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140. Economic Position And Difficulties Of The Shaman

In the discussion of the transmission of shamanism it has already been pointed out that the problem of maintaining shamans is of importance and may have an influence upon the election of a new shaman. Owing to the psychomental character of shamanism, most of the shamans are put in an exceptional position in reference to the chief industrial activity of the Tungus — the hunting. In fact, in Transbaikalia I have met with a shaman who could not kill big animals such as the elk, Cervus Elaphus, Cervus Tarandus, and therefore was chiefly hunting roe-deer. On his part it was a case of self-suggestion. Some shamans cannot hunt tigers and bears, for these are animals whose forms may be assumed (they become placings) by other shamans. A great number of shamans have no assurance in handling fire-arms. Dealing with the spirits and sometimes being attacked by them, as well as by other shamans, the shaman is usually not certain, when remaining alone, that this will not be used as a good opportunity for attacking him. It must be added that the shaman are sometimes kept busy with their duties of assisting clansmen and outsiders, so that they have no time for regular hunting. Owing to this, among the Northern Tungus, the shamans usually live together with other people who do the hunting for them, look after the domesticated animals, and, in general, take care of them. However, this care never takes the form of a complete control of the shaman's life, but is done within the limits of the usual Tungus relations when a person partly invalid is assisted by other persons of the same clan.

The female shamans, whose economic activity is different from that of male shamans, may do their work better than the males. The only difference is that a female shaman, being busy with her duties, has no time for various handwork, such as sewing or ornamentation of costumes, reindeer harness, various boxes, etc., so that the equipment of her family is not as much ornamented as that of other females who have more leisure. Since the female shaman is often called from her home, she must also have somebody to look after her children during her absence. Should she have a suckling babe, she would take it with her; but if the children could do without her, they would be looked after by other people. In the Tungus conditions of life this is not difficult — the Tungus usually stay in groups of no less than two wigwams and very often more than two. Being an honoured person, the female shaman may also expect that other females would do some indispensable work for her, such as the curing of skins, etc. The husbands of female shamans commonly do a part of the work usually done by the wives, which, generally speaking, is not rare among the Tungus: men very often help their wives in curing skins, particularly thick, heavy skins, e.g. elk skins, bear skins, etc. are often worked only by men.

Among the Reindeer Tungus of Transbaikalia the shaman receives for his service no remuneration, with the exception of some food taken after the sacrifice; but he may receive some fresh meat as a present, like any other guest. The shamans also receive kerchieves and sometimes additions to their paraphernalia, but neither have any importance in the material support of the shaman. The shaman never receives money. Thus the shamanship cannot become a profession which may permit the shamans to live only on what they may earn for this service to the clansmen and outsiders.

Among the Tungus of Manchuria the shamans never receive any remuneration, save fresh blood from the sacrificial animal, some drink, vine either bought from the foreigners (Chinese, Russians) or made by the Tungus themselves (berry wine produced by some Tungus groups), and some presents like kerchieves attached to the shaman's coat. The shamans cannot refuse to shamanize, even when there is no wine or kerchieves. They never accept money. All Tungus assert that a shaman cannot become rich. As a matter of fact, all shamans whom I knew personally were poorer than the average Tungus. Among the Birarchen there was a female-shaman with her husband who were so poor that they lived in a corner of a house belonging to other people. The husband was not a good hunter and had to stay with his wife to look after her and their babe. They had even no clothes in sufficient quantity for going to the mountains, and the child was usually half-naked. Another shaman, among the Reindeer Tungus of Barguzin, was the poorest man in reindeer, and when I knew him he had to go on foot, two reindeer being loaded with his belongings and children. After an accident in hunting he did not believe himself able to carry on hunting as he had done before.

It may thus be said that candidates to shamanship are not stimulated by any material interest, from the point of view of which they are in an inferior position that sometimes makes their lives a continuous suffering from poverty. But it should be noted that among the Northern Tungus the shaman, if he is not a «bad-hearted» person, will not be left to starve to death and will be supported by his clansmen and clients: But it would be the same with any other Tungus.

