Extracts from M. A. Czaplicka, Aboriginal Siberia, Clarendon Press, Oxford, 1914.

My comments are between [ ]. A non commented version is also available at : www.sacred-texts.com and there follow the links religion, then shamanism.

However, the present electronic version is my own scan of the original version. Minor mistakes in the above version are corrected in this one. A funny one and a misleading other are that a shaman never foamgs but foams at the mouth, and that an ouokh is not an ouoloh. I kept Czaplicka’s Oxford English spelling.







SINCE the performances of shamans as professionals called in to treat diseases, to answer inquiries, for soothsaying and other similar purposes, are very much the same among the different tribes of Palaeo-Siberians, we shall confine ourselves to giving a few typical examples of these performances. The same procedure will be followed with regard to the Neo-Siberians.




The Koryak. . [The Koryak are inhabitants of the North of Kamchatka. In 1897, they were less than 10 000. Look at a chart of the east of Siberia. You can imagine a horned face there. Kamchatka forms a kind of huge nose going down towards the South, the Anadyr river limits the forehead of this face, and a short ‘horn’ points out of the forehead. The Asian Eskimos live in the ‘horn’, Chukchee live in the ‘forehead’, north of the river Anadyr, and Koryak live south of Anadyr, but north of the ‘nose’.] Professional shamanism among the Koryak is at a most primitive stage of development, yet at the same time, thanks to the influence of European culture, it is also decadent.

Jochelson speaks1 of the shamanistic performances which he saw as follows : ‘During the entire period of my sojourn among the Koryak I had opportunity to see only two shamans. Both were young men, and neither enjoyed special respect on the part of his relatives. Both were poor men who worked as labourers for the rich members of their tribe. One of them was a Maritime Koryak from Alutor. He used to come to the village of Kamenskoye in company with a Koryak trader. He was a bashful youth, his features, though somewhat wild, were flexible and pleasant, and his eyes were bright. I asked him to show me proof of his shamanistic art. Unlike other shamans, he consented without waiting to be coaxed. The people put out the oil-lamps in the underground house in which he stopped with his master. Only a few coals were glowing on the hearth, and it was almost dark in the house. On the large platform which is put up in the front part of the house as the seat and sleeping-place for visitors, and not far from where my wife and I were sitting, we could discern the shaman in an ordinary shaggy shirt of reindeer skin, squatting on the reindeer skins that covered the platform. His face was covered with a large oval drum.


1 Jochelson, The Koryak, p. 49.


Suddenly he commenced to beat the drum softly and to sing in a plaintive voice; then the beating of the drum grew stronger and stronger ; and his song - in which could be heard sounds imitating the howling of the wolf, the groaning of the cargoose, and the voices of other animals, his guardian spirits - appeared to come, sometimes from the corner nearest to my seat, then from the opposite end, then again from the middle of the house, and then it seemed to proceed from the ceiling. He was a ventriloquist. Shamans versed in this art are believed to possess particular power. His drum also seemed to sound, now over my head, now at my feet, now behind, now in front of me. I could see nothing; but it seemed to me that the shaman was moving around, noiselessly stepping upon the platform with his fur shoes, then retiring to some distance, then coming nearer, lightly jumping, and then squatting down on his heels.

All of a sudden the sound of the drum and the singing ceased. When the women had relighted their lamps, he was lying, completely exhausted, on a white reindeer skin on which he had been sitting before the shamanistic performance. The concluding words of the shaman, which he pronounced in a recitative, were uttered as though spoken by the spirit whom he had summoned up, and who declared that the “disease” had left the village, and would not return.’

The other shamanistic ceremony was performed by a shaman at .Jochelson’s request for the purpose of divining whether he would reach home safely.

During this ceremony1 the shaman suddenly asked Jochelson for his knife, saying, ‘The spirits say that I should cut myself with a knife. You will not be afraid?’2

Jochelson gave him, not without some scruples, his travelling knife, which was sharp and looked like a dagger. ‘The light in the tent was put out; but the dim light of the Arctic spring night (it was in April), which penetrated the canvas of the tent, was sufficient to allow me to follow the movements of the shaman. He took the knife, beat the drum, and sang, telling the spirits that he was ready to carry out their wishes. After a little while he put away the drum, and, emitting a rattling sound from his throat, he thrust the knife into his breast up to the hilt. I noticed, however, that after having cut his jacket, he turned the knife downwards.


