Are you a shaman? Let’s be honest: Probably not. Feel free to get angry and defensive, but let me talk through this.
A lot of people claim to be shamans in the Mongolian style. Most of them have read books by Michael Harner or Sarangerel. They say that they were “initiated by their spirits” and “felt their calling” and so forth.
It doesn’t work like that.
Here’s how it works in regards to Mongolian shamanism
Let’s start at the very beginning: What does a shaman do? A shaman is a person who becomes fully posessed by their ancestral or heavenly spirits. During this time, their soul exits their body (usually flying up to the heavens) and another spirit takes over their body. This spirit uses the body to communicate. They will speak, eat, drink, sing, smoke, conduct massage, even accupuncture, all through the body of their ulaach or medium. When the spirit is finished they will leave. The shaman’s soul will return to his or her body. He or she will have no memory whatsoever of what has occurred in this time.
This spirit uses the body to communicate
So if you think you are “channeling” a spirit and it’s “speaking through you” but you remain even vaguely conscious, you are not practicing our tradition and you are not a Mongolian shaman.
So what does it take to actually be a Mongolian shaman?
You don’t get any choice in the matter. I don’t care how badly you want it.
First, you must have shamanic ancestry. This is blood lineage ancestry. It may be many generations back, but it has to be there. That means that pretty much across the board you must be Mongolian or Siberian. Remember this point, because it will be returned to many times later. So if you don’t have shamanic ancestry, then you are not a shaman in the Mongolian tradition. The end.
Blood lineage ancestry is essential to Mongolian shamanism
Second, you don’t feel your own calling. You are interested in shamanism? Cool. You feel spirits? Excellent. You’ve seen ghosts? Congratulations. None of this makes you a shaman. It just doesn’t.
Your calling happens when the spirits choose you. Now STOP! This doesn’t mean you can say “Oh, the spirits chose me! I feel them around me!” Because that is not how it works! The spirits choice is indicated through an absolutely horrible experience called “shamanic illness” which you can read about in this link. A shamanic illness is an extremely severe, horribly painful experience that will continue for a very long time, often years. It is so severe that people have died from it. In addition to the previous example, one of my ongodtengertei (with spirits, which is to say: future shaman) friends is often crippled and unable to walk when she has an episode. Another friend who is now a shaman described her as like being constantly stabbed with knives. Almost every shaman and ongodtengertei person I know has contemplated suicide as a way to solve the pain of this illness. That includes me.
Doctors cannot diagnose it, priests cannot cure it
You go to a shaman who’s spirits will recognize that you are with spirits and then they will decide whether or not you are meant to be a shaman. Let me re-emphasize: it doesn’t matter what you want, the decision is up to the spirits. If the other shaman’s spirits recognize that you have spirits and that you are supposed to become a shaman, then you have to find a teacher which may or may not be that shaman.
If you are one of those very rare people who is not of Mongolian/Siberian ancestry but is recognized within our tradition as being “with spirits”, 99% of the time the recognizing spirit will say “You have spirits, but I cannot teach you. Our traditions and ceremonies would be innapropriate for your spirits as they are not Mongolian and it is not their spirits.” In short: go back home and find your own ancestral traditions. They are your birthright. You can follow them as much as you please.
This is Pujee, a Mongolian “white” shaman – photo from Caiseal Mor
Finally, you must be initiated under the guidance and proper full initiation of a qualified Mongolian shaman who has become your teacher. And there are plenty of fakes out there who would love to “recognize” your spirits and become your teacher for fame or money. So I mean it has to be legitimate. You cannot practice without initiation, which is to say a complete chanar or actual initiation by a shaman teacher with other shamans present and helping you through it.
If you have not done all of these things you can be spiritual, you can be sensitive to spirits, you can be a channeler or spirit worker or whatever you want to call yourself but you are not a shaman in the Mongolian tradition and you cannot be one.
Sorry, but that’s the truth.
If you would like to contact an actual Mongolian Shaman, you can do so here: BlueSky Shaman
Editor’s Note: The term ‘Shaman’ comes from the Tungusic language of Siberia and describes those working in the Siberian/Mongolian tradition. The term was imported to the West via Russia in the 16th Century. Although it has been widely used to describe a complex phenomenon across many traditions, it has often been used very loosely and is rarely used by other indigenous practitioners to describe their practices. This article, though you may not agree with the author’s point of view, represents an argument that the Mongolian shamans we contacted agreed with. In order to avoid confusion, many people practicing similar, but different, traditions are choosing to call themselves ‘Shamanic practitioners’, rather than ‘Shamans’.