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95. Formal Characters Of Shamanism


The most important and characteristic condition which makes of an ordinary man a shaman is that he is a master of spirits, at least of a group of spirits. This relation is rendered by the terms ejen (Manchu Sp.), ejan (Bir.), ojan (Bin Kum. RTM.), ojon (Nerc.), od'in (Khin.). So the spirits call their master-shaman, naturally through the shaman's mouth. We have seen that the mastered spirits may be particularly malevolent and benevolent, and at any rate are not spirits-guardians, and the shaman is not «elected» by them. This aspect of shamanism will be clearly seen when details and «election» of the shaman are discussed. As to the treatment of «mastered» spirits, it naturally depends on the existing complex of ideas concerning relations between «master» and his «servants». According to the Tungus and Manchu complex, the master must take care of the spirits, feed them and handle them, when he wants to introduce them into himself. The difference between a shaman and amafa is thus essential. The latter knows how to bring the spirit into contact with the people, but he must fight him, and he is not a «master» of the spirits. On the other hand, the difference between a person who is possessed by spirits (e.g. manifested in some nervous and psychic troubles) and a shaman is also essential, for the shaman introduces spirits into himself at his own will, and when he wants it, i.e. the shaman uses his own body as a placing for spirits. A voluntary introduction of a spirit is also a characteristic of shamanism, but the spirits may also be called in and introduced into other people at their invitation. The same is true about the next step, namely, the expulsion of the spirits, which is beyond the power of ordinary people. Thus among the shamans a voluntary introduction and expulsion of the spirits are only particular cases of «mastering». Let me stress the importance of this difference which is great, when the election of the shaman is carried out, and which is realized by the Tungus who are always very careful as to the diagnosis, whether the person is possessed by the spirits or the spirits are possessed by the person. No Tungus or Manchus would recognize anyone as being a shaman, if the person could not possesses spirits in the above indicated sense.


In connexion with the above indicated element of the complex it may be pointed out, that the shaman must have several spirits possessing various qualities, the latter being used by the shaman when the spirits are introduced. Indeed, the number of spirits possessed is subject to variations. The shaman is supposed to have, at the beginning of his career, at least one spirit (usually, a complex one), with the help of which he may master other spirits, or at least know them. As a matter of fact, the shaman at the beginning of his career usually does not have very many spirits, but he masters them gradually. However, if the shaman should fail to master many spirits, which he needs for assuming their special power and using it as a means to fight other spirits, he would not be recognized as a real shaman by his clansmen and outsiders (agnak'i), and it is very likely that he would give up his practice of shamanism without any pressure of «public opinion. It may thus be stated that a candidate, before being recognized as a shaman, must have a certain minimum of mastered spirits. Therefore, cases when shamans were recognized and lost their recognition, because of their limited number of spirits, are met with among all Tungus groups. The Tungus and Manchus would say: So — and — so is a «small shaman». He or she is not a «real shaman». When the practice of shamanism is given up, because of the lack of new spirits, the person is said to be no more a shaman. The number of spirits that should be mastered depends, firstly, on the ideas current among the ethnical groups, e.g. among the Manchus the number of spirits is very great, as shown in the list of spirits (vide supra), while among the Northern Tungus it is much smaller; secondly, on the number of years during which the shaman has practised, for it is supposed that the number of spirits must increase. From observed facts I have inferred that among the Tungus of Manchuria the number of spirits with the beginners is five or six, while by the end of a good career all spirits are mastered directly or with the assistance of other spirits. As has been shown, the number of spirits is also a measure of the shaman's power: — the more powerful the shaman, the more spirits he has, and vice versa; the more there are spirits, the more powerful is the shaman. In conclusion it may be thus formulated: the shaman must have a list of spirits.


