What is Shamanism?

“Shamanism” is the ancient spiritual beliefs of the Mongolian and Turkic peoples that live in Central Asia, Siberia, and as far west as parts of Eastern Europe. Shamanism is often called “Tengerism” in Siberia and Mongolia since it means “the honoring of spirits”. Since most of the authors of this web site are Mongolian, this is the perspective given the most. This is by no means a slight on our Turkic cousins who are also children of the Blue Wolf.

There are three main concepts in Tengerism. In Tengerism, the world is alive. The plants, animals, rocks, and water all have spirits. These spirits must be respected and cared for or the land would become hostile or barren. Therefore, protection and balance of one’s environment is of utmost importance.

Personal responsibility is the second main concept of Tengerism. Tengerists believe in a concept called buyan that is very close to the belief of karma. Being responsible for one’s own actions is the mark of an upright human being.

The third concept of Tengerism is balance. Balance is important to keep harmony within oneself, the community, and the environment. When things get out of balance, there are harmful effects. This is when a shaman is needed.


The Shaman

A shaman should not be catagorized simply as a “medicine man” or “witch doctor”. Tengerist spiritual beliefs are far more sophisticated than that. There are many kinds of healers that are specialists in their field. Among the Mongols, there are otoshi (healers), ooselshen (clairvoyants), barishi (bone-setters), and bariyachi (mid wives). All of these specialists are believed to have some form of help from the spirit world.

It is the shaman, however, that is the true master of the spirit world. The shaman is chosen by the spirits at birth and an extra soul called an udha enters them. This soul helps them gather other spirit helpers that protect the shaman. Without this protection, rituals and other world journeys are dangerous and foolish to attempt.

The main function of the shaman is to restore and maintain balance in his community. Shamans conduct blessings, rituals of protection, hunting magic, and divination. They also cure sicknesses that have spiritual causes such as spiritual intrusions, spiritual pollution, soul loss, and curses. Shamans are also the caretakers of traditional culture. Because of their knowledge of ancient tradition, their counsel has been sought throughout the ages.