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Northern Asia, particularly Siberia is regarded as the
classicus of shamanism.
It is inhabited by many different ethnic groups. Many of its Uralic, Altaic, and
Paleosiberian peoples observe shamanistic
practices even in modern times. Many classical ethnographic sources
of “shamanism” were recorded among Siberian peoples.
These cultures are far from being alike. The same applies for
their shamanistic beliefs and practice.
Terms for 'shaman' and 'shamaness' in Siberian
'shaman' : /saman/ (Nedigal, Nanay, Ulcha, Orok), /sama/
(Manchu) -- these have been compared with
Sanskṛt /sāman/ 'chant'. The variant /šaman/ (i.e., pronounced
"shaman") is Evenk (whence it was borrowed into Russian) :
this Evenk pronunciation may have had its origin in "/ṣāman/ 'name
of Sāman (in Lāṭyāyana Śrauta Sūtra)'"
'shaman' : /alman, olman, wolmen/
(Yukagir) -- with these possibly cf. Latin /alma/ 'soul'.
'shaman' : /qam/ (Tatar, Shor, Oyrat), /xam/ (Tuva,
these are related to Japanese /kami/ 'god' and to Nanay /qömio/
'shamaness' : /itako/
(Japanese), /iduˠan/ (Mongol), /udaˠan/ (Yakut), udagan (Buryat),
/udugan/ (Evenki, Lamut), /odogan/ (Nedigal)
spirit-journeys (re-acting their dreams wherein they had
rescued the soul of the client) were conducted in, e.g., Oroch,
Altai, and Nganasan healing séances.
As mentioned above, shamanistic practice shows great
even if restricted to Siberia. In some cultures, the music or song related to
shamanistic practice may intend to mimic natural sounds,
sometimes with onomatopoiea.
This holds e. g. for shamanism among Sami groups. Although the
Sami groups live
outside of Siberia, many of their shamanistic beliefs and practice
shared important features with those of some Siberian cultures.
The Yoiks of the Sami were sung on
Recently, yoiks are sung in two different styles, one of these are
sung only by young people. But the traditional one may be the
other, the “mumbling” style, resembling to magic spells.
Several surprising characteristics of yoiks can be explained by
comparing the music ideals, as observed in yoiks and
contrasted to music ideals of other cultures. Some yoiks intend to
mimic natural sounds. This can be contrasted to bel canto, which intends to
exploit human speech organs on the highest level to achieve an
almost “superhuman” sound.
The intention to mimic natural sounds is present in some
Siberian cultures as well: overtone singing, and also shamanic
songs of some cultures can be examples.
- In a Soyot shamanic song, sounds of bird and
wolf are imitated to represent helping spirits of the shaman.
- The seance of Nganasan shamans were accompanied by
women imitating the sounds of the reindeer calf, (thought to
provide fertility for those women). In
1931, A. Popov observed the Nganasan shaman Dyukhade Kosterkin
imitating the sound of polar bear: the shaman was believed to have
transformed into polar bear.
The intention to mimic natural sounds is not
restricted to Siberian cultures. And it is not necessarily liked to
shamanistic beliefs or practices. See for example katajjaq,
a game played by women, an example of music of some Inuit groups. This applies overtone
singing, and in some cases, sounds of nature (mostly those of
animals, e.g. geese) is imitated.
Imitation of animal sounds can serve also such practical reasons
like luring game in hunt.
Uralic languages. The language isolate Yukaghir
is conjectred by some to be related
languages are proven to form a genealogical unit, a language
family. The two main branches of Uralian family are Samoyedic and Finno-Ugric.
Not all Uralic peoples live in Siberia or have
shamanistic features any more. Saami people had kept
living shamanistic practice for a long time. They live in Europe,
they practiced shamanism till cca the 18th century.
Most other Finno-Ugric peoples (e.g. Hungarian, Finnic, Mari) have only remnant elements of
Majority of Uralic population lives outside Siberia.
