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146. Past And Present State Of Shamanism

Among the Tungus groups and the Manchus the prevailing idea about shamanism is that under the present conditions shamanism is in a state of decline. However, this statement must not be accepted without a critical analysis of the facts.

The opinion of the Tungus and Manchus is based upon the supposed-to-be-historic fact of the earlier flourishing of shamanism and the present signs of changes in the existing psycho-mental complex. Let us consider first the «historic» facts.

The Reindeer Tungus of Transbaikalia believe that the shaman in olden days — «two thousand years ago» — used to be much stronger than nowadays. For instance: «A shaman who took part in the war with the Mamugir (evidently one of the Northern Tungus clans, vide SONT) used to assemble all his people (i.e. those belonging to his ethnical unit, which at present cannot be identified, but may have been connected with the clans now incorporated into the groups of Barguzin, Nerchinsk and Reindeer Tungus of Manchuria) and to hide them from the enemies. He would wave his hand, and the trees and rocks would fall down. This shaman died long ago. When his help is needed one must pray to him.»

According to the same Tungus, the shamans were formerly great fighters and gradually destroyed each other. At last there remained only one very strong old shaman. In this way the supposed decline of shamanism is explained. These Tungus have a great many stories of this kind. The Nomad Tungus of Transbaikalia have the same ideas about their old shamans.

The Khingan Tungus share the same opinion. There was a strong shaman, Mukteokan of the Dulugir clan, who alone could keep off the Reindeer Tungus who came from the present Yakutsk prov. He used to produce thunder and lightning, and even in the summer he could produce a lot of snow which did not melt for three days. Another powerful shaman was Gantimur. This is the name of a Dahur leader who in the seventeenth century brought a Tungus group (probably Solon) from Manchuria to Transbaikalia, which led to a long diplomatic controversy between the Chinese and Russian governments. A third, very strong shaman was that of the Kaltegir clan, but his name is forgotten. Mukteokan, with whose name we shall meet again, and Gantimur had very short bodies — twice the distance between the outstretched thumb and index long, i.e. from 35 to 40 centimeters, very long arms and legs, and very small heads. Both shamans Mukteokan and Kaltagir, died at the time when Gantimur left Manchuria.

The Reindeer Tungus of Manchuria also remember that great time when they had very strong shamans, the last of whom perished recently. These strong shamans with the help of their art could kill people. This group has now no more shamans, except those who are living in the territory of the Amur province.

The Birarchen have many tales about the above mentioned Mukteokan [695]. It is generally believed that the shamans were so good, that even the Russians (Cossacks living on the opposite side of the Amur River), used to appeal to the shamans in cases when doctors could not help. In evidence thereof they have stories like the following. One day a general, from Blagoveschensk, called a Manchu shaman to help his little daughter who had swallowed a needle, which the doctors could not extract. The shaman influenced the girl with his shamanizing and after he had three times beaten her neck with his drum she spit the needle out into the drum. The Birarchen assert that in former days, the shamans were not numerous, but they were very powerful, while at present there are many of them, but. they are bad shamans.

The Manchus quote a long list of prominent shamans of the past, such as Nisan Saman, the founder of shamanism Chuxa janin, who was decapitated, and many others who are now included into the clan lists of vochko; they also complain of the present lack of good shamans.

In all these groups there is a strong belief, that formerly the shamans were much more skillful than at present, of course, we have no means to decide which shamans were more powerful, the old ones, or the present ones. But, as a matter of fact, the idea of the deterioration of the human species is a natural phenomenon functioning as one of the elements of the mechanism for preservation of the existing ethnographical complex, on the one hand, and as an explanation of the natural dissatisfaction of the people with the existing state of the groups, on the other hand. So that the idea of good shamans in the past may be understood as due to these psychological conditions. There is one more condition favourable for the formation and preservation of this idea, namely, the growth of criticism, due to the conflict of different ethnographical complexes. The Tungus groups, which now exist, cannot easily admit miraculous acts of the shamans. The possibility of producing thunder and lightning, snow, falling down of trees and rocks etc. is admitted, but nowadays is never observed.

