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Shamanism in Siberia, by M.A. Czaplicka, [1914], at


Whether his calling be hereditary or not, a shaman must be a capable-nay, an inspired person. Of course, this is practically the same thing as saying that he is nervous and excitable, often to the verge of insanity. So long as he practises his vocation, however, the shaman never passes this verge. It often happens that before entering the calling persons have had serious nervous affections.[1] Thus a Chukchee female shaman, Telpina, according to her own statement, had been violently insane for three years, during which time her household had taken precautions that she should do no harm to the people or to herself.[2]

'I was told that people about to become shamans have fits of wild paroxysms alternating with a condition of complete exhaustion. They will lie motionless for two or three days without partaking of food or drink. Finally they retire to the wilderness, where they spend their time enduring hunger and cold in order to prepare themselves for their calling.'[3]

To be called to become a shaman is generally equivalent to being afflicted with hysteria; then the accepting of the call means recovery. 'There are cases of young persons who, having suffered for years from lingering illness (usually of a nervous character), at last feel a call to take up shamanistic practice and by this means overcome the disease.'[4]

To the believer the acceptance of the call means accepting several spirits, or at least one, as protectors or servants, by which means the shaman enters into communication with the whole spirit world. The shamanistic call sometimes manifests itself through some animal, plant, or other natural object, which the

[1. Bogoras met several shamans who were always ready to quarrel, and to use their knives on such occasions; e.g. the shaman Kelewgi wauted to kill a Cossack who refused to buy furs from him. (Bogoras, op. cit., p. 426.)

2. Op. cit., p. 428.

3. Jochelson, The Koryak, p. 47.

4. Bogoras, The Chukchee, p. 421.]

person comes upon at the 'right time', i.e. when very young, often in the critical period between childhood and maturity (or else when a person more advanced in age is afflicted with mental or physical troubles). 'Sometimes it is an inner voice, which bids the person enter into intercourse with the "spirits". If the person is dilatory in obeying, the calling spirit soon appears in some outward visible shape, and communicates the call in a more explicit way.' Ainanwat after an illness saw several 'spirits', but did not pay much attention to them; then one 'spirit' came, whom Ainanwat liked and invited to stay. But the 'spirit' said he would stay only on the condition that Ainanwat should become a shaman. Ainanwat refused, and the 'spirit' vanished.'

Here is an account by a Yakut-Tungus shaman, Tiuspiut ('fallen-from-the-sky'), of how he became a shaman: [2]

'When I was twenty years old, I became very ill and began "to see with my eyes, to hear with my ears" that which others did not see or hear; nine years I struggled with myself, and I did not tell any one what was happening to me, as I was afraid that people would not believe me and would make fun of me. At last I became so seriously ill that I was on the verge of death; but when I started to shamanize I grew better; and even now when I do not shamanize for a long time I am liable to be ill.'

Sieroszewski tells us that Tiuspiut was sixty years of age; he hid his shamanistic gift nine years, and had been shamanizing thirty-one years when Sieroszewski met him. He was a man of medium size, thin, but muscular, with signs of former beauty. In spite of his age he could shamanize and dance the whole night. He was an experienced man, and travelled a great deal both in the south and in the north. During the shamanistic ceremonies his eyes had a strange expression of madness, and a pertinacious stare, which provoked to anger and excitement those on whom his look rested.

'This is the second shaman with such strange eyes whom I have met in the district of Yakut. Generally in the features of a shaman there is something peculiar which enabled me, after a short experience, to distinguish them from the other folk present.'[3]

A similar statement is made about the Chukchee shamans by Bogoras: 'The eyes of a shaman have a look different from that

[1 Bogoras, op. cit.

2 Sieroszewski, 12 Lat w Kraju Yakutów, p. 396. Ibid.]

of other people, and they explain it by the assertion that the eyes of the shaman are very bright (nikeraqen), which, by the way, gives them the ability to see "spirits" even in the dark. It is certainly a fact that the expression of a shaman is peculiar-a combination of cunning and shyness; and it is often possible to pick him out from among many others.'[1]

'The Chukchee are well aware of the extreme nervousness of their shamans, and express it by the word ninirkilqin, "he is bashful". By this word they mean to convey the idea that the shaman is highly sensitive, even to the slightest change of the psychic atmosphere surrounding him during his exercises.'

