An Anthropology of Animism & Shamanism, 1






Shamanism & medicine among the Ladakhi



Ainu worldview



Revival of shamanism among the Sah^a


p. 139 "Belief in spiritual beings and shamanic tradition is neither a theory {hypothesis} nor the type of a doctrine, but ... is based on spiritual or supernatural experiences."

Chapters of Part 1





Spirit-possession & shamanism



Shaman’s se’ance



Dialogues in se’ance



Discussion & conclution


1.3 – pp. 8-9 illness-causing spirits




Medical sutras called Rgyud-bzhi mention 101 kinds of illnesses caused by evil spirits known as gdon. ... Eleven kinds of evils that cause illness – Klu ..., gdon, btsan, Rgyal-po, Sa-bdag, dam-sri, dri-mo, dri-pho, mtsho-sman, klu-bsen, and gnyan – are identified and distinguished by the state of a person’s pulse."

Malignant stars or planets in astrology are considered to cause an illness called gza>-nad which corresponds to epilepsy."

"Bdud-type evil spirits such as byung-po, smyo-pyed, dri-pho and dri-mo are


allied to mental illness states like half-madness".

1.3 -- pp. 9-10 possessing-spirits




"Spirits considered to possess humans involve two kinds of >dre ... and lha ... . ... However, among the Ladakhi the term >gong-rkyal ... signifies an individual who possesses others ... . Ladakhi ... point out that >gong-rkyal is usually a woman, and that ... in case of spirit-possession by >gong-rkyal, both the possessor and the possessed are usually women. People believe that a woman can more easily become possessed than a man, because she has a ... spar-kha ... . Spar-kha ... is ... commonly understood ... as something like one’s astrological star." {cf. neo-Platonic soul-star}

"possession by >gong-rkyal can be recognized by its frequent occurrence in the evening, by repetitive yawning, weird grinning, trembling and changes in face color."


"A second kind of >dre, shin->dre (the soul of the dead), ... possess humans ... . ... Those possessed by shin->dre (the soul of the dead) behave like a madman ... . Some recall that they felt stiff in finger joints ... . Another characteristic is that it tells easily who it is."

1.3 -- pp. 10-13 from patient to healer




"Klu-gyar denotes Ladakhi religious functionary ... who can permit a spirit to possess oneself at will. ... In fact, one lha-mo said that she ... often ...


felt like climbing to the top of the mountain, and smelt non-existent {praeternatural} incense sticks. ... Another lha-mo said that her ... psychic state was result of the possession by gson->dre ... . She spoke just like some other woman was speaking."

"One lha-ba narrated that he felt a sense of oppression in the joints for a long period. He frequently had ... dreams, in which he ... flew on horses in the sky. ... once he actually woke up at night roaming about." {somnambulism}


"Most lha-mo and lha-ba emphasized that they were immediately possessed by a spirit in the presence of Rinpoche. When a Rinpoche performs an invitation ritual (spyan->dren), good spirits may possess a patient easily ... . ...


Then, the Rinpoche will ask the patient to foretell the future ... . If his prediction is right, the possessing spirit is considered a good lha. ... Some patients ... may be possessed repeatedly even after the rituals. This is considered a sign that an evil spirit, >dre, is strongly trying to prevent the possession by lha ... . In such cases Rinpoche advises patients to undergo a rite called lha-phog conducted by a senior lha-mo or lha-ba. This is a sort of initiation, intended to separate lha and >dre and force possession by a good lha. ... Gradually through an apprenticeship under a senior lha-mo / lha-ba he is to be trained to be possessed not by a sudden attack but by his own volition. The ability to make a god lha enter oneself after performing an invitation ritua is considered ... the ability to control the god. ... One woman, after completing a lha-phog rite, was able to let a good lha possess her after performing an invitation ritual, but she could not become lha-mo since no one could understand what her lha spoke. {Pentacostal "speaking in unknown tongues"} Thus, to become a real lha-mo or lha-ba, it is necessary that the speeches of lha (i.e.


what one speaks in a possession trance) can be understood." {apparently, the Pentacostalist ecclesiastical office of "interpreter of tongues" is not in vogue in Ladakh} "Thus, lha-mo and lha-ba among the Ladakhi ... can enter into a trance state in reply to the requests of others. By the help of supernatural power, the power of the lha, they can divine the causes of ... misfortunes, extract defilement ... from the body of a client by sucking".

1.4 – pp. 13-14 paraphernalia & arrangement for a se`ance




"while reciting gser-skyems, a ritual of offering to the gods" :


held in __ hand by shaman

is __



"small drum, daru, shaped like an hourglass"



"bell, dril-bu"


"A knife, after being made red hot, is used in ritual treatment of ... diseases caused by the Klu spirit (Naga)." {cf. heated knife used in ritual in Togo}


"shaman’s costume :"

rigs-lna (5-lobed crown, having pictures painted on its lobes),

stod-le (large brocade collar),

smad-gyoks (long brocade apron).