Indeed, at the present time some ethnical groups, e.g. the Reindeer Tungus of Manchuria, partly also the Dahurs and Manchus, may lose their complexes. However, these facts cannot be used as evidence of a general decline of shamanism. First of all, the case of the Reindeer Tungus of Manchuria, as they are found now, is not indicative of anything, for they are in a typical state of general ethnical disintegration, as we have seen from other evidences and particularly from the fact of the disintegration of the clan organization, the loss of folklore and the substitution of the Yakut and Russian complexes for the Northern Tungus complex. The Manchus, as they were observed in 1915-1917, were also in the state of ethnical disintegration, which may be seen from the loss of their language, their ethnical consciousness etc. I do not know in which condition the Dahurs were, for I carried out no extensive investigation of this group; but since the Dahurs were closely connected with the Manchus, it can naturally be supposed that their complex may have greatly been affected by the loss of their former privileged position as rulers. In these cases the loss of shamanism is not due to internal causes of the cultural complex, as such, but rather to a general ethnical disintegration of the Reindeer Tungus of Manchuria, the Manchus and probably the Dahurs, followed by an absorption of these disintegrated populations by other ethnical groups and, finally, by physical extinction. Sometimes not only shamanism is declining but also all other cultural elements.

In spite of the fact of penetration of alien complexes, such as the Russian and Chinese, the other Tungus groups, here discussed, were not found to be losing shamanism. We have seen that almost all of these clans did have shamans, and among some groups, as for instance the Birarchen, shamanism was in a flourishing state. In so far as the factual side is concerned, the idea of a decline of shamanism, asserted by a great number of investigators, cannot be supported. However, I must make a few preliminary remarks as to how this idea was formed.

First of all shamanism has never been thoroughly investigated, as we have seen from the short review of the existing literature concerning this aspect of the Tungus psychomental complex. Secondly, one can form an idea of the state of the phenomenon in two different ways, namely, historically by carrying out a series, or at least two investigations for the time sufficient for observing non-incidental changes in the complex, which, as known, has not been done; and ethnologically, by means of the establishment of characteristic features of growing and declining cultural elements and complexes, which method till recent years has not yet been sufficiently perfected to be relied upon. Thirdly, the inference as to the decline of shamanism, as stated, having been formed without an adequate investigation, was implied by the whole complex of European ethnography of the last century and particularly by the theory of evolution. On the third proposition we must dwell longer than on the first two, which are mere statements of facts.

The essential conditions which imply the idea of the decline of shamanism are: (1) shamanism is a very old complex among the so-called «primitive» groups. As shown, for proving this proposition, facts of formal similarity are gathered from functionally and «genetically» different complexes; this naturally gives an artificial mosaic picture; however, in the eyes of a reader, who possesses no critical mind, this construction appears to be quite realistic and sufficiently reliable for serving as the basis of further investigations; (2) shamanism, as it is theoretically built up, appears to be very «primitive», a phenomenon of «animism», and as such, according to the idea of evolution, it must give place to more «advanced» complexes; this proposition is naturally a mere theoretical extrapolation of a hypothesis on an unknown phenomenon, as shamanism was, which cannot be accepted by a critically behaving mind, both in methodology and in facts dealt with; (3) shamanism has grown on the soil of various psychopatho-gical conditions characteristic of «primitive» groups; this is taken for granted, but is not shared by all theoreticians. Here I omit more or less ingenious constructions playing a subordinate role.

The next step is to show how shamanism gives place to other complexes, for it is always understood that shamanism is «ac-ting» in this respect facts or a quite different importance and function are grouped together: cases of ethnical decline in which shamanism perishes as one of the elements; cases of strong interethnical pressure under which shamanism may be replaced by new complexes, or may disappear altogether, leaving an empty place; cases of reduction of elements of shamanism which are taken for a decline etc. Such facts are always abundant, so that one has only to select them — a merely mechanical, automatic work. When this is done, the construction is ready for functioning.

