Buryat shamanism and mountain hikes in Siberia

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October 16th 2007
Published: October 16th 2007
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Yesterday Valera took me on an amazing mountain hike around Lake Baikal. It was very hot, and we took a steep and narrow little trail s along the shore. On the cliff, again with breath-taking views, Valera made a fire for our lunch and to boil tea with Siberian herbs he had gathered during our hike (Sheilagh, you would have loved it!). As he was making the fire, I skipped down to the lake and felt an irresistible urge to jump into the clear and fresh water. The beach was deserted, and a bit further along the shore, I found a cave, where I took my clothes off and then ran in. The water was so cold it took my breath away - but it was also incredibly invigorating. I let the sun dry me and waded barefoot through the water back to the cliff. When I put my clothes back on, I realised that my Priestess prayer beads were missing. They must have fallen out of my pocket as I took my clothes off. This was dramatic: I had these beads since my Priestess initiation in 2001, and I carried them pretty much everywhere. I went back to the cave, scanned the shore, the water - but to no avail. I went back up the cliff, where we had lunch, and Valera asked me, 'so you found the cave?'. I replied, 'I found a cave, why, is it special?' 'Yes', he said, 'it's a very ancient cave - many archaeological finds very uncovered there.' Aha. After lunch, I went back for one final time to look for my beads, and struck a deal with the Buryat ancestors - I asked them to help me find them, and in return, I'd clear all the rubbish from the cave. I did that, and nearby I found some plastic flowers, which I left as an offering, together with an offering of food. I went back, but still didn't find the beads. Just as I resigned myself to having offered them to the water Gods of Siberia and was ready to climb up the cliff again, I suddenly saw something resembling tiger's eye shining through the pebbles in the lake. I took a closer look, and there they were, my beads, covered almost entirely by little stones, with only the tiniest edge sticking out. I smiled and took them out - and thanked the ancestors loudly for helping me find them!

Today I visited the museum of Buryat shamanism in a little town, about an hour's bus ride from Irkutsk. It was very interesting, there is a huge collection of Buryat art, such as drums, costumes, artwork, bones and stuffed animals. I had a long conversation with the lady at the museum, who spoke some English (she asked me 'how on earth did you get here - without language?' The town is tiny and almost entirely Buryat, and apart from the museum and a Lenin's head, there is nothing to see there). I asked her many questions about her branch of shamanism, which is still very widely practised there, which she patiently answered. The shaman's knowledge is always passed on through generations - and her father happened to be a shaman. Apparently, the gods said that her cousin should become the next shaman, but he was ruled out, as his knowledge of the Buryat language was laughable! She also told me much of their customs, their sacred places, rituals, and she was astonished to hear about my Priestess tradition. An elder from her community came along and they excitedly chatted in Buryat language about my travels. In general, people are much friendlier here than in the other Russian places I visited: today on the minibus to the town, the whole bus started to talk to me. I was just drifting off to sleep when I was elbowed in the ribs by the adolescent sitting next to me. He stuck his mobile phone in my face, which read: 'Hello my name is Ivan, what's your name?' At the bus station, a young girl shrieked in delight when I told her I was from England, and she eagerly tried out some English phrases on me.

This is my last night in Irkutsk - I am setting off to the Buryat capital of Ulan Ude tomorrow morning, again on the train. The Buryats there practise Buddhism, not shamanism, and I will be visiting a big Buddhist monastery.

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16th October 2007

and there i was thinking Siberia would be all white and frozen, covered in snow and ice! Looks amazing.. wow x

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