'The Chukchee shaman is diffident in acting before strangers, especially shortly after his initiation. A shaman of great power will refuse to show his skill when among strangers, and will yield only after much solicitation: even then, as a rule, he will not show all of his power.' [2] 'Once when I induced a shaman to practise at my house his "spirits" (of a ventriloquistic kind) for a long time refused to come. When at last they did come, they were heard walking round the house outside and knocking on its walls, as if still undecided whether to enter. When they entered, they kept near to the comers, carefully avoiding too close proximity to those present.'

The shamanistic call comes sometimes to people more advanced in years:

'To people of more mature age the shamanistic call may come during some great misfortune, dangerous and protracted illness, sudden loss of family or property,' &c. 'It is generally considered that in such cases a favourable issue is possible only with the aid of the "spirits", therefore a man who has undergone some extraordinary trial in his life is considered as having within himself. the possibilities of a shaman, and he often feels bound to enter into closer relations with the "spirits", lest he incur their displeasure at his negligence and lack of gratitude."

Katek, from the village of Unisak at Indian Point, entered into relations with the 'spirits' when he was of mature age, during a terrible adventure he had while hunting seal.

He was carried away on the piece of ice on which he was standing, and only after a long time of drifting came upon an iceberg, on to which he climbed. But before he encountered

[1. Bogoras, op. cit., p. 116.

2 Ibid.

3. Op. cit., p. 421.]

the iceberg, he had tried to kill himself with his belt-knife, when a large walrus-head suddenly appeared out of the water quite close to him and sang: 'O Katek, do not kill yourself! You shall again see the mountains of Unisak and the little Kuwakak, your elder son.' When Katek came back home he made a sacrifice to the walrus-head, and from that time on he was a shaman, much respected and very famous among his neighbours.[1]

However, very old people are not supposed to hear the shamanistic call. In a Koryak tale,[2] when Quikinnaqu (who had already a grown-up daughter) unexpectedly makes for himself a drum out of a small louse, and becomes a shaman, his neighbours say sceptically: 'Has the old Quikinnaqu really become a shaman? From his youth up he had no spirits within his call.'

But young people when they get into trouble also call for the help of 'spirits'; when the latter come to them, such youths also frequently become shamans.

'A man, Yetilin by name, who belonged by birth to an Arctic maritime village, but afterwards married into a reindeer-breeding family on the Dry Anui River, and joined its camp, told me that in his early childhood his family perished from a contagious disease (probably influenza), and he was left alone with his small sister. Then he called to the "spirits". They came and brought food and said to him: "Yetilin, take to beating the drum! We will assist you in that also."'[3]

The Chukchee tales contain accounts of poor and despised orphans, who were protected by 'spirits', and turned into shamans.

The vocation of the shaman is attended with considerable danger: 'The slightest lack of harmony between the acts of the shamans and the mysterious call of their "spirits" brings their life to an end. This is expressed by the Chukchee, when they say that "spirits" are very bad-tempered, and punish with immediate death the slightest disobedience of the shaman, and that this is particularly so when the shaman is slow to carry out those orders which are intended to single him out from other people.' [4]

We have similar statements from the more advanced tribes. 'The duties undertaken by the shaman are not easy; the struggle which he has to carry on is dangerous. There exist traditions

[1. Op. cit., p. 421.

2. Jochelson, The Koryak, p. 291.

Bogoras, op. cit., p. 424.

4. Op. cit., p. 417.]

about shamans who were carried away still living from the earth to the sky, about others killed by "spirits", or struck down at their first meeting with the powers whom they dared to call upon. The wizard who decides to carry on this struggle has not only material gain in view, but also the alleviation of the griefs of his fellow men; the wizard who has the vocation, the faith, and the conviction, who undertakes his duty with ecstasy and negligence of personal danger, inspired by the high ideal of sacrifice, such a wizard always exerts an enormous influence upon his audience. After having once or twice seen such a real shaman, I understood the distinction that the natives draw between the "Great", "Middling", and "Mocking" or deceitful shamans.'[1] Although exposed to danger from supernatural powers, the shaman is supposed to be safer from human anger than any other person.

