This ancient religious phenomon, which manifested from the Central Asian nomads thousand of years ago, still co-exists with Buddhism in rural Mongolia.
Shamanism was originated during .ancient times, alongside the first human artistic concepts of fetishism, totemism, animism and others. It has played the role of religion for thousands of years, among the Central Asian nomads. The Great Mongolian Emperor Chingis Khaan worshipped the Blue Sky, which is an integral part of shaman belief and held a famous shaman in his favor.
Since the 16th century when Buddhism started to spread throughout Mongolia , Shamanism started to lose the leading position in the intellectual life of its practitioners. However, it has still co-existed with Buddhism for the last four hundred years within certain geographic areas. Shamanism has traditionally been practiced amongst a few ethnic Mongolian groups: the Darkhat, Buriyat, Khotgoid, Uriankhai and Tsaatan ( the Reindeer people). Darkhat and Ttsaatan people who live in the forests near Huvsgul lake, in north western Mongolia, have observed original Mongolian Shamanism throughout their long histories.
They have inherited ancient Shaman traditions and practice its rituals in an annual ceremony. The Darkhat people hold the Shamanist Spirit Evoking Ceremony on the third day of the Lunar new year. This ceremony coincides with the annual Great Sacrifice, a nomadic religious ceremony during which offerings of livestock are made to deities. This tradition has been transmitted down from as far back as the Huns, who established the first Mongol state during 3rd century BC. This spirit evoking ceremony is a symbolic form of worshipping the ancestors, their origin and the spirits of Shamans who lived in preceding times.
Everything used by Shamans during their practices contains symbols of this powerful tradition. Their clothes are marked with special symbols. A Shaman practicing the ritual depends on the spirit of an individual Shaman, who have passed away and that is being evoked.
A male Shaman is known as ‘Boo’ and a female Shaman is ‘ Udgan’ . A Shaman is one who has been selected from a clan or tribe as the leader or transmitter of their intellectual and spiritual property. A Shaman is never the reincarnation of a former Shaman practitioner . The selection of individual Shaman is never made by one person, or even a group of people.
This choice is decided by a spiritual power known as ‘ touch of spirit’. The spirit is a wise and eminent Shaman , who once lived on earth. His or her choice is revealed by the candidate going into a trance, known by researchers as an ‘ abnormal psychological state’. It is also called ‘ the Shamanic state of consciousness’. The manifestation of this abnormal psychological state is usually an illness, known as Shamanic sickness. This sickness may last from two or three days to several years. The reason behind this sickness can only be explained by another Shaman. If one who has suffered from this Shamanic sickness, or who has experienced the touch of spirit, doesn’t become a Shaman, he or she will die. Their entire family will also perish afterwards. A Shaman has to follow many unconventional rules and orders, which vary from one Shaman to another. A Shaman never lives in publicly crowded places, but inhabits quiet, isolated environments. He doesn’t even visit other nomadic families, settlements or communities without a specific purpose. Anybody may visit the home of Shaman. but they mustn’t spend the night there.
A Shaman’s food, clothing, tools, and individual belongings are used as part of their ritual existence. Some Shamans never use tobacco or alcohol, whilst others have both in abundance. Some Shamans only wear light and bright colored clothes, whilst others dress in somber deels. As for the vocation of a Shaman , it is to defend his or her tribe or clan. In their own words, Shamans live in order to keep their people healthy and livestock alive. One of the features of Shamanism that differentiates a Shaman from a lama or a nun, is that Shamans do not have the same definite concepts of good and evil. The broadest Shaman concept is the view that everything consists within a state of two contradictions. The first belongs to their own tribe or clan the other to those who live outside. This view is to defend the survival of the tribe or clan and protect their natural surroundings. The question if Shamanism is a religion or not has been a point of contention among Shaman researchers the world over. Shamanism doesn’t match the conventional description of a religion in the same way as Buddhism, Christianity or Islam etc. It is instead a religious phenomena. Shamanism doesn’t fulfil some of the criteria that are seen as essential for an established religious doctrine. Any established religion has its founder, from whom its teaching originate, such as Buddha, Jesus Christ or Mohammed. But there is no such figure from whom Shamanist doctrine manifested. When Shamanism was originally studied researchers believed it was a global phenomon. But as these studies gradually become more elaborate, academics realized it was actually quite different from other seemingly similar religious phenomena: African sorcery, European witchcraft and native American Indian spiritual practices. The main distinguishing feature of Shamanism is that individual Shamans embark on spiritual journeys outside of their own bodies. In other words, a Shaman is able to communicate with both animate and inanimate bodies , via his or her spirit. People who live in areas where Shamans live and Shamanism is being practiced are heavily influenced by the phenomena. I can give you a direct example. A young family of Tsaatans called Baldish who lived near the Huvsgul lake in a village called Hankhhad never been Shaman practitioners. The daughter of the family developed a bad year infection. The family visited many doctors who were unable to treat her ailment. Eventually the family saw an old female Shaman in their neighborhood. The Shaman spoke with the family and presented the girl with a two year old reindeer which had been consecrated to Shaman deities and had sacred strips of cloth bound to its antlers. Within days the daughter’s disease was completely cured. The Shaman promised to visit the family again. She made an appointment with the parents, who presumed she would be visiting her in person.
But on the day of appointment a small , yellow bird sat on the roof of their canvas shelter and sang. An old man who was familiar with the phenomon explained to the family that this was the Shaman, she was displaying her presence to the spirit. The Tsaatan believe this illustrates the part human and part spirit nature of a Shaman.