Shamanism in Russia - Ancient Rituals & Traditions

Written by Alicja Pietrasz

If you thought that shamanism is popular only among the African or South American tribes you were wrong. Buryats living on the western shore of Lake Baikal, are in majority shamanists, not only in theory but what’s most important in practice.

Shamanism in Russia and Siberia has survived the time through their beliefs, shamans and rituals, moreover – they are currently going through resurrection on a great scale. Get to know what are their beliefs, rituals and where to meet them, when visiting Russia.

shamanism in russia

©Photo by Alexander Nikolsky/Siberian Times

What is Siberian shamanism?

The traces of shamanism are present in traditional religions of each continent in a bigger or smaller scale. In tribal societies of Siberia and Central Asia shamanism always has been a fundamental factor in religious life from the Bronze Age. Even though from 1920 onward, Buryat shamanism was fought by Soviet authorities, many traditions were secretly preserved and nowadays tribes from Lake Baikal, Trans-Baikal, Tuva and Altai regions still perform traditional rites.

According to shamanism, the universe is divided into three worlds: the upper world, earth and the underworld. These worlds are connected by a cosmic axis called by the Buryats (in Baikal region) the “Golden Pillar” and recognised as the centre of the universe and the place of penetration of the individual worlds. The upper world is inhabited by gods, underworld  –  by demons, and the centre – earth – by humans. There are also Abaasies – spirits that can live in all three worlds. Shamans can interact and communicate with spirits from each world.

Ancestors worship is an extremely important element of Shamanism in Siberia. According to beliefs, they live in the upper world and shamans can connect with them, when they receive pieces of advice or problem solutions.

Shamans and their role

As mentioned above, according to Siberian tribes beliefs, the shaman is the person who can communicate with spirits and penetrate all of the three worlds. He is a soothsayer, priest and a healer at the same time. Besides that he has the deepest knowledge of spirits and rituals and because of all that he’s a very respected person. People of the community turn every question and request to him because he has the power to help in case of illness, crop failure, the disease of animals. That power lies in mastering the ecstatic techniques of dreams, visions, and trances.

shamanism in russia

©Photo by Alexander Nikolsky/Siberian Times

A very common thing in Siberian Shamanism is to isolate the shaman who does not participate in the everyday life of tribal society.

In every community, there is a specific set of attributes, which traditionally characterises shaman. First of all a costume, e.g. only a shaman is permitted to wear certain animal bone or a certain number of them. Second, every shaman is closely associated with his drum or tambourine that symbolises the Universe. Moreover, sometimes he has an ultimate permission to prepare a hallucinogenic brew.

Shamanic rituals in Siberia

The rituals of Shamanism in Siberia involve healing, purifying and divination. While performing rituals Shamans are dressed in specific costumes and use their attributes (drums, tambourines). They perform ritual dances, sing, play the drums, use intoxicating substances and a hallucinogenic brew, especially “mukhomor” (poison) mushrooms and alcohol, as a means of hastening the attainment of ecstasy. The very common thing is making the sacrifices to Mother Earth, Spirits, Gods during the rituals.

Shamanism rituals Lake Baikal
©Photo by Alexander Nikolsky/Siberian Times

Healing is related to getting rid of the evil spirit that causes the disease. Shaman acts on behalf of spirits and deities. Using mentioned methods he performs the banishment of an evil spirit from the body of a person and brings back the soul stolen by those spirits before.

Purification rituals on the other hand sometimes remind of exorcisms, while other time simply involves the act of walking between two fires while being blessed by the Shaman.

Divination is the means by which a Shaman can foretell the future, diagnose diseases and find the cure for them. Divination shows the path to the Shaman how to heal the patient. It happens usually by taking the ecstatic journey to the Otherworld and asking ancestors and spirits living there for pieces of advice.

Very often Shamans have knowledge of healing by using herbs. In some cultures, people believe that he can escort the newly dead to their place in the Otherworld. They can interpret the dreams and find the solution to the problems hidden in them.

Sacred places for shamanism in Russia & Siberia

As every religion or spiritual movement, Shamanism has its own holy places. Mythology has made sacred certain places in Siberia and many of them are revered to this day. The most important is Lake Baikal and its parts, such as Olkhon Island, the Holy Nose Penisula, Cape Ryty, Cape Khoboy, Shaman Rock, Cape Bogatyr, Alkhanai Mountain, Byk Mountain, Ekhe-Yordo Mountain.

Baikal Olkhon Island tour

These are traditional places to perform shamanic rituals. People still leave their gifts for the spirits. Most popular are coins, cereal, candies. However, you can easily find there a bit less traditional presents like cigarettes or bottles of vodka. They say that spirits also adore a few drops of milk splattered onto the ground.

The renewal of traditions

Recently the “Yordyn Games” Spring Festival of Indigenous Peoples of Baikal was reintroduced after 100 years break. Also, the Republic of Tuva in southern Siberia hosts a festival ‘Call of 13 Shamans’ and they both attract at least several hundred people every time. These events whole great significance to the culture of Shamanism in Siberia.

Shaman rock rituals
©Photo by Alexander Nikolsky/Siberian Times

During the ‘Call of 13 Shamans’ festival shamans from different parts of the world perform drum rites, rituals, meditation and throat singing. Rituals in Baikal Ekhe-Yordo (‘Big hill’) are similar but has a unique the culmination that is a dance of couple hundred people around the hill for several days in the way of a competition. Every person can participate, but the shamans are the only ones that can climb to the top of the hill.

Meet Siberian shamans

Shamanism in Siberia exists in the modern world and anyone interested in it can find many research, materials describing the shamanic culture, history, tradition and rituals, but what is more he or she can experience the art of rituals themselves, visit shamanic societies that practice these traditions in everyday life. By travelling to Siberia, especially to Baikal or Tuva regions we can become witnesses of shamanic rituals in their purest form, see the ‘Sacred places” full of gifts for the Spirits and meet a real Shaman in person. These societies simply have their own beliefs and Shaman is a part of their lives as a doctor or priest is part of our everyday life.

shamanism in russia

©Photo by Alexander Kryazhev/RIA Novosti

Check out this video for more information on shamanism in Russia:

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