(Trips and Tales Part 74)
This is an experience that I have been looking forward to for weeks -since our article on the creeds of modern-day Buryatia. Now here I am: connected across land, sea, time and culture to the other side of the world. To another world perhaps?; it certainly feels that way. We’re sparking across the vast gap between our disparate existences: two parallel tracks set never to connect except by temporary electronic means.
I must have been leaving college when Igor went “shaman”, full-time. As a stray 18 year old, would I have believed that I would be here; decades into the future, questioning an 82 year-old Shaman from Buryatia across something called “The Internet”? It’s doubtful, but here I am; utilising future technology to track down his magic.
I speculate on Igor heading home from the Mongolian, state-owned logging company on his final work-day in the mundane world, to be told that, decades away: an oddball disembodied voice from the West would quiz him on his life, beliefs and practices since turning that fateful corner. “Why?” -he may have asked. “From the West?”. Who would have thought it?
For one who embraces a world of rituals and spirits, such a prospect may have seemed like relatively small-potatoes by comparison, of course. And so here we are; in temporary convergence.
Yes, prior to following his Shamanistic path he had been logging for the Mongolian People’s Republic -the world’s second Communist country, established in 1924. It had always been a foregone conclusion though; that his life would deviate at a tangent, as sure as night becomes day. His ancestors were Shamans too, passing the duty down the line until one day it came knocking upon his door. Before that, he had performed Shamanic practices, but on a seemingly “ad-hoc” basis. So, previously; a part time Shaman? Is such a thing possible? Reading between the lines – and hearing it via ‘L’, my obliging translator too: it sounds to these layman ears that the Shamanic calling is either with you or not. So it was with Igor all along -a foregone conclusion, although in his previous existence he chose to embrace it as needed whilst still earning a conventional living (by our standards). A foot in both worlds, then.
It was difficult at first, he says: to get the rituals right. These magical procedures may take from 30 minutes to 4 hours and, as a Shaman, he must be very strict in adhering to the correct protocol throughout. Such practices are designed to spin the metaphysical machinery, to make it work towards an end result. He must respect the spirits to successfully enlist their aid in this regard. Fortunately, Igor tells me that the spirits of his ancestors visited him in his dreams (they still do) and assisted in his studies; speaking in images to show how he should correctly (and respectfully) lead those all-important sessions. He still feels a great responsibility to conduct such business correctly, but now by his own admission he is “very good” at his practice and wishes me to be equally competent in my own work. I’m glad to hear it.
The order of things
It’s worth establishing the Earth/Spirit setup as Igor experiences it: for instance, he doesn’t personally visit the world of spirits – he says they live “in the sky” – but instead he invokes his ancestors, the spirits and the gods who dwell there. They in turn communicate with him through dream images. He tells me that it is rare to actually see a spirit but they may appear as human beings, and then almost always in dreams.
It seems that his version of celestial geography is arranged similarly to ours: equivalents of Heaven, Earth and Hell, with the good, the mortal and the bad allocated residence accordingly. He describes spirits as “good” or “evil” and – perhaps this is warped in translation – “smiling” too.’ L’, my embattled translator re-frames this as “funny”, perhaps friendly?
At any rate, at the top of the cosmological tree are the gods -who may watch, help and protect mere mortals, whilst spirits can assist with such lower-level “support”. They in turn are not considered as powerful or important, but as with all supernatural entities: worthy of a cautious respect at the very least.
More Igor next time.
Next time: Trips and Tales (Part 75) Igor, Shamanic pragmatic
[Photo by Hombit]