4. CULTURAL & HISTORICAL HERITAGES

MONGOLIAN CULTURE: SHAMANISM

The Mongols had worshipped to shamanism for a long, even before Genghis Khan’s period. The shamanism emerged in the 7th century B.C during Mongolia’s Matriarchy. It seems like only female shamans practiced the rituals during this period. Many modern Mongols consider the shamanism not a religion. The easiest explanation about shamanism would be that it is a science to communicate with the souls of people lived thousands of years ago. As a shamanist researcher considers that the soul that enters the body of chosen person has different levels of power depending on how old the soul is. The souls reincarnate to the one selected from their own tribe.


I was really curious to witness a shaman who lives outskirts of Ulaanbaatar. I was surprised to encounter young lady since I expected an old man. I recalled once I read a so-called book “Shaman myth, 2010” and found out that the shaman practitioners are supposed to be healthy and have to be with any fallen teeth. I wondered if the young shaman is in a healthy condition. The lady shaman looked as if she is in her early 30s. She requested us to go through some fortunetelling process to make sure we have good will only. I had to abide to it regardless of my skepticism about such things. As they finished with fortunetelling the lady shaman advised one of her subordinates to reincarnate her tribe’s soul. This was again a lady. She filled bowls with milk in order to call her grandmother’s soul, who is the entire tribe’s named soul. Then she put on boots with a number of little bells made of goat skin and Mongolian national outfit and plus the outfit weighs approximately 30 kilograms. The lady shaman needed assistance of two, three people to put the shaman outfit on these; assistant shamans are called “tushee”, in some cases “tulamash”. Their primary responsibility is to translate what souls say. Like I heard earlier the reincarnated souls speak in different dialects. As the shaman outfits are extremely heavy, the shamans are not able to dance when the souls have not been reincarnated. The reason is the shamans’ bodies do not belong to themselves when souls are in their bodies. The lady shaman who wore head gear with many feathers and the outfit started calling for the soul.


The other shamans followed her. The weather which was warm and nice when we arrived suddenly became windy and I got scared of the Ger collapsing. The head shaman, as if she guessed my thoughts, said that some souls arrive with wind and rain. The drum sound was getting louder and louder and she shook her body from side to side. Then the assistants were following her to figure out where to put the cushion. After this I barely recognized her body and motions. She looked totally different. The head shaman asked “dear Grandpa did you have a safe trip? The other shamans greeted the same way. I never believed in miracles, but this time I was hesitating strongly. I kept staring to the face of a young lady whom I saw before the ceremony trying to determine if she is not pretending or playing drama. I was genuinely surprised when I heard the young lady speaking old man’s squeaky voice. When I listened to it with focus I could recognize that she spoke Buryat Language. Now I firmly believed that the lady was not pretending or playing drama. The shaman was drinking vodka that assistants offered and smoking a pipe. The head shaman told the reincarnated soul about our purpose and some people accompanied us had their fortunes told by the old man. I was trying to understand what the old man was saying about as if attempting to catch radio waves.


I couldn’t wait the lady to acquire her body again. I got knowledge that the soul was anxious about the way we live while the shamans were trying to pacify him. The ceremony got over and the old man took off. Happy with the chance to talk to the lady shaman I asked so many questions. She has an ordinary life. She was reluctant about accepting soul in the beginning as other modern people do. Finally she had no way but to admit the soul as she spoke. She said she begged her grandmother to speak clearly and take off sooner. In response to my question how the soul invaded her body, she said that the she saw the soul flying towards her and then she felt nothing. She also added that the shamans are not actually magic or fortunetellers. They just use their bodies to help people. The lady shaman expressed her anxiety about fake shamans who accept much gifts and money from her. But she didn’t look drunk and was holding her child as normal. The soul was said to be living in 1600. He happened to come to see her when she was heavily sick. She invites the great Grandpa’s soul when told to do so. Other than that the lady lives a normal life.


This particular shaman tribe involves over 50 shamans and they perform different shaman ceremonies together such as worshipping and offering gifts to the as worshipping and offering gifts to the mountains and ovoos (pile of rocks). The head shaman told me very interesting stories including about his mentoring French shaman. I am not against what people speak about shamans. There are a number of fake shamans who cheat on people. The souls dislike this phenomenon and never let us do such things. She said “Mongol shamanism is a wonderful science about communicating with mystery world”. I am confident that the fake shamans will disappear as time does and only professional shamans will survive. She also mentioned about some souls who return to the never-come-back world after satisfactory performance of his mission in the world.


There are many books about shaman study. These books have depicted that Mongolian shamanism is under renaissance of fourth era. Initial renaissance period, since Kidan Empire different religious sects such as Nestorian and other powerful religions have invaded Mongolian spiritual world and shamanism had been abandoned. The second era renaissance had started with Genghis Khan Empire and had lasted up to XVII century or when the Abtai Sain Khan introduced Tsongkhapa religion from Tibet. Soon after this, Khalkha Shamanism had deteriorated. The third era of renaissance covers period from the middle of 1800s up to 1930. Finally, the fourth era started in 1990 with democratic revolution.


It is wonderful that Mongol Shamans communicate with mysterious world in XXI century. Although I haven’t been able to reveal the Mystery of the world, I am still extremely curious to find out more about what is left behind this door of mystery. I do not doubt that the door of mystery exists in Mongolia and you may be the one who wish to discover this mystery behind this door. I also wish to open the door one day.