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Shamanism: The Bear Spirit

May 28, 2008

Yevgeniy Antufyev, "Center of Asia"
Tuva Online (Russia)
May 26, 2008

Have you ever met a bear? That is fully possible. How about, perhaps, a bear spirit? Hardly. But the members of the shamanic society "Adyg Eeren" not just meet him on a daily basis, but often address him with questions and pleas for help. And not just this one spirit, but also many others. "Adyg Eeren" is one of the strongest shamanic societies in Tuva, and its chairman, Kara-ool Donchun-ool is one of the most powerful shamans.


Q: Kara-ool Tyulyushevich, from whom did you inherit your shamanic gift? Is it in your family?

A: Yes. I was born on May 21, in the year 1948, in the town of Kara-Bulun ( Black Corner), of the Ulug-Khem kozhuun. This year, I am 60 years old.

I was born in a family with many children, there were altogether 10 brothers and sisters of us. Grandfather Dolaan Suge-lama was a Buddhist monk; he studied in a Tibetan spiritual school, at that time, Tibet was still free. Grandpa taught me the Old Mongolic and Tibetan languages. I inherited two relics: two ancient sutras; a gold one and a green one. I often take them with me for trips and house calls. But even my grandpa used to admit that my vocation is shamanic, not Lamaism. In that, he agreed with grandma, who was a great shamaness, she was known as Ulug-Kara-Kham. She was also the midwife at my birth, cut the umbilical cord, gave me my name. My mother died early, so from the age of 9 months, I was brought up by Grandma.

At that time, Communist ideology was in power, and so Granny could not practice openly. People used to come for consultations at night, when everybody around was asleep. They would come with many different requests; to cure someone, to purify their house or territory of their aal, or to perform the 7th day or 49th day ceremony for the soul of the dead.

People who came to see Grandma always whispered and kept looking around over their shoulder, to make sure that nobody would see or hear.

Grandma was telling me from early childhood, that I was born to be a shaman. She would always take me with her. During the day, she would tell me:” Now have a good sleep, my son. Tonight people will be coming, and we’ll go together." At night she would wake me and we would go off with the visitors.

I remember from childhood how grandma used to perform ceremonies and rituals.


Q: How did you first use your gift?

A: My daughter had a toothache, I saw it right away, made some hand gestures, and it was all over. Then, for a long time, I would only treat my family. Then friends started to come, then friends of friends. Then others started dropping in. That is when I began to understand how serious and necessary shamans are, that people have so many problems that they cannot solve by themselves

Q: Did your children inherit these abilities?

A: I have seven children: three daughters and four sons. And my son Sholban does have shamanic vocation, but so far, he works for the militia, OMON. I think that after he retires, perhaps, he will become a shaman.

I also have a little granddaughter, she is one year and nine months old now, and she has very obvious abilities. She even now, already has her own drum, and other attributes. Whenever I have a headache, or if my hands hurt, Buyana always comes up, makes hand gestures, spits, and all the pain is gone.

Also my grandson Baty, he is now twelve years old, and I can see that he has abilities.

Q: But how are the shamanic abilities inherited?

A: Shamanism is ancient magic knowledge of the ancestors, which is transferred by inheritance. But it is selective, not everybody from that line becomes a shaman. Ordinary people only rarely become shamans. A person who wants to become a shaman must live with shamans for a long time, in order to learn all the traditions, ceremonies, rituals.

A real shaman -- that is a great artist, a great bone-setter, and an expert in all the traditions and ceremonies., also a great dancer and singer. Not only the inherited abilities are necessary, but also knowledge of all the traditions and ceremonies, therefore it is better if one is taught from childhood.

In Tuva, we have three treasures: The nature, khoomei, and shamanism. Tuvan shamanism is an unique phenomenon, as it is admitted all over the world.

At the same time, this attracts unhealthy speculations. Very many self-invited quacks, deceivers and frauds appeared. Some of them do not even have a drum, or a shaman’s coat. These are very serious shamanic attributes, no self-respecting shaman would conduct a “kamlanie” without them.

Earlier, a shaman simply did not have the right to conduct a "kamlanie" without a drum, a mirror of khomus. Earlier, khoomei was still used in shamanic practices, because earlier khoomei was only for shamans, but that was a very long time ago; then it became a part of ordinary life. Shamans are the carriers of traditions, carriers of the old culture. Earlier, Tuva did not have writing, and everything was transmitted orally, the shamans carried the knowledge. Now it is not so crucial, there are schools, books, writing,. But that does not mean that shamans are not necessary anymore.

Q: You have here so many different amulets and attributes. Where are they from?

A: most of my attributes are inherited, that is why they are much stronger than is usual, the power of the ancestors is in them. Many years ago, my relatives hid all the shamanic attributes in a trunk in a cave, so that they would not be taken away, but in 1982, my uncle showed it to me and gave it to me. He was already 78 years old, and he said that he could not protect the secret anymore, and had to pass it on.