Some of them used to live in Siberia, have wandered to their
present locations since then. The original location of the Proto-Uralic peoples (and its
extent) is debated. Combined phytogeographical and linguistic
considerations (distribution of various tree species and the
presence of their names in various Uralic languages) suggest that
this area was north of Central Ural Mountains and on lower and middle
parts of Ob River.
Among several Samoyedic peoples shamanism was a
living tradition also in modern times, especially at groups living
in isolation until recent times (Nganasans).
Enets people, Selkups There were distinguished
several types of shamans among Nenets people,
(The Nganasan shaman used three different crowns, according to the
situation: one for upper world, one for underneath word, one for
occasion of childbirth.)
people, Nganasan people speak Northern
Samoyedic languages. They live in North Siberia (Nenets live also
in European parts), they provide classical examples. Selkups are the only ones who
speak Southern Samoyedic languages nowadays. They live more to the
south, shamanism was in decline also at the beginning of
20th century, although folklore memories could be
recorded even in the 1960s.
Other Southern Samoyedic languages were spoken by some peoples
living in the Sayan Mountains, but language shift
has finished completely, making all these languages extinct.
There were several types of shamans distinguishing ones
contacting upper world, ones contacting underneath world, ones
contacting the dead.
The isolated location of Nganasan people enabled that shamanism was a living
phenomenon among them even in the beginning of 20th
the last notable Nganasan shaman's seances could be recorded on
film in the 1970s.
One of the occasions in which the shaman partook was the
clean tent rite. held after the polar night, including sacrifice.
Some peoples of the Sayan Mountains spoke once Southern
Samoyedic languages. Most of them underwent a language shift in the
beginning and middle of the 19th century, borrowing the
language of neighboring Turkic peoples. The Kamassian
language survived longer: 14 old people spoke it yet in 1914.
In the late 20th century, some old people had passive or
uncertain knowledge of the language, but collecting reliable
scientific data was no longer possible.
Today Kamassian is regarded as extinct.
The shamanism of Samoyedic peoples in the Sayan Mountains
survived longer (if we regard Karagas as a Samoyedic people,
although such approaches have been refined: the problem of their
origin may be more complex).
Diószegi Vilmos could
record not only folklore memories in the late 1950s, but he managed
also to talk personally to (no longer practicing) shamans, record
their personal memories, songs, some of their paraphernalia.
A interesting question here: is this shamanism borrowed entirely
from neighboring Turkic peoples, or does it have some ethnic
features, maybe remnant of Samoyedic origin? Comparative
considerations suggest, that
- certainly, there are influences. Karagas shamanism is affected by Abakan-Turkic
and Buryat influence. Among
the various Soyot cultures, the central Soyot groups,
keeping cattle and horses, show Khalkha-Mongolian phenomena in their
shamanism of Western Soyots, living on the steppe, is similar to
that of Altai Turkic peoples. A
shaman story narrates contacts between Soyots and Abakan Turkic
peoples in a mythical form.
- Karagas and Eastern (reindeer-breeding, mountain-inhabiting)
Soyots. have many similarities in their culture and
was these two cultures who presented some ethnic features,
phenomena lacking among neighboring Turkic peoples. E.g, the
structure of their shamanic drum showed such peculiarity: it had
It was also these two cultures who showed some features, which
could be possibly of Samoyedic origin: the shaman's headdress,
dress and boots has the effigies symbolizing human organs, mostly
in the case of headdress, representation of human face. Also
the dress-initiating song of the Karagas shaman Kokuyev contained
the expression “my shamanic dress with seven vertebrae”.
Hoppál interprets the skeleton-like overlay of the Karagas
shaman-dress as symbol of shamanic rebirth,
similar remark applies for the skeleton-like iron ornamentation of
the (not Samoyedic, but genealogically unclassified, Paleosiberian) Ket shamanic dress,
although it may symbolize also the bones of the loon (the helper animal of the shaman).
