Shamanism of Altai

The history of the spiritual culture of Altai people represented as the diversity of kinds and forms traditional beliefs and customs, world religions, and new religious organizations and spiritual movements and cults at the present. It is confidently asserted territory of Altai Mountains was religious and cultural diversity influenced by reason of its location. Shamanism was a traditional philosophical and religious system in Central Asia during the Scythian epoch, and Hun-Sarmatian time. It finally emerged among people of the Hsiung-nu / Gunnu and ancient Turks, originated from the earliest forms of beliefs (animism, totemism, animalism, idolatry. Pantheon system of spirits, cosmological ideas (three folding world), as well as the identity and function of a shaman (doctoring, controlling the weather, exorcism, culture heritage etc) evolved gradually for thousands of years. Altai Shamanism has a verbal nature. This doctrine has not a written statement of principles, regulations, and declarations. There are no canonical rules, commandments, prohibitions, texts, prayers and so on. All the teaching is kept on the oral and visual base using simple ritual stuff.

A minister is called “Kam”. Kam serves as a guide between the World and the World of Dead and as guide between the human world and the world of a nature. A Kam ability is inherit. The man who is destined to become a shaman by nature, starts to feel his predisposition early, he becomes ill and falls into a frenzy.

Shamanism is a magical teaching how to interact with spirits deliberately and purposefully. Spirits do not often reveal their presence to man. Even they show intentions rarely. So, a man has to refer to them himself. But only shamans can achieve a permanent and clearly defined contact with the spirits. After a cam ritual, when the spirits leave shaman, he has become an ordinary person, and he has nothing to ask.

New faith "Burkhanism" extended in Altai at the beginning of the XX century. The official formation of Altai Burkhanism were praying in valley Tereng Ust-Kan aimag in 1904. The myth of Erlik, as a teacher of Kam shamanic art, explains how the Altaians appeared black shamanism associated with the worship of Erlik and travel to the underworld. Ancient Turks prayed to Heaven. Black shamans stood out in separate groups circulated among ordinary nomads on the periphery of the ancient Turkic state. Since that time ambitious common Turkic praying to Heaven (Tengri) has stopped. The position of the local ministers strengthened, as supreme shamans were gone. Locals serviced daily needs of nomads household level. Hard times have fallen. Material and social conditions of life of the nomads forced to seek help not only friendly, but also to malicious spirits and deities. So the "black shamanism" began to prevail over the "white" among the people of the Altai-Sayan Mountains.

Altai Shaman

A good shaman has tricks of ritual intercourse with the Gods and spirits, a shaman uses special terminology, can travel to one or another sphere of the Universe knows roads and routes of travel, a shaman is guided in the space of worlds inhabited by deities and arcs. A kind of sacred diploma Kama is tambourine given by Gods and spirits. Tambourine is evidence of qualification of shaman. But tambourine should be controlled masterly. He demonstrates the ritual gestures, facial expressions and other means, the value of the tambourine, the way mounts, weapon acting (bow and arrow). It is necessary to combine the frequency beats of tambourine, singing and appealing to the Gods and spirits.

Altai shamanism representation about “a double” is the dominant concept which explain the mechanism of the main religious ritual practice a Kam. Representation about individual double reflects the faith of cycle of human existence. Every human life begins in the heavenly area of the universe, yet it have not an anthropomorphic shape, then it is sent to the Earth in physical form. For example, in the form of a shooting star or a ray of sunlight. These embryos are falling through the smoke hole in center of yurt, and then fall to a woman. So the fetal period of human life begins. It is concerned with a female deity called Umai. “A double” has the ability to separate from the body into form of small lights, and to travel to different places and back to the body during sleep.

A man should behave especially cautious in mountains. He should be wary of a double output during sleep. If a person has a guilt, then the spirit of the mountains or taiga can catch and leave his double. This is often happens. Only shaman can return a double. Shaman continues to possess special properties even after death of his double. Ordinary people double backs to the deity. A Kam double remains on the Earth. He lives in the mountains or taiga, and he is not associated with the burial place of the shaman. The Double determines the fate of the new Kama among any of his descendants. The double will serve as one of his hereditary patrons.

Another important provision of Altai Shamanism in additional to «a double concept” is faith in spirits of shaman, composing its sacred magical power. This position keeps religious practice, the entire cult of shamanism. Shamans know that nobody can be a kam without kam-intermediary spirits. Nobody dares to go to such dangerous journey as a kam is without support of spirits. All religious activities that make by shaman, and achieved results are carried out with the help of the spirits, which called him at the beginning of each ritual.