1 Op. cit., p. 51.                                                             2 Ibid.


He drew out the knife with the same rattling in his throat, and resumed beating the drum.1

Then he said to Jochelson that he would have a good journey, and, returning the knife to him, showed through the hole in his coat the blood on his body.Of course, these spots had been made before, says Jochelson.2However, this cannot be looked upon as mere deception. Things visible and imaginary are confounded to such an extent in primitive consciousness that the shaman himself may have thought that there was, invisible to others, a real gash in his body, as had been demanded by the spirits. The common Koryak, however, are sure that the shaman actually cuts himself, and that the wound heals up immediately.


The Chukchee. [The Chukchee live the North-East of Siberia, except the extreme North-East which is occupied by the Asiatic Eskimos. Their number was estimated to a little more than 10 000 in 1897.This number is unsure because they were still very independant from the Russian power] Among the Chukchee, says Bogoras,3 a typical shamanistic performance is carried on in the inner room of the house, when it is closed for the night. This room, especially among the Reindeer Chukchee, is very small. Sometimes the performance here described is preceded by another, held in the outer room, in daylight, and usually connected with a communal ceremonial.

When the drum is tightened and moistened, and the light is put out, the shaman, who is often quite naked down to the waist, begins to operate.

In modern times Chukchee shamans imitate the Tungus shamans in smoking a pipe filled with strong narcotic tobacco.

The shaman beats the drum and sings tunes; at first slowly, then more rapidly. His songs have no words, and there is no order in their succession. Though the audience takes no actual part in the ceremony, they are in fact of some assistance, as forming a very primitivechorus. Their frequent exclamations encourage the shamans actions.

Without an ocitkolin (‘to give answering calls, participle) [they are thus the human assistants of the shaman, while the kelet are his/her spirit assistants.] a Chukchee shaman considers himself unable to perform his office fittingly; novices, therefore, while trying to learn the shamanistic practices, usually induce a brother or a sister to respond, thus encouraging the zeal of the performer.4

‘Among the Asiatic Eskimo, the wife and other members of the family form a kind of chorus, which from time to time catches up the tune and sings with the shaman.


1 Op. cit., p. 52.                2 Ibid.                     3 The Chukchee, p. 433.     4 Op. cit., p. 434.


Among the Russianized Yukaghir of the lower Kolyma, the wife is also the assistant of her shaman husband, and during the performance she gives him encouraging answers, and he addresses her as his “supporting staff.”1

When the kelet [plural of kele, assistant spirit, but can also be a bad spirit, as Czaplicka puts it. It is obvious for me that ethonologists, full of the assurance of their Western superiority and unconsciously carried Christianity, did not understand that the kele is always a spirit who comes to visit the shaman. But the contact with the spirits, although very seldom dangerous in the short run, is in fact a dangerous adventure, which ethonolgists cannot acknowledge. A kele can be a helper but, if something goes wrong between the chaman and the kele, the last one can quickly become, at best, a harsh councellor, and, in the worst case it can give place to a ‘demon’ which will devastate the future life of the shaman.] come to the shaman, he acts in a different way, according to whether he has or has not a ventriloquistic gift.

If the shaman is onlysingle-bodied, the kelet will sing and beat the drum through his body, the sound only of the shamans voice being changed. When he is a ventriloquist, the kelet appear asseparate voices.

Bogoras says that shamans could, with credit to themselves, carry on a contest with the best practitioners of similar arts in civilized countries. The voices are successful imitations of different sounds: human, superhuman [sic! I guess she means the sounds a spirit only could do?], animal, even of tempests and winds, or of an echo, and come from all sides of the room; from without, from above, and from underground. The Whole of Nature may sometimes be represented in the small inner room of the Chukchee.

Then the spirit either begins to talk or departs with a sound like the buzzing of a fly. While it stays, it beats the drum violently, speaking in its own language, if it happens to be any animal except the wolf, fox, and raven, which can speak in the language of men ; but there is a peculiar timbre in their voices.

Usually it is not only one spirit which appears, and this part of the performance might be called a dialogue. Sometimes the shaman does not himself understand the language he is using, and an interpreter is necessary. There are cases when spirit-language, comprising a mixture of Koryak, Yakut, and Yukaghir, has to be translated into Russian for the Russianized shamans and natives, especially those of the Kolyma district.