(The theory of Ket origin of the Karagas has already been mentioned
The skeleton-like overlay symbolized shamanic rebirth also among
some other Siberian cultures.
As mentioned, not all Finno-Ugric peoples practiced
shamanism in the modern times. Many of Finno-Ugric peoples
(including those of the largest population: Hungarian
people, Finnish people) live outside Siberia.
Others live in the western part of Siberia (if we define this area
in the broadest sense).
Although folklore narratives preserved many memories of
shamanism, but its practice remained only in fragments by in 1930s
people, Mansi people. There was more types of
shamanism is largely Khanty.
people have wandered to from the Proto-Uralic area to the Pannonian
Basin, thus they have they left Siberia. Shamanism is no more a
widespread living practice among them, but some remnants have been
reserved as fragments of folklore. Comparative methods can reveal,
that some motifs of folktales, some fragments of songs or rhymes of
folk customs preserved fragments of the old belief system. Some
records narrate us about shaman-like figures directly. Shamanistic
remnants in Hungarian folklore was researched among others by Diószegi Vilmos, based
on ethnographic records of Hungarian and neighboring peoples, and
comparative works with various shamanisms of some Siberian
Hoppál continued his work of studying Hungarian shamanistic belief
comparing shamanistic beliefs of Uralic peoples with
those of several non-Uralic Siberian peoples as well.
Traditional culture of Ket people was researched by Matthias
Castrén, Vasiliy Ivanovich Anuchin, Kai Donner, Hans Findeisen, Yevgeniya Alekseyevna
Alekseyenko. Shamanism was a living
practice in the 1930s yet, but by the 1960s almost no authentic
shaman could be found. Ket shamanism shared features with those of
Turkic and Mongolic peoples.
Besides that, there were several types of shamans,
differing in function (sacral rites, curing), power and associated
animal (deer, bear).
Also among Kets (like at several other Siberian peoples, e.g. Karagas),
there are examples of using skeleton symbolics,
Hoppál interprets it as a symbol of shamanic rebirth,
although it may symbolize also the bones of the loon (the helper animal of the shaman, joining air
and underwater world, just like the shaman who travelled both to
the sky and the underworld as well).
The skeleton-like overlay reresented shamanic rebirth also among
some other Siberian cultures.
shamanism has been widely amalgamated with Islam, but there are surviving traditions among
Tatars, Tuvans and Tofalar. See the photos of
Tuvan Shamans by Stanislav Krupar www.krupar.com
This is a photo of Chuonnasuan (1927-2000), the last shaman of the
people, taken by Richard Noll
1994 in Manchuria near the Amur River border between the People's
Republic of China and Russia (Siberia). Oroqen shamanism
is now extinct.
Among the Tungusic peoples of Siberia, shamanism is
The Tale of the Nisan Shaman,
a famous piece of folklore which describes the resurrection of a
rich landowner's son by a female shaman, is known among various
Tungusic peoples including the Manchu, Evenk, and Nanai.
Linguistically, Koryak and Chukchi are close congeners of
Eskimo. Koryak shamanism is
Eskimo groups comprise a
huge area stretching from Eastern Siberia
through Alaska and Northern Canada
(including Labrador Peninsula) to Greenland. Shamanistic
practice and beliefs have been recorded at several parts of this
vast area crosscutting continental borders.
Like Eskimo cultures themselves, shamanistic practices reveal
diversity. Some mosaic-like examples from various cultures: the
soul concepts of the various cultures were diverse as well, some
groups believed that the young child had to be taken for by
guardian names inherited from a recently deceased relative. Among
some groups, this belief amounted to a kind of reincarnation. Also
shamanism might include beliefs in soul dualism, where the free-soul of the
shaman could fly to celestial or underneath realms, contacting
mythological beings, negotiating with them in order to cease
calamities or achieve success in hunt. If their wrath was believed
to be caused by taboo breaches, the shaman asked for confessions by
members of the community.