Among all groups various methods of dealing with the spirits are known. In the opinion of the Tungus, the knowledge of these methods is indicated by two facts: firstly, the shaman knows the spirits from which he may learn the methods of dealing with them, or he knows with which spirits he has to deal, because these spirits are mastered; and secondly, the shaman must know, from learning them, a series of methods of attracting spirits, of offering them sacrifice, and, generally, of dealing with them, when they are not attracted into himself. Since the complex of spirits (their characters and needs) is a complex created through the accumulation of elements by the previous generations of shamans, it is transmitted through the mechanism of tradition, consciously or unconsciously assimilated by the new shamans. Since a complex of methods, used when the shaman is free of spirits, is considered as obligatory for shamans, because of their effectiveness already verified by previous generations, this complex of methods is transmitted through the mechanism of tradition and must be known to the new shaman. Naturally, candidates who wish to become shamans, but do not know these methods, cannot be recognized as such, because it would be supposed that spirits known to the Tungus by their habits are unknown to such candidates. So among all groups there are elaborated complexes of methods which must be known to the shaman. This does not mean that the Tungus would not recognize shamans of other groups who do not know spirits of the given ethnical unit, just because of the difference in methods used. The Manchus recognize the power of Tungus shamans, although the latter know nothing about Manchu «rites» and methods, and the Tungus would not deny to the Manchu shamans their quality, but they would say that these shamans cannot deal with Manchu or Tungus spirits respectively. Yet, the requirement of knowledge of methods does not presume that these methods cannot be reinforced by means of new ones. As a matter of fact, the methods are changing, for newly mastered spirits may have their own ways and requirements. The common attitude is that the Manchu and Tungus like to see something new along the line of introduction of new methods brought forth with the new spirits. Shamans who introduce these methods are considered as «great shamans». another source of changes in the complex of methods used by the shamans, when they have no spirits introduced into themselves, is the alien influence. The Manchus and Tungus do not object to the introduction of a new method known among their neighbours, if the method is really effective and practicable. Thus the complex of methods for dealing with the spirits is gradually changing, but a part of it is always transmitted and serves as a condition for the recognition of the shaman's ability. It should be noted that in some cases the complex of methods may turn into a rigid system of ritual which is not a typical aspect of shamanism, but one of the visible signs of decline [516], while a free imagination of the shaman and his ingenuity in the invention of new methods is also limited and, when unlimited, may turn into an individual phenomenon beyond the ethnical recognition. It may thus be formulated: shamanism in its functioning in ethnical groups presumes at least partial acceptation of a certain complex of methods for dealing with the spirits, rites of sacrifice and prayers, also methods of introduction of spirits, with all complexity of this operation.


Among all groups here described and other ethnical groups, where shamanism may be suspected or its existence may be proved, various paraphernalia are found used by the shamans during the performances. It is supposed that without these paraphernalia shamanizing is impossible, and therefore the persons who have no such paraphernalia cannot function as shamans. In this way paraphernalia become an absolutely indispensable component of the shamanistic complex. However, the composition of this complex is very variable. In fact, the minimum which I could observe among the Tungus was a toll, a Chinese brass mirror with pendants, and a drum. The toll is necessary as a placing for spirits, while the drum is needed for the shamans' self-excitation, without which they cannot bring themselves into the state of extasy. Yet, the complex may attain great dimensions, when the shamans possess several costumes, e.g. for shamanizing with the help of the spirits of the lower world and of those of the upper world. These costumes consist of a complete attire: head-dress, coat, trousers, apron, shoes, all with accessories; a great number of placings for spirits, such as, among the Manchus, pictures of large size, as described in preceding chapters, several drums, etc. Indeed, when the shaman is supplied with all attributes of the performance, he may more easily attain his aim of mastering some spirits and fighting others. When the paraphernalia are limited, the shamans' power is greatly reduced, e.g. they cannot go into the lower world without a special costume, and such an expedition may sometimes be required by the situation, as we have seen in the case of spirits and methods. The importance of the costume and its composition depends on the character of this complex in the ethnical units. Among the Manchus the costume itself is rather simple, while among the Barguzin Tungus and Nerchinsk Tungus of Transbaikalia it is very complicated; among the latter a shaman cannot go into the lower world without a complete «harness», as they say, while among the Manchus a shaman may have only a special head-dress; occasionally he can even do without the special head-dress. So that from the point of viev of richness of the costume there is no fixed measure, but all depends on the locally or ethnically assimilated complex. As to temporary paraphernalia made for the occasion, and their variations with the ethnical groups, they depend on the character of shamanizing i. e. the kind of spirits and the individual character of the shaman, the kind of spirits to be mastered by the shaman, the degree of wealth of the unit and even that of the shaman personally. Some of them may afford to spend money and energy on making up rich costumes, while others cannot do it. It should also be pointed out that the forms of costumes are variable among the ethnical groups and within a group. Their variations depend on the same conditions as those of the methods, i.e. some elements and complexes are transmitted through the mechanism of tradition and compulsorily adopted by the individual shamans; innovations are introduced by the shamans either as a result of borrowing from the neighbours, or as a result of their own invention, always on the condition that the new elements do not come into a conflict with the pre-existing complexes. This process of increase of the old complexes may go parallel with the substitution of new elements for old ones. Thus, from the point of view of contents and variations the paraphernalia complex is not a stable, petrified complex, but its reduction to zero may be responsible for the disintegration of shamanism. As will be shown, such cases are actually observed among the groups which are not allowed by the local authorities to shamanize and among whom the paraphernalia are sometimes destroyed by the same authorities. Here it may be added that besides the permanent paraphernalia there are others made on every special occasion of shamanizing and used only once. Indeed, even without permanent paraphernalia the shamanizing may be carried out with a temporary equipment and costume ad hoc. Thus, the absence of permanent paraphernalia is not yet indicative of the absence of the complex of shamanism, but this condition is typical of the complex in the state of decline. I may then formulate that the shamanistic paraphernalia, in the form of a special dress, musical and other instruments, and placing for spirits, are indispensable elements of shamanism.


