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142. Shaman's Personality

Dealing with the shaman in the preceding sections we have seen the almost tragic figure of this important member of the Tungus society. However, we have also seen that there may be «positive» sides of shamanistic practices in so far as they are perceived and understood by the shamans.

However, grouped facts and generalizations do not give a vivid picture of individual cases of the shamans. Together with the description of the election (vide supra Section 131). I have pictured two candidates, but they are not typical at all. Naturally, to give a series of portraits of the shamans would to the best way to fill up this opinion in my description, but this is a task which risks to degenerate into a work of too much imagination, for, first of all, I cannot assert that my knowledge of the individuality of the Tungus shamans is so perfect, that I can give facts which by themselves may produce portraits — facts are not sufficient for it. I have observed some shamans during, for instance, nearly two years, but still some sides of their personality may easily have escaped my attention. In this respect too one cannot carry out a mechanical registration of facts according to a scheme — one must «penetrate» into the individuality. Such a task is indeed beyond the possibility of a field investigator.

In spite of the impossibility to give a gallery of portraits, I still feel it useful to demonstrate some individual characteristics of some shamans observed by me. Without giving them the great importance of a scientific documentation, I shall relate my impressions:

1. A Barguzin Reindeer Tungus shaman. He was rather tall with a thin, straight nose, blue-black hair, a long head and rather long legs; he was near to the asthenic type, although physically strong and healthy. He lived with his wife and two children in a wigwam very poorly furnished with the usual Tungus equipment. They had only two reindeer. His wife was unusually quiet and silent. The children were normal. No signs of psychomental abnormality could be observed in any member of this family. At the moment of meeting with them the family lived alone, In the middle of a marshy valley; no neighbours were around. The shaman was about thirty-five years old, having practised shamanizing for ten years or even more. He was a clan shaman. He did not like to work, nor to hunt, but preferred to remain for hours in meditation. He was addicted, somewhat more than an average Tungus of this group, to drinking. One of the really distinct elements, very opposite to the average Tungus character, was his vanity and attention to his own person, well pronounced egocentrism. His most interesting pastime was conversation concerning shamanism, spirits, and, in general, natural phenomena, cosmogony, etc. However, when he was not sure, and this was a common case with him, he used to say: «So people say, but I do not know it myself», and «I do not know, whether it is true or not.» He did not easily accept a belief, but wished to find the logical connection of everything, the principal theory as to the spirits being dominant in his reasoning. Indeed, the problems of cosmogony and in general natural phenomena were not affected by this theory. His reason why he did not hunt was chiefly that formerly he had by mistake killed a domesticated reindeer, and since that time he had no «luck». Perhaps, on his part, it was mere justification of his hunting inefficiency, perhaps it was a real psychological condition of fear of doing something wrong. He did not much shamanize and he was not considered as a good shaman, but he was continually communicating, in his dreams, with other shamans, especially with an old shaman of the Nerchinsk Tungus. Owing to his inclination to discussion and his sincere interest in various general problems, it was possible for me to establish with him very close relations. When he was acquainted with me, he became very frank and communicative. In his speech the expression «common people», i.e. those who are not versed in shamanism, was constantly used. Moreover, in his performances he was quite artistic and produced genuine extasy. I had the good fortune to be in contact with him for at least five or six weeks.

2. A Barguzin Reindeer Tungus female clan shaman. She was a heavily built, tall, muscular, seemingly healthy woman of over thirty years: meditative and deliberative in her somewhat slow movements in the everyday life. I saw her daily for a relatively long period and saw her perform a great number of times. The first time I saw her, she arrived with her small babe, being urgently invited to shamanize to the lower world, which, as shown, is a difficult task and a rare occurrence. Her attitude at the first meeting was that of avoiding me, but after I had tactfully left her alone for a time and had given her my support in the discussion of various questions with the seniors, I could discern her attitude of approval of my interest in shamanism and my sympathy with her functions. After I had been able to render her some minor assistance during the shamanizing she allowed me to observe her as much as I wanted. She did not protest when I asked her questions, took her pulse at different moments of the performance, examined the rigidity of muscles, etc., but even helped me and seemed to take an interest in my findings, which I did not fail to communicate her, and she confirmed what, in her opinion, was correct. Her attitude showed that she was a thinking, self-analysing person, discussing the problem of her own psychic condition. Since these discussions were usually carried out in the presence of old men, she did not hesitate to speak. I did not hear her mention common people. She seemed not to be much attached to her babe. Her relations with her husband, who was a good hunter, were apparently good. The material position of the family was not bad — she was well dressed, although without pretension. She was considered as one of the best shamans and did not refuse to shamanize, which she did with a perfect art, with extasy, and with evident success, in so far as the audience was concerned. No signs of abnormality could be observed in her. As compared with the other women, she was definitely more silent, she usually avoided looking directly into the eyes of the interlocutor, looking down, and sometimes looking aside. She was not inclined to laughing joking and idle talk, which is usual with the Tungus, when they are free. She did not participate in night dancing (cf. SONT), nor in gatherings for five o'clock tea, she did not mix with the common women. However, this was done in a simple manner, without any attempt at snubbing people. She merely disliked this kind of distraction as some other woman do.