Here, look; on my coat there are pieces of my grandmother’s old coat sewn on, on the sleeves and elsewhere. Grandmother’s old coat almost completely disintegrated from age, but I saved the pieces and sewed them on my own. I inherited many of my attributes from her. The bag, firestone, I got those from grandmother. They are very old, but these things remember her. The shaman’s mirror, kuzungu, I got from my uncle. But these dolls on the walls, they are ancient totems, spirits of ancestors. A new one is made quite small about palm-size, but then quietly, gradually, ribbons and various amulets are added. Gradually such a doll grows to human size. These are so big because they belonged to many generations of shamans, I also added ribbons and amulets. The bear’s paw, here, is for protection and purification; this I also received from my uncle. I tied my own amulets to it; after me it will go to my grandson, and he will add his own attributes.

A very powerful thing, helps from any kind of damage, everything. Let me pass it over the back of your head, then you will not be vulnerable to attack from behind.


Q: But what spirits, mostly, do you communicate?

A: With spirits of the ancestors. All my ancestors -- uncles, grandfathers, grandmothers, all the generations of shamans from my family help me. They give me strength and advice.

And I have a helper-spirit: a tall, in white clothing, old man with white hair. When I was 12 years old, grandfather took me to the sacred cave Saryg-Arzhaan on the Ondum mountain, that is in Kaa-Khem kozhuun.. And there he performed a special ceremony, so that the spirit master of the cave would become my helper. When I became a shaman, I went back there twice. It is a good place to gather power, to feed the spirit, to ask for assistance. Sometimes I hear a human voice from behind my right shoulder; sometimes he advises me what to do in this or that case. It is as if I am not only one person, but two, even though one of them is mostly silent.

Q: Do you hear other kind of voices ?

A: Yes. When I was a child, I would hear birds singing, tweeting next to a stream. I always listened to that, tried to understand. Once we went fishing, and I hear the birds cry: do not go there, there are no fish. All the fish went upstream the Yenisei. I tell the other kids: there are no fish here, let’s go elsewhere. But they told me -- stop the nonsense, you are fantasizing. They always said that "You are fantasizing," anytime I said something unusual.

They did not listen, and I went upstream, and caught a taimen (large river fish). Suddenly the others came running, it turned out that they did not even manage to dig up worms for bait. A strong wind came up, and a large bee nest fell off a tree. Enraged bees came out, and the kids had to run away. That kind of thing often happens to me. For example, I walk in the taiga, and birds warn me where I should go, what to avoid, how to get back to the correct road.


Q: Which was the most difficult, complicated case in your practice?

A: That was the purification of Por-Bazhyn in the spring of 2007. The spirits did not want to give up their position and leave. Almost all the shamans from our society participated in the ceremony. We started at 3 AM, and went on until midnight. We requested the spirits to leave the fortress, so that the archeologists could work, to make new discoveries for history, for the glory of our nation.

It was very complicated, they were very old spirits, very strong. For eight centuries nobody purified the fortress, nobody went there. The locals did not go there, they were afraid. One shaman tried to work there, but it did not go well, he died within a week.

Q: Is it true that shamans do not dream like ordinary people, but have only dreams with meaning?

A: Yes. Since I was a child, I never had gray dreams, but always in bright colors, much more bright than in real life. Shamans have ordinary dreams only very rarely, usually the dreams have some meaning, there is some message.. A warning of a disaster, about enemies, about various problems. But at the end of the dream, there is always the possibility to solve the problem. Shaman can avert disaster even without waking up.

In dreams, one can ask questions and receive ansvers to them. Sometimes, when I come to some house, where something bad is at work, I specifically go to sleep for fifteen minutes, and when I wake up, I understand suddenly, what the problem is, how to get rid of the unclean spirit.


Q: But how did you get the idea to gather a shamanic society? Traditionally, shamans are known to work alone, and when shamans meet, it usually means competition.

A: Yes, it used to be like that. But the times have changed, and even the Tuvan nation has changed. Earlier, we were nomads, and did not have permanent settlements. Now there are towns, villages. Shamans had to adjust, to put together societies, so that all kinds of self-invited frauds would not get in, so that we could help each other. But, here, for example, are still lone practitioners, and they live also.

Q: How many shamans is in your society?

A:Twenty-nine. But they are not all here, many of them are in other districts by invitation, to do ceremonies. We mostly have shamans who are already well known in their home districts, we do not have neophytes.

Q: Why is the name of your society "Bear Spirit"?

A: The Bear is the most powerful of all the totems. My clan Adyg-Tyulyush, means the sons of the great she-bear. We believe that our clan is descended fro a bear.

For ages, Tuvan shamans pray to the bear spirit, and bear claws are very powerful attributes.

Q: What is the most complicated part of being a shaman?

A: It is difficult to be worthy of one’s gift, and to help everybody, who asks. Another complication lies in the fact, that the authority of shamans was drastically undermined under the Soviet rule, when they were considered insane. Despite that, in our nation, respect and confidence in shamans were retained.

Many people obey at a single word from a shaman. You tell them: do not drink vodka, and they stop drinking. Just like that, after a single word.

It is important to understand that there are no hopeless situations. Ancient sages used to say, that in human life, there are only three real difficulties. The first -- the river unexpectedly overflows its banks, the second - the saddle on your horse slides off, and the third- your wife cheats on you.

Aside from that, there are no real difficulties in human life.
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