Castren - Siberian shaman bells, spells and dancing
Type of Spiritual Experience
A description of the experience
Castren - Reiseberichte und Briefe, 1845-9
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 band 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. 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.