Hi! This year I recieved the American Center for Mongolian Studies Field Research fellowship and spent 3 months in Tolgoit district, Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia living with Mongolian shamans. Tolgoit is an extremely poor "ger district" which mostly consists of houses built with no city planning, as well as gers (more popularly known as yurts). There is no running water and no paved roads.

I lived in Tolgoit with a family where my older "brother" was a shaman, his wife was his attendant, one sister was a shamaness and one other sister was a bariach (traditional healer), another cousin and a brother-in-law were also shamans. I also was living with and friends with several other shamans around Tolgoit. I had met them a year before over 2 trips to Mongolia and spent my time doing research, attending and partaking in ceremonies, and just living daily life with shamans.


Proof: Here's me, you can compare to the video below to make sure it's me

Here's an announcement about my lecture on shamanism in Ulaanbaatar, which was given at the Ulaanbaatar Public Library

Here is the actual lecture

Edit Back!Here is an album of shaman photos to give you an idea of what it's like. Notice most of the shamans are actually really young.

Morning Edit! Back and answering questions again! Seems some people are concerned about the swastika in many photos, The swastika is an ancient symbol that has been used as a good fortune symbol in Asia for thousands of years. Hitler, in his bizarre obsession with the occult, adopted it as his symbol. In Mongolian, it's calls a Khas and it's an important good luck symbol.

Comments: 140 • Responses: 68  • Date: 

Yamogi17 karma

Was there a particular standout moment of the three months you spent there? Tell us about it!

ShamanResearcher48 karma

SO many stand out moments. But the funniest one happened on my last night in Mongolia. My host brother (who I will call "M") is a shaman, and I requested he shamanize so I could inform his spirits that I was leaving and say goodbye to them. A fellow researcher came and she brought her extremely handsome guy friend, "Mark".

The first spirit that posessed the shaman was a grandfather spirit. The second was grandmother (grandfather and grandmother are the terms used for virtually all male or female spirits). The shaman's face is covered with a headdress/mask which has spirit eyes sewn on it. Grandmother decided she thought Mark was hot. She started flirting shamelessly. It was painfully funny. Male shaman, possessed by a female spirit, and flirting with this handsome guy. She was calling him "My Mark", offering him glasses of wine so that she could brush her fingers against his, and occasionally just losing track of her thoughts and just staring at him without saying anything. It was priceless. My friend and I decided to encourage it. I told Mark to take her hand. My friend said "Tell her she's pretty!".

The shaman's wife was also watching. We were working our hardest to not laugh, lest grandmother get angry. We could hardly breath. When the shamanizing finished, M couldn't remember what had happened (whether or not you believe in shamanism, trance amnesia is real). And we had tears in our eyes from laughter and he didn't know why. We had to tell him. His wife was absolutely gleeful. It was great!

SRD_Grafter14 karma

Oh, could you explain it like I'm 5, but what is a shaman? What do they do? How is the role viewed in society (with respect, as an outcast, or somewhere in the middle)?

What was the weirdest thing you ate while there?

ShamanResearcher17 karma

Awesome questions! Thank you.

A Mongolian shaman is a person who has a special connection to spirits. Spirits are around, and people are effected by them, but most people can't communicate directly with or see them.

A shaman is usually a descendent of other shamans and is chosen by spirits to communicate with the spirits. They can go into trance, journey to the heavens and talk with spirits, and can give their body so that spirits can possess it and talk and work directly with patients and supplicants. There is a pretty good diagram of this in my talk at around this point

The shaman will, usually through being posessed by a spirit, heal people, tell fortunes, help solve problems, lift curses (occasionally do curses, although I didn't see this) and provide other spiritual assistance. They give advice and counsel as well.

In society these days, they are sort of viewed with suspicion, as possible charlatans and fakers, and also with some fear as people who might work with black magic. Among those who believe in shamans, they are viewed with respect, so somewhere in the middle.

I ate sheep's head, a local delicacy, and head cheese. Same, local delicacy. But the worst thing, by far, was mostly-raw goat's liver during a shamanic ceremony. It was for the health of the women present. BLAH.

EDIT changed to define that I am reffering only to Mongolian shamans.

Ofthedoor6 karma

A shaman is a person who has a special connection to spirits

I don't want to pretend I am an expert in this, but I think you should rephrase:

A Mongolian shaman is a person who has a special connection to spirits.

It is different in other cultures as some shamans just work with life energy.

ShamanResearcher8 karma

Thank you, you are completely correct in your statement. I will edit my previous answer.

Peanutjellylove11 karma

For starters, thank you for doing this AMA! I'm currently enrolled in a Magic Religions & Rituals course and we're coincidentally going over Shamans right now in class. We watched a video yesterday of the Yanomami people and their Magical Death practices. Naturally, it kind of blew my mind. I can only (barely) imagine all that they experience in trance but it was extremely interesting to observe. Would you mind possibly describing a traditional ceremony of the Mongolian Shamans?

ShamanResearcher8 karma

Feel free to pass on the lecture I gave, it was for educational purposes. I don't know if it would be useful at all. There are some videos on youtube, but I don't know if they are that good, honestly. I need to get permission before I post my ceremony videos.

