Sacred Geography


pp. 89-209 – III. "The Buryat-s"

shamanic practice & rituals in Buryatia




"According to the Buryat, the first shaman was an eagle ... . Since people did not understand his speech, they mistrusted him, so therefore the eagle asked the spirits either to loan him human speech or to transmit the official position to a Buryat. The good spirits vouchsafed him this request and upon their command the first shaman sprang from the union of the eagle with a Buryat woman".


"The Yakuts claim that the eagle eats the soul {cf. [Vaidik] bird-god Garu-tman ‘swallower of the soul’} of a child who has previously been designated as a shaman, then flies to the southeast where the sun shines in summer. There is a mountain meadow on which trees and grass grow; in the middle stand a birch and a larch tree, on one of which the eagle lays an egg and hatches it. He {She?} lays the child from this egg under the tree on the meadow and hands it over to the care of animals".


[Buryat gods] "These are ... the Eternal Blue Sky and heavenly beings, their children-khans (Bukhanoion, Khan Shargaya, Erlena, Bayan Khangaya, and so forth), the masters (eshin) of the earth, big rivers, lakes, mountains and islands – Angara, Lena, Irkut, Baikal, Ol’khon and so forth."

[tribes] "there were four Buryat tribal groups ... – Bulagat, Ekhirit, Khongodor, and Khori – and ... each Buryat tribe had its own ancestry – tengri (deity), totem, cult tribal leaders and ongons."



its tengri : __ Tengri


H^u:h^e Munh^e ("evening blue sky")


Budurgui Sagaan ("protector of snow")


Uurag Sagaan ("protector of dairy hosts")


Sah^ulgaan Sagaan ("protector of {from} ... lightning")



its totem


Bull (Buh^a-Noyon)


Swan (H^on-S^ubuun)


Fish (Nalima) : "varicolored Burbot"




Bulugat legendary chief S^argai-Noion is said to have "wrestled with the Mongolian prince," S^uuh^er-Noion. "The Bulugat tribes had the cult of the mountain Ukher-Mankhai, located not far from the present city of Ust-Orda."


"The Aginsk Buryats (Khori tribe) ... appealed for help to Lord Onon, Lake Baldjin, and the princely clan Bordjigin. ... It is also thought that the Khori Buryats had an ongon (god, ... sacred animal) Khoshongod, the protector of animal husbandry. ...

Ekhirit ... ongons can be ..., for example, the Ekhirit mountain and polecat".


[clan spirits] "Clan cults can also be addressed to a "fallen-down stone" (buudal) – this type ... is a meteorite ... . Shamanists consider these rocks as having expressly come down from heaven and therefore possessing supernatural properties. In Bokhan, at the foot of the Shamanka mountain, is located a large sacred stone, worshipped by the Gotol peoples. Members of the Sharaldaevski clan living in the locale of Kharane consider as sacred a large stone with an opening in the center {holed stones are also considered sacred by Kelts} and other clans have other meteorite stones on their localities which they worship for their supernatural qualities."


[spirit of ulus (‘settlement’)] "In each ulus there are spirits of lower categories, such as ada (bad spirits), bookholdoi (souls of dead people), anakhai (bad spirits), and dakhabari (souls of people who died young or of those hurt by fate). ... The Ulus Ulei of the Balagansk administrative region was famous for its 366 bookholdoi who had died at the time of an epidemic."


[family cults] "For domestic protectors it was possible to have living ongons : animals such as bulls, horses and goats who were dedicated to the heavenly deities". "Buudali, a word meaning "sent down from heaven", can be stone ... objects found in the woods or in the steppes ... . In the opinion of shamanists, these are arrows sent down by heaven and therefore supernatural properties ... . (We would possibly consider these objects to be archaeological artifacts ... .) When shamanists came across these objects, they ... with the help of shamans ..., ... conserved it in a special wooden column with a cavity."