The position of shamans is different among the Manchus. Among them, a shaman must shamanize without remuneration only for his clansmen, but clients outside the clan must pay him. In the description of the sacrifice were mentioned a chicken, a dollar (rouble), a piece of cloth sufficient for a small drew, etc. taken by the shaman after the shamanizing. Small as it is, this remuneration alone may support the shaman, for he can carry out at least one shamanizing a day. With the custom of prayers after the harvest, when the shaman receives presents in grain from all houses of the village and in rather large quantities from jarumbo, the position of the shaman may become even better than that of an average Manchu. In fact, it is quite common that a shaman has twenty or thirty jarumbo, some of which may be rich, and every year each of them supplies him with a ton of grain. The presents gathered by the shaman on the second day of the new year are also of importance. Presents of wine, incense, candies, bread etc. from a large number of jarun may be numerous enough for being used during a long time, and even being sold.

However, the clan shamans, as I have shown, may be kept quite busy by their functions within the clan, so that they cannot make of shamanship a profitable profession. But the amba saman, who are not bound by their clans, may reach a relative prosperity.

Among the Manchus I did not observe well-to-do shaman -most of whom were clan shamans — but among the Chinese shamanship has definitely changed into a profitable profession. During my work on the spot I knew several shamans, two of whom lived quite opulently, even in the city (Saxalan, in Manchu; Xeixe, in Chinese), and all of which were not tilling their fields, nor carrying on any other profession than shamanizing. It seems to me that among the Dahurs there was nearly the same situation, for I have met with shamans who lived by their profession.

The rather difficult economic situation of the shamans is not alone in making their life a kind of martyrdom: the hardships of shamanizing, the responsibility and hostility are associated with poverty; moreover, his movements are bound by a great number of restrictions; the future of his soul is not certain, and above all he cannot give up his shamanship. First of all, the functions, as shown before, keep the shamans in a state of great nervous and mental tension. The latter may personally be perceived as a pleasant condition; but since after every serious shamanizing the performers feel physically tired — it is a tiresome work — the shamans, after a few years of work, sometimes become half-exhausted. This exhaustion may be due to an uneconomical use of energy in the performances, which only sometimes may be based on pure ritualism and tricks, not requiring a special tension of the psychomental complex, and which usually are based upon a real extasy. If the shaman per-forms too often — I have observed among the Reindeer Tungus of Transbaikalia some cases when three performances of little shamanizing were carried out in a day; a big shamanizing was carried out every night during great gatherings for wedding a, etc. — he naturally becomes tired. We have seen that the shamans themselves sometimes want to perform, which may be understood as a sign of the shaman's personal psychic instability. In case the shaman himself should be susceptible to psychomental instability, he might become the prey of his own spirits, if he does not restrict himself in practising performances. So a shaman may gradually bring himself into a state when he would even be unable to carry out his work. If there is no other, very strong, shaman, there would be nobody to help him.

The shaman, being the safety valve of the clan and a clan officer, cannot refuse to assist his clansmen. Therefore, whether he feels himself strong or not, tired or not, he must attend. However, the shaman's psychic condition is not often noticed, perhaps it is not understood, and only when he becomes psychomentally «abnormal», his state is noticed, and then it is usually regarded as an evidence of new intrigues of spirits. Thus the shaman must not neglect his duties. He may be excused only when he is very old and physically weak, or if the shaman is a female, when she is pregnant and generally ak'ipcu (tabooed). If there is no such an excuse, the shaman may lose his position; however this happens very seldom. But since in a great number of cases a person becomes a shaman because of his own psychomental condition, which requires the «mastering of spirits», he, being deprived of his right of being a shaman, may lose his recognized ability of self-control and thus become the prey of his spirits. If after giving up this social functioning and after losing his right of shamanizing he should make an attempt to restore his position, he would come into conflict with his clan and a new shaman. So he may become a «bad-hearted» man, with all the resultant consequences. The pressure of the clan is here much stronger than in the case of a common clansman — the shaman is connected with the spirits.

