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128. Individual Conditions For Becoming Shaman

The formal conditions of transmission of shamanship and «teaching» have minor importance as compared with the individual characteristics of the candidate — the potential ability to master spirits, the condition of health, and the desire to become a shaman. From the description of the psychomental condition of the shaman, in general and during the performances, which will be given later, and from the previous description of the systems of spirits and performances it is evident that not every one may become shaman. Some observed cases follow:

CASE 1. In 1915, in one of the Manchu villages near Aigun, a case, which may be regarded as typical, was observed. (I give a translation) «A woman's grandfather «and father were shamans. Both of them died and left spirits (vochko). The spirits entered the woman and «began «to tremble» (as the shamans do). A new shaman «must be made (people said). However, the clansmen «did not want it. Then they invited a shaman who investigated the case, interviewed the spirits and declared that a trial must be made, perhaps somebody else of her clan — a man or a, woman — may become a shaman too. The clansmen agreed to wait, in the meantime the spirit again «entered the woman and carried her into the forest, into the mountains. The clansmen rushed after her, but she quickly climbed up a tree, and sat there on the very top of it. The men could not get her down and returned home. Then she disappeared altogether, and only after eight days of absence she returned home, and said: 'I was all the time at home', while actually she had been absent. Then she refused to eat and drink. Now she must become a shaman, in the course of a year all which is needed -«the costume, the wooden instruments, and a spear — will be made for her. Then there will be a sacrifice to her spirits — a pig and some Chinese bread. During this year she will be attended by an old shaman who will teach her.»

This case is very simple. The spirits persecuted the woman. She wanted to become a shaman and acted according to the candidates' model — she trembled, ran away, climbed up a tree, refused food, «forgot» everything. It looks much like a case of hysteria, in a heavy form. There were no other candidates and so she had to become shaman, after a special training. That served as a treatment for herself and relieved the clan of the spirits which might have done the same with other clansmen.

CASE 2. This includes several instances of candidates. I shall give here the history of the shamans in the clan sakda (also sada in Manchu Sp.) recorded by me and given here in translation.

«The great grandfather had been chief of a regiment (gusaida, written as gusa'i'da). He had a horse. The chief spirit juang feng laoje (of Manchu pronunciation) wanted this horse (as a spirit carrier, or perhaps as a sacrifice for the liberation of the horse's soul needed by the spirit) which the chief knew from his dreams. The chief refused to give it. The horse immediately fell dead. The chief went out of his mind; he assailed people and screamed. The shaman said that the chief must become (literally: learn) a shaman. The chief refused. He began to jump up to the ceiling of the room and to stand legs up and head down. (Then) he agreed to become a shaman. The shaman and four assistants (jar'i) initiated him, as «they used to do it in the yamen (i.e. with deference to the «chief's rank) in this clan no shaman outsider can initiate, and generally the clansmen are not allowed to seek assistance of foreign shamans. — During the initiation the spirit (vochko) said that they (the clansmen) must not go to the shamans who belong to other clans. The spirit insisted upon giving him a red-hair horse which was actually bought for the high sum of one hundred taels. (Thus the chief (Thus the chief became a shaman.) The spirit was very strict and mischievous, and it did not like other shamans. The latter fought against this spirit for a long time and owing to their (the shamans') intrigues the new shaman-chief died. Before dying he asked that incense (ajen x'jen) be burned during three nights and days and that he should not be buried before three days had elapsed. His lame younger brother did not comply with this request and ordered the burial to be effected on the first day after the death. This was done. The next day five clansmen suddenly died. The second day two more men died. On the third day the lame younger brother went to the tomb of his senior brother. One could hear sounds of trinkets (of the shaman's belt) and or the drum. When the tomb was opened, the dead chief was lying as if he was alive, with a red race. The lame younger brother cut the throat of the chief with a spade. The chief was again buried. Every year (since that time) the clansmen were sick, the people ran mad. A clansman recommended to create a new shaman. The clansmen gathered and slaughtered three oxen. The spirit came into a clansman and he drank (naturally, the man) a bucket of (fresh) blood. This was k'joyun vochko (the kite spirit», which can eat the whole liver of an ox; after eating, the shaman must leave his assistant, and if he falls down without being able to keep on his legs, the sacrifice is considered as rejected by the spirit). When the grandfather (who succeeded the great grandfather) died, many people again fell ill. Another shaman declared that a new shaman must be initiated. Many people gathered, and a man from every class (jalen) put on a shaman's head-dress. They went out and, carrying on the initiation a long time, remained (in the temperature far below zero F°) in the frost. Many of them could not stand it and ran away. The spirit descended into one of them and declared: 'don't initiate new shamans, during the winter season, do it in spring' (However, they missed doing it in due time and) now the Chinese authorities don't allow them to do it.»