[multiple souls] "the Alar Buryats believe that the human being has three souls – the first one lives in the skeleton {skeleton-dwelling soul is common tropical-forest South American Indian belief} but the second soul has the ability to fly around the world in the form of a wasp or bee, having flown out from the nose of the person during his sleep ... . The third soul ... continues after the death of the person in the body of a living being.

... the first soul is believed to disappear when the bones of the body have lost their substance, whereas the second soul is eaten or captured by spirits. If the second soul comes from an ordinary person, it will become a boxolde or ada after death but if it is the soul of ... a shaman it will become azayan (good spirit) and joins the group of white spirits. ... The second soul is the most sensitive to attacks by evil spirits. ... The second soul is also very easily frightened, particularly when it is the soul of a child. parents can entice the runaway soul of a child by offering it bread smeared with butter, then it will return."


[shamanic curing of the sick] "a special arrow is placed at the west post of the yurt. On the shaft of the arrow is tied a long red silk thread to which is attached a brass button. This thread is drawn through the door of the yurt outside into the courtyard where it is tied to a small birch tree. ... the red silk thread will serve as a guiding thread for the return passage of the lost soul. The door of the yurt stays open ...; near the birch tree a man sits and holds a very good saddled horse. ... the return of the soul will be first recognized by the horse who will begin to tremble and shake. Thereupon ... the soul will move along the red silk thread back into the sick person. ... The shaman asks the spirits to help the soul to return to the sick person; he starts to call for the return of the soul which has left the body due to fear. ... the sick person suddenly feels warmth flooding his whole body, and starts uninterruptedly to cry. All his relatives start to cry also ... . Everyone believes that now the soul has returned and the sick patient will become completely well. The shaman then stands on the white felt, takes the pail with the white milk drink and ... swings the pail around his head in a circular motion like the movement of the sun; eventually he ... begins call out for the soul of the sick person." The shaman then telleth to the sick’s soul the sick’s father’s name, mother’s name, the sick’s own name, spouse’s name; mentioning to the sick’s soul the sick’s children, siblings, horse, cattle, sheep, hound : all as inducements to the sick’s soul (heath) to return.


"If the sickness is the result of the soul having separated itself from the body, then the shaman has to inquire of the spirits about its place of residence. ... the soul has to be enticed back with a trick. Therefore the Buryat shaman ... takes a pail in which he had placed his arrow ... and some food which the sick person particularly likes to eat, and goes with this pail to the place where he believes that the soul has strayed. After some time the shaman returns with the enticed soul in the pail, which he then transfers to the sick person, who thereby begins to tremble and without fail begins to cry, since the soul cries out from joy having found again its original place of residence."


[legend about a (the 1st?) shamaness] "The girl herded the sheep and one day an eagle came and carried off a sheep. This occurred many times and then the girl realized that it was ... the spirit of her ancestors and therefore she was obligated to become a shamaness (udagan). ...


she became a shamaness at age seven ... . After her death she became a sable and a sayan, the protector of children from spirits. Because she became a sable after death, she was called Bulgata-ongon (sable-ongon). Her ongon is made from sable fur".


[legend of origin of sheep-scapula divination] "the original ancestor of the Buryats was given written legislation by a God. On his way home ... the Buryat fell asleep on a haystack. A sheep came to the haystack ... and ate, together with the hay the writings that were then imprinted on the shoulder blade of the animal."


[paraphernalia] "attributes of shamans, known historically, were ... a musical instrument the "xyr" (Jew’s harp), special thread made from hair used as an amulet to protect oneself against evil spirits, bells, and conical iron appendages ... . Skins of five different kinds of wild animals – ermine, squirrel, hare, Siberian polecat were used at the time of prayer and served as ongons".