Since the shaman functions as a safety valve and as a regulator of the psychic life of the clan, he lives under the permanent feeling of bearing a great responsibility. In some cases it would not be cognized at all and would not be formulated, as I do it here, but this condition is a serious factor for the shaman, for it takes the form of a complex regulation of the relations existing between the spirits and the shaman himself. However, it is possible that in some rare cases old experienced shamans may come to a formulation of the situation in terms of psychic phenomena and to their regulation, which in turn would increase both the functions and the responsibility. The feeling of responsibility is probably a condition which implies the shaman's readiness to function when needed.

The shaman meets with another difficulty in his activity, namely — hostility. A hostile attitude may come from a smaller or greater number of clansmen and outsiders. The shaman's failure to gain a general sympathy, as I have already shown, may easily grow into a general hostility. In fact, if the shaman makes mistakes in his relations with the clansmen, he cannot be successful in attending them he will be distrusted. It any trouble should occur, it would be attributed to the shaman; he might be reproached for causing the harm. Naturally, In defending himself, he might create a new hostility, to the extent of being regarded as a «bad-hearted» man who must be thrust out of the community. Such cases become especially frequent, when the shaman does not belong to the clan. As I have shown, among all groups there are always individuals hostile to shamanism in general, so the shaman, even a little known and little experienced beginner, must gain, it not their sympathy, then at least their neutrality.

From the analysis of the relations between the shaman and the spirits, his own spirits and those of other shamans, also his spirits and the complex of other spirits, we can see a great number of various prohibitions, avoidance's, taboos, binding every step of the shaman. Even in his family the shaman must be careful not to harm his wife, if he is a male shaman, or her husband, if she is a female, not to speak of the children. The shaman must avoid harming other people as well, e.g. at the time of childbirth and menstruation, in hunting, fishing and other forms of responsible activity. The shaman's spirits, which he carries with him, may always become involved with other spirits and a continuous trouble may originate from their conflict. Owing to this the shaman is always careful when finding himself among other people, travelling, and carrying on his industrial activity. This implies a special attention of the shaman to his surroundings and allows him still less freedom than that which is usually enjoyed by the Tungus. The reaction of other people on the shaman responds to his cautious behaviour, so that very often the shaman becomes more or less isolated.

Finally there is a special condition more, which deprives the shaman of the usual cheerfulness of the Tungus, viz. the worry about the soul. As a matter of fact, for the shamans departing this life is not as easy as for other people. The soul may remain in this world, may be captured by spirits and afterwards mastered, so that the shaman's soul instead of a settled existence in the lower world will continue to stay in the middle world. This becomes a new source of trouble during his life, and every shaman is constantly worried by this idea. I shall treat this question in a special section and I shall now only point out this aspect of the difficulties experienced by the shaman.

Being put in an unfavourable economic position, performing a difficult work carried on step by step with a lack of certainty, burdened with responsibility, and continuously fighting the hostility of his own clansmen and outsiders, the shaman faces the impossibility of giving up his functions. This can be done only in very rare, exceptional cases discussed in the next section. The shaman cannot give up his function because by giving up his control over the spirits he might involve his clansmen in psychic instability caused by the «dismastered» spirits. According to the Tungus conviction, in the presence of the old master the spirits will not easily submit to a new one and they will naturally harm the clansmen. The second reason is that, as shown above, the shaman, by giving up his function, may again be affected by the condition which had compelled him to become a shaman. The third reason is the general opinion of the Tungus that the shaman must not give up his functions, i.e. the pressure on the part of the clan, the breaking with which may put the shaman into still greater trouble. Thus, when a men or a woman once becomes a shaman he or she must go on up to death or to psychic invalidity.

It seems to me that without exaggeration it can be said that a shaman's life is a difficult one, It is a continuous self-sacrifice.

