to be acceptable to the Burkans when the spirit of a dead relative, a Shaman, comes while he is sleeping and takes his spirit to the residences of the Earthly and Heavenly Burkans, who conduct him through their mansions, show him their possessions, power, and wealth, and instruct him in all things.

To one selected directly by the Burkans the spirit of a Shaman, who has died within four or five years, comes at night while he is sleeping and conducts his spirit to the Burkans. In the morning the spirit returns to the body. This Shaman guide may select two or three, or perhaps four, children or young people and educate their spirits while their bodies sleep.

It happens sometimes that a person who seems foolish in this world becomes wise in the mansions of the Burkans, and one who seems wise to us may be found by the Burkans to be foolish and incapable.

When this education, which may require several years, is finished, the spirit of the Shaman, in the form of a flame, strikes the student a heavy blow on the forehead. He falls to the ground, and is raised to his feet by those who chance to be near him. If this happens away from his home, he is taken home, and an offering of tarasun is made by sprinkling tarasun to the young man's Shaman ancestors, and to those Burkans who gave rights of Shamanship to those ancestors. Or if he has been chosen directly, they offer a libation of tarasun to the Burkan who has chosen him. A person who has inherited the right to be a Shaman is educated exactly the same as one who is chosen directly.

Even after his education is finished it is a long time before a young Shaman can offer sacrifice; often there are years of trial. The Burkans may leave him at any time as unfit or incapable, and then he is no better than an ordinary man. His first libations and offerings are made to Bumal Burkans (those who have their homes in sacred groves) and to the spirits of Shamans. He officiates by request of the people.

The spirit of his ancestor strikes him again on the forehead. He falls, the people raise him and cut birch sticks for him an inch or so thick. He takes these sticks and sways them behind his back, then in front. Then he holds them in one hand, sways


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them, pats his forehead with his palm, and begins to speak of the life and work of his ancestor. It is not the young Shaman who speaks, but the flame or spirit which struck his forehead, and which speaks through him.

Another flame strikes him. He falls, throws away the sticks, is raised, and the second flame speaks just as the first did. This may continue till all his Shaman ancestors have spoken. While speaking for a dead Shaman the live Shaman often approaches some person present and says such and such a Burkan wishes of you an offering and libation. If it is not given, you will suffer from sickness or misfortune.

When the young Shaman is ready to become a Shaman in full a day is appointed by the people. They invite an experienced Shaman to conduct the ceremony, and he makes libations and offerings to a number of Burkans, asking for their assistance.

Fifty-four birch trees are cut from a sacred grove, by the permission of the Burkan of that grove. Three of these trees are large, the others are small. The small ones are planted in a row called "dry"; a large tree is placed on the right side of the row and is called sergé, "pillar "; beyond this is the second large tree, called turga. The third large tree is placed in the middle of the yurta, the top coming out at the smoke-hole; to this top are fastened silk strings representing the colors of the rainbow; the strings are carried to the tree called the pillar and tied to its highest branch.

From the young Shaman's village nine men are selected to assist in the ceremony. They represent the nine Heavenly assistants of Xoxode Mergen (one of the Burkans). Then the old Shaman and the young one enter the yurta and stand at the right-hand side of the door; each holds in his right hand as many one-branched twigs as he has friendly Burkans. The old man sets fire to his twigs and summons by name the Burkans which the twigs represent; when he has finished his invocation, the young one begins. As soon as they have summoned the Burkans they leave the yurta and go to the great birch tree, "the turga."

The people of the village and of surrounding villages have brought milk, tarasun, sheep, and horses, all things necessary for a great sacrifice.

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There can never be less than nine animals offered on such an occasion, if there are more than nine there must be eighteen or twenty-seven (it is not necessary, however, to have nine of a kind, there can be eight sheep and one horse, or any combination which will make up the nine).

Again the two Shamans summon the Burkans. Milk and tarasun are sprinkled as a libation on each of the nine animals, and they are then sacrificed. The old Shaman calls on the Burkans. Three of his assistants stand at his side, the first man sprinkles milk en the ground, the second tea, and the third tarasun. This, immensely multiplied, goes to the Burkans supposed to be present, or, if not present, in their dwellings where they can partake of all that is offered them.