In most cultures, shamanism could be refused by he candidate:
calling could be felt by visions, but generally, becoming a shaman
followed conscious considerations.
classifications or complex problematics of origin
The linguistical grouping used in this article does not include
unsettled classifications, like Altaic and Paleosiberian hypotheses. Aside
from this, the origin of several peoples is not a simple question:
some groups may have been born through merging people of different
origin, other groups underwent a language shift.
An Altai Kizhi or Khakas
shaman woman — it cannot be decided exactly from the image alone,
which of the two is the exact origin of the shaman. Early
Shaman holding a séance by fire. Settlement Kyzyl
, region Tuva
The problem of origin of peoples of the Sayan Mountains
has already been mentioned above (Sayan
Samoyedic). Also some other peoples living near the Altai may
have some relatedness to Uralic (namely Ugric, Samoyedic),
There may be also ethnographic traces of such past of these
nowadays Turkic-speaking peoples of the Altai. For example, some of
them have phallic-erotic fertility rites, and that can be
compared to similar rites of Obi-Ugric peoples.
The 2002 census of the Russian
Federation reports 123,423 (0.23% of the population) people of
ethnic groups which dominantly adhere to "traditional beliefs"
Traditional beliefs in Russia, based on
2002 Russian Census and Ethnic Group predominant religion
- ^ Hoppál 2005:13
- ^ a
Hoppál 2005: 15
s.v. "4th century AD"
Monier Monier-Williams : Sanskrit-English Dictionary.
p. 1306a http://books.google.com/books?id=8KFPBl9lLRcC&pg=PA1306&lpg=PA1306&dq=shaman+etymology+%22sama+veda%22&source=web&ots=5NNBdPpjgK&sig=bbTlPj9AFVOSkUccskC_4bhAe9w&hl=en&ei=WOaLSfmOFJaitgen1aSRCw&sa=X&oi=book_result&resnum=6&ct=result
Juha Janhunen : "Tracing the Bear Myth in Northeast Asia". http://src-h.slav.hokudai.ac.jp/publictn/acta/20/asi20-001-janhunen.pdf
p. 19, n. 50
- ^ Hoppál 2006: 143
- ^ Voigt 1966: 296
Szomjas-Schiffert 1996: 56, 76
Szomjas-Schiffert 1996: 64
Szomjas-Schiffert 1996: 74
Diószegi 1960: 203
Hoppál 2005: 92
Lintrop, Aarno. "The Clean Tent Rite".
Studies in Siberian shamanism and religions of the Finno-Ugric
- ^ a
- ^ Vaba, Lembit. "The Yukaghirs". The
Red Book of the Peoples of the Russian Empire. NGO Red
- ^ Hoppál 2005:84
- ^ Hoppál 2005:84
- ^ Hajdú 1975:35
- ^ a
- ^ a
- ^ Hoppál 2005:89
- ^ a
- ^ Hajdú 1975:12
- ^ Hajdú 1982:10
- ^ a
The Clean Tent Rite
- ^ a
- ^ a
- ^ a
Viikberg, Jüri. "The Tofalars". The
Peoples of the Red Book of the Imperial Russia. NGO Red
- ^ Diószegi
- ^ Diószegi
- ^ a
- ^ a
Hoppál 2005: 198
- ^ a
Hoppál 2005: 199
- ^ Hoppál 2005:96
Hoppál 2005: 170–171
- ^ a
Hoppál 2005: 172
- ^ a
Hoppál 2005: 171
Diószegi 1960: 128, 188, 243
Diószegi 1960: 130
Hoppál 1994: 75
Heissig 1997, p. 200
- ^ Kleivan &
- ^ Merkur
- ^ Gabus 1970
- ^ "The Altaics". The Red
Book of the Peoples of the Russian Empire.
- ^ a
Vajda, Edward J. "The Altai Turks". http://pandora.cii.wwu.edu/vajda/ea210/Altai.htm.
- ^ a
- Balzer, M. M. (ed) (1990).