Jochelson tells of a Tungus shaman nicknamed Mashka, whosespirits, being of Koryak origin, spoke through him in that language:I asked him several times to dictate to me what his spirits were saying, and he would invariably reply that he did not remember, that he forgot everything after the seance was over, and that, besides, he did not understand the language of his spirits. At first I thought that he was deceiving me; but I had several opportunities of convincing myself that he really did not understand any Koryak. Evidently he had learned by heart Koryak incantations which he could pronounce only in a state of excitement.’2


1 Op. cit., p. 435.                            2 Jochelson, The Koryak, p. 52.


There is no regular shamanist language among the Chukchee, merely a few special expressions.

‘Among the north-western branch of the Koryak, the “spirits” are said to use a special mode of pronunciation, similar to that used by the south-eastern Koryak and the Chukchee. A few words are also said to be peculiar to them. Among the Asiatic Eskimo the “spirits” are said to have a special language. Many words of it were given me by the shamans, and most of them are analogous to thespirit” language known to various Eskimo tribes of America, both in Alaska and on the Atlantic side.’1

Sometimes the spirits are very mischievous. In the movable tents of the Reindeer people an invisible hand will sometimes turn everything upside down, and throw different objects about, such as snow, pieces of ice, &c.

‘I must mention, says Bogoras2,that the audience is strictly forbidden to make any attempts whatever to touch the “spirits.” These latter highly resent any intrusion of this kind, and retaliate either on the shaman, whom they may kill on the spot, or on the trespassing listener, who runs the risk of having his head broken, or even a knife thrust through his ribs in the dark. I received warnings of this kind at almost every shamanistic performance.’

After the preliminary intercourse with thespirits’, the shaman, still in the dark, gives advice and utters prophecies. For example, at one ceremony, where Bogoras was present, the shaman Galmuurgin prophesied to his host that many wild reindeer would be at his gate the following autumn.One buck’, he said,will stop on the right side of the entrance, and pluck at the grass, attracted by a certain doe of dark-grey hair. This attraction must be strengthened with a special incantation. The reindeer-buck, while standing there, must be killed with the bow, and the arrow to be used must have a flat rhomboid point. This will secure the successful killing of all the other wild reindeer.’ 3

After his introductory interview with the spirits, the shaman sometimessinks’; he falls to the ground unconscious, while his soul is wandering in the other worlds, talking with thespirits’ and asking them for advice. The modern shamans actuallysink’ very seldom, but they know that it was done in the old days.

When shamanistic performances are connected with ceremonials, they are carried on in the outer room.


1 Bogoras, The Chukchee, p. 438.                        2 Op. cit., p. 439.                             3Op. cit., p. 440.


Ventriloquism is not practised on these occasions, and the keleis bent on mischief, and among other things, seeks to destroy the life which is under his temporary power.’1 Many tricks are performed by shamans even in daylight.

Upune, the wife of a dead Chukchee shaman, possessed wonderful shamanistic power; she herself declared that she had only a small part of her husband’s ability. In a shamanistic performanceshe took a large round pebble of the size of a man’s fist, set it upon the drum, and, blowing upon it from all sides, began to mumble and snort in the same kele-like manner. She called our attention by signs - being in the possession of the kele, she had lost the faculty of human speech - and then began to wring the pebble with both hands. Then a continuous row of very small pebbles began to fall from her hands. This lasted for fully five minutes, till quite a heap of small pebbles had collected below, on the skin. The larger pebble, however, remained smooth and intact.’2

At the request of Bogoras the female shaman repeated this feat with the same success and, all the upper part of the body being naked, it was easy to observe her movements. The practice of stabbing oneself through the abdomen with a knife is universal in shamanistic performances; Kamchadal and Eskimo, Chukchee and Yukaghir, even the Neo-Siberian shamans of northern Asia, are familiar with this trick.

It would be difficult to describe all the tricks performed by the shamans : some of the commonest are the swallowing of burning coals,3 setting oneself free from a cord by which one is bound, &c.



The Yakut. For comparison with the Palaeo-Siberian methods of shamanizing, we shall take a Yakut shaman in action, as described by Sieroszewski.4 Outwardly, shamanistic ceremonies are very uniform,’ says Sieroszewski. The ceremony now describedis the part of the shamanistic ceremony which remains always and everywhere unchanged, and, sanctioned by custom, forms, so to speak, the basis of the rite.’

