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Observations placeholder

M A Czaplicka - Shamanism in Siberia



Type of Spiritual Experience


A description of the experience

Shamanism in Siberia - excerpts from Aboriginal Siberia by M. A. CZAPLICKA [1914]

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

With new objurgations be 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, wakes 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'.



The source of the experience

Siberian shamanism

Concepts, symbols and science items



Science Items

Activities and commonsteps