* * *

In reviewing the hard conditions of the individual existence of the shamans, it would be natural to ask oneself: why do they not give up their functions and why, in view of the further difficulties do the candidates accept such a fate? This question is answered, first of all, by a reference to what has been formulated as to the formation of new shamans from the candidates, and the latter from the mass of the Tungus population. The shaman does not appear by his own will; a new shaman results from the complex system or all pre-existing theories, from the mass psychoses, from individual and perhaps inherited susceptibility for the psychomental state that is needed for shamanistic functions. The shaman is needed by the Tungus. The shaman can help to cure people affected by the spirits (psychomental instability); he may relieve sick people, even with diseases of non-psychic order, when this is needed for a successful self-defence of the affected organism; he may also, by his presence give assurance to the people that they will not suffer. This is the result of an empirical experimentation of the Tungus on themselves, which has been reached through a long adaptation Moreover, the shaman is not rejected, for his public activity is attractive The Tungus find pleasure in seeing shamanizing and enjoy the emotional participation in it. This is a very important condition, for it is very unlikely that shamanism could be stabilised without this stimulus. Every candidate is conscious of the fact that the community wants a shaman and that he may serve the community. We need not analyse the psychic mechanism underlying this social service complex to some extent even this self-sacrifice, which for us seems to be a fact but, from the individual point of view, the negative side of this activity is perhaps not so impressive as the positive side, if we permit ourselves to speak of conscious choice and the formation of a decision in such situations. The choice of one's fate and the formation of a decision may not be involved at all, for the appearance of a new shaman is presumed by the existence of the whole complex which is not confined to individuals, but relates to a group, and which usually remains unperceived.

Another question is as to how the individual shamans may use their position for their own pleasure and the compensation for the work they do, and why they do not run away.

In this respect, the individuality of the shaman is of primary importance. First of all, a great number of shamans cannot give up their functions because they themselves may again become sick; secondly, they may be forced by their clans to go on with their work; thirdly, they may find it interesting for themselves, being influential members of the community; fourthly, they may find pleasure in performing, in experiencing the emotional state of extasy, and so on; and fifthly, they may find pleasure of carrying on this work, because they get an intellectual satisfaction in studying and handling — consciously or unconsciously — the most delicate mechanism of the human psychomental

complex [679]. According to these personal attitudes towards shamanizing, the individual cases of shamans may be classified and the fact that in this respect the shamans are not alike may be better understood. Indeed, several elements of the accepting of hardship of shamanism form different combinations and perhaps, in some cases, the hardship will be smaller than the pleasure received from this function.

I leave aside the first four motives for the acceptance of shaman's functions, but I wish to dwell upon the last one, namely, the intellectual satisfaction. In reality, not all shamans are much affected by the spirit of inquisitiveness, but I have met with such one in some cases. In the preceding chapters, dealing with the Tungus as observers and naturalists, we have seen that they possess, and in a great degree, the ability of observation, even without a practical issue other than the extension of knowledge. The shamans who come into very close contact with the people who must avow to them the truth about themselves and we have seen that the Tungus do so — have an exceptionally vast field of observation. It is not surprising at all that some shamans continually think about their observations, solve various psychological riddles (in terms of spirits), gather more and more new material, always being greedy of rerum novarum in their field, and in this work find intellectual satisfaction, as any other people who are interested in mental creative work. We have seen that the shamans may become contributors to the Tungus «science» — to the Tungus knowledge. However, to identify shamanism with the search for a theoretical outcome would be an artificial justification of shamanism — this result is achieved only because of individual adaptation by the most talented persons among the shamans, who may find a positive side in their difficult functioning as a safety valve and a psychic regulator of the Tungus clans. Such a result is only a by-product of the practice of shamanism by an endowed people as the Tungus are; in some other ethnical group there might be no such an outcome. For instance, among the Manchus I did not find it. Perhaps this is due to the fact that the Manchu complex had previously adopted elements of the Chinese complex, which stopped the further penetration into psychic phenomena, that occupied a selected group of intellectually inclined individuals, and reduced shamanism to that which has been described above. By fixing a difference between the Tungus and Manchus, I give an explanation only in the most hypothetical form, but as a matter of fact, I have not met with thinkers among the Manchu shamans as I did among the Northern Tungus.


679. I omit the case of those shamans who make a living on their profession.