Interview with the Siberian shaman Alya, who wished to stay anonymous. Filmed by the TV Channel Russia-Culture in cooperation with Ethno Taiga. Translated into English by ©Excellence Reporter.
Q: There are shamans in Siberia. But who are they? Probably people don’t know much about them, and what do they represent?
Alya: Yes, unfortunately most people have no idea what a shaman is, who a shaman is, what they do and what for. They all have a preconceived idea. And as a general rule people are afraid of what they don’t know. Shamans are being afraid of, sometimes even vilified. People make up all sorts of rumors. As a matter of fact it is much easier to defile than to accept a concept. Of course not everything is comprehensible what the shaman does, precisely in order to avoid a prejudiced, unpleasant attitude towards the shaman. I will allow myself a little, well… to lead you into awareness.
A shaman is a person who sees subtle realms, subtle worlds. In the subtle realms live spirits. And most shamans know these spirits, they see these spirits. In the realm of the spirits everyone knows everything. The spirits know everything. All the knowledge is available there. There is no falsehood and deception. Therefore, the shaman by entering the realm of the spirits he receives answers to any question.
Let’s say someone comes to a shaman to be healed. The shaman doesn’t know what to do. He has never had such a case in his practice. He enters the realm of the spirits and asks questions, through his rituals. There are traditional rituals. There are individual rituals. So the shaman asks questions and he receives answers namely from the realm of the spirits. And then he helps the sick person be healed. This is the blessed side. A shaman who can not heal is not a shaman. Remember this. What’s the point of disturbing the spirit world if there is no need for this.
As a general rule a shaman that properly runs through himself the power of the spirits — there are shamans who know even the gods — they generally do not need to heal themselves because these energies constantly flow through them, and they are harmonious, stable. The real shaman is only that shaman who does not fear death. Who’s afraid of nothing. If you’re afraid of something then there is something that you cannot do. The shaman’s purpose is to help those who do not understand, do not know, do not know how.
Q: Is a shaman born? Were you born in a shamanic family? Was it sort of a sign that you would be a shaman?
Alya: I was five years old when they transmitted; my great-grandmother she laid her hand so to say. And then after many years I understood what it was all about. But I will say this is duty, this is responsibility, it’s not easy. Basically when you start helping others you stop living for yourself. You always serve others. It’s some kind of self-sacrifice.
And then you yourself almost die. Because… there is that same feeling of homeland, you know. It arises from somewhere… that place from where you do not want to leave and where you want to return all the time. There is something magnetic, special in that place. I don’t know… a part of you or something. And you return to yourself. A feeling that it’s your homeland, your home. And what’s interesting is that regardless of how you arrive there, even empty, it is to the homeland that you can quickly recover, gain strength.
No artificial means are needed to perform rituals. You just come in the nature, lay down on the ground, look at the sky, at the clouds, wash with clean water, and breathe fresh air. You make a small fire. And feel that grace. The power of the fire. How gentle and noble it is. It’s miraculous. All that you ask for you receive; she responds so. Well, one certainly needs to learn how to feel this, it doesn’t happen at once.
Q: Alya, did you have a teacher? Did your grandmother illuminate you?
Alya: I had 2 master-teachers. It happened that one led me and I learned. But mostly theoretically. I think however that before you take an instrument into your hand, you need to be aware of what you take into your hand. There must be a sense of responsibility, it’s not that I want it just like that, and I rush ahead. No. But thanks God I have this feeling from my parents. It’s the same as a knife, you know.
Aside from the fact that you want to live for yourself, you begin also to live others. This is not easy. And not to do this is not an option because you are gifted to do it, and you have the calling to make something out of it.
Q: But you did not think in your childhood that you would be a shaman, did you? You did have a profession, you studied somewhere. At what moment did your life change?
Alya: I bake bread and build stoves for a living. After school I studied construction-engineering. I love to create such beautiful masterpieces, because if you saw how much delight people have when they see it and you understand that they will look at it every day and it should be beautiful. Probably somewhere I intuitively understand that I love to give people joy. Why? It hurts and somehow I feel despair if I can not help a person and she doesn’t know how to be joyful herself.