During this ceremony the young Shaman removes his outer garments, leaving only his shirt, and approaches the row of small birches; when he reaches the birches he takes off his shirt, and is entirely naked. Then the nine young men, representing the Heavenly assistants of Xoxode Mergen, bring up in front of him a white goat and stab the goat in the breast in such a way that the blood spirts over the naked body of the new Shaman. This ceremony is called ugälga, purification. When it is over, the goat, still alive, is thrown far off to where women are waiting; they seize it, give it the finishing blow, then cook and eat the meat.

Before the sacrifice begins, if any of the animals are impure the Shaman knows it, and has them purified by being led through the smoke of burning juniper.

The flesh of the animals sacrificed is boiled, parts of it offered to the gods, and the rest eaten. When this ceremony is ended the young man is declared to be a full-fledged Shaman. If there are a number of Shamans present they begin now to tell about their family of Shamans, and there is much talk and uproar. The feasting lasts for three days and nights. Some of the Shamans go to the tops of the trees and make offerings to the gods from there.

In old times there were such mighty Shamans that they could walk on the silk strings connecting the top of the tree which comes up through the smoke-hole of the yurta with

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the great birch tree outside; this was called "walking on the rainbow."

The Buriats have many traditions regarding the power of their Shamans.

Once two Shamans went to heaven on the real rainbow; when coming back in the same way the Heavenly Burkans saw them and were very angry. "How did those black beetles of the earth dare to come up here on the rainbow, and think of going back on it?" asked they, and immediately they cut the rainbow. The Shamans were falling to the earth when the stronger of the two, a very powerful Shaman, seeing that they would surely be killed, turned himself into a yellow, spotted eagle, seized his companion in his claws, and brought him down to the earth gently and safely.

Once a Lama came from beyond the Baikal to visit a family at Usturdi. A Shaman by the name of Badai, who did not like to have a Lama among his people, turned himself into a gray wolf and went to the house in the night-time. The Lama, who saw the wolf and was terribly frightened, called out: "There is a wizard here in the form of a wolf! He has come to kill me! Build a fire quickly!"

The master of the house did not see the wolf; it was invisible to every one save the Lama, who was so terrified that his eyes burned, and he was as pale as a dead man. All night the beast stood in front of the Lama, apparently ready to spring at him; not till daylight did it disappear.

The Lama left Usturdi that very day.

They tell of Shamans who cut open their stomachs, take out their livers, roast and eat them, then close their stomachs and are as well as ever. Others take a sharp shaman stick called "haribo," thrust it in over one of their eyes to the depth of several inches, and ask some one to pull it out. To do so requires all the strength of a strong man, still the stick leaves no visible wound.

There are Shamans who cut a man's head off. He walks around without it, they put it on again, and he is the same as ever. Some Shamans can stab the central pillar of a yurta and a stream of tarasun will flow out, for the Shaman has power to

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summon tarasun from a distance, and command it to be in the pillar.

Another can call the birds of heaven, and they will come and sit on his shoulders. Then he will put the back of his hands to his head and spread out his fingers, and immediately his hands and fingers will be covered with worms for the birds to eat.

Almost any Shaman can dance on fire. A large fire is built on the ground, the Shaman strips naked and dances on the live coals until they die out; not even the soles of his feet are burned. Once a half-drunk Buriat, seeing a Shaman dancing in this manner, said, "I am as good a man as you are, I can dance on fire!" Pulling off his shoes he danced on the live coals for one moment and was so badly burned that he could not step for three months.

The seven Heavenly Blacksmiths have given a Shaman living in Usturdi the power to handle red-hot iron. He can heat a bar of iron until it is red, take it in one hand, draw the other hand over it and make sparks fly. He can lick it with his tongue and it does not burn him. This same Shaman if locked in a room whispers a few words, spits, and the door flies open.

There are Shamans who can ride on horseback through the two walls of a yurta, and leave no opening.

In Irkutsk, a long time ago, the Russians, who did not believe in Shamans, said, "We will see what power those people have."