To start, it's hard to give a "general" ceremony, because each shaman is different depending on his or her ethnic group, lineage, and what his or her spirit wants. But here is a description of a ceremony I went to that was pretty standard for the ones I saw.

This was a general consultation, not a specific ceremony. So just a chance for people to meet and ask questions of the spirit.

We came into the ger, which would be purified with incense, men sitting on the west side and women on the east side. The shaman was assisted in putting on his ritual clothing and items. His headdresses (not all spirits wear the same headdress) were put over his neck and shoulders and he lifted the drum and held his head inside the drum and began drumming while quietly chanting inside the drum and calling the spirits. Then his attendant took away the headdresses, except for the first spirit's headdress. This was put on his head, completely covering his eyes. If the headdress is insufficient to blindfold the shaman, he will be blindfolded with a folded ceremonial scarf.

The shaman would begin drumming again, and we would all stand in respect of the spirit. At some point the drumming would change and the shaman might stand up and swing around for instance. When the spirit came, the shaman would be seated. The attendant would offer tea, traditional snacks, and alcohol, possibly also cigarettes. The attendant would briefly chat with and greet the spirit.

Then supplicants would come and greet the spirit who would ask them how they are doing, father's name, their name, etc. After "shooting the breeze" the spirit would ask them if they had any questions. If the spirit felt another spirit was better equipped to answer, they would say "Wait for (other spirit) and ask them, they will help you."

For example, a family had lost a young child and were now having great misfortune. Father determined that the ghost of the child was still attached to the family and needed to be helped to be sent away from the family and to heaven. The family brought a baby blanket and made an effigy out of dough. The shaman drummed over the blanket and effigy and then the family covered the blankey and effigy with the drum, went outside and disposed of them both. Then they went back inside where they were given needles and told to break them. One person couldn't break the needle. With the help of the shaman's attendant, she had her fingers pricked (with a new, sterile needle) and the blood dripped into a bowl of vodka. This was observed (I believe as a divination to find obstacles) and then ritually poured outside. With this the family's child's soul was sent to peace in heave and away from them, where his presence was unintentionally causing torment.

A young woman came in suffering ill health and was told to wait for the next spirit. The shaman drummed, came to, had his headdress removed. Another headdress placed on, drummed again and brought the next spirit (a female spirit in this case) who conducted massage and energy work over the young woman. She also counseled her as the young woman was suffering from an incurable genetic disorder. She counseled the woman and held her as she cried, and told her to come back frequently for massage and healing (all of this was without charge I should note, although some people left minimal offerings).

When everyone had met the spirits as needed, (and throughout the spirit continues drinking tea and liquor, occasionally blessing and sharing it with the supplicants), the spirit says that they are leaving, drums and the shaman collapses. The shaman's head dress is removed. He drums again to let the spirits leave the area, and then we share the remaining liquor.

Peanutjellylove4 karma

Wow. Thank you so much for sharing and giving such great detail. I will definitely check out your lecture and am thinking I will share it with my professor as well :) I really admire your work. It's the people like you who are determined to understand other culture's perspectives and to relay that back to those of us who aren't in the position to do so, that impact my view of life completely and help expand my open mind. I'm always so hungry for new perspectives and your journey is very enlightening. Right on! I sincerely thank you for sharing your experience :)

ShamanResearcher3 karma

Ya, feel free to share with professors. It's public. Thank you for your kind words! I hope you can get a chance to travel and study. If you have more questions after watching the lecture, (or if your professor does) please contact me.

ShamanResearcher7 karma

I just posted some photos as well here

herrsuperman9 karma

Sorry to ask another question. You said they knew things the couldn't know. Can you explain it further? What did they know that was weird?

ShamanResearcher25 karma

They identified the exact generation back from my father when my family ethnically intermarried (4). In my case, I had 2 questions that were very specific and I had not told anyone, and before I even asked the question, the shaman very specifically answered them. I was shaking. It included pinpointing specific areas of an odd pain that had recently developed and I hadn't told anyone, and the cause of it.

gkedpage8 karma

Did you ever wanted to say "God damn Mongorians"?

ShamanResearcher19 karma

Not really, but I did say (to my host family, and always in jest) "What the hell is WRONG with you???" Usually when my big brother would start mercilessly teasing me. Like when I threw up one morning and he decided I was pregnant. When I reminded him I didn't have a boyfriend, he declared my child must be Jesus. That got a "What the hell is wrong with you?" We had a great relationship.

But seriously, there were some times when I just wanted to go home and couldn't cope with everything. The stress to be perfect, to avoid cultural errors, is a lot stronger with shamans than with the general population. But overall it was an amazing experience.

sheepwithascarf12 karma

In response to him thinking you were pregnant...did you have any difficulties with womanly issues in your time there? I have come to this AMA blind about Mongolian Shaman culture, so apologies if the question isn't great.

ShamanResearcher16 karma

That's actually a great question. It wasn't a big issue for me. My host brother was married and so was fully aware of female biology, and his wife was my big sister in Mongolia and was very helpful. I took birth control to skip my periods, because we had no running water so I couldn't shower more than about once a week, so I really didn't want to worry about that. That was during this trip. During previous (shorter) trips, I didn't. It wasn't an issue.

NJNeal177 karma

How do you get to do this? My soul yearns to spend time with these masters!

