Kunsang Hyolmo is a social worker and a lover of traditional music, who has posted wonderful video clips of people drumming and chanting at a shaman festival in the Nepalese Himalayas. A shaman is known there as a Bhombo or a Jhankri, and shamanic practice is so integrated into everyday life that it’s not even viewed as particularly spiritual, but more as a practical matter. The filmmaker says,
It is likely that many of the healing practices of Buddhism and Hinduism share a common origin with Himalayan shamanism. However, Nepalese shamans belong to different religious groups and do not see themselves or their shamanic roles as ‘religious.’
The Douglas Hyde Gallery in Dublin was recently graced by an exhibition of the work of Kevin Bubriski, documentary photographer who had spent nine years in Nepal. The gallery had also showcased many shamanic tools from that country, where shamans perform divination, healing, and rapprochement with unfriendly spirits. There are even more spectacular photos on Bubriski’s own website, where we find that Nepal is not the only place where Bubriski has photographed shamans.
In Siberia, Altai has always been the most active area for the practice of shamanism. The Soviet communists did their best to extinguish it by executing or exiling the shamans. Somehow the clans had managed to keep and pass on their knowledge anyway, and democracy, strangely enough, has brought about the revival of shamanism. Galina Angarova, Program Associate for Community-Based Initiatives for Pacific Environment, tells us about her native land:
For centuries sacred sites served people as places where they could come to pray, cleanse themselves, and recover from the hardships of life… For indigenous cultures, and specifically shamanists, these are places or objects created by nature: mountains, healing springs, mountain passes, plants and animals.
In Kosh-Agach, a region between Mongolia, China and Kazakhstan, Angarova interviewed a local and relatively young shaman named Slava Cheltuev, who had been chosen by the community to be the keeper and passer-on of its traditions.
Also in Siberia, the government of Tuva sponsored a contest the goal of which, at a first glance, was to find the nine greatest treasures of the nation’s heritage. At TuvaOnline, Dina Oyun explains why the number nine was chosen. But, really, the number isn’t important. What matters is how many groups and individuals have seen this contest as an opportunity to spotlight little-known “noteworthy objects,” including both natural phenomena and monuments of culture and history. The author quotes an official who says the point is,
… to wake the people’s activity, their basic curiosity, the wish to search and to find miracles and wonders in one’s own native village, district, or city.
Byambasuren Davaa, director of the film The Two Horses of Genghis Khan, dates the post-communist rebirth of shamanism to 1990, so it has been regaining strength for a couple of decades now. Davaa tells us that, in the time of Genghis Khan, shamanism was the official state religion, and talks about how, in Mongolia, singing is inseparable from life:
You have to sing, otherwise you can’t survive. You’re often spending days in the saddle and all alone. Without singing, you’d perhaps have gone mad. The treatment of animals and our rituals are also tightly bound up with song.
If you haven’t heard about The Horse Boy, which was first a book then made into a movie, here’s a review at the Lincoln Journal Star detailing this true story of shamanic healing. L. Kent Wolgamott describes how a couple discovered that their autistic son responded to horses, and decided to seek the help of shamans from a horse-based culture, which meant traveling to Mongolia. Don’t forget to watch the movie’s trailer, where the father says,
This is a story about how as a family, we did something crazy. How we ended up going halfway across the world in search of a miracle.
Source: “Kunsang Hyolmo,” Hyolmo, 03/18/10
Source: ” Nepalese Shamanism Ritual Objects from Nepal,” DouglasHydeGallery.com
Source: “The Sacred Land Of Altai, Russia,” Pacific Environment blog, 02/08/10
Source: “Regional experts of Tuva entered more than 120 noteworthy objects into the “Nine Treasures” contest,” Tuva-Online, 03/11/10
Source: “Interview with Byambasuren Davaa, director of The Two Horses of Genghis Khan,” NationalGeographic.com, 03/08/10
Source: “Review: The Horse Boy,” Lincoln Journal Star, 04/01/10
Image by The Wandering Angel, used under its Creative Commons license.