When the shaman who has been called to a sick person enters the yurta, he at once takes the place destined for him on the billiryk agon. [This way of speaking is not explained in the lexicon provided by Czaplicka. It means ‘the agon of honor’. The lexicon gives two words close to agon: ongon, fetish (not used by the Yakuts) and arangka, platform. ]


1 Op. cit., p. 442.                                                                                 2 Op. cit., p. 444.

3 Sarytcheff, The Voyage of Capt. Sarytcheff's Fleet along the N.E. Coast of Siberia, through the Polar Sea and the Pacific, p. 30.                                                4 Sieroszewski, 12 Lat w Kraju Yakutów, 1902, p. 639.


He lies on his white mare’s skin and waits for the night, the time when it is possible to shamanize. Meanwhile he is entertained with food and drink.

‘When the sun sets and the dusk of evening approaches, all preparations for the ceremony in the yurta are hurriedly completed: the ground is swept, the wood is cut, and food is provided in larger quantity and of better quality than usual. One by one the neighbours arrive and seat themselves along the wall, the men on the right, and the women on the left; the conversation is peculiarly serious and reserved, the movements gentle.

‘In the northern part of the Yakut district the host chooses the best latchets and forms them into a loop, which is placed round the shaman’s shoulders and held by one of those present during the dance, in order to prevent the spirits from carrying him off. At length every one has supper, and the household takes some rest. The shaman, sitting on the edge of the billiryk, slowly untwists his tresses, muttering and giving orders. He sometimes has a nervous and artificial hiccough which makes his whole body shake; his gaze does not wander, his eyes being fixed on one point, usually on the fire.

‘The fire is allowed to die out. More and more deeply the dusk descends on the room; voices are hushed, and the company talks in whispers ; notice is given that anybody wishing to go out must do so at once, because soon the door will be closed, after which nobody can either go out or come in.

‘The shaman slowly takes off his shirt and puts on his wizard’s coat, or, failing that, he takes the woman’s coat called sangyniah.1 Then he is given a pipe, which he smokes for a long time, swallowing the smoke ; his hiccough becomes louder, he shivers more violently. When he has finished smoking, his face is pale, his head falls on his breast, his eyes are half-closed.

‘At this point the white mare’s skin is placed in the middle of the room. The shaman asks for cold water, and when he has drunk it he slowly holds out his hand for the drum prepared for him; he then walks to the middle of the room, and, kneeling for a time on his right knee, bows solemnly to all the four corners of the world, at the same time sprinkling the ground about him with the water from his mouth.


1 Gmelin speaks of special embroidered stockings which the shaman dons in the yurta. (Reise durch Sibirien, pp. 351-6.)


‘Now everything is silent. A handful of white horsehair is thrown on the fire, putting it quite out; in the faint gleam of the red coals the black motionless figure of the shaman is still to be seen for a while, with drooping head, big drum on breast, and face turned towards the south, as is also the head of the mare’s skin upon which he is sitting.

Complete darkness follows the dusk; the audience scarcely breathes, and only the unintelligible mutterings and hiccoughs of the shaman can be heard; gradually even this sinks into a profound silence. Eventually a single great yawn like the clang of iron breaks the stillness, followed by the loud piercing cry of a falcon, or the plaintive weeping of a seamew - then silence again.

‘Only the gentle sound of the voice of the drum, like the humming of a gnat, announces that the shaman has begun to play.

‘This music is at first soft, delicate, tender, then rough and irrepressible like the roar of an oncoming storm. It grows louder and louder and, like peals of thunder, wild shouts rend the air; the crow calls, the grebe laughs, the seamews complain, snipes whistle, eagles and hawks scream.’

‘The1 music swells and rises to the highest pitch, the beating of the drum becomes more and more vigorous, until the two sounds combine in one long-drawn crescendo. The numberless small bells ring and clang; it is not a storm - it is a whole cascade of sounds, enough to overwhelm all the listeners.... All at once it breaks off - there are one or two strong beats on the drum, which, hitherto held aloft, now falls to the shaman’s knees. Suddenly the sound of the drum and the small bells ceases. Then silence for a long moment, while the gentle gnat-like murmur of the drum begins again.’

This may be repeated several times, according to the degree of the shaman’s inspiration; at last, when the music takes on a certain new rhythm and melody, somberly the voice of the shaman chants the following obscure fragments:

1.Mighty bull of the earth ... Horse of the steppes!’

