Talks With Siberian Shamans

Photographer Alina Desyatnichenko went to the most magical land of Russia — the Baikal region — and took short interviews from the local shamans on their initiation into shamanism

To understand the spirituality of the Baikal Buryats is not just difficult, but very difficult. The dominant official religions here are Orthodoxy and Buddhism, but due to the fact that local residents were introduced to the new beliefs quite aggressively, many accepted them formally only, but in fact remaining faithful to family-clan cults and shamanism. Historically shamanism is a “non-public” religion, aimed at the private service of the clan, tribe, Ulus, and actually bounded by their limits. Therefore even at general prayer gatherings (taiglanas), it is not easy for the shamans from different tribes to achieve mutual understanding.

The Buryat-Ethnic universe consists of three worlds. In the upper world live the Tenger deities; above all is the Creator, the progenitor of everything and all — the father of the sky Huhe Munhe Tenger. At the very bottom is hell with the great and frightful Lord Erlik Khan. In the middle world — people live.

There are many other spirits besides the Tenger deities: direct descendants of the supreme deities, and their antagonists — demons, small deities of the rivers, analogues of the christian saints, ancestral spirits protectors of the family or kinship. We all make them offerings and libations — milk, tea, vodka, and in serious cases we sacrifice a sheep.

Shamans are needed for talks with deities and ancestors. The higher the level of the shaman, the greater the number of possible recipients. To become a shaman, you need to have not only a special lineage but also receive a clear sign from the Father of the Sky.

The heavenly sign can be anything: a prophetic dream, a meteorite falling in the garden, the sixth finger on the hand, the death of a domestic animal, the “shaman sickness” (antisocial behavior, alcoholism, persistent illness, bad luck).

The “disease” disappears as soon as the shaman recognizes his path. If the person continues to deny his predestination, it is considered that nothing good will come to an end neither for him nor for his loved ones. Traditionally shamans did not have common governing structures, but in recent years local authorities have tried their best to emphasize the autonomy of the Siberian regions, using as an argument the cultural identity of small nations. Thus shamanists create trade unions, elect chairmen, open study centers, organize festivals and scientific conferences.


Michael Ogdonov

Mikhail Ogdonov, Irkutsk, in the office of the local religious organization of the shamans “Baikal”

“It’s not that you raised your hand like that and said: I want to be a shaman! No. It comes from above. This is given by your ancestors — the ongons. I have 8 ongons, 8 ancestors, back 11 generations. I used to work in the police, now I’m retired.

I was ordained into shamanism in absentia while I was serving in the police. The Ongons can choose any person; if the family is large then they usually choose either the oldest or the youngest. I am the tenth child in the family, we are ten siblings.

Shamans are chosen among physically strong and wise people. At the same time they are tested in different ways. They cut me with the knife and shot at me while on duty. I survived two serious car accidents; the first time it was my brother driving, the second — my son-in-law. The tests are of a such degree that a person falls altogether with his soul; or he doesn’t — he holds up. A shaman must be a spiritually strong person.”



Arthur Tsybikov, Angarsk, in the working yurt of the local religious organization of the shamans “Ever Blue Sky”

“I have been doing this since 2007. I am a hereditary shaman. My uncles and aunts are shamans, and my grandparents too, and my father is a shaman as well. It’s bloodline. I’ve seen all the rituals since childhood. I grew up. At 37 I became dedicated to it and began to work.

The development of the shaman sickness is being manifested differently with each person; not always is it associated with alcohol. Since I’ve never smoked in my life, and I haven’t even drank once, my shaman sickness manifested itself in the fact that nothing went well in life; I had bad luck everywhere. I start some projects and they immediately end. Nothing worked out right although I studied in many universities, on different specialties. I worked as a janitor, guard, nurse, assistant to Kobzon. I served in the special forces, the 90s went by when friends of mine were killed — all sort of things happened in life.

I approached my 37th anniversary with a certain experience and knowledge, and when they told me that I should be a shaman, I got initiated and I understood: yes, this is mine, I’ve always walked toward this. I’ve known it since childhood that I would be either a doctor or a shaman. I didn’t know when, but I knew I would.”



Yuri Bubayev, Ust-Ordynsky, in the yurt of the local religious organization of the shamans “Heavenly Radiance”

“I’m an accountant, I worked in the tax service, I used to be the head of the tax service. Then this shaman sickness showed up, during a period of 3 years. When I was 35 years old people started asking me to perform rituals but I refused, and the salary was very good in the tax service. Doctors got sick and tired of me: two years on therapy, then surgery. I want to live! I had to change jobs, do God’s work. I began at 37. I’ve been helping people for 15 years now, and I haven’t even looked at a hospital since then.”


Victor Motoshkin

Victor Motoshkin, Irkutsk, at home

“I have a PhD. When I moved back here to my homeland I did not know anything about shamanism; all the shamans died in my native village. And all of a sudden I see a dream: there are five people in front of me, two of whom I know, experienced shamans, and the other three are kind of dim. They didn’t say their names, apparently they lived here long ago. One of the two says: “You have to start doing this.”