Shamanism: Soviet Studies of Traditional Religion in Siberia
and Central Asia. Armonk NY.
- Deschênes, Bruno (2002). "Inuit Throat-Singing".
Musical Traditions. The Magazine for Traditional Music
Throughout the World. http://www.mustrad.org.uk/articles/inuit.htm.
- Diószegi, Vilmos (1960) (in
Hungarian). Sámánok nyomában Szibéria
földjén. Egy néprajzi kutatóút története. Budapest:
Magvető Könyvkiadó. http://mek.oszk.hu/02100/02181.
The book has been
translated to English: Diószegi, Vilmos
(1968). Tracing shamans in Siberia. The story of an
ethnographical research expedition. Translated from Hungarian
by Anita Rajkay Babó. Oosterhout: Anthropological
- Diószegi, Vilmos (1998)  (in
Hungarian). A sámánhit emlékei a magyar népi műveltségben
(1. reprint kiadás ed.). Budapest: Akadémiai Kiadó. ISBN 963 05 7542
The title means:
“Remnants of shamanistic beliefs in Hungarian folklore”.
- Gabus, Jean (1970) (in Hungarian).
A karibu eszkimók. Budapest: Gondolat Kiadó.
the original: (1944) Vie et coutumes des Esquimaux Caribous.
Libraire Payot Lausanne.
- Hajdú, Péter (1975). "A rokonság
nyelvi háttere". in Hajdú, Péter (in Hungarian). Uráli népek.
Nyelvrokonaink kultúrája és hagyományai. Budapest: Corvina
Kiadó. pp. 11–43. ISBN 963 13 0900
The title means:
“Uralic peoples. Culture and traditions of our linguistic
relatives”; the chapter means “Linguistical background of the
- Hajdú, Péter (1982)  (in
Hungarian). Chrestomathia Samoiedica (Second edition ed.).
Budapest: Tankönyvkiadó. ISBN 963 17 6601
- Heissig, Walther
(1997), "Zu zwei evenkisch-daghurischen Varianten des mandschu
Erzählstoffes "Nisan saman-i bithe"", Central Asiatic
Journal (41): 200-230, ISBN
- Hoppál, Mihály (1975). "Az uráli
népek hiedelemvilága és a samanizmus". in Hajdú, Péter (in
Hungarian). Uráli népek. Nyelvrokonaink kultúrája és
hagyományai. Budapest: Corvina Kiadó. pp. 211–233. ISBN 963 13 0900
The title means:
“Uralic peoples / Culture and traditions of our linguistic
relatives”; the chapter means “The belief system of Uralic peoples
and the shamanism”.
- Hoppál, Mihály (1994) (in
Hungarian). Sámánok, lelkek és jelképek. Budapest: Helikon
Kiadó. ISBN 963 208 298
The title means
“Shamans, souls and symbols”.
- Hoppál, Mihály (2005) (in
Hungarian). Sámánok Eurázsiában. Budapest: Akadémiai
The title means
“Shamans in Eurasia”, the book is published also in German,
Estonian and Finnish. Site of publisher with short
description on the book (in Hungarian).
- Hoppál, Mihály (2006c). "Music of Shamanic
Healing". in Gerhard Kilger. Macht Musik. Musik als
Glück und Nutzen für das Leben. Köln: Wienand Verlag. ISBN 3879098654. http://dasa.baua.de/nn_35984/sid_2C8A99B3F31A58C62BBE3312986DC568/nsc_true/de/Presse/Pressematerialien/Sonderausstellung_20Macht_20Musik/Schamanen-Musik.pdf.
- Kleivan, I.; B. Sonne (1985).
Eskimos: Greenland and Canada. Iconography of religions,
section VIII, "Artic Peoples", fascicle 2. Leiden, The Netherlands:
Institute of Religious Iconography • State University Groningen.
E.J. Brill. ISBN
- Merkur, Daniel (1985). Becoming
Half Hidden: Shamanism and Initiation among the Inuit.