ShamanResearcher9 karma

It is extraordinarily difficult. I know researchers who have spent more than a decade in Mongolia without seeing a shaman ceremony. You have to be VERY lucky, and somehow make a contact, then prove that you are trustworthy and not trying to take advantage of them, and be ready to go through a lot of stuff, much of which is difficult, unpleasant, and occasionally outright dangerous. But if you can make contacts and prove trust, then the doors will open and they will be very, very friendly and open.

As for teaching you any of the techniques, if they don't feel you are ongod tengertei or "with spirits", basically the inate potential chosen by spirits to become a shaman, they will not teach you, nor will you be able. Even if they do feel you are ongod tengertei, they likely still won't teach you if they feel you need another teacher. But if you aren't Mongolian, then you almost certainly will not be taught things, even if they feel you are ongod tengertei, because your spirits aren't Mongolian and they will worry about the wrong ceremonies for your spirits. So even if you live with them, you will only be a supplicant.

NJNeal172 karma

Thank you for answering!

ShamanResearcher4 karma

Sorry it's not a more positive answer!

ShamanResearcher3 karma

Feel free to PM me for details.

herrsuperman7 karma

Did you ever see anything that was somehow mystical? I mean, they claim to possess powers of some sort, Did you witness anything that could somehow prove their claim?

And, Did they actually know something of value? Any ancient knowledge that could amaze you?

ShamanResearcher19 karma

I did, actually, see a few shamans know things they couldn't know, and that went well beyond cold reading. My dad, a fan of James Randi, huge skeptic, came to Mongolia and even he was shocked by what some of the shamans knew. Did I see people flying through the air or anything like that? No. But some of the shamans, in possession, clearly knew more than they should. That was creepy at times.

Some of them knew a lot of value. They functioned as counselors, healers, advisors, and were clearly helping their community. Some of them, of course, are fakers and charlatans. But the good shamans I met clearly were inspired by the ancient ways, the ancient customs, and were greatly helpful to their surrounding community.

TerribleTerror7 karma

What made you want to study Shamanism? What did you study in college?

ShamanResearcher13 karma

I am in graduate school for international studies and international development. I was interested in the revival of shamanism in the post socialist era in Mongolia as a manifestation of nationalism. Honestly, the topic fell into my lap. I was in Mongolia for a conference and ended up becoming friends with a few shamans because they were friends with my only Mongolian friend.

ValikorWarlock7 karma

Have you learned to cast Lightning Bolt yet?

ShamanResearcher21 karma

No, but I am a level 13 laser lotus!

tacochemic6 karma

I hope this question isn't too vague but as a researcher, I'm sure you have come across Mircea Eliade's work on Shamanism. If you are indeed familiar with it, do you think that he got it mostly right, or are there some key differences that you have noticed first hand that Eliade may have misapplied or simply gotten wrong?

You've mentioned several times so far about their trance state. I know that it can vary, but with Mongolians did they explicitly utilize drumming (I'm making the assumption based your great pictures) or did they achieve their trance or altered state of consciousness through other means as well?

Thanks for doing this AMA by the way!

ShamanResearcher5 karma

I am familiar with Eliade, I am reading his work right now. I think he did a very good job for a writer of his era and will be able to give a more detailed response when I finish the book. But it seemed pretty good. I can't give details though because I last was reading it about 4 months ago before I left.

Mongolian shamans primarily rely on the drum and amaan huur or the Jew's Harp/ Jaw Harp. The amaan huur is considered a weaker tool, compared to the drum. A bell or jingles may also be used. The amaan huur was an important tool during the socialist era, because it could be played more quietly than the drum, and therefore could allow for secret ceremonies.

tacochemic1 karma

Thanks for the reply! To me, it is 'strange' to think that something like shamanic practice, that is naturally thought of as having ancient roots, is still in practice. I guess that the amaan huur was an evolved process to accommodate the changing world around the Mongolian Shamans.

ShamanResearcher3 karma

It is interesting. And this is what I also find interesting for the 21st century shamans, living a 21st century life with ancient spirits and practice. The Amaanhuur has been a tool for shamanism for a long time, but unfortunately there isn't too many old documents about shamanism that weren't written by missionaries convinced shamans were possessed by Satan, so not quite an unbiased source.

Rakaith5 karma

Has this experience altered your views on mysticism at all? Do you really think there's something to this all?

ShamanResearcher4 karma

I think it's almost impossible to live with shamans every day and not having to open your mind a bit. I don't know exactly what I believe and feel, but I think there might be something to this all. It's a journey. I will be back again next year shooting a documentary. Maybe I will figure out more then.

snowclimber5 karma

Were the gers any different than in other parts of Mongolia?

ShamanResearcher5 karma

Different regions do have different gers. These ones were pretty standard for the majority ethnic group and the majority of Mongols other than in the far north and far west. The big difference was the massive shamanic altar on the north side of the ger. And ritual gers also had certain rules and customs that might not be practiced in other gers. For example, in gers belonging to certain shamans, I was not allowed to cross my legs. In gers in general, one should not walk between the support pillars, but many people ignore this rule these days. In a shamans ger, that can ger you a smack upside the head. (Well, only if they like you. They usually don't smack strangers.)

ichegoya5 karma

Did you see or hear about any of the traditional healing methods? If so, did you see or hear about the use of ivory or any other endangered or 'unethical' animal/plant products?