Every shaman has his own spirits. Spirits are divided into groups called «strata”. First group included Protector Spirits, second group is helper spirits. Patrons are spirits of high rank such are the God of fire, the Gods of sacred mountains etc. Helpers perform two groups. The first called “Tos”, uniting shaman ancestors being kams during its life. The second group included ministering spirits, called during ritual by tambourine blowing. These spirits attend a shaman during his travels to one or another sphere of the Universe. Tambourine ministering spirits called as "chalular" consist the real strength of a shaman. Shaman appreciates and seeks to increase these spirits, convokes ancestors of shamans. Personal spirits of shaman determine its religious and magical power.

Deity of fire differs among patron spirits. It is called Ot-Ana — mother fire in Altai. This deity has entered the pantheon of Altai shamanism heritage from ancient times. Altai kama begins kam ritual celebrating, treating and turning to Ot-Ana calling. Shamans ask Ana to give companions for upcoming travels and always receive the assistance.

Spirits of sacred mountains are also high patrons of shaman. They give a tambourines for special prayer rituals to shamans. Shamans treated spirits of sacred mountains with different requests of welfare for family, for Ulus and people. A Kama receives shamanic mission, shamanic inherited gift from spirits of shaman ancestors. If the Altai shows the signs of a shaman, so it is said: “Tosi (ancestors spirit) comes». Cult of ancestor shaman provides continuity of shamanism and explains the mechanism of occurrence and formation of shamans.

Tambourine and shaman ritual vestments are sacred objects of worship, since it serve as a refuge for spirit helpers. When the shaman strikes tambourine, spirits rush towards him. Some of them place in the drum, the other place on the ritual vestments. Others, the most important, move into shaman himself, who gathers them by deep breath. Tambourine connected with not only ritual activities, but also with shaman life. If tambourine skin breaks or blood appears during the ritual, it means spirits came to punish the shaman and he dies soon. Tambourine is the main ceremonial instrument which given as a certificate for ritual from the supreme deity. Having made a tambourine, shaman shows it to deity. Ceremony of manufacturing and reviving tambourine continues for several days with large crowd.

After the ritual shaman goes to spirit of sacred mountain and there, showing the drum, gets permission to kam until he will make next tambourine. After the ceremony shaman kams alone. He hides a chula (a double of animal from which tambourine was made) from other shamans and hostile forces. If the drum is made of deer skin, so shaman hides it in taiga, if it is made of horse skin, so he hides in a tree hollow. A kam calls on spirits beating a drum at night to consult with them, to find out their wishes. Shaman makes spirits to watch the book "Sabyr Bichik." Which help to find things that do not require a large ritual, for example, any prediction.

Ritual vestments are necessary to communicate with the spirits. Production is carried out by instructions of the spirits-protectors. Vestments have complex appearance. It includes braids, hundreds of different pendants, small chunks of tissue, ribbons, fringe, animal skins and their parts (claws, feathers, beaks, wings); rag anthropomorphic images of snakes, monsters. Suit serves as a refuge for shaman spirits which protect a kam during ritual. Making shaman costume is collective women engagement. It takes place at specific time and is accompanied by special ceremony. This ceremony is held with large crowd and is used to remove filth from vestments, which can be left after touch of the hands of bad people. But the main aim of the ceremony is to determine the suitability of the suit. A kam ritual differs by acting, songs, Gods which summoned by shaman. Every shaman has his god and kams to it him. Only Ulgen and Erlik gods are common to all Altaian.

The ritual has to express the journey of shaman and his retinue of spirits to the distant abode of the deity. If deity lives in heaven, for example, Ulgen, the mystery of Kam should clearly describe journey to heaven, and shaman has to move from one sky to another until he reaches the last sky. If deity lives underground, such as Erlik, the mystery shows how the shaman descends to the underworld.

Idolatry of Altai peoples came to symbolic representation of a good and an evil. Horses, bulls and sheep sacrificed to gods, barbarously slayed dissecting animal chest and squeezing the heart by hands to stop beating. However, all this, comes with extraordinary rapidity, animal dies instantly. Then victim will be roasted and eaten. Primitive representations of deity forces shamans to look at the sacrifices as a contract binding both parties by mutual obligations.