Trips and Tales (Part 75)
On your Trans-Siberia trip there will not only be the opportunity to explore the fantastic landscapes and natural features of Russia, you may also encounter intriguing aspects of life such as the Shamanistic world of Buryatia.
A place in the world
Igor, how do you view the modern world and do you think that you are part of it? I ask this via ‘L’, who is kindly acting as translator and middle-person. There’s a lag of course whilst those in Siberia confer and I make lazy assumptions about the nature of the reply.
Igor laughs in the background, with a bucket-deep grating of ancient gravel from another culture, species, world even. What’s the outlook and history behind that sound I wonder? Is there some Siberian in-joke playing out here at the expense of the Western (virtual) tourist? And what’s that: “Shamanisma”?, “Shamnista?” I recognise “Da, da, da!” at any rate.
And so the response to my question folds back via the same zig-zagged route. Firstly, my assumption is wrong, and so is yours. Igor is part of the “modern world”, for his culture and beliefs are still alive, everyday, right here around him. In his version of modernity, these factors are just as real as any within our culture. Secondly, yes: the modern world is just fine thanks, provided that his pension arrives on time! – his most important concern.
So there’s a reality check for those of us who may have expected him to spend his days banging drums, communing with spirits and pining about the demise of the Old Ways. He doesn’t even own a drum, nor does he “take his work home with him” for that matter.
Here’s how it works: a member of his community will turn up at his door at 9am asking for his Shamanic assistance -or rather: “help”. Igor will then head off “to work”, which will involve visiting the petitioner’s home and initially, listening. It seems that a good part of the job involves a degree of “counselling” in our terminology, but that word feels inadequate. I can imagine solid guidance from on high, at odds with the often insipid and useless: “but what do you think?” response -to a cry for help from those unable to think straight in our system.
Yes, some hard-nosed Mongolian pragmatism is likely -although I may never know for sure. Then after the initial consultation, the main feature: the required ritual to enlist supernatural assistance. Not to mention the psychological factors (and benefits) that come into play from such an undertaking of course. In total the session may take the whole day, and that’s that. There’s no repeat-prescription. There’s your consultation and ritual: now it’s between you and the spirits.
And so what does Igor do when at home then? Well, the housework of course, what else did you expect?
So I ask Igor if the rituals always work, and he replies, carefully: that they always help. Specifically, Igor treats “diseases from God” (should that be “gods”?) which usually take the form of various aches and pains, passing-out, etc. caused by a spirit entering the body. There are also more conventional “diseases of the physical body” which are treated by the mainstream medical profession. A reassuring co-existence there.
The origins of a particular malady may not be immediately apparent he tells me, implying a degree of trial and error. Chant-it and see? Outside of medical concerns Igor may assist with more generic “life” problems too. A Shaman for all seasons (and reasons) then.
Next time: Trips and Tales (Part 76) Igor, Renaissance Shaman