[shaman’s corpse] "the Buryats laid the deceased shaman in a wooden coffin and placed this upon the branches of a spruce tree. Prior to his death the shaman designated the spruce tree and also the branch upon which his body was to be laid. ... the ancestor-spirit of the shaman appears to him and while telling him (in his sleep) of his forthcoming death, shows him the chosen spruce. The attributes of the shaman were ... hung on the branches of the spruce ... . The cover of the coffin has two openings that are intended for the exit and entrance of the shaman."


[shamaness’s corpse] "The corpse was placed on a special platform on a pine tree and then a fire was prepared in order to burn the shamaness’s body to ashes. At that time, the ashes were placed either directly in a hole in the pine tree, or else people made a box


and put the ashes into the box and into the tree, closing the tree opening with a door and replacing the bark."


[outdoors clan-ritual, in southern Buryatia, "for the Tsaagantan Khori clan"] "After each person was sanctified with artish (juniper branch), the members of the clan were given ribbons which they attached to a birch tree. This tree was cut and planted into the ground, changing the tree into a symbolic flying horse, a tree that also became the hitching post for the horses of the gods when they come to this place. Prayers and libations to the spirits followed with ... their blessings for this clan."


[outer & inner] "classical shamans have outer ongons and in trance they transform these into inner ongons. Mongolian shamans have outer ongons; Buryat shamans only inner ones. ... During the ritual of initiation, there is a reception of energy and wisdom and occult knowledge from the gods."


[sacred sites] "A circle of posts with colored fabric strip tied to them was standing ... on the steppe – the place where the spirits of the sky come down and tie their horses to the posts, each post for a horse of a different clan. Across from the posts was the Praying Mountain Mu:rgel-khada and the Old Central Praying spot. Here shamanists offer prayers to the spirits of the mountain and the sky. ... Up into the steppe ... was a large gray stone at a crossroads of two paths; offerings made to the stone provided protection for children, that they would grow up healthy. The location of the stone ... was associated with the mountain opposite ... sacred to a shamaness who had ... shown her somersaulting skills. ...


Posts to tie the horses of the spirits were still standing. ... behind that mountain ... is hidden the flashlight of the sky. [Elsewhere was] the homeland of Khagin-bukha, a very strong man. ... he ate of the meat ... of his mother’s breasts (he received magic power) ... . Only he could lift up a huge rock which was lying on three stones ... . Now, by leaning against this massive rock, sounds can be heard coming from inside the stone. Nearby, ... in an Alpine meadow, [stand] the posts for the spirit’s horses of five famous clans, represented by five famous shamans ... . ... On these shaman posts, the souls of the shamans are attached; some are turned into deers. ... Another post belongs to a shamaness. On a second pole is a representation of the standing figure of a man on a mask. This mask was worn only at night when the shaman put soot on his face and appealed to the spirits of war."


[clan-ritual on mountain] "tailagan ... to honor Khan Shargai-Noyon, Shara-Teche and Bukha-Noyon which took place in the Ulus Sakuley ... . Buryats from the sub-section Khutartan from the tribe Olsoy gathered on a mountain top. ... Nine birch tree, specially cut for this ceremony, were stuck into the ground. ... Then eight foals, for Chan-Shargai-Noyon and four for Bukha-Noyon and a male goat for Shar-Teche were brought in. ... It was a ... night in July and the elders, upon seeing Venus in the sky, remarked "There goes Sobon-Tengri for a walk!" Solbon-Tengri {"Ukha-Solbon-Tengri" in B, sect. 15} is a deity who protects horned cattle ... . ...


The shaman ... shamanized ... and ... the spirit of Bukha-Noyon entered into him. ... he began to utter sounds which were like the bellowing of an ox : thus spoke the spirit of Bukha-Noyon through the mouth of the shaman. ... After some time Bukha-Noyon slowly neared the seated people, pawed the earth with his feet, thrust with his horns and so on. Approaching ... the people, he began to jab every Buryat and thereby gave each the pleasure to be themselves in contact with Bukha-Noyon. After all the Buryats had been thrown to the earth by Bukha-Noyon, he went to the birches and touched them, and declared ... that this year will be an auspicious one."

