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28 May 2011

Amazing Baikal. Shamans in a nature preserve for spirits.

AIF. Translated by Heda Jindrak

Amazing Baikal.  Shamans in a nature preserve for spirits.It is possible to get here by a highway running along the Angara and the Baikal shore. Then you take a ferry. A day of travel, and we are on Olkhon Island - the ancient home of Buryat shamanism.


The Buryats, their shamans, and also magicians, healers and priests of the whole world believe that this is precisely the sacred place, where it is easiest to come into contact with spirits, enter a trance, and exchange occult experiences.


The Promontory of Buryat God


"The consecrated ones" call this piece of land, shaped like a stretched-out body of a Baikal seal 80 km long, with walls in the south and mountains in the north, the "energetic heart" of the deepest fresh-water lake-sea of the plane, and Cape Burkhan is one of the nine sacred places of North Asia. This is where Siberian shamans sought sanctuary from Genghis Khan's cavalry and from the guns of the revolution. Key words such as "sacral center", "nature preserve of spirits", "chosen land" "ancient homeland", "last bastion of shamanism" find a lively response and empathy from the islanders. "Yes, friend, - the locals nod, pointing around the beach and mountain, - this is where they live, the spirits. Look at the teeth of Burkhan!"


Two cliffs, which look like something from a painting by a painter of seascapes "stone palace" on Cape Burkhan ("God" in Buryat) and  "Shamaness" rock next to it attract whole processions of pilgrims every summer, including adepts of  various sects - those who, as soon as they walk down to the shore, declare themselves God or his immortal incarnation. Local little boys watch this with Buddhist calm. The visiting "saints" produce a show at Buryat shrines and  draft locals, consecrating them as "priests" and "sages". This is where real shamans perform their rituals and kill sacrificial rams, those who arrived to their congress from Yakutia and both Americas. And at the same time, domestic rituals are performed in the homes of Buryats, and people are healed by family elders - "clan shamans".


There is a hidden cave on Burkhan, where shamans of ancient times used to "shamanize". Now it is abandoned and surrounded by graffiti on the rocks. Until Russians came to Olkhon, the cape and surrounding area were taboo -  strangers, people of other faiths and women from nearby districts were not permitted to even come close to the dwelling of mystical beings, and Buryats used to carefully wrap the hooves of their horses with soft rags when coming near Burkhan. In 1930's, a settlement Khuzhir was built near the cape, and oil base with docks was built in the virginal-pure bay.  Both were dismantled recently. But the legendary shrine remained a place of mass celebrations.


Dinosaur in Stone -  that is good


Middle of the day. We are talking in the courtyard of a spacious house of a shaman - as they call him here, Elder Vladimir Buinov.  The house stands at the edge of  Khuzhir, almost right on Cape Burkhan.   Dismantling a fishing net in the courtyard of his house, the old Buryat tells me about the intricacies of cremation ritual, where no strangers are admitted even now.

He explains that the relatives of the deceased and a shaman carry the dead body without a coffin to the forest and lay the corpse on trunks of larches split lengthwise, covering it up with more larch trunks; then they light a fire under this sarcophagus of tree trunks and leave without waiting for the end.


The next morning they come back to check if everything has burned…His younger brother, a famous Russian surgeon Boris Buinov, was also cremated in this traditional manner in the forest near Khuzhir. He was also "a little bit of a shaman", and performed extremely complicated surgical operations  at the local hospital.


The entire settlement knows the history of Boris Buinov's tragic death doctor of Medicine, he was a lecturer at the Medical Institute in Irkutsk. For many years he saved people's lives, but eventually he himself ended up under a surgeon's scalpel - for a kidney transplant. Money for the procedure was collected all over the world.  But rejection of the organ started… Before his death, the physician and scientist declared his last wish: "Cremate me by the old custom…".


We go to Burkhan and take photos with the cliff as background. Buinov shows us a large brown spot in the shape of a dragon, which shows on the surface of the rock: "Look how nature made it! Or spirits."  At Olkhon they believe that an outline of a dinosaur is a sign from above.  The lower exit from the "shamans' cave" is somewhere there…  Buinov himself looks a bit like American Indian character - magician - "brujo" from Carlos Castaneda's  works: he is wise and handsome in his way, even though he is humpbacked, about chest-high to me, but does not appear a dwarf. Looking at him, you believe, as the scientific hypothesis states, that ancestors of American Indians came from Baikal…


Few people at Olkhon remember how to perform rituals correctly. But somebody has to do it. Beside Buinov, other old Buryat men occasionally shamanize - they sprinkle libations of milk or tarasun (homemade milk vodka) for the spirits' pleasure in the  four directions of the world, and they know how to correctly slaughter a sacrificial ram, but they do not consider themselves real shamans. Local drivers, while driving past ritual pillars - obo, which stand at mountain passes, also splash vodka next to them, so that technology does not fail them on the trip. Pedestrian travelers also sprinkle libations, and drink without clinking glasses.


Colors of all religions


Beside shamans, representatives of various sects, desirous of communication with the universe also regularly come to the island. Adepts of one of them, having first done some preliminary "work" at Altai, settled down at the weather station and started recruiting locals and tourists as "priests of service to the orange and red rays", performed mysteries of consecration at Burkhan, and very carefully courted museum staff. They introduced themselves as "physicists from Moscow" and "energeticians".


Fees for these "seminars"  constitute considerable round sums, but the "gurus" in Moscow now ride in limousines.

"Eleven thousand years ago, - as they tried to convince local Olkhon people, - here, on the Baikal, was an ancient civilization which then moved under the earth. And we are its heirs…There below the earth, there is a very active life. There is noise of cities, rumbling of transportation. Put your ear down to the ground, and you can hear it for yourself."  And at the same time, these sect followers repeated with suspicious insistence that "the underwater civilization" requests that Russian scientists to stop research activities in depth drilling north of Baikal which began in 1990's, and stated the exact coordinates and area of the district where drilling is undesirable.  "Otherwise, - they warned, - Olkhon will fall apart and will sink under the waters like Atlantis.. And all the Buryats from the island will be resettled in strange lands."


The shows produced by exalted pilgrims on the "shamans' island" are fascinating spectacles in any case. Some two hundred men and women stripped naked,  got into the water at the pier, and all together started performing their "ritual". They responded to the protests of Buryats passing by in this way: "Baikal is sacred, that means one can't get into the water dressed, not even in a swimsuit. And anyway, soon all people will be the same, there won't be any men or women!"


"With this kind of "shamanizing",  - remarked one of eyewitnesses, - soon there won't be any Buryats and their shamans left on the island…"  Not so long ago, a small Orthodox church was built at the edge of Khuzhir. Until then, Russians could pray only at home. Buryat shamans had a sympathetic attitude to the church. "Let all flowers grow here! - Vladimir Buinov told me.  - But without the self-invited sect followers…"


According to legend, a powerful family of Olkhon shamans was descended from an eagle who turned into a human. When I was leaving Olkhon, I came across a meadow which was a favorite of  pilgrims, who constructed circles of colored stones in the grass. And over there is an obo, traditionally decorated with ribbons. And if you climb the mountain, an onion dome of a church is visible on the shore. An eagle is flying over the forest…

Today all the flowers are growing in the nature preserve for spirits.

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