Being a Shaman is nothing like being a Wizard.
Being a Shaman is a job, with very specific responsibilities and benefits. You can’t choose to become a Shaman – the ancestors’ spirits must choose you, so you have to have an ability to sense the spirits and let them in (according to some sources, that explains why traditionally majority of shamans have been female).
Very often the calling manifests itself though a strange malaise, depression or nightmares. This is how the ancestors let you know it’s been too long for them hanging in the afterlife – they are hungry, thirsty, bored and it’s time for them to borrow your body for some social networking. So you get trained, get the special clothes and the drum made for you, and so on. The Shamanic professional circles are very active, to include regular gatherings where newbies find their mentors, others celebrate anniversary of joining the profession or Shamans simply get together to sing and dance as a group.
Shaman A. is just only 18. He’s a tall, blue-eyed student of Ulan Bator journalism school. It’s a regular middle-class Ulan Bator family – complete with Mom and Dad, an older brother, a married sister, grandparents and 2 dogs. Except this bloodline had some really strong Shamans in the past, so they knocked on Junior’s head about a year ago. (It’s pretty unusual to see a Shaman that young. The locals explain that after years of Stalin purges and communist rule many Shamans were eliminated, so these days the spirits choose very young bodies to come into).
A. sees the patients in his Shaman yurt once a week. He’s strong enough to withstand 6-7-hour sessions, with up to 5 different ancestor spirits from his bloodline passing through his body. Some of them are male, some – female. Some are 200 years old, some – 800. And each of them responds to certain type of questions.
First A. covers his face, drums for some time and then goes into trance. The spirit comes into his body, abruptly he drops the drum, his voice changes, body slumps, and he lands on the placemat, where an assistant serves him milk or vodka (depending on the ancestor’s preference) and lights up a tobacco pipe. Then the patients come in front of him for a consultation with the ancestor’s spirit.
The first patient is a woman pediatrician (2 university degrees) suspicious of an evil eye cast on her. A 2000-year old Oma (“Grandma” in old Mongolian) from inside young A’s body confirms the diagnose through the mask on A’s face (“women and their gossip!”) and prescribes the remedy: the pediatrician drops all her clothes above the waist for Oma to whip her with a Shaman’s whip, soaked in vodka. (There is not a shadow of doubt on the woman doctor’s intelligent face: while the young A. himself is her nephew, the old Oma inside him is her great(x10)grandmother, and you just don’t argue with the old Oma). Meanwhile, old Oma spits and complains about the flavor of the modern tobacco offered to her – apparently, it tastes like shit.
Afterwards, more spirits and more patients: the middle-aged couple is asking for advice about their son’s drinking problem; a young guy wants help in finding a better job; A.’s own father lands on the placemat seeking advice on selling some property; and finally a woman having trouble getting pregnant – the old spirit inside young A. guides his hands to give her a special belly massage.
Every hour or so there is a short break – young A. takes the Shaman mask off his face and steps outside for some air. He’s about 6’7”, crew cut, dimples. His back is covered with a wolf hide, a copper disk in the middle of his chest, reindeer antlers raised above his shoulders. He’s camera shy and somewhat cute.
Then we go back, the session resumes and another ancient Oma comes in through A.’s body to greet the baby born after a healing Shamanic massage performed by young A. on a mother who hadn’t been able to get pregnant for five years. Oma smells the crown of baby’s head (seems to be a typical Shaman’s way to quick-check a patient’s status), giggles in a very old cracking voice, and brushes right past me without responding to my “hello”.
I leave without asking any advice, but wishing in my head for young A. to remain this strong for years to come.