The travels notebooks


Shamanism, Buddhism and Orthodox Christianity are the three most widespread religions in the Republic of Buryatia that occupies a large region of Russian Siberia.

We arrive to a village about a couple of hours drive from the city of Irkutsk, in the afternoon. Peter Nikolaevich waits for us at the University of Buryatia. He is professor of shamanism. Peter welcomes us warmly and talks about shamanism giving us many interesting interpretations of this phenomenon.

Then he leads us to the knowledge of authentic shamans. According to Peter, the authentic shamans are those who have shaman ancestors, the holders of "shamanic blood". 

We meet really exceptional people who share the secrets of their rituals with us. Purification rites and auspicious. Nadia, a lovely lady, shaman and clairvoyant, talk to us using by means of mediation normal playing cards and she is enthusiastic when I show her the Nat Cards.

I give a copy of the book to the Institute, even if it is in Italian and maybe no one will ever read it, but the Nat Cards designed by Luigi Scapini speak a universal language.

Among the extraordinary rituals which we take part to, one in particular, of great strength, moves our emotions deep inside. All nature is involved in this ritual, a group of eagles fly above us from the beginning of shamanization and at the end a flock of swallows reaches us flying almost flat land and filling the clearing where the ritual took place. 

Shamanization, even if it recalls ancestral rituals, is a process that is re-created each time by the shaman, because, as the professor explains to us, shamanism is a revealed process and everything that happens is left to the shaman's inspiration who officiates the ritual, nothing is codified. The Buriat shamans were formerly called Boo and even today many of them prefer to use this term.

Boo is the one who talks to the gods. The gods are the ideas that take possession of people, they belong to nature, they are the souls of the forest, of the river, of the lake, of eagles, of swallows, of fish, of wind, of rain. Rituals are to propitiate the favor of the gods, they are a bridge between man and nature.

We consider it a great privilege to be able to travel to Siberia in the company of a university professor who guarantees the authenticity of the persons we meet and the veracity of our experiences.

Traveling through the breathtaking landscapes of Lake Baikal we must consider that the spread of shamanism in the modern world can only be a very good phenomenon for everyone. Shamanism, as a religion of nature, supports the feeling of the profound ecology of which our world has a vital need.

Shamanism is not a metaphysical religion, there is no god who lives in some abstract heaven. When the shaman prays "your will be done" he does not address a transcendent god, but the earth, the rain, the ants, the howling wolf, the steppe. 

Religion of nature has never succumbed to the deception of possession of ideas. For people of modern society, ideas are kind of brain product, almost as if they were secreted by the human brain. For the shaman, ideas are divinities which animate nature. Natural Beauty inspires ideas; nature, and not the human mind, is the queen, sovereign of ideas. Being in nature is therefore fundamental to learn and know, no real knowledge can derive solely from reading books, true knowledge derives from contact with nature. Shamanism is neither philosophy nor psychology, our professor Peter says, shamanism is a poetic phenomenon, an aesthetic experience.

Foreseers, poets, oracles, cantors: this is a definition that fits the shamans of all over the world who pass on their knowledge through myths, epics and poems. Buriat shamanism too rests on a culture handed down through legends, such as the famous epic cycle that features the mythical hero Gesar, the king of the legendary realm of Ling. There are several versions of this epic, Buriat, Mongolian, Tibetan, one of the regions of northern India, one of Bhutan and many are the similarities between the epic of the legendary King Gesar and the Turkish and Islamic heroic poetry, showing the universality of myth and poetic song.

A Buriat shaman in the splendid island of Olkhon, in Lake Baikal talk to us about he marvels of the epic of Gesar.

The poem of King Gesar belongs to an oral tradition and even today there are cantors who pass on orally the legendary myths related to the figure of King Gesar. These myths are rich of tantric elements and Bonpo. The Bon is the shamanic religion of the Himalayan regions and Tantrism is a cultured, refined and poetic reinterpretation of the Mother's religion.

Shamanism, Bon, tantrism refer to the same feeling revealed directly by nature and able, in turn, to inspire the process of soul making and of deep ecology in the contemporary man. 

The myth, poetry, song, aesthetic experience in general, place the shaman in contact with the origins of his own culture, with that time of origins in which everything was created for the first time. Going back, thanks to the song and the myth, to the time of the origins, the shaman can deprogram the real, because he has access to the moments in which images that support reality - the archetypes contained in the myth - were formed for the first time. Shamanic experience is not philosophical, psychological nor therapeutic, but purely aesthetic, poetic, mythical, in one word: magical.

For centuries Mongolian, Siberian and Himalayan nomad shepherds have handed down legends, fables, epics linked to the myth of King Gesar, passing on their love for nature, for the family, for the ancestors, for the soul of the world and for the shamans.

At Ust-Barguzin, in the Siberia of Lake Baikal, we meet a Buriat shaman who tells us that our ancestors who failed to carry out their mission when they were alive visit us in our dreams to assign to us this mission and support us in its realization.

To inherit a task from one's ancestors is an honor in  the shamanic vision. If we are able to depersonalize, going beyond the ego, we understand that the ancestors are gods’ messengers who inspire missions coming directly from the soul of the world. The distance from nature, which affects our culture, often prevents us from understanding the legacy of our ancestors.

The shaman of Ust-Barguzin, a town in the Republic of Buryatia that stands on the banks of the river Barguzin, near Lake Baikal, allows us to film the rituals that he officiates at each change of season. These are ancient rituals that the shaman has inherited from the ancestors of his ethnic group, since ancient times.

These rituals take place in a wonderful clearing near a rock that hides a slit (symbol of femininity) and a phallus-shaped stone (symbol of masculinity). The celebration of these rituals aims to propitiate fertility of every single family in the community: the ancestors want descendants who continue the mission assigned by gods.

The ritual of the blacksmith which the Buriat shaman allows us to assist to is also beautiful. This ritual makes travels and projects propitious.

Then the shaman agrees to talk to us to give us the messages of our forefathers. He speaks to us standing still, sometimes is silent and seems to hear voices in the wind. The shaman has also this unparalleled function within the community: connecting people with their ancestors so that each one's mission may be evident. It is a practice with therapeutic and imaginative content that allows people to stay connected to the soul's objectives and to carry out projects in full harmony with the natural becoming. Those who have lost contact with their ancestors can only have mental goals that can be done as acts of violence against nature and the soul.

The Buriat shamans claim that our ancestors visit us in our dreams to inspire us. Our behavior is influenced by the spirits of our ancestors, life is inspired by death. Daily actions are a consequence of dreams. Shadows generate other shadows, immaterial images, the concrete object is a deception, there is no separation between sleep and wakefulness, everything is dream, mirage, image.  

Awakening is the awareness of being dreamers of the dream, the creators, the fathers of our ancestors.

Now  it's time to go back. We wait on the shore of Lake Baikal, which the Buriats call "sea", the ferry that will take us on the mainland and then the long journey back: Moscow and finally Milan. But our adventure is not over, it cannot end. We feel so enriched, so different, so thankful, that now is truly the moment when everything can really begin: the real life is the second, the true birth is the second, the true mother is the second.

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Selene Calloni WIlliams
Selene Calloni WIlliams
Selene Calloni WIlliams