ShamanResearcher8 karma

Yes! I was living with a shaman who was also a traditional healer. Most of them dealth with massage, energy work, acupuncture, cupping, and making of herbal medicines. I did not see or hear of the use of any unethical products at least among the shamans I worked with.

deepoceanblue1 karma

did those methods work?

ShamanResearcher3 karma

Some of them did, for sure. I must say, since I sprained or fractured an ankle while living there, I was very happy to have a shaman who did therapeutic massage. Also the herbal remedies were great. I got sick and was vomitting every day, he made up an herbal remedy and I was better in a matter of hours.

JonTin4 karma

Did you get to witness any throat singing? I just found out about it and totally obsessed with throat singing.

ShamanResearcher7 karma

Yep! My friends actually were part of a throat singing group. It was a lot of fun travelling in cars with them as they practiced.

JonTin1 karma

It's so amazing! That must have been awesome. I'm trying to learn how to.

ShamanResearcher2 karma

It was amazing. Trying to learn how to do what?

JonTin1 karma

Mongolian/Tuvan throat singing

ShamanResearcher2 karma

Ahhh, got it. Sorry, I failed to see the context on that one. Just saw it in my inbox. Go for it! It's cool!

hobnobbinbobthegob4 karma

Did you get sick often?

ShamanResearcher10 karma

Not too often. But I threw up a lot due to alcohol consumption.

hobnobbinbobthegob4 karma

Mongolians are party animals, huh?

ShamanResearcher10 karma

I had to do a lot of drinking for ceremonial purposes, and after the ceremony (downside/upside of living with shamans.) Result being lots of vomitting.

ShamanResearcher7 karma

Kinda, yeah.

GloobityGlop3 karma

Did you get to participate or at least listen to any throat singing? Its always seemed cool as hell to me. Would be pretty neat to see it live.

ShamanResearcher5 karma

I can get an overtone, but it's actually really (physically) difficult for women to do throat singing. I want to learn it, but I got to listen to a ton. It's awesome! If you like throat singing, check out the music by Chirgilchin (from Tuva) and Anda Union (Inner Mongolian).

fillie2 karma

That's interesting, as the Inuits in Canada have lots of female throat singers! I wonder if the physiology varies between regions and peoples? Thanks for this AMA it was fantastic.

ShamanResearcher3 karma

Insofar as I can tell, it's a very different style of throat singing!

phanes15ishtar1 karma

It sounds very different. I'd say inuit style sounds very primal (primal is good), and Mongolian style sounds like a Symphony

ShamanResearcher1 karma

Yeah, it's a totally different style. I love the inuit form too. Really different and really cool!

JanBegine3 karma

Thnx for doing this AMA. Did you experience a (reverse) culture shock?

ShamanResearcher8 karma

Oh yeah. Just get back 3 days ago and I am reeling. I keep doing Mongolian habits and wondering if we have a ceremony tonight.

MarcoVerza3 karma

How much food did you eat that contained Yak milk?

ShamanResearcher15 karma

TRICK QUESTION! Yaks are male. But in regards to the female yak milk: not a lot. Mostly cow and horse milk.

MarcoVerza7 karma

What???? So what is a female Yak called??

ShamanResearcher10 karma

Dri. I am never sure if someone is testing me when they say yak milk.

Ofthedoor2 karma

Do the Mongolian shamans work with Chakras at all?

ShamanResearcher3 karma

Sort of, not the same system, but there is some energy work, definitely the third eye location is considered important as a third eye. But it's not really chakras per se.

LivingInTheVoid2 karma

Do those Shamans have any psychedelic rituals in the way of the Ayahuasca shamans of South America?

ShamanResearcher6 karma

Nope, not the shamans I worked with. There was some use of alcohol and a lot of use of burning juniper and wild thyme (I have heard the juniper smoke is a mild hallucinogen, but I never experienced that). I've heard that further north shamans use some hallucinogenic mushrooms, but I've only heard that. Never seen it.

LivingInTheVoid3 karma

Follow up: have you ever done psychedelics?

ShamanResearcher5 karma

Nope. Nothing against it, just not my thing.

mannyrmz1232 karma

How true is it that Mongolia, in your opinion, will be a hotspot for business in the future? I know there are plenty of minerals waiting to be taken out, and thus would boost Mongolia's economy.

Probably nothing to do with your trip but since you were there just asking what you think of it.

ShamanResearcher5 karma

I think it has that potential to be a business hot spot. I would like to see hollywood invest in it, because it's a great place for shooting movies. The mining is very controversial, especially among the shamans who have a strong connection to the land. Their ancestor spirits don't like seeing the mining, because you aren't supposed to even dig a small hole in the earth without proper respect and ritual.

MisterNatural772 karma

Did you speak Mongolian or did your friends act as translators?

ShamanResearcher5 karma

I do speak Mongolian, but not well enough for more technical interviews and stuff, so I also had some interpreters for certain events and the like.

chillhumanoid2 karma

Question: How far out were you from the shopping district area.

Did you go into the markets at all? Do they still have bomb ass camel wool socks and did you buy them all?!