B = article "Buryats", in James Hastings : Encyclopedia of Religion and Ethics. 1908.

personal narrations & biographies in Buryatia




The shaman’s costume is weighty "due to the heavy iron ornaments hung upon it. His cap ... had two eyes made of cloth appliqued on front of the cap; these eyes symbolize the eyes of the shaman’s helping spirit who can help the shaman to see and to remember ritual. The 13 ... little branches {tines} of antlers ... function as antennae for contact with spirits and the cosmos. The horn-like shapes on the shoulders of the garment represent powerful ongons (representations of spirits). The mask is Obgaldai, a powerful spirit. ... His headdress ... with its protuberances allows the spirits and the energy of the cosmos to enter into the shaman through the horned antennae. ...


[This shaman] first saw visions and hallucinations, the signs of a shamanic "sickness" when he was age 13. His shaman’s illness was described as very difficult, his head whirled, he had "shaman craziness" and addressed himself to a shamaness ... . ... He has more than 100 spirits whom he can call upon, and he has attained the highest degree of shaman, having had 13 initiations. ...


He also uses his iron crutches {cf. Daoist saint with crutches} in trance to ride to the sky on a horse. After he received his 13th initiation he began to have wonderful dreams and had the ability to contact Tengris (heavenly deities) in the sky quite directly. In the area of Lake Baikal and in Mongolia there are fifty-five good deities of the West, forty-four bad deities of the East and thirty-three Tengris of doctrine. ... "There are 9 Albins – evil spirits – dwelling in the Lower World. Each is in charge of a definite harm. For example, ... bad attitude to wife and family". In order to drive out the latter Albin he uses camel’s grass, a tumbleweed plant".


"Every person when he is born has his own program of life; a clear-sighted person ... can read another person’s program. When he does healing, he can see every organ in the body and diagnose what organ needs to be treated. ... Every organ in the body ... has its position. The lines in the hand which show the positions of the organs can be moved, spread, and deformed. ... people who live a long time see short lives of their children and grandchildren. ...


In his dream [the shaman] flies to heaven and speaks with spirits and goddesses, and heavenly meetings take place. ... At this meeting there were Upper-Sky Tengris".


"Shamans ... have three different auras – high, middle, and low. There are three worlds (Upper, Lower, and Middle ...) and three souls : the shadow soul, the thought soul which dies together with the person, and the free soul which flies around after death and merges together with other new souls. ... She diagnoses by seeing clearly. She looks at the person and determines the disease by "shaman’s sight." ... She ... can also tell by the aura of a person whether they have a problem. There is a difference between a healthy aura and a sick aura ... . ... If a person is sick, his aura moves. ... She can tell information from the cosmos. ...


In that area, northwest of Ulaanbaatar, there was a shaman mountain where there were burial of shamans; ... enormous energy comes out of that mountain ... . ... Nearby was the area with 108 springs for different diseases. On one side of the mountain the springs were very hot; on the other side cold ... . There was a special map showing which springs should be used for a specific disease ... . They prayed also to the Master of the Spring ... which bubbled up when she said "come" and otherwise does nothing if you are quiet. ...


Another group of shamans are to be found in Darhat area, near Lake Khubsugul, about 60 km from Tuva, in northwestern Mongolia. Those shamans ... depend on ongons (spirits of dead shamans) and cosmic forces. ...


She was dressed in her usual working clothes : a special dark blue silk vest with gold trim, a blue scarf (of the type used for offerings) and prayer beads around her neck, an iron bracelet (worn by shamans as protection) and a small black cap {Daoist?} on her head. She also wears the shaman’s mirror {this is Daoist} while working, but would not let me photograph her wearing that item (nor let me photograph her while she is talking to her spirits, for fear of offending them, her spirit "will get angry"). ...


