Mongolian Shamans

The following blog has been written by Tulga, one of the Nomadic Trails’ best Tour Leaders and has been visiting shamans of different areas of Mongolia for almost 23+ years. Here are some of his amazing memories of his experience with shamans all over Mongolia.

1. Drum, which came to alive!

One of my shaman friends has 3 drums. He named all those drums and hangs them higher in his home. In my eyes, he talks to them, or whisper sometimes. On one of my visits to him, I happened to witness his communication with his drums. He picked up one and put in the sun, second one too. He looked at his 3rd one and didn’t touch it or kept it in there. Then, he played with his first one. After a while, he put in the sun next to the second one and played with both of them at the same time. All of sudden, the third drum hanging on the wall, sounded like soft thundering in there. He looked at me and smiled. I was like little Alice in the wonderland!

Central Mongolia, 2007.

2. Preparation

To do any ceremonies, preparation work is so important to connect with spirits. Junipers are being used a lot throughout Mongolia. Heating up the drum, costume time, offering for spirits, and many more. Shamans wear blue mainly (sky color) hanging small bells from his costume to wake up spirits or protect from bad deeds. Mirrors hanging from his neck is quite common (protection). Some of them wear an imitated mask that looks like a human or spirits. Snake alike strings hanging from the shoulders (snake is the servant of lord of the river).

Khuvsgul province, Taiga in 2014.

3. Drumming

Singing in high tunes or strange old man’s voice coming out from shaman, while he dances is some of common picture of shaman.

Rhythm of drumming can be meaningful from almost silent to powerful thundering!

Central Mongolia, 2009.

4. Dance to the fire

Met one young shaman, in 2010 who does his ceremony in the dark,  dances to the fire. He was absolutely fantastic dancer with his drum! So many great ceremonies with him at night in many places.

Central Mongolia, 2011.

5. Poses

It is always difficult to take the shaman’s pictures. If you don’t know the shamans, they will always hesitate to be in the picture. I was lucky enough to take this picture after 6 years of visiting him!

Taiga, 2014.

6. Spirits

In the book “Legend of Shaman” by Ayurzana.G, one of the talented writers about shamans described spirits. There are categories of spirits and not all spirits get reborn as a human in the next life. Much older spirit can have the power to tell off younger spirits. Spirits can have their own experiences too…

Bulgan, central Mongolia, 2012.

7. Chosen one-Shaman destiny

I always being asked this question. How to become a shaman?

Hard to answer. But, a simple answer is you are chosen as one or it’s Shaman destiny. Having symptoms of faint, illness from nothing, seeing things, talking nonsense in the childhood period. Important ages are 6, 9, and 13. There are always signs for future shamans during these ages!

Central Mongolia, 2009.

8. How is it like to be a Shaman?

In most cases, people are afraid of them. Why? Because they deal with father sky and mother earth to heal someone or can make bad things using black magic! What happens if they send their bad spell to us? These are common fear of people. I would say, be positive, be friendly to anyone, and be generous to nature!

Shamans can hurt people but they will suffer each time by doing such things! It is not an easy destiny if I was in the shoes of Shaman!

Taiga, 2014.

9. Shaman Friend

I felt so good or even advanced because I made a shaman friend some time ago. If things are not in good condition, or I feel low, I directly contact my shaman friend. It happened so many times that I was starting to feel addicted to it. My shaman friend never hesitated in hearing me asking questions. Thank you, my friend. But then I thought to myself “I should rely on myself most of the time. If I need some help, for times which I can’t really handle, then I will approach him.”

I still think it was a good decision and we still have a good friendship.

Taiga, 2004.

10. Lord of the Mountain

I had a talk with an old shaman who passed away 5 years ago. He was amazing! in both personality and shamanic power. Everyone, in the community, even outsiders respected him a lot. One word, he was the most powerful one! We had a good relationship that lasted long.

One day, I asked him If I can see the lord of Mountain. He said yes Tulga, it can be seen as Bear, Bird, or even as a small child. Hm, I have seen those animals. I must have met Lord of the Mountain before!

Taiga, 2014.

11. Why fire?

One of my shaman friends who uses fire in all his ceremonies told me there is something purifying thing in the fire. What? Yes, the fire itself cleans a lot of bad energy and kills the deed. When I see any fire at any place, I think of its purifying energy.

Central Mongolia, 2013.

12. Ceremony in Tee-Pee

There is no major difference between shamans in the north or east Mongolia or somewhere else. But the locals in the north kept their shamanic tradition alive in the woods during the communist period. This is why they are the most powerful ones as Mongolian consideration.

It is important to pass this tradition to someone else. And they did it during a hard regime!

Taiga, 2012.

13. Lady Shaman

My very first experience of meeting lady shaman was the summer of 2000. As a young man, I was a straight forward person. Lady shaman started looking at my eyes, had a little candle to light it up, and started like reading the book of “Me”. Shocking moments came and no words to say against her! I couldn’t defend myself anymore and fully followed her instruction. I felt the power that day. I still remember her.

Central Mongolia, 2007.

14. Listen to the inner person

It was answered by my shaman friend during one of the conversations about solving a difficult situation. We have these interesting talk endlessly, sometimes.  I do remember this: “Listen to inner person” in difficult situations. It does help.

North Mongolia, 2011.

15. Lord of the river

As shamans say lord of river is so important. Humans are much dependent of water. In so keep water clean.  Make lord of the river happy. or you might ended of being illness from any water. There is master for rivers and has servant everywhere! Shaman is contacting the master.

North Mongolia, 2011.

16. Outdoor or indoor?

As a shamanic tradition, outdoor ceremonies were used a lot before. There are many shamans are still prefer to do it outside. Basically, there are not many differences between indoor or outdoor. To me, indoor are more private than outdoor.

North Mongolia, 2015.

17. Mirror of Shaman

Their round mirrors hanging from their neck, placed on the chest area. I used to think shamans use their mirror to tell the fortune! No! really? So, what is it for? Protection. I have been told a few stories of mirrors saving their master and being torn up in pieces.

North Mongolia, 2015.

18. Another method of Shamanic ceremony

There are 2 ways of doing a shamanic ceremony according to accessories or tools used.

1.  Complete: Fully dressed and using the drum. It can be outdoor or indoor. Most people know this method.

2. Half: Using Harmonica, not necessarily dressed in costume. No Drum is being used. Mongolians say” Walking way” (Fully dressed for ceremony means riding full wind horse. Using Harmonica means not riding full wind horse but still connected to the spirit)

Taiga, 2010.

19. Be generous

Be generous to anyone or anything. Be positive. These words are from a lot of shamans I met. I have to remember always!

North Mongolia 2015.

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