§ §
toggle menu

141. Giving Up Of Shamanship And Shaman's Death

I have observed a few cases, when clan shamanship had been given up. It may occur in the case when the shaman becomes very old, loses his sight, becomes physically very weak, and so forth, i.e. because of his physical unfitness. However, as shown in the case of succession to shamanism among the Reindeer Tungus of Transbaikalia, there cannot be two shamans at the same time without a risk that the old shaman will die. However, if the shaman is not unwilling to die, be may transmit his functions to a young sham n. As I have shown, a similar case of a very old shaman and his niece h s been observed. But the old shaman did not shamanize regularly, and thus two shamans lived simultaneously at least for several years. In such cases the clan, seeing the inefficiency of an old shaman, may support a candidate, perhaps without worrying much about the old man. The prohibition, or perhaps only the undesirability of having two shamans at one time, can be better understood, when we consider the existence of a limitation of the appearance of a new shaman which must not be disapproved by the old shaman. However, practically there is no need for a clan to have two shamans at the same time; when the clans are getting too populous, they split, and each of the new unit will have its own shaman.

I have observed a similar case among the Khingan Tungus, where an old shaman did not carry on his duties, while a young shaman was acting.

A shaman may give up shamanizing, e.g. because of blindness. I have observed such a case among the Birarchen. The female shaman was about forty years old. She explained her blindness as due to the fighting with another shaman. However, the Birarchen assured me that blindness cannot hinder shamanizing at all. This opinion cannot be justified, because of the reasons given in the preceding chapters; the shaman must see the audience, but the shamanistic ritual may be performed even by a blind shaman. In this case the female shaman, after her having become blind, was simply discharged by the clan.

It is different with the dona (outside-clan) shamans who are not bound to remain shamans all their life long. Therefore, when the psychic condition of the shaman does not impose shamanising, the latter can be given up, and the spirits will not disturb the shaman. The only question is how to transmit the spirits to some other candidate, should the spirits dona disturb other people. Since these spirits are often supposed to leave the people alone and since they may also be chased, their transmission is not always necessary. Among the Birarchen these occurrences are frequent and the Birarchen explain it thus: the shaman becomes lazy, so the spirits may leave their master. There may occur another case of discontinuation of a shaman's activity, namely, the pressure of the clan. Should the shaman show himself inefficient, even though being young, he would lose his position as a clan shaman by the fact of being avoided. If he is not invited by the clansmen, the reason of his existence disappears, especially if he is not needed for the treatment of sick people, or the carrying away of souls of unfortunate people who by accident remain in this world, etc. It is certain that sooner or later a new shaman will appear and he will be recognized by the clan, and the former shaman will be allowed to give up his position, as he wants; but he will probably not be permitted to resume his functions as a clan shaman. Since the shaman's inability is also connected with his deficiency in the art of mastering spirits, producing extasy, etc., it is very likely that the shaman will not oppose the change of his position. He may also simply become «lazy» and, with the silent consent of the clan, give up the shamanship. Such cases occur, but very seldom, as I was told.

Among the Manchus I did not observe cases of giving up shamanism, perhaps because of the relative rarity of shamans independent of clans. Most of independent shamans belonged to other ethnical groups (Chinese and Dahurs). If a shaman becomes less active, it is also a sign of a relative quietness among the clansmen. Among the Manchus the function of the shaman may be partly taken up by the p'oyun saman, who may pray to the spirits, and by mafar'i who are independent of the clans.

The death of a clan shaman is a very serious event in the clan life. Two problems are then faced, namely, the discharge of the shaman's soul and the remastering of the spirit left by the deceased shaman. Among the Manchus it is supposed that the third soul, which must go for a final judgement to Itmunxan, is not left to descend to the lower world by the spirits vochko. This soul becomes a spirit vochko, and thus all shamans become vochko. However, some special conditions exist too. For instance, in the case of the shaman decapitated by the authorities (vide supra)

it was supposed that the soul was captured by the spirits early in the morning of the day of the execution, and it was immediately incorporated into a new born child. The second soul together with vochko was busy with guarding the olorg'i soul. However, the soul may not become vochko at once, but only after a period of fifteen years [680].