If they say so, that’s it. You can’t disobey. You have to obey, otherwise they will punish severely. I went to visit Shabaev at uncle Mah, in Ust-Ord to ask for advice, and I say: “I have no shamans among close relatives. Here is a dream I had. What should I do?” He did some ridings and says: “This is it. You have no other way. You need to start.” I say: “I’ve already began without initiation into shamanism. See if it’s good or not. Will they receive me like this? He says: “You do everything right. Now the ritual of initiation must be performed.” Two years, two summers it lasted. I think 7 sheeps were sacrificed during the first year. Two more the second year. One of the shamans who is well versed in these matters, says: “Few do it like this. Usually they slaughter two sheep for initiation. You have so many. You did everything right.”


Valentin Hagdaev

Valentin Hagdaev, Yelantsy, in the “working” yurt at home

“I’m a traditional shaman. I was born in a Yurt. My grandfather was a shaman, I was brought up by my grandfather and my grandmother. I was born with a sign – six fingers. The Mongolian shaman Tseren-Zayrana said: Only once in a hundred years a shaman is born with an extra bone, which confirms that this is a true, real shaman.”

I’m the only one in this region, with six bones. It’s like heaven gives you a diploma. The church priest gets a piece of paper, that he is a priest. But then the priest, let’s say he will fail, some sort of financial fraud will plan, church utensils will steal. And he is deprived of dignity at once, he becomes a taxi driver or something. But here, I am a shaman for life. I can be a bad shaman, I can be a good shaman. Even if a fraudulent scheme… but what kind of scheme? We have nothing public here. If they give money — good. No — no. Equal attitude towards everything and everyone.”


Gennady Tugulov

Gennady Tugulov, Irkutsk, at home

“I did not believe in shamanism at all in my youth, even though I had 12 ancestors shamans. They lived in the Kachug village, behind lake Baikal.

You see, all this happened when I was called to Ulan-Ude. My nephew worked as a driver, he had some problems, and he called me to Ulan-Ude to a shaman. That one said: “You need to take the initiation of the shaman.” And this way I became a shaman. The shamans say that death of domestic animals precedes the appearance of a new shaman. He asked me: “Have any animals died recently?” I reply: “Yes”.  “This is it… it was a sign… for you to be a shaman.”

How to become a shaman? Nohow! You must have shamanic ancestry in order the become a shaman. Such a person is experiencing the shaman sickness. You go to the doctor and he gives you a diagnosis. You go to the shaman and they tell you this is the shaman sickness. During that period the person is reborn, she changes the structure of her life.

It is very difficult to be a shaman. This is hard work. The shaman can not abandon his path. The ancestors will demand that he fulfills his role.

Nowadays there are shamans even at 30, this not good. At 30 you have no experience. You can’t even understand how you can help. A shaman is needed to get things in order. That people live in purity. I believe a good shaman can help people after an extensive life experience — after 50 years of age.

There are different kinds of shamans: those who heal, those who predict the future. Shamans have nine levels of mastery. A shaman of the ninth level can “ascend and do a lot”.

There live 4 shamans and 2 elders on Olkhon island. Many people come visit them. No one of the shamans is advertising his work. Getting in touch with them is not easy, but it does not stop anyone.”


Boris Khungeev

Boris Hungeev, Bayanday, at home

“My ancestors were shamans, both from the mother’s side as well as from the father’s side. That’s why when I attained a certain level of maturity I began to practice a little bit. At 55 I began to perform all these rituals. Not everyone can do this; far from it. It is necessary to have “Uddha” — pure bloodline, in order to perform such rituals.”


Matthew Bartsev

Matvey Bartsev, Angarsk, in the working yurt of the local religious organization of the shamans “Ever Blue Sky”

“Everything that goes on nowadays, how people live today — this has always been incomprehensible and uninteresting to me; it was not interesting to get married, to have children. Why, if I don’t know why I was born in the first place? I loved to fight before, then I stepped into the Scripture, reading a lot, it turns out this was the shaman sickness — I could be inadequate, I could fight, even other things I could do in order to astonish.

When I got sick I started to lose my speech, to faint once a day. My friends brought me to Artur Vladimirovich, who has now become my teacher. When I went into his house, I saw all these tambourines, shaman pieces, and I felt inside myself: here it is, life! I almost started to flitter there, such was the joy and happiness, that I finally came to the right place. Now I know why my son was born, why he will grow up, why his children will grow up. I know that the divinity of the universe must continue, that spirituality must be carried on earth. So that my genetics, gender, power will remain. Respectively I should convey the same message to people so that they awaken, wake up. This is our task.”

Source: НОЖ . Translated into English by ©Excellence Reporter

Excellence Reporter 2018

Categories: Shamanism

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.