The cases are different. The first shaman, probably after or during the division of the clan (vide infra, also SOM), had become insane, which condition was connected with nightmares (the spirits requiring a good horse) and fits (attacking the people, standing on the head). Temporarily he was relieved by becoming a shaman, but the mania of persecution obsessed him (he fights other shamans) and falls into a continuous coma. It is likely that he was buried alive and later killed by his brother. This act produced periodical mass psychosis until the clan established a new shaman — a member of the junior generation. After his death mass psychosis again appeared, but they did not know whom they might select and left it to the spirits on a trial in the cold. Since that time winter psychosis ceased.

Now I shall give some details as to the splitting of this clan and the formation of complexes of spirits, also other details which will be needed later.

«In this xala (clan) two big subdivisions are distinguished: amba (great) sakda xala and ajige (small) sakda xala. The complexes of spirits are different. The amba sakda has also three mokun (i.e. the present exogamic units, actual clans). The spirits are the same, but the rites and 'words' are different. The great shaman is allowed to perform the ancestral rite (sakda xala amba saman vechem'i p'oyun vochko) and there are seven bunches of day-road spirits (inengi nadan sorgon) and six bunches of night-road spirits (jamj'i ningun sorgon). The shamans are allowed to act only within their own mokun, and the other shamans are not allowed to assist the sakda — clansmen.»

CASE 3.1 observed the case here given in all details during nearly two years. The Manchu clan wujala was in the Aigun district. The great grandmother had been shaman. The «grandmother» had been a great and good shaman. She transmitted the shamanship to her son who died soon. Then her nephew became shaman. He held also the position of an official in the Manchu Bannermen organization. However, soon after becoming shaman, he was executed by order of the Governor General (in Tsitsihar), being accused of spying in favour of the Russians. According to my informers this accusation was groundless and was due to intrigues of the Chinese (not Bannermen!), the spirit were thus left without a master for twelve years. The error of the late shaman's son, whom I know very intimately and whom I shall designate as A, was that in due time he did not burn the image of his father and did not make a sacrifice, so that his soul could not regularly proceed to the lower world, while it could not become vochko (spirit), for the shaman had been decapitated, in addition to the troubles done by the spirits, the soul of the shaman was also disturbing the clansmen. The shaman's wife, an old woman of over sixty years, and his two sons, A and B, both married, were worrying about the soul of their husband and father. The situation was complicated by the fact that the elder son's wife had been in intimate relations with the unfortunate shaman and had a son by him, while her husband was married to her, at the age of 11 or 12 years, when she had already been about twenty years old. For a long time no sexual intercourse between the young boy and the adult woman existed. The details as to the hysterical condition of this woman were already given (vide supra). Indeed, she not only lost the man whom she loved, but she could not settle her relations with her legal husband, and she was also a transgressor of social customs (vide e.g. SOM). Her psychomental condition was thus exceptionally favourable for an extreme tension in this situation. Moreover, her grandfather and her father had also been shamans. The woman, whom I shall designate here and in the following description (Section 131) by the letter C, had already quite suspicious fits in which she was visited (entered) by the soul of her lover, the deceased shaman, the father of her legal husband. She did everything which happens to the candidates; she ran away into the forest, climbed on trees, refused food, «trembled» etc. Being put in exceptionally favourable conditions (which will be later explained) to observe her without being disturbed by the presence of other persons, I was witness of several fits, during which the most typical picture of hysterical character, with strong sexual excitement, was beyond any doubt: she was lying on the stove-bed in a condition varying between great rigidity («arch») and relaxation; she was hiding herself from light (the experiments were repeated); there was temporarily loss of sensitiveness to a needle (several experiments in different parts of the body at different moments); at times continuous movements with the legs and basin were indicative of a strong sexual excitement. Her cognition of reality was rather doubtful, for during her fits she did not recognize persons being around her. However, from time to time, or at least at the end of her fits, she was quite conscious of her surroundings and before a fit she looked for isolation and for a certain comfort for herself during the fit (choice of a stove bed).