If no care of the shaman's soul is taken, after becoming vochko it introduces itself into the clansmen and makes them suffer, until a new shaman appears. The same is true of all spirits left behind. A series of individual psychoses and even a mass-psychosis may occur.

The burial of the shaman does not differ now from that of ordinary people, except that some of the shamanistic paraphernalia, especially a trident spear is put into the coffin, while the costume, the drum and other things are carefully packed into a box and put on the shelf, together with the placings for spirits. However, it was not so in the past, when as shown (vide supra), a special form of burying was practised.

Thus, among the Manchus the problem as to the shaman's soul is solved in a simple manner and there is no special worry about it. It is not so among the Northern Tungus groups.

When a shaman dies, his soul must go to the lower world, but it must be taken there by another shaman who must be «stronger» than the deceased one. If there is no such a shaman, the soul cannot reach the world of the dead — bunil. Remaining in this world it will have no rest and other clansmen will all the time be disturbed by it.

Among the Tungus of Transbaikalia the shaman's body is deposited in the same kind of coffin, erected on the posts (vide supra) as used for ordinary people. All the paraphernalia, with the exception of savak'i, are put together with the shaman, or hung up to a nearby standing tree. Several posts may be erected with carved wooden «birds», which will help to carry away the shaman's soul. The ritual of the burial does not differ from that used for ordinary people. It is not recommended to touch the paraphernalia left at the burial place. Those who touch them may get «mental diseases», they may «lose their minds», i.e. become abnormal.

The new shaman who gathers the spirits left free must appear not later than nine years after the shaman's death; otherwise there will he many people suffering from the spirits.

Among the Tungus of Manchuria there are still greater difficulties, for the soul of the shaman may become a new spirit, sever). As shown, these Tungus are not very inclined to increase the number of spirits and every new spirit is met without pleasure. They are admitted as an inevitable evil. With the shamans who die by a bad death, as in the cases quoted (e.g. the spirit lamalaichen, the old shaman of the Dunankan clan, and others), the soul cannot be taken to the lower world, and thus becomes a spirit. Fortunately, the Tungus are saved by the lack of written records. Some important spirits are preserved by tradition while a great number of spirits, formed from the souls of dead shamans and the like, are soon forgotten. Only in this way we may explain the rather limited number of shamanistic spirits of this origin.

To carry away the soul of a shaman to the world of the dead is not easy, even for a good shaman, the chief difficulty is the mixing up of the spirits of the two shamans. If the shaman, who performs the operation of the last transportation, is not certain of being able to master the spirits of the deceased shaman, he must not undertake this operation. The spirits left by the shaman very often want to keep him in their company, as the Tungus say, so that the shaman must first fight these spirits.

The Tungus like much better to rid themselves of these spirits for ever. With this aim a delicate procedure of sending them off, may be undertaken even by taking them into a new region, or by placing them in special placings and sending these off with the current of a big river, such as the Amur. This can be done only with the spirits data which are possessed even by the clan shaman; but this cannot be done with the clan spirits which are supposed to stay for ever with a clan. Sooner or later they will find a new master, but in the interval they will try perhaps several persons making them abnormal, sometimes for rather a long time. I had an occasion to observe every day, during a period of nearly two months, a young man among the Khingan Tungus who suffered from such spirits left by a shaman. The young man had frequent nervous fits, continuously shouting seven emeren, seven emeren! (the spirit is coming!); he beat his forehead with his fist and made «stick and arch». Until some able candidate masters the spirits, which sometimes requires several years, the people are suffering as described above.

Naturally the shamans know of the approach of their end and are prepared for it, but during their lives there can be no relief for them, for their souls will perhaps not share the fate of those of other clansmen in the monotonous and half-starving existence in the twilight of the lower world. Yet it is better to be settled in the little attractive lower world than to be a «workman», a «servant» of all future generations of shamans.


680. This was one of the theoretical reasons why the shaman could not be produced earlier, with the shaman's soul- vochko.