Background behind my questions: Went to Mongolia 2 years ago with Operation Christmas Child(they fill shoeboxes with toys and give them to children around the world. I got to see the other end)

Did you get to see the Genghis Khan statue at all? That thing was freaking huge!

ShamanResearcher5 karma

I was about 15 KM from the center of the city...which took roughly 40 minutes in average traffic.

I went to the markets all the time. Wore camel wool socks last night. I have like 5 pairs. Love them.

THE GIANT GENGHIS KHAN STATUE IS AMAZING!!! Did you go to 13th century park? FAVORITE!!!

chillhumanoid1 karma

ever get pick pocketed. I remember going in they told us "Leave all valuables in your hotel. Basically..leave anything you don't need to pay. someone today will get pickpocketed. it happens.

I actually wore through my only pair(don't ask why i didnt get more at like what? 4500 tugrit? I really really should have gotten more.)

IT WAS SO COOL! Although...a giant ass thunderstorm was just off to the west of us as we were standing on the horse. Scariest moment of my life. and we just stood there watching. XD

And it's possible, what was there?

I did see Turtle Rock though. that was cool!

ShamanResearcher1 karma

Only once out of all 3 trips to Mongolia. And of course it was the day I was carrying a crapton of cash. Now, when I go to Narantuul market, I fill my pockets with fake "curses" and stuff my money in a secret pocket inside my boots. I like giving pickpockets "curses"

And yes, you should have gotten way more socks!

I was on the giant horse during a thunderstorm, I was excited about it though. I'm weird. On the other hand, when I was in Bulgan, I was on a horse riding back to camp a couple of km away when a massive thunder and hailstorm hit and my horse refused to go. I was getting pummeled by hail and this freezing rain, in the middle of a wide open field with lightning everywhere. I've been living with shamans and I'm part Mongolian so local beliefs were starting to become part of my life, and as part of that due to some things about my life, I am considered far more likely to be hit by lightning. I was just so scared, I started praying to Tenger that I wouldn't be hit by lightning.

snowclimber2 karma

How much reindeer versus goat were you eating?

ShamanResearcher7 karma

No reindeer. I saw some reindeer but didn't go up to the reindeer herding part of the country. We mostly ate sheep. Lots and lots and lots of sheep. And a bit of goat. A reindeer tried to lick my bag to death though.

rexlibris2 karma

How much snuff and fermented yak milk did you end up taking? A friend of mine lived with some Mongolians for a few months in their yurts and said it was pretty much constantly.

ShamanResearcher3 karma

The very first thing I learnt in Mongolia was how to politely avoid taking snuff while still taking the snuff bottle. I am very good at both not taking snuff and pretending to take snuff while not taking snuff. As for the fermented milk, it's generally horse milk. And yes, it's constant.

rexlibris1 karma

That's adorable. I actually enjoy snuff from time to time, but I don't think I could hang with those guys in terms of how much snuff they do.

ShamanResearcher4 karma

Ahhh, alrighty, here's the secrets. you have two choices

1 Visably refuse the snuff in a culturally appropriate manner: When they offer you the snuff bottle, make sure your sleeves are rolled down. Reach out with your open right hand, left hand open, facing up, touching your elbow. Accept the snuff bottle. Loosen the cap slightly (so you can see the strings where the seal is) Hold the opened part (which isn't fully open) against your right nostril. Sniff. Left nostril, Sniff. Hand it back the same way you received it. The string is actually beautifully scented just for this purpose.

2 Pretend to take snuff (but then later you might actually have to do snuff.): Accept the bottle in the manner described above. Hold the bottle in your right hand with your thumb close to the edge of the bottle. Open the bottle slowly. As you pull the stopper out (which has a spoon attached) use your thumb to subtly brush the snuff off the spoon tip. Then fake a pinch off the spoon, and sniff it. Or tap the now empty spoon against your right thumbnail (using your index finger around the thumb to hide it, although they think its to stop the snuff from blowing away) and sniff!

rexlibris1 karma

I had not heard about the scented strings. That is really fascinating.

My friend and his family did not know these tricks, and don't take tobacco products, so as to not seem like assholes just did the snuff out of courtesy and felt sick afterwards XD

ShamanResearcher1 karma

Yeah, I was worried about that, so after my first encounter with the snuff bottle, I asked my best friend what to do.

bxlexpat2 karma

and what is snuff?

ShamanResearcher1 karma

A mixture of finely ground (same consistency as flour) tobacco and usually some spices, that you inhale through the nose.

mooman4132 karma

On my bucket list is to ride a horse in Mongolia with an Eagle or Falcon on my arm. Have you had the chance to do this? Do they still hunt using birds of prey?

ShamanResearcher2 karma

Yes and yes! There are lots of places to do both. They do still hunt with birds of prey in western Mongolia, but I didn't see it.

hello_im_paul2 karma

Do celestial events like the exuinoxes or lunar eclipses or perhaps a full moon carry any special meaning to the mongolian shaman? What do they think of the stars and the sun? You wrote in one of you comments that "The eternal sky is a deity", could you elaborate on this?