I have not yet mentioned, perhaps the most important, condition of the existence of such a general attitude among the scholars, which is an ethnico-psychological one, i.e. with the cultural and political conquest of the world (characteristic of the leading ethnoses) the Europeans are convinced that the other cultural complexes are doomed to perish and that the non-European groups must submit themselves to the European groups. Therefore shamanism cannot be in any other position as that of a complete decline, as soon as the groups in which it is found are in contact with Europeans. The theory of progress helps to justify this attitude of the militant leading ethnical groups and to frame it in various attractive aspects, according to current fashions and existing ethnographic complexes This psychological condition is responsible for the existence of the theoretical scaffolding found sometimes even with critically behaving minds, but ignorant of other ethnographical complexes.

The ethnical groups, which are supplying the material for the above indicated theoretical scaffoldings, also give «evidences» as to the decline of shamanism; the latter are accepted as bona fide. However, as shown above, the attitude of ethnical groups towards the past is subject to the influence of a special mechanism, as has been described, so that it must not be accepted without adequate criticism. Let us first take the facts referred to at the beginning of this section and let us clear them of imaginative elements, then we can agree with the Tungus and Manchus that there were great shamans in the pasts. However, at present, as well, there are good shamans who,

supplied with the same accessories as the shamans of the past will grow into «great shamans». The same mechanism will be found at work; the groups which have no written records and which are now losing their shamanism will lose it for ever, and there will be no remembrance of their declining shamanism.

It would be absolutely unreasonable to suppose, that shamanism did not suffer from the conditions of adaptation in the past. First of all, we have seen that shamanism had its difficulties in the past, e.g. under the Nuichen Emperors who pressed upon the Nuichens with their «religious» and political ideology of a «cultured government». Although we have no direct evidence as to the persecution of Buddhists and we have the interesting fact of the decapitation of the first shaman who gave his spirits to the ancestors of the Manchus. There was thus a time when shamanism was not favoured. We know from historical records that the Siberian Tungus were also pressed by the Russian Christians who wanted them to give up shamanism. Later the Russians did not molest seemingly practiced shamanism did pass a difficult period of persecution. We have another instance, namely, that of the Mongols who seemingly practised shamanism, but under the pressure of Buddhism have now given it up. In spite of this the Darxats, recently described by D. Sanzheev, still have it in a flourishing state and in a peculiar form of symbiosis with Lamaism. At least from the time or great Manchu emperor Kanghai, who was already influenced by the Chinese philosophical ideas, the Manchu emperors did not favour shamanistic practices and used only p'oyun saman.

So shamanism itself has resulted from a conflict of various complexes. It has come out as a complex of adaptation, which we may see from the analysis of the hypotheses on which shamanism is based, from the analysis of the paraphernalia, from the forms of the performances, borrowed by one group from another, as well as from the analysis of the psychic conditions of the units and of the shamans themselves. At all moments of the history of shamanism it has been under the pressure of changing equilibria, and it could not be fixed complex; some elements were declining, others remained, and still others were growing in their functional importance. So that at every moment, especially in the presence of almost disintegrating groups, which were losing this complex, the conclusion could be drawn that shamanism was declining. Perhaps a remark made by Ch'einlung as to the loss of ritualism of the p'oyun «shamanism», might also be applied to the «great» shamanism, but that was more than a century and a half ago, and p'oyun «shamanism» was not yet declining at the time of my investigations among the Manchus.

If we do not postulate that shamanism was an universal monolithic «religion» which existed by itself as an organic phenomenon, if we do not postulate its «primitiveness», and if we critically analyse facts — we ought to infer that shamanism, as it was investigated by me, was still a «living» phenomenon, showing quite clearly its complex origin as the result of adaptation of ethnical units. These ethnical units were always under interethnical pressure, losing their cultural complexes (in elements), adapting it at every moment, and sometimes perishing, as bearers of these complexes The relative complexity of the problem of shamanism is due to (1) the observers' reactions on an alien complex, (2) the bearers' reaction on the variations of shamanism, (3) a series of postulates and (4) an operation with the abstraction — «shamanism — identified as an evolving organic entity.

After these remarks we can now proceed to the details regarding factors which cause the disintegration of shamanism, which will also serve us as a general explanation of the disintegration and the integration of the Tungus cultural complex.


695. The stories concerning Mukeokan will be published in the Tungus Folklore which is in preparation.

 
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