The husband of this woman and a great number of influential clansmen were against her becoming a shaman. The chief reason was evidently her social position (her relations with the deceased shaman were naturally known) and the character of her fits, in the decipherings of which the clansmen were not mistaken -she was not visited by the spirits (vochko) but by the shaman's soul. Her husband was very angry, when she pretended to have a spirit, and he even proposed to take it up himself. But she (the spirit) insisted A could not be a shaman. A's formal objection was that if she becomes a shaman, she would trouble the people, she would not stay at home, and it would be very costly to support her (which, by the way, he did not do!). But she wanted to become a shaman and the spirit — not only the shaman's soul -insisted upon a settlement of the situation; she had already experienced visits of the spirits for more than a year. The other clansmen rejected her, because they considered it shameful for the clan to have a woman-shaman, believing the male-shamans to be cleverer and to «know» more than women-shamans.

There was another candidate, the younger brother B. The clansmen planned first to make him shaman. After a long sickness of B, about a year before the spirits (vochko) had entered him, about the same time as they entered the woman C. Several times B visited an old grandfather (a senior of the shaman's clan) who knew cholo and kooli (list and ritual) of the spirits. After the execution of the shaman, there was nobody who saw performances, and many old men had already died. In fact, as will be shown, the grandfather knew everything about the clan shamanship. The candidate B was, seemingly, in all respects a normal person, but he was neither a worker, nor an honest man, according to some Manchus. In spite of this, the clansmen evidently wanted him to become shaman. Perhaps the entering of the spirit into him was a ritualistic performance.

Since the situation presented difficulties for a simple solution, it was decided to organize a trial of the two candidates, one of whom should be elected and the other rejected and cured.

This case shows candidate C with her disturbed sexual complex, perhaps justified by hysteria, and candidate B who seemingly was an impostor, urged on chiefly by «public opinion». This picture will be clearer when the performance of the election is described.

CASE 4. The Khingan Tungus. in the clan bajagir there had been some shamans, but all of them had died. The nearest candidates now were from the youngest generation. However, there were several persons who felt an inclination to become shaman. The son of the late shaman, who had died long before, was a man of fifty-two years. He was not an average Khingan Tungus, but an exceptional person — he lived chiefly on theft of horses from the Russians and Mongols. He had been caught and badly beaten by the Russians several times. Practically, he had given up hunting. In spite of this he had been appointed by the local (Mongol) authorities to be one of the three official chiefs of these Tungus. He was very proud of his official position and he wanted to produce an impression on foreigners by his standing. If this produced no impression, he wanted to impress with something else, including the fact that he might become a shaman. He was much inclined to drink, and when he could get alcoholic drinks, he consumed them immediately to a complete intoxication, after which he became extremely arrogant. When he was sober, he was rather restless. He was not honest (although robbery might be a profession without affecting other elements of the «moral» Tungus complex), inclined to lie and to terrorize his clansmen and other people. At the time of the observation he suffered from parasites (and big worms) which affected his digestive tract, gums and lips. The attitude of the other Tungus towards him was not favourable, so he lived apart with only the members of his own family which consisted of children from two wives and some other relatives; altogether there were more people than a Tungus wigwam can shelter, so they lived in two tents, all these people on his income chiefly from robbery; the other members of the «family» did not work. As compared with other people of this group, they were rather poorly dressed and badly fed.