2..I, the mighty bull ... bellow!’

3. I, the horse of the steppes ... neigh!’

4. ‘I, the man set above all other beings!’

5.I, the man most gifted of all!’

6.I, the man created by the master all-powerful!

7. Horse of the steppes. appear! teach me !’

8.Enchanted bull of the earth, appear! speak to me !’

9. Powerful master, command me!

10.All of you, who will go with me, give heed with your ears! Those whom I command not, follow me not!’

11.Approach not nearer than is permitted! Look intently! Give heed! Have a care!’

12.Look heedfully! Do this, all of you ... all together ... all, however many you may be !

13.Thou of the left side. O lady with thy staff, if anything be done amiss, if I take not the right way, I entreat you - correct me! Command! . . .

14.My errors and my path show to me! O mother of mine! Wing thy free flight! Pave my wide roadway!

15.Souls of the sun, mothers of the sun, living in the south, in the nine wooded hills, ye who shall be jealous . . . I adjure you all ... let them stay . . . let your three shadows stand high!’

16. In the East, on your mountain, lord, grandsire of mine, great of power and thick of neck - be thou with me !’

17. And thou, grey-bearded wizard (fire), I ask thee : with all my dreams, with all comply! To all my desires consent .. . Heed all ! Fulfil all ! ... All heed . . . All fulfil!2


1 Sieroszewski, op. cit., p. 641.                                         2 Sieroszewski, op. cit., pp. 641-2.


At this point the sounds of the drum are heard once more, once more wild shouts and meaningless words - then all is silent.

Adjurations similar to the above are used in all the Yakut districts and all ceremonies begin with them. There is, however, another formula still longer and more complicated, which Sieroszewski says he could not procure. The ritual which follows this formula consists of an improvisation appropriate to each person and occasion.

In the ensuing prayers the shaman addresses his ämägyat and other protectivespirits’; he talks with the kaliany, asks them questions, and gives answers in their names. Sometimes the shaman must pray and beat the drum a long time before the spirits come; often their appearance is so sudden and so impetuous that the shaman is overcome and falls down. It is a good sign if he falls on his face, and a bad sign if he falls on his back.

‘When the ämägyat comes down to a shaman, he arises and begins to leap and dance, at first on the skin, and then, his movements becoming more rapid, he glides into the middle of the room.

Wood is quickly piled on the fire, and the light spreads through the yurta, which is now full of noise and movement. The shaman dances, sings, and beats the drum uninterruptedly, jumps about furiously, turning his face to the south, then to the west, then to the east. Those who hold him by the leather thongs sometimes have great difficulty in controlling his movements. In the south Yakut district, however, the shaman dances unfettered. Indeed, he often gives up his drum so as to be able to dance more unrestrainedly.

‘The head of the shaman is bowed, his eyes are half-closed ; his hair is tumbled and in wild disorder lies on his sweating face, his mouth is twisted strangely, saliva streams down his chin, often he foams at the mouth.

‘He moves round the room, advancing and retreating, beating the drum, which resounds no less wildly than the roaring of the shaman himself; he shakes his jingling coat, and seems to become more and more maniacal, intoxicated with the noise and movement.

‘His fury ebbs and rises like a wave ; sometimes it leaves him for a while, and then, holding his drum high above his head, solemnly and calmly he chants a prayer and summons the “spirit”.

‘At last he knows all he desires; he is acquainted with the cause of the misfortune or disease with which he has been striving; he is sure of the help of the beings whose aid he needs. Circling about in his dance, singing and playing, he approaches the patient.

‘With new objurgations he drives away the cause of the illness by frightening it, or by sucking it out with his mouth from the painful place: then, returning to the middle of the room, he drives it away by spitting and blowing. Then he learns what sacrifice is to be made to the “powerful spirits”, for this harsh treatment of the spirit’s servant, who was sent to the patient.

‘Then the shaman, shading his eyes from the light with his hands, looks attentively into each corner of the room ; and if he notices anything suspicious, he again beats the drum, dances, makes terrifying gestures, and entreats the “spirits”.

‘At length all is made clean, the suspicious “cloud” is no more to be seen, which signifies that the cause of the trouble has been driven out ; the sacrifice is accepted, the prayers have been heard-the ceremony is over.