She prayed with her bubin (drum) and its bells in order to draw the attention of the spirit. ... She prayed into a bag of salt {Catholic "salt of exorcism" (BW)} the woman had brought and told her to put something under her arm. ... [Another] woman ... brought ... a white item wrapped in a blue cloth. This was the "tele dukh" – the body of a spirit, similar to raw pastry. [The shamaness] cut it and poked holes in it with a little knife. She put incense sticks into it, lit them, and then rolled it up, put it in a jar which the woman brought together with herbs and grasses and wrapped the whole ... . This procedure was done in order to cleanse the energy channels of the woman by shamanic methods. During a ritual for a dead person the patient had gotten a special negative force which came from a different place, and therefore a ritual of cleansing ... was necessary to eliminate the negative information. ... there was a mountain she visited in Mongolia where a shamaness, Ondagan, was buried. After 10 pm in the evening (in the summer) everyone can see her, even those who can not see


clearly. The master of one mountain and the master of another mountain all come here. [That shamaness] prayed ... and the figure appeared ... – a large triangular white shape, floating above the trees near the mountain."


"Even when she was a child, she could see a light around people. Once she saw a shabby, unfriendly looking man on the street and saw inside him like a holographic image; she saw another good person inside his body. ... Tunka region, southwest of Irkutsk, also mountainous, is another area rich in shamans who intercede with the spirits of the mountains."


"At the other end of the table was his huge bearskin ongon, rising tall ... on a wooden structure. Flags, one of them with a symbol of a white horse and a rainbow, decorated the top of this structure. From a bar in front of the bearskin, skins of smaller animals hung down, all ongons. ... at his entrance gate was a flag, indicating that this was the residence of a shaman."


"According to the symptoms, he decides what god to pray to. ... at such moments of ecstasy, spirits help and tell him which prayers to use and which words to use."


"his shaman items" : "tole (mirror), hat with deer antlers like a crown and also a shaman’s coat with different metal objects – animal teeth and metal items, shaman signs of wolf, eagle, black horse, oxen and lizard -- ... all the animals that helped him become a shaman and were his spirit helpers. ... [Concerning the death of his praedecessor,] When he was dying, he asked to be buried in white clothes and brought to his burial spot by a white horse. ... When he was six he had a shaking fit, trembling from head to foot for several hours. ... He took the shape of a soap bubble floating above the earth. When he was up in the sky, he saw the great oval of the earth, with moss or lichen in between. Then he became 1000s of bubbles and the spirits began to revive him. They asked all kinds of questions and someone else answered, flying out one end and returning into another. One hair of his head felt like a huge city. It was easy and light above, but the world is hard; ... people do not wish to return to earth. ... The white eagle is the Ambassador of Heaven and the Ambassador of the Underground is a Varan (a giant lizard). ... He walked alongside a mountain and felt strange feelings of strange horses. He heard their stamping and the shouts of a person already dead. By tradition, he had a knife, lantern and cane with him. ... He heard strange noises and felt a sensation along his spine. Knowing his peoples’ traditions, he knew that he would lose his soul if he


shouted. He stamped cane on the ground, turned back and saw a black horse with white teeth and then it disappeared. When he came home, the old men ... told him that this special sign indicated that he must become a shaman. ... They said that in their tribe there had been a young shaman who could levitate on the skin of a black bull. ... Transmission of shamanic knowledge ... moves through nephrite stones, hidden in the rocks. ... traditional shamanic prayer ... :

Fiery foremother

Come down from Heaven as bright lightening

You are born from light of Sun

... to see the spirits of fire one should be alone in the taiga ... . Look at the fire and only on the fourth day look for figures in the fire."


"tailagan rituals ... for three great spirits – Oikhoni-baabai, Shubun-noed, and Insimei-ezen".

BW =


BIBLIOTHECA SHAMANISTICA , Vol. 12 = Eva Jane Neumann-Fridman : Sacred Geography : Shamanism. Akade`miai Kiado`, Budapest, 2004. [wife of Jonathan D. Fridman]