Life without joy is meaningless. In life one must be able to receive joy. And in most cases I … I felt that great joy when I made that fire a while ago, I was filled with fire, and from that joy I even shed tears. Yes, it came from joy. It’s like you are filled up. In fact this is happiness. What is happiness? It is to feel yourself part of this great huge state. And you become this state. You are it… this greatness. Happiness is to feel yourself in this greatness. In this vastness.
Q: Alya, you said you’ve never done rituals on yourself… healing, summoning the spirits.
Alya: Well, it happened so that I didn’t get to do it for myself. Someone else needed it all the time and I just kept doing it for others. Somehow I haven’t thought about doing that for myself. As the saying goes: a shoemaker without shoes. Somehow it’s true. Basically I mostly give. All the time I give, give, give. I can do it because… it doesn’t cease… I don’t even know how to say it… connection, or communication… with this subtle world.
Q: Alya, on this pathway of the shaman, have you ever had to die?
Alya: I died 4 times. I know what death is. I could completely control the last state of death I had. I died and I recovered immediately. Remember any death is a rebirth. It’s true what they say in church that death does not exist. If you leave this state then you are born in another.
Q: How did it happen? During a ritual or an accident?
Alya: The first time I was young and in fact I could die physically. It was some kind of a miracle. Perhaps with that it all began. I somehow understood that death was not to be afraid of. And probably a shift in consciousness had begun afterwards. I was 20 at the time.
Q: What did it happen then?
Alya: I had a surgery. Doctors didn’t think I’d survive. Somehow I left, then I came back.
Q: Did you force yourself to return?
Alya: I didn’t force myself. There was a person who strongly prayed and wished that I lived. So I came back.
Q: Was it a prayer?
Alya: Yes. When a person is praying he can return anyone. This is salvation of the soul. It comes straight from the heart, from within, a true prayer. Not simple words like that. But a true prayer that comes from deep within the heart.
Q: How about the other deaths?
Alya: All 4 were different. The 2nd was also scary. At the 3rd I understood that there is nothing to be afraid of. And at the 4th death I could already control this state. And the 5th… I did not need that anymore, I wasn’t interested in it anymore. I simply was reborn. I stepped into another state. Quality determines quantity. The quality changes and you are in another state. Of course not everyone can do this. It just happened to me so.
Q: If death is not fearful for a shaman, what is it then? What’s the hardest or the worst thing?
Alya: Not to do what you are capable of. It’s like a doctor who passes by a patient who needs help. This is most horrible. This shame, this disgrace. This is the worst thing. It’s unforgivable.
Q: Have you had such cases when for instance a person is brought to you and you cannot help her?
Alya: Yes. This feeling of hopelessness is the hardest. I understand I cannot help. The only thing I can do in such cases is to guide the force to help him as best as possible peacefully and benevolently pass away. We all leave at some time anyway. So that it was not a torment, that the person left without fear, without pain.
Q: Who comes to you? What kind of people?
Alya: Mostly people who got scared by doctors. Overall the visits don’t happen often. Local people don’t really come visit me, they can help each other by themselves. You know, this is transmitted from generation to generation. It’s something quite natural. At least one person in the family can heal. It’s normal. Local people they don’t need each other to do such things.
Q: You mean each Chulym kinship has its own shaman?
Alya: Yes. Of course the levels are different. I do rituals a bit different. Well, I stay a bit away, on the side. The most important is to avoid conflicts. The Chulyms they have it in their blood. This power is given to them by nature. When they do rituals they attract the spirits, the totems, the animals. They merge with them and identify themselves with that animal. And that’s why when a person identifies himself with some animal he can through the totem of that animal get the power.
Q: What does it mean the totem of an animal?
Alya: The spirit of the animal. Today for instance I threw a piece of meat and I called the totems. We are in the woods, this is their elements, we are on their territory. This is respect, we have to appease them.
Q: Who’s your totem?
