This book, The Last of the Shor Shamans, may be the only way the shamanic peoples of the Shor Mountain region of Siberia are remembered - now in their 80's their legacy is expected to die with them.
Published here in the English language for the first time is a depiction of Shor shamanic worldview, ceremony and ritual objects. Included are biographical sketches of seven of the remaining comtemporary, yet elder, Shor shamans; photos of Shor Territory in Siberia and several of the shamans depicted; and text of shamanic verses never before recorded.
This unified presentation of previously disparate studies of Siberian Shor shamanism will intrigue academicians and folklorists alike - as well, it will inspire serious shamanic practitioners and a wider readership interested in traditional shamanic cultures.
The authors Alexander Arbachakov and Lubov Arbachakova (Tudegesheva) were born within traditional communities in southern Siberia and are environmentalists.
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The Shor Shamans are in the Altai Mountain region of Siberia believed by some scholars to be the place where religion, in the form of Shamanism, began. The authors are an indigenous husband and wife team, Luba a folklorist and Alexander a photographer. In their introduction they say that the subjects of the book, the last kam(s) - the shamans of Gornaya Shoriya - 'represent the true guardians of their people's traditions, customs and culture.' I found myself seeking parallels with other cosmologies, but maybe this is linear thinking. However one striking parallel was the finding that serious illness often preceded the awakening of shamanic power (otherwise it was handed down in families). This reminded me of many accounts in the Alister Hardy RERC archive, and elsewhere, of serious illness preceding profound spiritual experience/spiritual awakening. With the Shor Shamans the person would have to accept the shamanic power to get better. The implication was that the alternative would be death. In our culture there would not be such a stark choice maybe, in denial of death as we are most of the time. However, there does seem to be a parallel in our culture with anecdotal evidence of serious illness resulting in spiritual epiphany. Something I found moving and extremely significant was that often the shaman's sacred drum had been destroyed, but rituals retained drumming movements, and chants, the vividly evoked them. Shamanic practices had been suppressed, first by Orthodox Christian missionaries, then with great brutality by the communist regime. Shamans were killed, their homes (and of course their drums) destroyed. But the Spirit and thus the tradition survives. Shamans would now take a broom, or even a tea towel, seemingly any domestic object to hand. That they used tea clothes and brooms instead of the traditional sacred objects that have been destroyed affected me deeply; this does imply that the impulse to spirituality is so strong that all attempts tat obliteration will fail. This is what I found moving - a humble substitute for a ritual in the face of oppression and persecution somehow adds spiritual stature rather than detracting from it. This little book contains pages of ritual (kamlanie) and religious poetry that retain a vivid authenticity, despite having been translated from the vernacular into Russian, then from Russian into English. Whatever had been lost in translation, as with the loss of shamanic tools - drums to tea towels - the power is not diminished, the Spirit lives on. This is the culture of the throat singers; I once heard some Mongolian throat singers in concert and i was transported to the plains - I did ride like the wind with my harness jingling, the pounding hooves finding a rhythm in my blood. The Shor poetry took me back to this experience... Again I find parallels with other cultures, this time through Welsh Bardic poetry and the tales of the Mabinogian, (although these would have had the advantage of being declaimed, usually in poetic competition, in the royal court f the Bard's patron). But in both cases the hypnotic repetition and vivid imagery of nature in this world can lead to real experience in other worlds, or dimensions. However, 'the Shaman's most important function is to heal the sick'. The Shortsi believe illness happens when the soul leaves the body and loses its way.Then the Shaman, who travels between the worlds, must bring it back. In death, perhaps the most interesting aspect of Shor Shamanism for Alister Hardy aficionados, the kam would liase with the spirit of the departed, and other spirits in the beyond, in a series of rituals at the funeral and after at specified times. The book contains pages of ritual poetry for this journey of the soul. There are explanatory notes which illuminate the poetry by giving complex meanings of many of the lines, also a glossary and references. At the end one is left with a sense of gratitude to the Arbachakovs, who have preserved what are the only remnants of a culture which does back thousands of years, where scholars such as Geoffrey Ashe believe religion was born. ~ Patricia Murphy (Ed.), The Journal & Newsletter of the Alister Hardy Society for the Study of Spiritual Experience - De Numine, Autumn '15 issue No.59
The information contained in this book is priceless. The Arbachakovs successfully introduce readers to the world of the Shor shamans. This is a prized work for scholars in shamanism, Siberian folklore, and cultural studies. ~ Matthew J. Forss, Indigenous Peoples Issues and Resources http://indigenouspeoplesissues.com/index.php?option=com_content&view=articl
This 92 page tribute to the Siberian Shor Shaman was an amazing piece of history. I learned so much about very old spiritual practices and also about the lives of the men and women who performed them. It was amazing to actually see the rituals in print and to learn the meanings of them and why a drum would be used for one thing and a lash for another. I feel the authors did an excellent job of capturing the essence of these mysterious and interesting people, and I was amazed at the very deep and soulful looks coming from the photos. I would recommend this well told tale to anyone interested in learning about another version of the shaman way from loving and capable hands. Thank you both, for opening my eyes a little bit wider. ~ Riki Frahmann, Mystic Living Today
The publication of Alexander and Luba Arbachakov's 2004 study of Shamanism in their own community in Siberia is an important addition to the study of the anthropology and sociology of the peoples of Russia. Joanna Dobson's excellent English translation of the Arbachakov's work brings to a wider international audience a fascinating glimpse into the rapidly disappearing traditional world of the Shor Mountain people. That the few and very elderly Shortsi Shamans were willing to share their beliefs and experiences with the Arbachakov's has enabled us all to peer into this mysterious and mystic world. - Frederick Lundahl, retired American Diplomat and specialist on Central Asia and post Soviet Union countries. ~
This book is a most worthy contribution to our knowledge of Siberian shamanism, illuminating the shamanic traditions of the little-known Shor ethnic group. The documentation is all the more valuable since the research has been done and recorded by native Shor ethnographers so that the observations and language of the shamanic rituals are, without question, authentic and represent a true picture of historical traditions and current cultural adaptations. Particularly important for preservation are the interviews with, and observations of, Shor shamans who were practicing in the post-Soviet period, and the documentation and translation of their kamlanie chants. - Eva Jane Neumann Fridman, Ph.D., author of Sacred Geography: Shamanism among the Buddhist Peoples of Russia and co-author of Shamanism: An Encyclopedia of World Beliefs, Practices, and Culture. ~
I welcome the publication of this volume by Shor ethnographers on Shor shamans. Their insider insights are enhanced with shamanic texts and ritual descriptions collected in the nick of time, as knowledgeable elderly Siberian shamans of the magnificent Altai-Sayan mountains have been passing away. -Marjorie Mandelstam Balzer, Ph.D., Research Professor,Georgetown University, editor of the journal Anthropology and Archeology of Eurasia and the book Shamanic Worlds. ~