Shamanism

Mongolian and southern Siberian shamanism originated in the time of Stone Age hunters and in the time of Bronze Age herdsmen, developing from this ancient culture into the spirituality of the Mongols today.

Before 1900 there were 243 incarnate lamas in Mongolian territory. But the old religion of Mongolia is shamanism, the worship without scripture, the faith which had no books; the hallmarks of the shaman were ecstatic trembling, involuntary speaking and singing. Along with the shaman’s role in life, though, there were the hallmarks of what seem to be basic Bon beliefs: the cult of the eternal blue sky, the veneration of fire, the invocation of Geser Khan and ancestor-worship; incense offerings to the tngri, prayers to hills and mountains and the lha therein, and blessings and curses; and Ongghot worship.

Early shamans: wore white dresses and rode white horses. In the spring, the offerings to the ancestors were performed by women or else in the presence of women.

Description of a shaman’s garb and gear: shaman costumes are inherited from previous shamans and represent a traditional garb, like a uniform.

For Mongol shamans, metal hung about their persons was essential, and some of them wore up to forty pounds of it; they wore a kaftan which closed up the back (not the sides, as is normal for an ordinary Mongol kaftan) ornamented with small pieces of metal and bells, each of which is trimmed with little strips (of cloth or leather) in snake form – which may represent a bird’s feathers, ie spirit flight. The name of this formal shaman’s dress is quyay, “armor” or else eriyen debel, “spotted dress”.

Over this is worn an apron of tapering strips about 32 inches long, hanging down from a band 8 inches wide; the color and number of the strips varies. (Examples: one apron had nine black cotton strips; another twenty-one strips in the colors of the rainbow; another was arranged like a tiger’s skin, and this last was called kurun eryen bars, “brown-spotted tiger”.) Usual in Solon, Manchu and Chinese shamanism.

All shamans (even those who have abandoned the rest of their ceremonial dress) wear a further apron, which is a belt of leather hung with mirrors. Altaic shamans wear nine mirrors. The mirrors are called toli and this apron has several names: the “blue cloud-bee” and also boge-yin kulug the “mount of the shaman”.

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Having spent a few months in the amazing Mongolia for the past few years, PkTan is fascinated with this beautiful, complicated country. He love advising travellers to Mongolia and have developed this site to share all his knowledge of Mongolia with everyone.

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