They built a great fire and put a Shaman into it. The Burkans turned the fire into water and the Shaman danced in what seemed fire to others, but was water for him. The Russians shot at the Shamans; they caught the bullets in their hands, held them out and said, "Here are your balls." Every effort against them was useless.

A Shaman has nothing to do with marriages; with deaths he has nothing to do after it is certain that the spirit has left the body and cannot be persuaded to return. His field of action is soothsaying with the shoulder-blade of a sheep; sacrificing, preparing Ongons, tying a ribbon on the cradle of each infant when a few days old, and conducting. the great feast made when the child is one year old.

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In Olzoni, where this story was told, there lived three hundred years ago an old Shaman who could raise the dead. One day when he was in his seventy-fifth year he went on a visit to a neighboring village. The people there were so glad to see him that they killed a number of sheep, roasted them, and all feasted for three days.

On his way home he came to a large gate opening into a field, and there he met three hundred horned cattle. He thought that a butcher was driving them, but soon discovered that they were driven by a woman who was riding on a red ox. The woman was holding an infant in her arms. After the red ox had passed him he met a man whose head was as big as a cock of hay, he was riding on a gray stallion of enormous size.

"From where do you come, flesh merchant?" asked the Shaman.

"I am not a flesh merchant," replied the man, "I am Minga Nudite Milá (Thousand Eyes), and I have just destroyed all the cattle in the country around here."

The Shaman hurried home and found that his cattle were gone, not a cow, sheep, or horse was left. He was very angry, and going to his five brothers, who were all Shamans, he said: "Let us take counsel. Shall we not go in pursuit of Minga Nudite Milá?"

"Of what use?" asked they. "He would not yield to us, for he is subject to no one."

When he saw that his brothers were unwilling to help him, and he must do all with his own magic, the old Shaman went home, made tarasun and drank it; then he went to the corner of the room, got his axe and put it under the pillow on his bed, tied his horse to a post in the yurta and lay down, saying to his wife,

"Do not let my horse out, and do not waken me." Soon he and his horse were sound asleep. But they were not asleep, it was only their bodies which were so quiet. In reality the Shaman was riding swiftly toward the Angara.

Before reaching Irkutsk there is a mountain, Torkoi Tonkoi. From the top of this mountain the Shaman saw that Minga

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Milá had made a bridge across the river and was beginning to drive his cattle over it. Half of the bridge was silver and half of it was gold.

The Shaman turned himself into a bee, made his axe equally small, and, taking it with him, flew under the bridge and hewed the pillars so that the bridge broke in two. All the cattle fell into the Angara, as well as the woman on the red ox. Minga Milá fell, but he saved himself—at least he did not sink, though he and his gray stallion remained in the water.

The old Shaman threw his gold ring of a Shaman toward heaven, and a dreadful wind sprang up which lasted for three days. Minga Milá sat on the water and was driven back and forth by the wind. After the three days of wind came three days of strong rain. By the end of those six days the hoofs of Minga Milá's horse fell off. When the storm was over Minga Milá came out of the river; his horse followed him, and they began to dry themselves. The horse's hoofs came from the river and went on to his feet.

Enraged by the loss of the cattle and the woman on the red ox, but frightened by the terrible storm, Minga Milá swore a great oath that henceforth he would not go to the Olzoni country. "Should I go there may my one thousand eyes jump out of my head, and my body be cut in three pieces. I will neither kill people hereafter nor destroy cattle," declared he. Hearing this oath the Shaman was greatly pleased, and at once started for home.

On the road he went to his five brothers and told them how he had punished Thousand Eyes. "I have freed myself and you of this monster," said he; "we can now live in peace." When he reached his yurta he rose from the bed, where his wife thought he was sleeping, untied his horse and drove it out to pasture. And all was as if it had not been. But the cattle of Olzoni were never stolen again.

The Shaman began to drink tarasun and visit his friends. In the spring, about a year after his return from the Angara, he was on his way to see friends in Olzonski-Rod when he came upon three men who were burying a dead child. "What are you doing?" asked the Shaman.