The man could not become a shaman, for he was too old -apparently he had missed the favourable time — and because of the negative attitude of all clansmen; but he had a definite inclination for shamanship. I observed him several times in his attempts to carry out performances. The mood came in the evening, after a day in a depressed psychic state. He had no drum (he had owned one but in the state of intoxication he had broken it), so he used an enamelled basin a instead of «horses» he used a whip; instead of the head-dress, he used an ordinary kerchief to cover his eyes. He ordered his wife and the other women to assist him, which they did reluctantly; they repeated the refrains unrhythmically, talked among themselves about various things and generally were indifferent to the performer's efforts. He wanted to find out who would kill animals and when (at that time there was an important period in hunting Cervus Elaphus with fresh antlers, but he himself did not hunt); he asked the spirits to send animals. During these performances, he fell on the ground three times, his body rigid, grinding his teeth. Then he was asked several questions, but his replies were incoherent. No extasy could be produced, not even after heavy smoking of tobacco and drinking of alcohol diluted with water. The performance failed: he felt miserable and tried to avoid speaking about himself or his performance. Members of his family, including his son, had the same feeling.

The son, a young man of over twenty years, was also a potential candidate for shamanship, for he was a grandson of the deceased shaman. He was proud of his father's position and mode of life. He had some income from Russian settlers who gave him some money and food (to be left alone by the father who was a local representative of the authority). He was a liar, inclined to sexual pleasure, an impostor, altogether an impertinent youth. His position in the clan was still worse than that of his father. He was not a hunter. From time to time he had sudden changes in his mood: he would become oppressed, very submissive and haunted by all kinds of visions. He complained of a feeling of heaviness in his heart, when the spirits of his grandfather entered him; but no extasy could be produced. At other times, he lost his head, became arrogant, unreasonably aggressive, restless and even ready to commit some foolishness, e g. once, being dissatisfied with me, he asked me to kill him immediately. No attempts at shamanizing had been made. The father was against having his son to become a shaman; he wanted him to take up the position of a chief, for which purpose it was planned to present him soon to the governor general to be appointed kavan (petty official rank). The father planned to make a shaman of one of his brother's sons a child of about ten years at that time. For this reason and in imitation of Buddhist monks the boy's head was shaven. (This was not usually done with candidates but the father was looking for something very distinguished and marked in all of the boy's activities.) For the time being there was no other candidate in the clan and outsiders might take up the spirits.

This case was interesting as a failure to become shaman, in spite of a great inclination. The causes were different in the father — the personal deficiency and the advanced age so that the attempts at shamanizing turned into a simulation or the classical hysteria and it was an imposture; in the son — the attempts were checked by the father who would not allow any contradiction to his will. Furthermore both men were in an unfavourable position in the clan to be recognized as shamans. However, under some conditions both of them might have become shamans.

* * *

From the above given facts it is evident that there are certain psychomental individual conditions which are favourable for the candidates who would assume the functions of a shaman. There may be a general disposition in the clan, when many members affected by the spirits and several young men and girls run away and perform what is required as signs of the presence of spirits, and there may be individual cases in anticipation of a mass psychosis. Since there are tree spirits, these may be taken by any one of the young clansmen, but there must be some indications or motives I shall now quote some of such cases.

A man may become a candidate to shamanship if for example, he had been hurt by a whirl-wind. However, in some cases the candidate may be rejected on the ground that he cannot master the spirits (among the Reindeer Tungus of Manchuria). A girl of fifteen was entered by a clan spirit, so it was decided to teach her how to distinguish questions asked by the assistants; this was done by an old shaman and she became a shaman (now she is forty); if she had not become a shaman, her arms or legs or neck, or back would have been crooked for life (among the Khingan Tungus). A girl was in love with a married man; their relations were interrupted by the interference of the mother and wife of the lover, and the girl suffered greatly; then she was entered by a spirit and became a shaman (among the Birarchen) A young man, while hunting, was frightened and entered by a spirit of an unknown origin; he was sick for a long time but the spirit always returned; then he became a dona shaman and gradually took in several spirits (among the Birarchen)

