Friday, May 21, 2010

Tracks of the shaman in St. Petersburg

My friend Louisa reports from St.Petersburg, Russia, on a new exhibition of artifacts of Siberian shamanism at the Ethnography Museum. She found the exhibits intriguing, but only sketchily explained. Some are labeled only as "shaman's ritual object", which Louisa translates as "we don't know what the heck it is".

Here's a sample of the correct attire for a young woman shaman of Siberia, with amulets infused with the energy of her animal spirits:



Here is my personal favorite from Louisa's gallery:



It is the figure of a shaman's bear ally, paws outstretched, ready to assist in healing. It comes from the Nanai people and was collected in the Khabarovsk region in 1927. The "healing hands" of this bear were held to be especially helpful in treating joint problems.

I was grateful to receive this image. Just before it arrived, I found I was having some trouble with my knees, so a healer of joints is a welcome visitor. I know something of what Bear can do in this field. When I suffered a serious knee injury a couple of years ago, Bear appeared to me as a healer in a powerful vision, cracking open the damaged part and fixing what was inside. I managed to avoid surgery - though the MRI showed I had severed a muscle in the quad - and the orthopedists were surprised by how fast I recovered near-normal functioning in that knee. "You're either very odd or very lucky," one of them told me. The other knee is the problem now; I'm open to Bear playing doctor again.



The tiger comes from the Udegei people of eastern Siberia, and dates from the late 19th century. The tiger is an important ally of Siberian shamans. This one was reputedly effective in treating paralysis.



The initiation banner of a young female shaman shows a gathering of animal powers in the Underworld. It belonged to a Nanai shaman around 1900 and was collected in Torgon-on-Amur.




This is a fur-trimmed fertility mat, fashioned by an Evenko shaman around 1900. A woman who had been unable to conceive was directed to sit on this mat and be open to spirit workings.

Given the brutal Soviet effort to suppress indigenous shamanism, well-chronicled in Anna Reid's The Shaman's Coat: A Native History of Siberia, it's good to have this evidence of the past that may give a hint of ways that are now reviving. Anna Reid reminded me that at the time the Nanai artifacts in the St. Petersburg exhibition were collected, the director of the Khabarovsk museum - where some of them were first housed - was a former army officer named Vladimir Arsenyev, who won fame (and the brutal enmity of Stalin's secret police)by writing a sweeping adventure, Deisu Uzala, based on his time among native Siberians. The title character is Nanai. In a key scene - brought to the screen many years later in a 1975 Kurosawa movie - the Cossacks who encounter Deisu in the forest mistake him for a bear and are about to shoot him before he reveals himself as a man.

7 comments:

Carol Davis said...

Thank you Robert. Thank you Louisa. The shaman's bear ally, who was held to be especially helpful in treating joint problems, reminds of something from my childhood. My mother suffered terribly from the ravages of rheumatoid arthritis, a painful connective tissue disease that attacks the joints, causing inflamation and deformities. It can attack and destroy cartilage. She had one of the worst cases I have ever seen. I knew it ran in families. One day, I repeatedly threw a ball against the wall, declaring my grief and anger over the suffering of my mother. I made an agreement with my body to never get this disease. It felt true, real.

Years later, in adulthood, I had swelling in the joints of my hands when I had a routine visit to the doctor. My physician at the time told me that she would run blood tests to check for rheumatoid arthritis as well as other rare forms of arthritis. I was scared and yet I thought it was impossible that I had rheumatoid arthritis because of the agreement made in childhood.

During that time I dreamed a magnificent brown she-bear brought me to her den. This bear was so big that I was like baby. In my dream I slept in the den, leaning against her fur. She licked me. I felt comforted. I awakened with certainty that the blood tests would be negative. I don't know what caused the swelling in my joints during those months but it went away. I did not and do not have rheumatoid arthritis.

Robert Moss said...

Dear Carol - Thank you for sharing this wonderful experience of how the Bear appeared as an ally to support that childhood agreement with your body. This is inspiring for all of us, and instructive in quite specific ways. What we impress on the energy body - through the power of intention - will change the behavior of the physical body. And it helps to have our intention reinforced by living images beyond the scope of the ordinary mind that the body can believe in.

The Bear came to you spontaneously, confirming a healing connection you have richly deserve. I suspect that for the clients of the Siberian shaman who used the bear carving, the Bear was transferred by the practitioner's power of suggestion. I would guess that the main uses of the carving were (1) to provide a kind of focusing device and generator for healing energy and (2) to offer a physical token of the healing available that would help to persuade the energy body or "low self" of the client that what was happening was for real, on the physical level, and let the power flow through.

Alla said...

Yes, I perfectly remember the movie and its hero - Dersu Uzala. The movie was famous, when I was a girl. The original name of the book was " In the Wilderness of the Margent of Ussuri" - something like that if to translate it. It wasn't a children's book; it was a big volume, a novel. This was one of my grandmother's favorites on her bookshelf. - The man was unbelievable; he lived in taiga, could survive there all by himself, communicated with tigers, spoke to ginseng, which he considered one of the greatest gifts for humans... The end was very sad, though. It influenced me a great deal in my teen age. Thank you for these memories, Robert.

Robert Moss said...

Alla - Thanks for bringing us that gust of memory, and a wind off the taiga.

Valerie said...

Thank you Louisa for the beautiful pictures of your journey. I ,too, took special note of the healer of joints. I dream I am supple and running through the forest like a sleek cat, although in my day to day life , I am still not that limber yet ! However, my tests continue to come back negative. I have posted a quote of Robert's on my fridge.."You cannot fight disease, you must turn on life" . Which will keep me running in my dreams until I awake and continue my run !

Nicholas Breeze Wood said...

Hi Robert,

thanks for posting - and I love the photos - hope you dont mind I pinched them for the Sacred Hoop shamanic photo libary - the Hoop eats photos and is always hungry :)

Many Blessings from the other side of the pond

Nick

Katarzyna Czarnik said...

I am a slavic black shaman, the she bear shamans of the slavs are female dominated in the past present and future, men never were bear shamans or alchemists. they stole fire, like all men