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"Go thy way, grandfather," answered the men. "Stand not there, for the child is dead. No one is free from death."

They let down the body and began to cover it with earth.

"Take away that earth," commanded the Shaman; "give me the child and do you kill a goat and bury it in this grave." He carried the child to its home, had six stones heated red hot, took off his leggings, danced with bare feet on the red hot stones, and "shamaned" till morning, stepping over the dead child from time to time, until the first cock crowed. That made the blood move in the child's body, and he opened his eyes, but could not talk.

The next night the Shaman had the boy's father and mother tied to a post in the yurta, and again he danced and shamaned until the first cock crowed. All this time the child lay without moving. At sunrise the Shaman blew on the child's head and feet. He sprang up and asked, "What are you doing, father?"

Then the Shaman unbound the father and mother. "Your child is alive and well," said he; "now I will go home."

"No," said the father, "I must reward you; I am rich. I will give you half my money and half my cattle for what you have done."

"I do not need your money or your cattle," replied the Shaman. But the father was too happy over the recovery of his child to let the Shaman go without a reward. "Well," said the Shaman, "all I need is one cock of hay, an arkan rope (skin rope, hide), and nine copecks in money."

The father gave him the money, the rope, and the hay, and loaned him an ox to draw the hay home. The Shaman fed the hay to his cattle, hung up the rope, and kept the nine copecks in memory of the father's gratitude.

The raising of the boy from the dead was the last great act of the Shaman's life, for he died soon after.


There was once a Shaman named Gaqui Guldief. One day he was returning from Irkutsk to his home, when night overtook him on the Kanjirevsk steppes. Soon after dusk he saw dead men dancing, "for he was second-sighted." He heard them say,

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[paragraph continues] "Be careful, Gaqui Guldief is coming!" They had known him when they were living, and knew that he understood the dead and could see them.

Among the dancers was one who danced better than any of the others, and his friends were urging him to dance his very best. He was about to do so, when Gaqui shot at him, hit him, and he fell to the ground a skull. Then a terrible disturbance arose among the dancers, and turning to one of their number, a tall strong man, they said, "You must punish him for this!" Guldief hurried away, for he heard what they said. When he got home he led into the house the savage dog he usually kept chained in the yard. He was not disturbed that night, but early the next night the tall, strong dead man came into the room followed by a great crowd of people of all ages.

There were food and drink on the table. The strong man began to eat; then the crowd ate and drank, and passed food to the living man. When they had finished eating, one of the number, looking at Gaqui, who was watching them, carefully, said, "Let us play tricks on him, and punish him." "No," cried others; "he is a good man at heart. We have eaten of his food; we will not harm him."

They remained a long time, then silently disappeared. When the watcher was alone in the room he saw that the food and drink which he had placed on the table was all there; there was not one bite of food or one drop of drink less, though all the dead had eaten.


Once a man having second sight was passing through a large field about dusk, when he saw three men, whom he knew to be dead, coming toward him. One of them was carrying a small box.

"What are you carrying?" asked the live man.

"We are carrying the soul of an infant," answered the dead.

The man knew that the son of a rich Buriat was very sick, and he made up his mind that the child had died, and the dead were carrying its soul away. "The dead are sometimes very shrewd

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and sometimes very stupid," said he to himself. "I will try and get that soul away from them."

"How queerly you walk!" called out one of the dead men. "Your feet make a dust, and you shake the earth when you step."

"I have been dead only a little while," answered the live man, "and have not yet learned to walk like the dead." Then he asked cunningly, "Are you afraid of anything?"

"We are afraid of the shipovnik bush (a shrub which has long thorns). What are you afraid of?" "I am afraid of fat meat," replied the man. He walked on with the dead until they came to a large clump of shipovnik bushes; then he seized the box in which they were carrying the child's soul and sprang into the bushes. They dared not approach, but ran off to get fat meat; they were back in a flash and began to pelt him with it. He ate the meat, and kept firm hold of the box.

After a time the dead went away, and the live man took the soul back to the house where the body of the dead child was. The soul went into the body; the child came to life and began to sneeze.


