National Geographic : 2012 Dec
whipping up circuslike spectacles for an impres- sionable public. e shamanic community, it should be said, is riven by factions and com- peting groups, so some of the ill will might be attributed to jealousy. "We don't have a salary---we live on what people decide to give us," Dorzhiyev said. While I was with him, he seemed to take his profes- sional responsibilities very seriously, and I nev- er saw him ask clients for money. He; his wife, Tatyana; and their two sons and a daughter live in a modest, two-room apartment in a building Tatyana manages. "We get by. We have enough for bread," he said, laughing. The very idea of a shamanic organization strikes many observers as odd---heresy even--- since shamans have traditionally been a rural phenomenon, working independently in their villages and nomadic tribes. Tengeri's members counter that if they were not a registered associa- tion, they'd be overwhelmed by the mainstream religious groups that have gained a foothold since the end of communism. "Religion is mar- keting," Dorzhiyev said. more than spiritual re- birth and good business. It is also a catalyst for the post-Soviet cultural revival among the na- tive peoples of Buryatiya. On the shore of Lake Baikal, the world's deepest body of fresh water and one of the most sacred sites in Siberia, I witnessed shamanism as self-determination---a ceremony by Buryats for Buryats. Buryats are a Mongol people who also prac- tice Buddhism and Christianity. About 300 years ago the Russian Empire swallowed them in its inexorable expansion across the Eurasian landmass. During the Soviet period they, along with the region's other indigenous groups, suf- fered massive population losses, and their cul- ture was smothered. In Buryatiya today Buryats make up less than a third of the population. With Baikal's waters lapping just beyond a small ridge, under a sky with clouds so low it looked as if you could reach out and grab a pu , three shamans wearing green, purple, and blue robes had gathered to ask the spirits for a good harvest and for unity. ey stood to the side and, almost imperceptibly, murmured invocations, sprinkling milk and vodka into a small camp re. ere were no trances, no spiritual reworks, just the whisper of prayers o ered and the sizzle of liquid meeting re. Next to me was Petr Azhunov, a hyperki- netic sprite of a man with a ponytail and wispy beard who is both a shaman and an anthropolo- gist. For him shamanism is as much a political statement as a religious movement---an e ort to restore a Buryat sense of nationhood after Russian hegemony. Under communism, Azh- unov said, rituals like this sometimes had to be held in the dead of night. Still, many local com- munist o cials tolerated shamanism, and some even visited shamans. "Moscow is afraid of au- thentic shamans like us," Azhunov said. "Mus- lims are controllable, Buddhists are controllable, organized groups like the Tengeri are controlla- ble---but real shamans cannot be controlled." He poured to the ground an o ering of a few drops of the local brew, tarasun---a pungent drink made from fermented milk---before taking a sip. Azhunov is a traditionalist who believes that women should be barred from certain shamanic rites. "Your photographer, Carolyn, cannot pho- tograph this ceremony," he said apologetically. "Women are at risk of being unclean." e men nearby nodded gravely in agreement. A few hundred yards away at another sacred spot, Carolyn Drake and I encountered three female shamans conducting their own ritual. eir leader, Lyudmila Lozovna Lavrentiyeva, wearing a yellow scarf, red pants, and jangling necklaces, laughed at the idea that only men could be shamans. " e Buryats believe that Many local communist o cials tolerated shamanism. Some even visited shamans.