Stockholm: Almqvist & Wiksell.
Jean Jacques, Inuit Games and Songs • Chants et Jeux des
Inuit, Musiques & musiciens du monde • Musics &
musicians of the world, Montreal: Research Group in Musical
Semiotics, Faculty of Music, University of Montreal
. The songs are online available from the
website curated by Jerome Rothenberg.
Bruno (1989), "Die Mandschu-Erzählung „Nisan saman-i bithe“ bei den
Hezhe", Münchner Beiträge zur Völkerkunde
- Rubcova, E. S. (1954) (in Russian).
Materials on the Language and Folklore of the Eskimoes (Vol. I,
Chaplino Dialect). Moscow • Leningrad: Academy of Sciences of
Рубцова, Е. С. (1954). Материалы по
языку и фольклору эскимосов (чаплинский диалект). Москва •
Ленинград: Академия Наук СССР.
- Szomjas-Schiffert, György (1996)
(in Hungarian and English). Lapp sámánok énekes hagyománya •
Singing tradition of Lapp shamans. Budapest: Akadémiai Kiadó.
ISBN 963 05 6940
- Vitebsky, Piers (2001). The Shaman:
Voyages of the Soul - Trance, Ecstasy and Healing from Siberia to
the Amazon. Duncan Baird. ISBN
- Vitebsky, Piers (1996) (in
Hungarian). A sámán. Budapest: Magyar Könyvklub • Helikon
the original: Vitebsky, Piers (1995).
The Shaman (Living Wisdom). Duncan Baird.
- Voigt, Vilmos (1966) (in
Hungarian). A varázsdob és a látó asszonyok. Lapp
népmesék. Népek meséi. Budapest: Európa
The title means:
“The magic drum and the clairvoyant women. Sami folktales”, the
series means: “Tales of folks”.
- Stanislav Krupar's photos of Siberian shamans Homepage |url=http://www.krupar.com/index.php?file=www/en/gallery/gallery.html&cat=5
- Lintrop, Aado. "Studies in Siberian Shamanism and Religion of the
Finno-Ugrian Peoples". http://www.folklore.ee/~aado/.
- "Shamanic And Narrative Songs
Of Siberian Arctic" (music). Musique Du Monde. http://www.emusic.com/album/Nganasan-Shamanic-And-Narrative-Songs-Of-Siberian-Arctic-MP3-Download/10607487.html.
- Czapliczka, M. A. (1914). Shamanism in Siberia—
excerpts from Aboriginal Siberia.
- Vajda, Edward J. "The Altai Turks". http://pandora.cii.wwu.edu/vajda/ea210/Altai.htm.
- Noll, Richard; Shi, Kun (2004). "Chuonnasuan (Meng Jin Fu).
The Last Shaman of the Oroqen of Northeast China" (pdf).
Journal of Korean Religions (6): 135–162. http://www.desales.edu/assets/desales/SocScience/Oroqen_shaman_FSSForumAug07.pdf.
It describes the
life of Chuonnasuan, the last shaman of the Oroqen of Northeast China.
- (streamed) The shaman — trailer.
Nganasan tribe. Youtube. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GbVnsS4VuDI.
- Erich Kasten; Michael Duerr. "Siberian Studies Homepage". http://www.siberian-studies.org.
- "Поселок Унгазик
(Чаплино)" (in Russian). Музея антропологии и этнографии им.
Петра Великого (Кунсткамера) Российской академии наук. http://www.kunstkamera.ru/exhibitions/virtualnye_vystavki/forshtejn/poselok_ungazik/.
English: Ungazik settlement, Kunstkamera, Russian Academy of
Sciences. Old photos about former life of a Siberian Yupik
settlement, including those of a shaman, performing his
- Helimski, Eugene. "Nganasan shamanistic tradition: observation and
hypotheses". Shamanhood: The Endangered Languege of Ritual,
conference at the Centre for Advanced Study, 19-23 June 1999,