In a great number of cases when the spirits are free and there is no shaman, the Tungus and Manchus look for a candidate. A child who has dreams, different from ordinary ones, who is subject to strong emotions, change of mood, and in general, when his behaviour is not like that of other children, is supposed to be a candidate, especially if there had been some shaman in the direct lines of ancestors. Such a child may be told of the possibility of becoming shaman and is gradually prepared. At the age from sixteen to twenty the first entering of the spirit occurs prior to this the youth refuses food, walks and wanders about aimlessly and without purpose; he or she may have changes of mood — sometimes being very gay and joyful, sometimes silent and depressed, sometimes sleeping too long, sometimes unable to sleep. After two weeks or more, during the sleep, usually at night, the youth jumps up of the bed and begins to sing like shamans do. If a real extasy occurs, the youth is considered as a future shaman. In all similar cases the individual is gradually prepared and the first extasy is especially announced by irregularity of sleep and of the required food. Such is the most common case practiced among other groups, as we have seen in Case 4 and Case 3.

In examining the cases of successful shamans and failures, as well as a great number of cases which are not described here, we may now point out that the age, sex and psychomental conditions of the candidates reveal some tendencies to be noted. First of all, the greater number of cases of becoming shaman falls on the age of maturity. I have never heard of people becoming shamans prior to the age or fifteen years [645]. On the other hand, the candidates are exceptionally rare after the age of complete maturity (physical and social). These cases are usually connected with individual psychomental troubles produced by various cases and, as will be shown, most of such people, after becoming shamans, continue to manifest psychomental troubles.

It is difficult to define the principal condition of age for the election in becoming shamans in fact, there may be different causes. Doubtless the learning of shamanistic methods requires a long time, so that the shaman must spend several years, before he can treat people and be a good shaman. But the theories may have a great influence also: for instance, the idea that the candidate can appear only among every second generation. Moreover, the individuals, at the early years of sexual maturity, are more susceptible to the psychomental disequilibrium, which is also true of cases of adult persons who live in physiologically abnormal conditions (Case 8). The social position of candidates is also a factor of importance, because a man or woman who must look after the family («the principal worker»), has a feeling of responsibility, and there is no leisure for concentration in matters beyond the daily work. It seems to me that the early age of candidates may be conditioned by various causes, some of which may be mere adaptations, while others may be fundamental conditions. Perhaps such fundamental conditions are the psychomental susceptibility during the period of sexual development and the social position, of such kind that individuals do not carry responsibilities as members of families (as economic units). No general preference as to the sex of candidates can be statistically established, for there are tendencies among some groups in favour of one of the sexes. A preference for males is natural in all groups, based on agnatic relationship in clans, for the women go away. However, if there are clans bound by dual organization and if the clans have the same complex of spirits, this consideration has no importance. However, a preference for males may originate from another consideration, namely, as will be shown, that the female-shamans do not perform at all during pregnancy and the first weeks after the delivery, also during the few days of menstruation every month, so that the female-shaman cannot help her clansmen at any moment, when she might be needed. One more consideration exists; according to the Tungus assertion, females are physically less resistant than males and therefore they cannot carry out very long and difficult performances. In accordance with three conditions it may be noted that among the old (fe) Manchus female-shamans are few. However, they existed and the famous Nisan Saman was a native of an old Manchu clan. Among the New Manchus, female-shamans are more common. Among the Tungus of Manchuria the number of female-shamans is greater than that of male-shamans, but the greatest shamans, according to the Tungus, are males. The female-shamans and male-shamans, among the Tungus of Transbaikalia, are met with in perhaps equal numbers. In so far as I could see, among the Chinese no female-shamans were known nowadays.

Indeed, the frequency of males and females among the shamans is not yet indicative of the condition of sex in defining candidature. I had the impression that in the case of mass psychosis the females are more affected than the males, and thus there are more potential female-candidates.

The conditions of general health of the candidates has a great importance too; this question will be discussed in the next section, dealing with the election of shamans.

645. Sexual maturity sometimes occurs among the Tungus at a rather late age (cf. SONT, p. 259; also SOM, p. 110).

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