Thanks for doing this AMA, really interestng read. Also sorry for being so late to the party

ShamanResearcher1 karma

Certain events are important, as well as how they effect the balance of day and night. Certain events, for example, should be held on a full moon. Unfortunately, this was an area I wasn't able to delve into much. Some stars are sacred, for example, the big dipper constellation.

The sky, referred to as "The eternal sky" or "The eternal blue sky" is basically god in Mongolian shamanism. The sky is the source of knowledge and power. Does that help? Be straightforward if it doesn't. I am still jetlagged!

Hermionekitteh2 karma

Thank you for sharing your experiences. :) I noticed in your shaman photo album that there was a female shaman. Are female shamans treated any differently then male shamans? Are they considered more or less powerful? Traditionally have there always been female shamans or is this something that is relatively new?

ShamanResearcher2 karma

Female shamans have the potential to become more powerful than their male counterparts. Of course, a new shaman (regardless of gender) is bound to be less powerful than an experienced shaman, but if you had a male shaman and female shaman, both of whom had reached full potential, (all other things equal) the female shaman would be more powerful. Traditionally there have always been both male and female shamans, and there is a relatively even split.

Hermionekitteh1 karma

Wow, that is so cool! Thanks for taking the time to answer my question!

ShamanResearcher1 karma

My pleasure! I find this topic fascinating. Feel free to ask more questions if you have any.

beatnick381 karma

Awesome! Did you practice Shamanism with them when you where there? Did they teach you how to Shamanise? Would they be intrested in teaching Shamanism to somebody from the USA? I've studyed with Nepali Shamans and teach an ongoing course on how to practice Shamanism..predominately based off of Nepali Shaman technics and Buryat Shaman Technics. My dream, I its some thing I am really working on, is to go study shamanism with the Mongols.

ShamanResearcher1 karma

Hi! I sent you a more detailed answer in response to your PM regarding your personal practice or study of shamanism. I studied a lot about shamanism, and how to be an attendant in ritual situations and a few other things.In order to be taught shamanism, you need to be ongodtengertei, or "with the sky spirits", who will be ancestors. Mongolian shamanism does not believe that one can learn to be a shaman. Either one is ongodtengertei or one isn't. Then, even if one is ongodtengertei, unless you come from a Mongolian ethnic background, they will probably be reluctant to teach you. Since each spirit wants different things, each individual shaman does different things for their spirits. The techniques that are taught are based on Mongolian cultural standards and so would be completely inappropriate to the needs of non-Mongolian spirits. It would be near impossible to find a genuine shaman to teach you. Basically, if you went to Mongolia, it would not be hard to find a shaman who would teach you, but they would almost certainly be a fake trying to get your money. And working with a fake teacher is dangerous on multiple levels.

flal41 karma

I hear Mongolia and North Korea are on good terms....is there a way to fix Korea thru good policy with Mongolia?

ShamanResearcher1 karma

They are on good terms. Not sure what Mongolia gets out of it. I don't really know much about Korean politics, however, so I don't know. I do know that Mongolia is occasionally used as a neutral meeting place.

VerumInInanis1 karma

Do they do any drugs?

ShamanResearcher1 karma

Not that I hit. The shamans and spirits generally drink alcohol and smoke cigarettes, but I did not encounter any drug usage.

VerumInInanis-1 karma

How do they connect with spirits without dmt?

ShamanResearcher3 karma

Many shamans in many different cultures go into trance and connect with spirits without the use of any psychedelics whatsoever. The vast majority of Siberian/Mongolian shamans don't consume anything to assist trance. Even the alcohol is generally only consumed once the spirit comes. They go into ecstatic trance through a combination of meditation and drumming and call their spirits through drumming and song.

VerumInInanis1 karma

One time after I had smoked dmt I'm sure I was possessed by some spirit of absolute carelessness. It was totally unexplainable, never felt such carelessness and freedom from all the worldly troubles ever. This is what made me really consider the possibilities of spirits as an actuality. Also meeting them while under the influence.

Are you convinced spirits exist and are you convinced these shamans really are connecting with them?

ShamanResearcher2 karma

In Mongolian shamanism, there is no memory of the period where the spirit possesses the person, because if the spirit is inside them, the person's soul is out. There are rare occasions (which are considered quite bad) where the shaman may have minimal memory of the event. I know a new shaman who is currently facing this struggle. My brother, a full shaman, said this is basically "half possession" and it's not good, and the young shaman needs some good help and guidance.

I believe that some of the shamans really are connecting with spirits. Some are fake, and some are just going into trance and think they are connecting with spirits, but it's pretty likely that they aren't.

iwazaruu1 karma

How did you like Nadaam? Ever been to Erdyne Zuu?

ShamanResearcher1 karma

Been to Naadam in UB which was way too crowded for my liking. The small Naadam in khuvsgul was nice though. And yes, Erdene Zuu was gorgeous

boompleetz1 karma

Was there anything about like an extremely evil spirit, which all the shamans feared above all else?

ShamanResearcher2 karma

No, although newer or weaker shamans were more concerned about evil spirits than more established shamans.