‘The shaman still retains for some time after this the gift of prophecy; he foretells various happenings, answers the questions of the curious, or relates what he saw on his journey away from the earth.

‘Finally he is carried with his mare’s skin back to his place of honour on the billiryk’.1

The sacrifice offered to thespirits’ varies according to the importance of the occasion. Sometimes the disease is transferred to the cattle, and the stricken cattle are then sacrificed, i.e. ascend to the sky.2 It is this journey to the sky, together with the spirits and the sacrificed animal, which the dance symbolizes. In the old days (according to the native accounts) there were, in fact, shamans who really did ascend into the sky while the spectators saw how on the clouds there floated the sacrificed animal, after it sped the drum of the shaman, and this was followed by the shaman himself in his wizard’s coat’.3

There were also wicked and powerful shamans who, instead of a real animal, carried up into the sky a mare formed of cloud, but the evidence for the existence of these shamans is indefinite.

During this difficult and dangerous journey every shaman has his places of rest, called ouokh (olokh); when he takes a seat during the dance, this signifies that he has come to an ouokh;4 when he rises, he is ascending further up into the sky ; if he falls down, he is descending under the earth.

Every shaman, however far he may have proceeded on his journey, knows where he is, on which ouokh, and also the route taken by every other shaman who is shamanizing at that moment.


Sometimes the leading of thespirit’ and the sacrificed cattle into the sky forms a separate ceremony performed a few months after the first, in which they had promised this sacrifice. The sacrifices are either bloody, when the shaman tears to pieces the body of the animal with rage and fury, or bloodless ; e. g. when some grease or meat, or other material, such as hair, &c., is offered up.


1 Sieroszewski, op. cit., p. 644.

2 Troshchanski says (p. 145) :Instead of the human kut which the abassy had captured, he receives an animal kut. Usually, between the spirit who took away the kut of the man and the representative of the latter, there takes place (through the shaman) a keen bargaining, in which the spirit gives up some of its demands.’

3 Sieroszewski, op. cit., p. 645.

4 These ouokh occur in a series of nine, in conformity with the usual arrangement of objects in nines which characterizes the whole religious and social system of the Yakut. (Sieroszewski, op. cit., p. 472.)


The Samoyed. The shamanistic ceremonial among the Samoyed of the Tomsk Government has been described by Castren,1 from whose account we take the following picture.

On arriving at the yurta, the shaman takes his seat on a bench, or on a chest which must contain no implement capable of inflicting a wound. Near him, but not in front, the occupants of the yurta group themselves. The shaman faces the door, and pretends to be unconscious of all sights and sounds. In his right hand he holds a short staff which is inscribed on one side with mystic symbols; and in his left, two arrows with the points held upwards. To each point is affixed a small bell. His dress has nothing distinctive of a shaman; he usually wears the coat either of the inquirer or of the sick person. The performance begins with a song summoning the spirits. Then the shaman strikes the arrows with his staff, so that the bells chime in a regular rhythm, while all the spectators sit in awed silence. When the spirits appear, the shaman rises and commences to dance. The dance is followed by a series of complicated and difficult body-movements. While all this is going on the rhythmical chiming of the bells never ceases. His song consists of a sort of dialogue with the spirits, and is sung with changes of intonation denoting different degrees of excitement or enthusiasm. When his enthusiasm rises to a high pitch, those present join in the singing. After the shaman has learnt all he wishes from the spirits, the latter communicate the will of the god to the people. If he is to foretell the future, he employs his staff. He throws it on the ground, and if it falls with the side inscribed with mystical signs turned upward, this is a good omen; if the blank side shows, ill-fortune may be looked for.

To prove his trustworthiness to those present, the shaman uses the following means. He sits on a reindeer skin, and his hands and feet are bound. The room is completely darkened. Then, as if in answer to his call to the spirits, various noises are heard both within and without the yurta : the beating of a drum, the grunting of a bear, the hissing of a serpent, the squeak of a squirrel, and mysterious scratchings on the reindeer-skin where he sits.


1 Castren, Reiseberichte und Briefe, 1845-9, pp. 172-4.


Then the shaman’s bonds are untied, he is set free, and every one is convinced that what they heard was the work of the spirits.

