September/October 2000 Featured Stories
Riding Windhorses - Tales of a Mongolian Shaman
by Alida Birch
serious student or practitioner of shamanism has studied the Mongolian-Siberian
shamans. Mircea Eliade in his classic text, Shamanism: Archaic
Techniques of Ecstasy
first published in 1951 has 33 references
to the Siberian Mongolian shamans not including numerous references
to the specific tribes. For decades, anthropologist and ethnographers
have been hampered by translations two or three times removed from
English making it difficult to understand the nuances of the Mongolian
shamans' rituals,ceremonies, and healing powers. Also hampering was
the blatant Communist suppression of shamanism. Shamans were forbidden
to practice and drums were outlawed. There are many stories of shamans
being imprisoned or killed because they found it impossible to stop
So it was indeed fortunate to discover RIDING WINDHORSES:A Journey
into the Heart of Mongolian Shamanism by Sarangerel Odigan.
Sarangerel is a Mongolian shaman fluent in English willing to share
her healing methods. Never before has a Siberian shaman written
a book detailing the shamanic tradition, history, and practices
of the active shaman. Saraa was trained in the traditional Mongolian
and Buryat shamanic traditions by native teachers who are free to
practice again following the collapse of the Soviet Union.
She is the foreign outreach representative of the Golomt Center
for Shamanistic Studies and the Mongolian Shamans' Association.
Saraa has an extensive webpage, The Buryat Home Page: Shamanism,
Folklore, and Poetry, located at http://www.geocities.com/Athens/Oracle/8226/index.html.
Golomt means "place of the fire"; it is the place where
Father Heaven and Mother Earth meet and is the symbolic center of
the world in Buryat-Mongolian shamanism. The tradition of Buryat-Mongolian
shamanism is at least 5000 years old, probably much older, and Buryat
culture represents one of the oldest cultural traditions on earth.
The wisdom of Siberian shamanism is applicable in the modern world
today. Its basic principles are reverence for the earth and sky,
keeping the world and one's personal life in balance, and personal
responsibility and the book gives good examples of how the principles
are brought to bear in remote southern Siberia. This is where the
shaman is the guardian of the environment, the community, and the
Riding Windhorses is the first book written on Mongolian-Siberian
shamanism by a shaman trained in that tradition. Sarangerel, which
means Moonlight Shamaness, thoroughly covers all aspects of the
shamanic worldview and practices. Each chapter covers basic topics
including Mongolian cosmology, the natural world order, the spirit
world, healing, protection, and fortune telling. Chapters conclude
with a ritual to help the reader move from concept to practice.
The windhorse or himori, for example, represents personal psychic
power that resides in the chest. It is accumulated by actions designed
to restore balance in the universe. It is increased by good deeds
and decreased by bad deeds or thoughts. Windhorse is the force that
allows shamans and other powerful people to accomplish what needs
to be done simply and easily. Saraa concludes her initial discussion
of himori with a ritual for raising windhorse. I found the author's
presentation of the rituals to be clear, easily duplicated, with
suggestions for alternate scenarios. This book is helpful for both
beginning and advanced students of shamanism.
Saraa lives in Siberia and practices ritual at the shores of Lake
Baikal, the deepest and freshest water lake in all the world. This
lake has great spiritual power and is revered by shamans (and others)
worldwide. Shamans gather here on the solstices to perform ceremony
together on behalf of their communities. Saraa lives with very little
material means, as do most native shamans. The people in Siberia
are destitute; many of them do not have enough food or warmth for
the cold Siberian winters. Saraa spends about half her time traveling
to raise money so she can return to Siberia and practice her calling.
The Geser Fund, an example of Saraa's work, was created in 1993
in order to promote the celebration of the shamanist epic "Geser"
in the republic of Buryatia. This was part of a five-year program
to re-awaken the consciousness of the people in Southern Siberia
to their ancient and precious traditions. This was a necessary move
after over a half century of repression of their traditional culture
and religion. The history of this repression has much in common
with what was experienced by Native Americans before the American
people became aware of the importance of their ancient traditions.
Now that the original purpose of the fund was finished there is
now a new vision, a wider one, to spread knowledge of Siberia, its
ecology, shamanism, and traditional culture throughout the world.
It will not only include the Buryats in this new program, but also
the Mongols, Tuvans, Yakut, Altai, Evenk, and all other Siberian
peoples that will join with us.
Siberia is one of the last places in the world that is still relatively
untouched by the pressures of modern civilization. Its peoples are
still attuned to a way of life that all our ancestors had -- living
in balance with their environment. For the many thousands of years
in which its native peoples have lived on this land their lifestyle
and culture developed a balance with its environment, which allowed
them to follow their way of life with minimal damage to their forested
mountainous environment. Contrary to common conceptions, Siberia
is a rich environment with vast forests, even more vast than the
rainforests of South America -- and thousands of species of plants
and animals, many of which are scarcely known. This way of life
is threatened by pressures from the forestry industry and from modern
The purpose of the Geser Fund is to promote the preservation of
the ecology of Siberia and the lifeways of its native peoples. Furthermore
it is our purpose to share the ancient wisdom of its cultures, with
their traditions with the outside world. The Siberian shamanist
philosophy promotes reverence for Father Sky and Mother Earth and
inhabitants, living in balance with nature, and personal responsibility
for what happens in the future.
These ideas are embodied in the Geser epic, which is found among
the Buryats and other Siberian natives. This epic story in its shamanist
form is thousands of years old, and has intriguing parallels to
any Native American myths. The hero, Geser, was sent down to earth
by the spirits of the upper world to deliver mankind and all living
things from extinction. There had been a war among the tengger (sky
spirits) motivated by personal selfishness and jealousy, and the
world had been polluted from the sky, resulting in fires, disease,
mass extinction, starvation, and all manner of suffering. The life
of Geser as described in the epic presents all of the major ideas
of Siberian shamanism and the ancient oral tradition of this epic
was a way of preserving this philosophy for future generations.
Now, humankind, similar to the sky spirits, is now threatening itself
with the same consequences due to its own selfishness and shortsightedness.
The revival of shamanism throughout the world, as in the time of
Geser, presents a way of finding a new paradigm for our future.
Sarangerel will be visiting Eugene Oregon on October 7th and
8th to present a workshop on "Healing Techniques of the Siberian
Shaman." For more information contact Alida Birch, a shamanic
healer practicing in Eugene, (541-686-1610 or email@example.com).
Saraa will be discussing and signing her book at Mystic Mountain
Bookstore in Corvallis on October 5 at 7pm and at Tsunami Books
in Eugene on Oct 6th at 7:30. No charge.