It can be stated that the practising of shamanism presumes that the shamans accept some theoretical basis of shamanism, i. e. a general theory of spirits, their particular characters, and the practical possibilities of dealing with spirits. However, this does not mean that every shaman is a theoretician who can explain everything that he or she is doing. Far from that: most of the shamans cannot explain many operations of shamanizing, and in many cases they are quite unaware of their performing a shamanism which is actually based upon a strictly elaborated theory of spirits and their mastering; — shamanism is a functioning of the ethnical units, the shamans are its organs. However, there are some theories and hypotheses which the shamans must know; they are: recognition of the existence of spirits; the possibility of their removal from one placing to another, including man; the possibility of mastering them in the above given sense. Naturally, every shaman must know what to do. The shamans must know the character of the mastered spirits and of those with which they have to deal. Indeed, some shamans are real theoreticians of shamanism, while some others have a rather limited knowledge of theory. The same refers to the knowledge of facts. It would not be exaggerated to say that among the shamans there are great encyclopaedists who are familiar with the spirits of other ethnical groups, while there are others who may know a very limited number of spirits with which they personally come into contact. Variations of theoretical interest in the problem of shamanism and variations of knowledge of facts depend on the individual character of the shamans, but the above indicated minimum of knowledge of theory and facts is absolutely indispensable for becoming a shaman. Therefore I may formulate as follows: the theoretical basis of shamanism, as understood by the shaman, is one of the formal conditions for the recognition of shamanism.


As far as I can see, this is the last formal character of shamanism. We shall later on see how a person becomes a shaman, but at present it will be sufficient to point out only some of the required conditions. When there is no shaman in the clan or in a settlement (or territory), a quest for shamanism appears. In fact, there may be many candidates for the position of shaman, but among them not all may become «shamans». As has been shown, the candidates must know certain methods, must have a certain number of spirits, must «master» them and must have a necessary minimum of theoretical and factual knowledge of shamanism. When the candidates have satisfied these conditions, they may be recognized as possible candidates. However, such a recognition is not sufficient for becoming a shaman. The candidates are required practically to show what use they can make of the spirits, and shamanistic methods; how deep their general knowledge is; whether they satisfy the moral requirements of the community or not. This may be shown in a series of performances for helping people in distress and confirmed by the general opinion as to the moral character of the candidate. When the shaman successfully passes through this period of his career, he may be assisted in making paraphernalia and in offering a regular sacrifice to the spirits. After these preliminary steps he may be recognized as shaman and the people may seek his assistance. Then he would function as a shaman. Among all Tungus groups there are many persons who pretend to be shamans, but they are not recognized as such by the other members of the unit to which they belong and do not become actually shamans, i.e. the people will not seek their assistance. In the greatest number of cases, in general, and in all cases among the Manchus, the shamans are connected with the clan organization. However, the shaman's belonging to a definite clan is not an absolute character of shamanism, for the clan system may be destroyed altogether, but shamanism may survive in the social units of different formation, e.g. in territorial units, villages, and even in groups of professional character. The chief condition is the existence of a group which distinguishes one of its members by bestowing upon him their confidence. Such a recognition is usually marked by giving the shaman a certain name of distinction which, at the same time, designates his functions, i. e. «the shaman». The term itself, as has been shown, is of secondary importance, but what is really important is the «meaning» which is connected with this term (symbol, still more restricted «starter»). Of secondary importance is the question as to whether the shaman's position is paid or not; is it a profitable occupation or an occupation involving personal loss. It may be formulated thus: an assumption of a special social position by any member of the community who takes upon himself the shaman's functions is one of the formal characters of shamanism.

The present section may be concluded by an enumeration of the essential formal characters indispensable for shamanism in full function: (1) the shaman is a master of spirits; (2) he has a group of mastered spirits; (3) there is a complex of methods and paraphernalia recognized and transmitted; (4) there is a theoretical justification of the practice; (6) the shamans assume a special social position. These characters of shamanism are met, with the exception of first two characters, in many other complexes which cannot be called «shamanism». For instance, in the phenomena of p'oyun and mafar'i of the Manchus we meet with all other characters, viz. special methods, paraphernalia, theoretical justification, and special position. The lamaistic priest also possesses all the above indicated characters. Therefore I shall call shamanism only those complexes which cover all above indicated characters.

516. It will be shown that among the Manchus the tendency of purification of the shamanistic methods is one of the conditions of the change of shamanism into a conventionalism of priesthood.

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