When a Shaman dies his spirit, in the form of fire, goes to a Shaman who has been his friend during life, and strikes him such a strong blow on the forehead that he falls to the ground (the spirit or flame is invisible to bystanders). They raise the Shaman, and when he has recovered somewhat he says: "The spirit of my friend has come to me for assistance. It wishes to settle in a grove, and tells me where the grove is."

No one doubts that this is the request of the spirit of the dead Shaman. Friends go to the place mentioned, and, selecting one of the largest and best trees, cut a small box-like aperture in it. The body of the dead Shaman is burned, the ashes placed in the aperture in the tree, and a slab fastened across it. Ever afterward the grove is sacred. Later on, if the spirit of a Shaman of the same family asks that the ashes of his dead body be deposited in this grove, the request is granted. Hence often in such a grove there are several trees which contain ashes of the dead.

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There are many of these sacred groves in the Buriat country. When a Buriat is passing a grove where the ashes of a Shaman or of several Shamans are deposited, he sprinkles vodka or tarasun to their spirits. If he has no vodka or tarasun he sprinkles tobacco, thinking they may like to smoke. He mentions such and such Shamans of the grove, and sends the tobacco to them specially. It is supposed to reach the spirits multiplied immensely in quantity and improved in quality.

No tree can be cut down, grass mown, or sod turned in a sacred grove. A man would come to great grief if he were to injure a tree, even by breaking off a branch or twig. The punishment would be inflicted by the spirits of the dead Shamans.

No woman can enter a sacred Shaman grove.


There are Burkans who are called Bumal Burkans. They are so called because instead of residing always in lofty places their homes are in certain groves. No tree can be felled, twig broken, or grass cut in such a grove. In passing the grove offerings are made of tarasun or tobacco.

Not far from the village of Usturdi, where I spent several weeks, there is a sacred grove of a Bumal Burkan. Some years ago three or four Buriats who had lost faith in their ancient religion decided to measure the land and cut the grass around the grove. Shamans warned them that not only the grove, but the land to the extent of some acres around it, belonged to the Burkan. Paying no heed to the warning, the men began to cut the grass.

The Burkan was very angry, and to punish them for trying to take his grass and curtail his domain, he sent an epidemic upon the village. People began to die off rapidly. The land around the grove was immediately abandoned, and sacrifices were made to the god, who after a time was appeased, and the epidemic died out.

One or two of the Bumal Burkans allow women to pass through their groves, but others are very strict in this regard;

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women not only are forbidden to enter their groves, but are punished if they step on the land.

Sometimes there is a mountain or high hill between villages, and on the summit of the hill, not very far from the road, is a sacred grove belonging to a Bumal Burkan. If a man dies in one of the villages no person is allowed to pass the grove for three days. At the end of that time the first man to pass must purify himself before leaving home. This is done by gathering dry juniper, placing it in a pile on the ground, setting fire to it, and, when it smokes well, walking through it repeatedly, inhaling the smoke. The horse the person is to ride must be purified in the same way.


It has happened at times during past centuries that a Shaman seeing a beautiful tree or a fine clump of trees has thought that a Burkan or the spirit of a dead Shaman if passing by there would surely like to stop and have a smoke; hence he has declared that tree or clump of trees to be sacred, and no man would be so foolhardy as to meddle with trees which they know have been given to the Burkans and spirits.

Buriats dislike to cut down a beautiful tree which has grown up on a clean place. They are inclined to believe that the tree belongs to a Burkan; for there are cases where a man engaged in felling such a tree has been taken suddenly ill, and the Shamans have discovered that the illness was caused by the Burkan to whom the tree belonged. Sometimes the name of the Burkan is unknown; then, although an offering is made, the man may die.

A beautiful pine tree growing near Usturdi was cut down by one of the Buriats, who almost immediately fell ill. A Shaman was sent for, and by reading the cracks in the charred shoulder bone of a sheep he found that the tree belonged to a Burkan—was a sacred tree. But he did not know which Burkan; consequently, though several offerings were made, the man died.

Next: Chapter X. The Gods of the Buriats