Alya: I have a few totems. There is the totem of the bird – the white owl; I also have the totem of the marten. Somehow they come to you and you know this is it, you identify with it. The most powerful for any shaman is to possess the power of the bear totem. The bears, they take and they protect in the same time. The one who has the totem of the bear he protects. These are powerful people.
Q: Alya, where does the music come from?
Alya: You know what a wonderful state this is. When you are alone there is this vastness enveloping you, the fresh air, stillness, nature, you are merging with it all. When you begin to dissolve then suddenly you stop feeling the ground and you feel like you are flying. This feeling of flying liberates the soul. The soul opens up and begins to sing. You yourself don’t understand and don’t know it, everything happens by itself, and you sing, you sing, you sing… It’s interesting that it’s when someone else hears the song, they are being remembered. As much as I sing, I do not remember the songs. When you sing some kind of sensation arises inside, the waves rise, you begin to see and understand all, even if it’s in another language. I mean you understand the song anyway. Images are being transmitted. This is a real song. Songs that come from the soul. Not those that are being composed for money. But a real one.
Q: Do you happen to be amazed at something in life? In the Taiga at some unusual phenomenon, or in a person of something?
Alya: The behavior of the animals sometimes astonishes me. I am amazed that they are smarter than us. When you come across this… Someone suddenly told us that animals are more stupid than us, it’s impossible, don’t believe anyone. These animals sometimes will gaze at you in such a way that you’ll feel that you are nothing. You feel creepy. You understand that it is more than you. It’s smarter and stronger than you. This is astonishing. It’s majestic. It still surprises me that animals also have dignity, they too can stand up for themselves to the last drop. Nowadays even people are not capable of that. We have lost this power, this wild will. That’s why we’ve become weak, disabled invalids, it’s terrible. We’ve lost the will. The connection to nature. We ceased to feel the animals, the forest, the elements, the earth, the water. To connect everything through oneself. To digest it all in the gut. Here is where the power of life appears. Here is where we carry the children.
Q: Alya, aren’t you afraid of this world, of the Taiga, of the Chulyms?
Alya: I have this alarm for a long time. The most terrible thing is that man destroying himself destroys the world. There is now everywhere a sort of imposed program of self-destruction. People don’t comprehend that they are destroying themselves. There is no awareness. They can’t see beyond the nose. I, me, mine. That’s all.
Q: Did it happen in your life when some sort of higher powers helped you?
Alya: Yes. When my mother passed away I had the feeling that I was falling in the abyss. A very very long fall. The soul was falling and falling. At some point I wished to fall completely at last. I got tired of this continuous falling and I prayed. And I saw some face eventually. I understood I was heard. It looked at me so and everything miraculously disappeared. The soul calmed down as if nothing happened. I know they exist. I don’t believe, I know.
I think knowingness gives power. But belief — it stimulates. It stimulates to rise, to change. Life is a constant change of things. In no case you have to remain the same. You have to change all the time, to become better, and better, and better. To work on yourself, to help others. And the most important is to live your life. The majority of people that come visit me, I tell them: Your trouble is that you do not live your own life. If you lived your own life then why would you get into someone else’s life? To allow yourself to diagnose things, to give advices when you were not asked for them. That’s when you cease living for yourself and start living someone else’s life. To begin to interfere with others. And conflicts begin. You have to learn to live first, and become such so that you can give yourself to the world. To become a gift. It’s the state when you give yourself as a blessing.
Q: Could you have chosen a common life, as an engineer in a big city for instance?
Alya: I don’t think so because I think it was meant that sooner or later a global vision would be opened for me. I couldn’t have chosen that kind of life. As the saying goes: born to crawl, but the one who was born to fly will not crawl. What’s predestined will happen anyway. There would not have been contentment… with an ordinary kind of life, a standard way of living. All the way I am being pulled somewhere… All the way I need to know more. I long for more. I don’t have enough of what I have. I don’t have enough of it all. I need more of that.
Q: Do you have something to thank your destiny for?
Alya: I am thankful to my parents, my dad, my mother. I’m thankful to that moment when I realized this great world, this spiritual world. I thank the rulers of that spiritual world who help us be in this world, to harness from that power and live and become better.
Original interview (Russian language):
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