3. A Khingan Tungus female clan shaman, married, under thirty years. She looked like a great number of other women among this group; she was fleshy and moderately fat, and was quick in her movements. Perhaps her face was somewhat more alive than that of an average Khingan woman. In all respects she seemed quite normal. Her interest in shamanism did not go beyond her performances, although she seemingly liked these very much and looked for any occasion to perform. Her performances were not «artistic» and a certain degree of conventionalism was quite evident; however, I observed genuine extasy during one or two performances. She was not considered a good shaman, and was only called for performances of small importance, such as finding out of the cause of a sickness, divination, predictions etc. Anyhow, I have not seen her perform any shamanizing of great importance, such as the recovery of souls, and the travelling to the lower world. Although I succeeded in coming into friendly relations with her, because of my painting for her some designs on her dram, no serious talk (as I understand it) about shamanism was possible — she was willing to talk mostly about the formulas and ritualism of performances. She used to spend her time with other women. Doing some work, gossiping, laughing and joking with them. She also manifested a certain inclination to sexual indecency, e.g. when asking me, together with other women, to show my painting along the line of representation of human genitalia on the placings for spirits and on paper; in maintaining conversations on similar subjects and, together with other women, repeating prohibited words, although with some moderation, as compared with the other women of her clan. She was not yet a very experienced shaman and her character with her age may have changed.

4. A Birarchen female shaman. She was twenty nine years old, slender, very nervous, which was especially conspicuous in her behaviour towards her child, the only one who had survived out of four. She used to press the child against her face and breast, kiss it and look at it with great tenderness, which although observed among the Tungus, is but seldom expressed in such a passionate form. Her husband was a poor hunter and even had no horse for his hunting trips. They were very poor. Since I performed the duties of her assistant several times and once took measures for protecting her against her aggressors, I succeeded in disposing her in my favour. She was not willing to talk about shamanism, but she wanted to help me in understanding the details, and even consented to sing into the phonograph. I suppose that her dislike of this kind of conversation depended chiefly on the fact that she did not know very much about shamanism in general, but she felt it and had learnt it, so to say, empirically, perhaps without forming any clear idea as to what she was actually doing. She was very shy, and when she did not want to shamanize, she used to refuse in the most categorical manner to do it. She was not a first class performer. In drumming she was not always good, in rhythmic dancing she might change her step, her singing was not clear, and it was difficult to understand her in the state of extasy. Perhaps this was due to the fact, that she was still young and had not yet developed the necessary technique. However, another explanation is possible, namely, she could not master herself and, as stated, she was very shy. It was difficult for her to bring herself into a genuine extasy. When the extasy was reached, she could be nigh loosing her self-control. Moreover, it should be noted that several times she performed under very unfavourable conditions of a definitely negative reaction on the part of at least a numerous group of participants in the audience, and she was living, as shown, in rather difficult conditions, even for a Tungus woman. So that she was struggling. I have also noticed a certain persistence and even obstinacy in her behaviour, which, together with other facts, made me inclined to believe her to be a case of partial control of an intense state of suppressed «hysteria». However, observing her during several months, I never heard of any nervous fits with her. 5. A Manchu clan shaman. A man about forty-five years old, strong and healthy, in all respects normal. He had a Chinese (n'ikan) wife, and of his several children two had survived. He read Manchu and some Chinese. He had performed his functions for twenty years or so. In looking at him one could not see that he was a shaman. He was not austere in his habits, nor moderate as regards food and drink, which he greatly appreciated. He was considered as a good shaman, very experienced and successful in his treatment in every case he attended he made a detailed preliminary inquiry and then, if needed, he usually took a decision in a state of sleep. Sometimes he decided questions without sleeping. He was a good performer, sometimes allowing himself to be overtaken by a strong extasy. He was not much interested in general problems and avoided them in conversation, but seemed to be a good analyst of human psychology, in which he was always interested. This may be seen from his special attention to the cases he treated, to the troubles with the people, and so forth he was invited by the clan, when there was the question of the election of a new shaman to be decided, on which occasion I was particularly able to come into very close contact with him. He was inclined to look at the complex relations of spirits as the chief source of troubles in his analyses of similar situations he used all his erudition (knowledge of spirits and experience) and was willing to go into minute details in order to understand and explain complex cases. However, since he was living on shamanism and wanted to maintain friendly relations with the people, he was not always sincere in his reasoning and in the advices which he knew would be agreeable to them. He did not oppose inviting the assistance of another shaman in difficult cases nor did he object to calling Chinese doctors. In one case he himself gave such an advice. With myself and his friend, a Manchu with whom I was also on very good terms he was usually rather outside frank, admitting that in some cases he did not understand the situation in the above described case of an election he was sincerely interested in finding out the truth, in spite of the fluctuations of public opinion, and he discussed minor details in the behaviour of both candidates.

Those five distinct types of shaman, with the other cases described before, including those of candidates, are only some of the existing types. The more shamans I knew the more I saw that every shaman is an individuality. Only with an effort to let aside characteristic differences generalizations might be made. Such generalizations may serve different ends and may be more conditioned by the ends, than by the true and natural grouping of facts. In fact, from the point of view of individual psychomental complex we meet with variations (1) from a perfect «normality» to typical insanity; (2) from a perfect faith to conventional and conscious acceptation of the shamanistic complex; (3) from a very limited knowledge to complete possession of available facts (in the existing complex); (4) from individualistic, egocentric cases to a perfect fusion of the shaman's individuality with the social milieu; (5) from a very poor knowledge and poor possession of shamanistic technique to real erudition and an artistic ability of a performer in this art. It is thus evident that two perfectly identical cases are not found, so a theoretically made classification may perhaps appear quite useless, especially since every ethnical group gives its own «colour» to its complex, also variable at different historical moments. For fear of distorting living phenomena by distributing them into the rigid system of a pre-existing classification, which may be quite artificial and thus misleading, I leave the question of the personality of Tungus shamans where it stands. Personalities of shamans are strikingly varied and individualistic and they cannot be arranged into a rigid system.