An00therNob1 karma

Hello and thanks for sharing your experience with us.

i have a question regarding the spirits, from what i rode (spirits telling to wait for another more "qualified" one ) , it got me curious if the shaman has a choice of the spirit he "lets in" ?

also are their "bad spirits" or at least with bad intentions like we could say a manipulative human and wouldnt it be (considering they could have possible acces to info they shouldnt) easier for them to manipulate someone ?

edit: sry for any mistakes or bad english / european here

ShamanResearcher5 karma

Really interesting questions. The shaman does, to a certain extent. He or she doesn't choose their origin spirits (the main spirits that they channel) but once they are an initiated shaman, they can call those spirits with a certain level of control. They might also be able to call other spirits. They they don't have 100% say. Their origin spirits are their origin spirits. No choice in the matter. But an initiated shaman can choose who to let in and when. A person, however, does not choose whether or not to become a shaman. The spirits choose that. You also can't choose not to be a shaman.

Bad spirits: Yes! Occasionally bad spirits will try and take advantage by pretending to be a good spirit in order to get offerings and attention. A good shaman with a good teacher should be able to avoid those situations. But occasionally a bad shaman teacher will teach a student how to take spirits, and because they don't teach well, these advantage-taking spirits will possess the new shaman instead. It's considered very dangerous!

The spirits, however, do not have access to the shamans life/memories/etc that they have not directly witnessed, so they can't use that for manipulation purposes.

An00therNob3 karma

thank you for answering, thus if allowed, aroused more questions regarding the spirits :

  • how do they perceive or describe the spirits ? like some deads souls of humans or more like other beings sharing more or less this realm with us ?

  • what does the spirits benefits from helping us/humans ? is it like attention can get them well being / power / something else ? and what about the offerings , what kind of nature are they made off (material or like sacrifying animals ?) ?

ShamanResearcher3 karma

They are usually the spirits of ancestors, although some shamans work with savdag which are the spirits residing in nature. The spirits of ancestors live in heaven (tenger). Shamans usually have a close relationship with their spirits and treat them as family.

The spirit gains the benefit of receiving offerings, which is important for them. These offerings may include incense, tobacco, alcohol, tea, dairy products, and sweets. Gifts may also be given to the spirits (I presented them with a new drum, which although it stays in the shaman's home, technically belongs to the spirits). And animal sacrifice does occur during ceremonies (which are then followed by a barbeque because we just killed an animal.), however, it's quite rare. I attended easily 50 ceremonies this summer, and only during 3 of them was an animal killed, and this was disproportionately high because of the season (certain ceremonies are held during certain months).

And by all means, keep asking questions!

An00therNob1 karma

so if i understand this right they dont see the spirits as deities ? do they believe in other deities or do they practice apart that any worshiping or other "religious" rituals ? also if you could elaborate on the therm "ancestors" please ? is it like a recently deceased framily member or more like for ex. the "original" founder of the family ?

regarding the offerings, are they disposed like buddhists would do for ex. or are they consumed by the shaman during trance ?

ShamanResearcher3 karma

The eternal sky is a deity, but the spirits are not. Some believe in Buddhism as well. Ancestors refer closer to origin ancestors, usually like 7-8 generations back or more. Some are more recent, like if a recent grandmother was a shaman, they might become an ancestor spirit as well.

The offerings are generally consumed by the shaman during trance and the leftovers are consumed by the supplicants.

An00therNob1 karma

when you mentioned "stuff they couldn't possibly know" , can you give an analog example please ?
is it something really precise or is it more like correct but still vague ?

also if you could elaborate on the part why they wouldn't teach to a non Mongolian to avoid teaching the wrong ceremonies for the wrong spirits please ? do they have a knowledge of "our spirits" / communicated with them ?

are they some sorts of exchanging teachings between Mongolian shamans and others ? and how do they perceive for ex. north Americans / others shamans ceremonies ?

ShamanResearcher3 karma

Sure, I went to one shaman who I didn't really have experience with, so I wasn't sure if he was good or not and didn't want to ask any personal questions. I decided I would ask some soft ball questions. Like when would I get married, and why I was having this bizarre pain in the back of my neck, upper shoulders, back of jaw, back of ears and back of head, that was like a weird pressure, but I hadn't been on an airplane lately. I didn't tell anyone, including my interpreter, my question, and I hadn't told anyone about the pain yet (I don't like to complain). I hardly knew this shaman at all.

I sat down in front of him in trance, and after the ritual greeting he said "OK, I have things to tell you. First, it's not your time to get married. Stop worrying about it. It will happen." (I hadn't asked him ANYTHING at this point.) Then he asked me to do a certain unusual spiritual practice which I do (and for privacy's sake will not describe here). He said "You need to be more careful when doing this. You are picking up the problems of the people you are trying to help with this practice. It's making you ill. It's collecting (at this point he grabbed my head and shoved me down) here, here, here, and here" while touching my upper shoulders, back of the neck, back of the ears, jaw, and back of the head.

I was completely shocked. The same spirit turned to my dad and said "your family had a member of another race enter it 4 generations ago on your father's side." Exactly 4 generations, strictly paternally, back from my father was an intermarriage with a Mongolian. It was creepy accurate.

As for not teaching a non Mongolian, part is this idea that "these are our ceremonies, not yours. You don't know and can't learn the intricacy of our customs" And part is "If your spirits aren't Mongolian, these ceremonies won't be what your spirits want and won't make them happy." They might be able to see and sense the spirits, and possibly try to communicate, are likely will choose not to.

