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Observations placeholder

Vitebsky, Piers - Siberian shaman



Type of Spiritual Experience


A description of the experience

Piers Vitebsky

Shamans are specialists who are highly atuned to these moods and alert to small signs or omens which emerge into the world of appearances from hidden realms beneath. As they encounter spirits on different levels of the sky during trance and soul-flight, shamans cooperate or negotiate or cooperate with them on their clients' behalf - and, if necessary, fight them.

When a shaman dresses as a reindeer or turns into one, this is not only for its ability to fly. The reindeer is no castrated uchakh, but a wild intact male, and aggressive in its competition with opponents or in the defence of its herd. The shamans' reindeer headdresses often emphasize the spear-like sharpness of the antlers.

The Eveny word shamán, like corresponding terms in various Siberian languages, refers to a figure who draws together many animal powers, represented by the skins, furs, feathers, and beaks that make up the costume, in addition to metal representations of mammals, fish and birds. In many shamans’ initiatory visions, the spirits butcher the novice like a game animal, boil him or her and then reassemble their bones and muscles to form a new person with extraordinary properties. These new powers are also embodied in a range of animal helper spirits which the shaman acquires, giving the shaman the strength of the bear, the power of the eagle to seize its prey in its talons, or the ability of the pike to dive into underwater realms and seize the soul of an enemy in its vicious jaws.

The source of the experience

Siberian shamanism

Concepts, symbols and science items

Science Items

Activities and commonsteps



Activity not known



Vitebsky, P., 2005 Reindeer People  London: Harper Perennial