One Chukchee tale says: 'She [the murderer] came to her neighbour, a woman who was busy with her fireboard, trying to make a fire. She stabbed her from behind. But the girl continued to work on the fire, because she was a shaman-girl, a woman able to stab herself [in a shamanistic performance]. Therefore she could not kill her, but only severed the tendons of her arms and legs.' [2]

A man who can pierce himself through with a knife, so that its end shows at his back,[3] or cut his head off, put it on a stick, and dance round the yurta,[4] is surely strengthened sufficiently against an enemy's attacks. Yet the shaman, Scratching-Woman, when he refused to drink the alcohol offered to him by Bogoras, and which he had previously demanded, explained as follows: 'I will be frank with you. Drink really makes my temper too bad for anything. Usually my wife watches over me, and puts all knives out of my reach. But when we are apart, I am afraid.".[5]

On the whole, the shamans are very much attached to their vocation, in spite of the persecutions which they have to suffer from the Government. Tiuspiut was many times punished by the Russian officials and his shamanistic dress and drum were burned; but he returned to his duties after each of these incidents. 'we have to do it, we cannot leave off shamanizing,' he said to Sieroszewski, 'and there is no harm in our doing it.'

Another shaman, who was old and blind, affirmed that he had

[1. Sieroszewski, op. cit., p. 639.

2. Bogoras, Chukchee Materials, p. 32.

3. Sieroszewski, op. cit., p. 398.

4 Ibid.

5 Bogoras, The Chukchee, p. 428.]

been a shaman some time before, but after he became convinced that it was a sin he stopped shamanizing, and 'although another very powerful shaman took from him the "sign", ämägyat, still the spirits made him blind'.[1]

In the village Baigantai Sieroszewski met with another instance of a shaman who, however many times he vowed to abstain from shamanism, still returned to it when the occasion arose. He was a rich man, who did not care for gain, and he was so wonderful that 'his eyes used to jump out on his forehead' during shamanistic performances.

Tiuspiut was poor and cared for money, but he was proudly regardful of his reputation, and when some of his neighbours called in another shaman, one who lived farther away than Tiuspiut, he became quite offended.

Bogoras never met shamans among the Palaeo- Siberians who could be said 'to live solely on the profits of their art. It was only a source of additional income to them., [2]

Among the Tungus and Yakut the shaman is recompensed only when his arts are successful; and now, since Russian money has come into use, he receives from one to twenty-five roubles for a performance, and always gets plenty to eat besides.

The shamanistic call among the Tungus of Trans-Baikalia shows itself in the following manner: A dead shaman appears in a dream and summons the dreamer to become his successor. One who is to become a shaman appears shy, distrait, and is in a highly nervous condition.[3]

Similar instances are to be found in the records of all Siberian tribes.

As to the shamanistic office being hereditary, this is the case wherever a descendant of a shaman shows a disposition for the calling.

Among the Ostyak, the father himself chooses his successor, not necessarily according to age, but according to capacity; and to the chosen one he gives his own knowledge. If he has no children, he may pass on the office to a friend, or to an adopted child.[4]

The Ostyak shaman occasionally sells his familiar spirit to another shaman. After receiving payment, he divides his hair

[1 Sieroszewski, op. cit., p. 394.

2. Bogoras, the Chukchee, p. 425.

3 Anonymous article in Siberian News, 1822, pp. 39-40.

4 Bielayewski, A Journey to the Glacial Sea, pp. 113-14.]

into tresses, and fixes the time when the spirit is to pass to his new master. The spirit, having changed owners, makes his new possessor suffer; if the new shaman does not feel these effects, it is a sign that he is not becoming proficient in his office.[1]

Among both the Yakut and the Buryat, although the office is not necessarily hereditary, it is usually so in part; for it will generally happen that the shamanistic spirit passes from one to another of the same family.[2]

The Altaians believe that no one becomes a shaman of his own free will; rather it comes to him volens volens, like a hereditary disease. They say that sometimes when a young man feels premonitory symptoms of the call, he avoids shamans and shamanistic ceremonies, and by an effort of will occasionally cures himself. The period when the shamanistic call comes to the descendant of a shamanistic family is known as tes bazin-yat, 'the ancestor (spirit) leaps upon, strangles him'.[3]

Next: B. The Shaman's Preparatory Period