The Altaians. The kams (shamans) of the Turkic tribes of the Altai have preserved with great strictness the ancient shamanistic ceremonial forms. Potanin1 gives a curious description of the performance of a young shaman, Enchu, who lived by the River Talda, about six versts from Anguday. Four stages, each marked by a different posture of the shaman, characterized his performance : in the first, he was sitting and facing the fire ; second, standing, with his back to the fire ; third, a sort of interlude, during which the shaman rested from his labour, supporting himself with his elbow on the drum, which he balanced on its rim, while he related what he had learned in his intercourse with the spirits ; and fourth, a final shamanizing, with his back to the fire, and facing the place where the drum usually hangs. Enchu declared afterwards that he had no recollection of what happened while he was shamanizing with his back turned to the fire. While he was in that position he had been whirling about madly in circles on one spot, and without any considerable movement of his feet ; crouching down on his haunches, and rising again to a standing posture, without interrupting the rotating movement. As he alternately bent and straightened his body from the hips, backwards and forwards and from side to side, with lively movements or jerks, the manyak (metal pendants) fastened to his coat danced and dangled furiously in all directions, describing shining circles in the air. At the same time the shaman kept beating his drum, holding it in various positions so that it gave out different sounds. From time to time Enchu held the drum high above his head in a horizontal position and beat upon it from below. The natives of Anguday explained to Potanin that when the shaman held the drum in that way, he was collecting spirits in it. At times he would talk and laugh with someone apparently near by, but invisible to others, showing in this manner that he was in the company of spirits. At one time Enchu fell to singing more quietly and evenly, simultaneously imitating on his drum the hoof-beats of a horse. This was to indicate that the shaman, with his accompanying spirits, was departing to the underworld of Erlik, the god of darkness.

Mr. Potanin gives a description of this voyage which he heard from a Russian missionary, Mr. Chivalkoff.


1 Potanin, Sketches of N. W. Mongolia, vol. iv, pp. 60-2.


The kam directs his way towards the south. He has to cross the Altai Mountains and the red sands of the Chinese deserts. Then he crosses a yellow steppe, such as no magpie can traverse.Singing, we shall cross it’, says the kam in his song. After the yellow steppe there is apale’ one, such as no crow can pass over, and the kam in his imaginary passage once more sings a song full of hopeful courage. Then comes the iron mountain of Tamir Shayha, whichleans against the sky’. Now the kam exhorts his train to be all of one mind, that they may pass this barrier by the united force of their will. He describes the difficulty of surmounting the passes and, in doing so, breathes heavily. On the top he finds the bones of many kams who have fallen here and died through failure of power. Again he sings songs of hope, declares he will leap over the mountain, and suits the action to the word. At last he comes towards the opening which leads to the underworld. Here he finds a sea, bridged only by a hair. To show the difficulty of crossing this bridge, the kam totters, almost falls, and with difficulty recovers himself. In the depths of the sea he beholds the bodies of many sinful kams who have perished there. for only those who are blameless can cross this bridge. On the other side he meets sinners who are receiving punishment suited to their faults; e.g. an eavesdropper is pinned by his ear to a stake. On reaching the dwelling-place of Erlik, he is confronted by dogs, who will not let him pass, but at last, being appeased by gifts, they grow milder. Before the beginning of the shamanistic ceremony gifts have been prepared for this emergency. Having successfully passed these warders, the kam, as if approaching the yurta of Erlik and coming into his presence, bows, brings his drum up to his forehead, and says,Mergu! mergu! Then he declares whence and why he comes. Suddenly he shouts; this is meant to indicate that Erlik is angry that a mortal should dare to enter his yurta. The frightened kam leaps backward towards the door, but gathers fresh courage and again approaches Erlik’s throne. After this performance has been gone through three times, Erlik speaksWinged creatures cannot fly hither, beings with bones cannot come: how have you, ill-smelling blackbeetle, made your way to my abode?

Then the kam stoops and with his drum makes certain movements as if dipping up wine. He presents the wine to Erlik; and makes a shuddering movement like that of one who drinks strong wine, to indicate that Erlik has drunk. When he perceives that Erlik’s humour is somewhat milder under the influence of his draught he makes him offerings of gifts. The great spirit (Erlik) is moved by the offerings of the kam, and promises increase of cattle, declares which mare will foal, and even specifies what marking the young one will have. The kam returns in high spirits, not on his horse as he went, but on a goose-a change of steeds which he indicates by moving about the yurta on tiptoe, to represent flying.