Paper 12:


Chair: Gregory G. Maskarinec

Into the Taiga: Place of Refuge and Spiritual Growth

Fridman Neuman, Eva Jane

The taiga in Siberia and Mongolia is not only an environment that nourishes and sustains life for many peoples, nomadic and otherwise, but is also a place of refuge and shelter for the practice of religion, offering protection and tangible spiritual experience through the connection to the environment of the locale.
The Old Believers, a conservative Russian sect, fleeing the strictures of reforms under Nikon of the Russian Orthodox Church in 1664 and 1666, have found shelter in villages and hidden parts of the taiga in Tuva. Here they have been able for several centuries to pursue their religious beliefs in safety, utterly separated from the rest of the world. The wilderness worked as a shelter for the practice of religious beliefs; the environment itself, other than the subsistence needs it supplied, was not a part of, or integral to, the religious belief system.
On the other hand, a journey I undertook to visit Suen, a Tsaatan shaman in Hövsgöl province, Mongolia, living in an area not far from the border to Tuva, revealed in her religious practices a total integration with the natural forces of her environment – the Blue Sky, the spirits of the waters and of the mountains. This environment also sustained her life and that of her reindeer who depended upon the lichen they grazed in order to survive.
Current changes in Mongolia’s climate have wrought concern for the survival of livestock and hence the nomadic Mongolian way of life; will the inability to provide for one’s family in the traditional modes also cause a degeneration of the practice of shamanism as people need to migrate out of the taiga into more urban areas and lose their connection to natural forces?

Nenets Reindeer Herders’ Relations with Predatory Animals and Spirits in Arctic Russia

Vallikivi, Laur

University of Tartu

This paper discusses the relationship of humans and wolves among Nenets reindeer herders in Arctic Russia. As nomadic entities, pastoralists and wolves share the same resource for living, which is domestic reindeer; it is often argued that wolves are the absolute antagonists of reindeer herders. Although killing wolves is a widespread practice among the Nenets, many herders avoid decimating them. According to them, both humans and wolves belong to the same landscape in which an ontological border between the species is interactive. The wolf, who is close to other underworld spirits, is a perfect predatory agent. Nevertheless, wolves are tamed by people with shamanic abilities or used by ordinary people in witchcraft. Wolves are seen as spirit-like agents who share certain qualities with humans and who can be negotiated with. The paper suggests that the relationship is most efficaciously managed not through confrontation but through a close relationship between humans and wolves, through kinship-making and personhood-sharing. This non-antagonistic relationship allows for the prevention of predatory attacks on humans and domesticated reindeer. The ethnography will concentrate on how a young woman has developed a strong kinship bond with wolves, which starts from her birth and continues throughout her life.

Shamanism in the Making: Czech Case

Velkoborská, Kamila

University of West Bohemia, Pilsen, Czech Republic

“Brotherhood of Wolves is mainly shamanism but we are looking for an original and distinctive form”, I was told recently by the leader of the unique group of contemporary Czech pagan (Wolf worshipping and dog raising) practitioners, which has been in existence for 16 years and has even older roots. Implied is the idea that shamanism is something that has a generally recognized and accepted meaning but at the same time can be worked with. What is the unchanging ´core´ and to what extent is the concept malleable? The goal of the paper is to answer these questions and describe the (perhaps never ending) process of creating and recreating the spiritual practice, including contradictions within the cult and inevitable arduous process, using as example the shamanic practice of the Brotherhood of Wolves.
In accordance with the ´ethnography of the particular´ proposed by Lila Abu-Lughod (1991), rather than a homogenous and neat picture of a shamanic tradition, I will aim to portray it as a tradition in the making as observed in the particular time and space and from the particular perspective. The paper draws on longitudinal field work research and participant observation within the Brotherhood of Wolves.

The Landscapes Made by Human and Spirit: The Revitalization of Qorčin Shamanism Inner Mongolia, China

Furong Zhao

Japan National Museum of Ethnology

This paper focuses on the Qorčin Shamanism of Inner Mongolia, China. Since 1980, Qorčin Shamanism has been revitalized following the social changes of Chinese economic growth and subsequent emphasis on a multicultural society. Traditional Qorčin Shamanism states that a new shaman is born when the spirit of a deceased shaman possesses his body; however, cases of animal spirits such as foxes, weasels, and snakes possessing new shamans have increased. Previously ranked as helping spirits, these animals now act as patron spirits. Various trends and conflicts have arisen regarding the status and legitimacy of newly seen animal spirits of different origins. Consequently, arguments have flared between traditional shamans and those wishing to change with the times.
Additionally, the master–disciple network has reorganized: some candidates enter the master–disciple network and become shamans despite being anxious about their possessing spirit and complaining of possession illness. A new form of Qorčin Shamanism is thus being established. This paper particularly examines how the shamanistic network reorganizes actors as shamans and shows how the spirits possessing them try to bridge conflicts and cooperate within that network.

Landscapes of Earth and the Netherworld in a Hezhen Imakan Narrative

Yu Xiaofei (Aki Yamada)

Professor, Nihon University, Japan

The Hezhen, a Tungusic-speaking people of Heilongjiang province are the smallest official ethnic minority group in China. A major genre of their traditional oral literature is the imakan verse narrative. This paper will explore conceptions of traditional cosmology, which divided the world into the sky, earth, and underworld, in the imagery and plot of an imakan called “Xite Mergen” (“The Hero Xite”). The narrative is filled with references to mountains, rivers, skies, and forests, both in the land of the living and the land of the dead. Animals, plants, and humans inhabit these worlds. Shape-shifting female shamans aid the young mergen and his sister as they traverse the harsh landscapes and waterscapes of the northeast by foot and boat in search of their mother’s murderers, and into the land of the dead by dogsled in search of their mother’s soul. Directional positioning, transformational beings and objects, and human adaptations to local ecosystems in regards to conceptions of landscape will be discussed using current eco-critical and folkloristic theory.