"the shaman’s costume is the same as that donned by Buddhist monks in the funeral rites." {this costume is, however, of Taoist origin}


"juniper leaves is also considered to facilitate the possession by lha. In fact, the shaman generally gets possessed by sniffing ... the juniper leaves." {<arabian spirit-possession trances are likewise induced by incenses (rather than by music)}

1.4 – pp. 15-18 procedure of the se’ance




"After the altar is set up, an oil lamp is lit and the shaman begins to recite ... invocation ..., inviting lha to the place. ... Gradually the shaman starts to get the hiccups, sneezes, shrills "a! tsi! tsi!", or breathes hard. These are the signs of his/her becoming possessed by his/her own god, lha. While doing this, he/she begins to put on the shaman’s costume. ...


Now, the shaman is lha himself/herself, and starts to answer the requests of the patients one by one. The lha who possesses the shaman firstly is his/her principal lha. ... Thus, during the se’ance several gods come to possess the shaman in turn, according to the requests of the patients.In this phase, the shaman (now lha himself/herself) demonstrates his/her divinity by talking in uncommon fashions such as employing ... an unusual turn of expression. ... However, in actual fact he ... imitates Tibetan pronunciation. Therefore, since it is often difficult for patients to understand the speech of a shaman, an attendant who translates and explains the shaman’s speech is needed for the se’ance."

"kab-lung, the removal of a needle from the body of a patient. ...


This technique is rarely applied to a human patient, but usually applied to ill cattle, since most cattle diseases are believed to be caused by needle-eating." {needle in a hay-stack}


me-snags, "fire incantation. A knife is made red hot {cf. heated knife in ritual by the Ewe of Togo}, then the shaman (lha) first shows his/her power by putting the red-hot knife onto his/her tongue. Next, he/she holds the knife over the patient’s affected part, ... and spits there while reciting the mantra to expel from the patient’s body the malignant forces ... . Generally, this technique is applied to skin diseases, which are considered to be caused by Klu spirit (Naga)."


"mo, or divination by checking the pattern of rice grains scattered onto a small drum. ... He/she then reads the pattern of the scattered grains, and answers the client, saying, ... "If you go in this direction, then your object will be attained." Generally the answer of a shaman is only to suggest the direction of the solution to the problem." {the direction would indicate that [from the client’s house?] to a shrine where the appropriate propitiation may be made to the proper deity}


"Finally, after replying to all the requests of those present, the shaman begins to recite ... for sending off the lha, and meanwhile he/she suddenly begins to hiccup or to breathe hard, and then takes off the head-dress and lies on his/her face. At that point, lha is gone. ... . ... among the Ladakhi it is believed that lha himself/herself performs the se’ance. Accordingly, all the shamans stressed that they didn’t remember what had happened during the se’ance. They said they learned what was going on only afterwards by talking with their attendant."


"The people believe that in case of spirit-possession the possessed is transformed into the very spirit himself, regardless of whether the spirit is >dre (evil), >gong-rkyal (wraith), or lha (god)."

1.5 – pp. 18-21 routine curing in se’ance




"Ladakhi shamans generally perform a healing ritual on special auspicious days."


"Actually, whatsoever the requests of a patent may be, the shaman generally applies him the healing technique of sucking a defilement."


"After removing the defilement from the patient, the shaman finally recommends saying prayers and making offerings to ... a local deity called Rgyal-po (Landlord)."


"the female shaman ... advises him to make three statues of Rta-phyag-khyung ... and to perform a ritual for the Master of the Ground ... . ... . ... participants understand that it is necessary for them to dutifully perform a ritual for the Master of the Ground if they remain in the same house for a long period. ...

Rta-phyag-khyung is three deities of

Rta-mgrin (deity with a man’s body and a horse’s head),

Phyag-rdor (Vajra-pani) and

Khyung (golden eagle)".

1.5 -- pp. 27-28 discovery by she-shaman of a female candidate for novice shamanhood




"Responding to the shaman’s being possessed by a local god, lha, the girl began to be possessed by a spirit, and started shivering and screaming. ...


Thus, the spirit that possesses the patient has become revealed by the shaman to be the village god (yul-lha) of her village. ... Knowing that the girl is not possessed by an evil spirit, but by the village god, her relative has become convinced she could become a shaman. ... her relative begins to request that the shaman shows her the way to become a shaman. ... However, the shaman’s attendant indicates that the patient visit ... from whom a novice shaman in Ladakh generally obtains the first certification for becoming a shaman."

1.6 -- p. 32

"Once the possessed is given an initiation, then he is no longer a patient but becomes a neophyte klu-gyar. As a religious functionary, the klu-gyar is one who is able to control his possession and is trained in shamanic techniques. ... Thus, the klu-gyar are shamans."

BIBLIOTHECA SHAMANISTICA, Vol. 8 = Takako Yamada : An Anthropology of Animism & Shamanism. Akade`miai Kiado`, Budapest, 1999. [authoress, a woman]