We derive the word shaman from the Tungus people of Siberia, now generally known as the Eveny or Evenki, which means "fast runners". I have been rereading an extraordinary book about the Evenki by anthropologist Piers Vitebsky, who lived with them and entered their culture, ecology and dreaming very deeply. The book is titled The Reindeer People: Living with Animals and Spirits in Siberia. It is beautifully written and offers a gift on every page.
We learn, for example, how anomalies in the natural environment are immediately scanned for guidance on what is developing beyond the normal range of perception. The Evenki read the world around them as a book of clues. "If they noticed an untypical pattern, or a striking analogy between two forms that were otherwise unconnected, they took this as a pointer to something significant in reality itself." The behavior of animals, both in regular life and in dreams, is studied for clues as to what is happening at a distance in time or space. It is considered an especially bad omen if a wild animal comes inside a tent. A dream of a wounded reindeer might portend the illness or death of someone. Predictive dreams are especially likely towards morning, when the dreamer is half-awake. For focused guidance, for example on which way to go on a hunt, the Evenki still heat the shoulder-bones of reindeer over embers and find maps in the patterns of cracks. Vitebsky reports step-by-step instructions by a shaman hunter on how to get this right.
I am greatly moved by the depth of soul connection between the traditionally shamanic Evenki and the reindeer - those they herd, and the wild ones they hunt. This extends to the bonding with individual reindeer who are chosen to defend the health and even the life of their humans. The reindeer given this role, in ritual bonding, is known as the kujjai. A Evenki may have a whole series of kujjai in the course of his or her life, as one after another gives its life to preserve that of the human. It is believed that the reindeer that takes on this role is a willing sacrifice.
"Nearly everyone who lived on the land had a kujjai, a reindeer that was specially consecrated to protect its owner from harm. When you were threatened by danger, your kujjai placed itself in front of you and died in your place...You then had to consecrate another reindeer to maintain the same level of protection...Only a reindeer could sacrifice itself knowingly and intentionally."
An Evenki reindeer herder told Vitebsky, "A kujjai is a very special kind of reindeer. Its
A kujjai can be consecrated by a shaman to protect someone at a distance. Vitebsky describes the simple ceremony by which a white reindeer was appointed to guard the life of his young daughter in England; he was to carry a photo of the kujjai back home with him.
I have seen a deer give its life for a human, and I have painted the Deer hanging on the cross, its heart open, as the willing sacrifice. I find it fascinating that a people who live so close to the deer have made this a ritual of conscious mutual bonding, for life.
I have read elsewhere, in Esther Jacobson's The Deer Goddess of Ancient Siberia, that in archaic hunting rituals the Evenki honored a form of the Antlered Goddess. Before a moose hunt, a shaman would go into the forest, to a sacred tree, to contact the female spirit of the land and ask for her help. She would sent the shaman a spirit ally that took the form of a giant cow moose or perhaps a giant woman with moose horns. The shaman would now rehearse a successful hunt with the help of his ally. The physical hunt that followed was believed to manifest what had already been accomplished on the spirit plane.
Piers Vitebsky, The Reindeer People: Living with Animals and Spirits in Siberia. New York: Mariner Books/Houghton Mifflin, 2006.
Esther Jacobson, The Deer Goddess of Ancient Siberia: A Study in the Ecology of Belief. Leiden: E.J.Brill, 1993.
Graphic: Reindeer rider from a collection of Evenki folk tales published in Novosibirsk in 1971.
Hello Robert, thank you for this interesting story about the Tungus people. Although I’m not really keen on sacrificing a real animal to protect a person.
When I started reading your story I first thought you were talking about a spiritual reindeer that protects a person when he’s in danger. For instance a reindeer someone met in a dream or shamanic vision. That sound more appealing.
Because you are writing about protection on this blog, I want to take the opportunity to ask a question about protection.
I have already told you a while ago that I have lost my dreams journal twice. Once in the periode 1990 - 1992 and 1998 - 2002
On of the dreams I can remember from 1998 - 2002 was a short dream about a man who dressed himself up as a policeman, traveled to an island, called together a group of children and then started to shoot.
When I saw the horrible attack at Utoya in 2011 I immediately had to think about my dream. Of course my intellect says this sounds a lot like hindsight, but my intuition says clearly, I don’t even have to doubt that this is real.
I know I didn’t lose my dream journals but they were stolen from me and this worries me. Especially after the horrible attack at Utoya. The people who have my dream journals must have seen this connection as well. But whether it’s indifference or pure malice, it’s no reason for them to give my dream journals back to me.
So, in case these sick minds have actually seen this connection and have an unhealthy interest in my person or my dreams, I want to ask you can you refer me to literature (of yourself or some else) about protection in this kind of situation?
I have already read: Conscious dreaming, Dreaming true and The secret history of dreaming.
Just a quick connection, as Riddley Walker would have it : the blason for St Hubert, the tutelary spirit of the Ardenne Forest (succeeding Ar-Duenna, or Diana) is this :
Riddley Walker (of the Russell Hoban invention) substitutes "The Little Shining Man" for the cross between the antlers ; this image also occurs in the story of the foundation of Holy Rood Abbey in Edinburgh by David I of Scotland.
As I said, just a connection :)
Hi there Robert and Ian,
Robert ~ I really enjoyed this blog post. Very profound and I had no idea about this relationship with human and reindeer in Siberia.
Ian ~ I'm so glad that you brought up Arduinna. This mainland Celtic goddess is mentioned rarely...although she did transform into Diana... Just glad to see a reference to her!
Be well, Lindsay
Ian -Thanks for bringing in Hubert. My primary association with that blason of the stag with the cross between its antlers has long been with St Eustace (aka Placidus). I still remember the thrill of recognizing that image on the facade of the church of St Eustace (Eustache) at the old Les Halles market in Paris before dawn many years ago.
We want to dream on Arduinna. I had associated her with the boar more than the deer, because of a single image of a female figure riding a boar like a horse.
James - This is not animal sacrifice, but the willing sacrifice of a very special animal.
I don't know what to say to you about your missing journals. I know I would be very distressed if any of my journals went missing, but would not rush to the conclusion that there had been theft or tampering.
Hi Robert, If the reindeer really chooses this role it’s of course not just an animal sacrifice. Although I wonder if a reindeer can make this kind of decisions. But I’ve never seen a reindeer with shaman eyes. That probably makes all the difference in the world :-)
I am 100% sure my dream journals were stolen. Over the years I have had multiple signs. In this period I have followed a study. At a time one of the teachers there literally repeated some sentences from my journal. If I hear someone literally repeated some sentences that I had written down I know enough.
Thanks a lot Robert for this blog.I'm searching for books on this subject and this seems to be one I could need. Just finished "Riding windhorses" by Sarangerel and a few others. I also read "Conscious dreaming" and "the only three things" (not at the same time of course). Try to prepare myself to the journey I'll take next year and I find much in your blogs I'm able to use for my spiritual journey. Grateful for all the guidance I can find. Thanks!
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