But I should emphasize, it's not that common for a person to be "with spirits", especially for a non Mongolian to be identified as "with spirits".

Thus far, there has been little to no exchange between Mongolian shamans and non-Mongol/Siberian shamans. Mongolia has been very isolated until 1990, which is probably part of it.

An00therNob1 karma

could you "feel"/"sense" the presence of the spirits somehow ? like is their a distinct perception when a shaman is in trance or is it something more subtle ?

what kind of different benefits the shamans / supplicants get in exchange form the spirits ?

if you would try to eli5 what would be the closest analogs in our western societies of those ceremonies ? is it like going to a doctor for pain relief / psychiatrist for personal worries etc etc but sort of all combined in one (thus the multiple spirits with different qualifications ?) by which i mean they can also a be "prescription" for a treatment with local plants/medicine , or is it only spiritually inclined like a very faithful christian might feel or actually get better after doing a pilgrimage for ex. ?

ShamanResearcher1 karma

The personality, voice, and mannerism of the shamans would change. But many people could also sense a change in the energy of the room or ger. Like one spirit came and my translator said she felt like he was scary and intimidating, and I told her that yes he was a night spirit.

The shaman gets little to no benefit. In fact it is dangerous and difficult for the shaman. The supplicants get healing,a dvice, etc.

It's like going to a doctor or counselor. And yes, there are prescriptions including local plants (like I was told to take tavaan sala, a local herb, for stomach complications) or a prescription of a certain number of therapeutic massages/acupuncture. For many Mongolians, it isn't really a religious thing. Spirits simply are. It's not about belief or worship or anything. So going to a shaman isn't like going to church. There isn't worship and praise. It's more like seeing a doctor and paying respects because they are an elder with higher qualifications. (pardon if I sound weird, I am SO jetlagged)

MisterNatural771 karma

When the shaman's spirit leaves his body so it can be inhabited by the ancestor's spirit, where does it go? Is it asleep or in some kind of suspension? Does the shaman have any kind of awareness of where he is while he is in this state?

ShamanResearcher1 karma

They say it goes to the heavens. The shaman has no awareness of what's going on around him during that state.

MisterNatural771 karma

Thanks! This is a very intersting AMA

ShamanResearcher1 karma

It's fun for me too! Check out the photos if you haven't already.

neurotix1 karma

Can you bring back some Chinggis Khan gold Vodka back, I ran out a while ago?

Cannot find it anywhere here in Canada... :-)

ShamanResearcher1 karma

Sorry! I just got back a few days ago, but I feel you. Although I prefer Sarhad vodka. If there is a local Mongolian community, they can help you get it.

neurotix1 karma

Not that I know of in Montreal...

I hope you took time to go out of Ulannnbaatar, there is so many things to see in Mongolia... I wish I had time to go west as well when I was there, would have been nice.

Also, did you visit Michelle's French Bakery, the chocolate croissant were fantastic (and this is from someone who went to France twice in the last 3 years)?

Also how did you communicate, that was the hard part when I was travelling there, english speakers were rare, especially outside Ulannnbaatar?

ShamanResearcher1 karma

I did go around a bit. I saw Khuvsgul, Bulgan, Kharkhorin, and a few other places. And yes, I think i know the one. It was delicious.

I speak Mongolian decently, so I didn't have big problems communicating.

Dj_ZaroZ1 karma

umm... is this a nazi symbol on the shaman's headdress? sorry if i'm being ignorant but i'm curious. http://i.imgur.com/Gi0XgWZ.jpg

ShamanResearcher6 karma

Common misconception and a great question (I prefer people ask than assume something terrible!). The swastika is an ancient symbol that has been used as a good fortune symbol in Asia for thousands of years. Hitler, in his bizarre obsession with the occult, adopted it as his symbol. However, the Nazi Swastika spins the opposite direction. In Mongolian, it's calls a Khas and it's an important good luck symbol

4everspokenfor1 karma

How was family structure different than what you are used to? Were the individual member functions strange to you?

ShamanResearcher14 karma

Not that different, but I had also stayed with these families on prior trips to Mongolia. Gender differences were stricter. The wife cooked, cleaned and took care of the kids. The husband worked out of the house, came home and drank. The alcohol consumption was hard for me to deal with. "Social drinking" in Mongolia would be acute alcoholism anywhere else. I also, unfortunately, saw a lot of domestic violence. My family home wasn't like that, but I saw many others that were.

However, I had lived abroad a lot, so it wasn't that hard for me to get used to. It was frustrating for me, occasionally, to see the wife working so hard, often clearly frustrated by dealing with a toddler and elementary schooler, while her husband and his friends were drunking enough that they would be useless in the morning. That was hard to watch.

However, they were a wonderful and loving family. And clearly this worked for them, and I couldn't ask for a better family to live with.

cenzoII420-1 karma


ShamanResearcher1 karma

I answered in another thread, so I am just going to copy and paste my answer here, if you don't mind:

The swastika is an ancient symbol that has been used as a good fortune symbol in Asia for thousands of years. Hitler, in his bizarre obsession with the occult, adopted it as his symbol. In Mongolian, it's calls a Khas and it's an important good luck symbol