We had already almost lost our hope when suddenly Andrei came to my mind.
On the train Andrei had had his bed under mine, he was one of those men who had worked out a lot, and who was sharing some hunting stories with other local dudes. From time to time he silently gave me an apple or a chocolate bar, and was worried about where I was going like that. To meet the shaman people, I see.
And when we had almost lost all our hope I got a text from Andrei: Tomorrow there is a shaman at my place.
Walking through tundra
The Ural Moutains
Without a longer thought we took once again the weird means of transport, batuska, to cross the river and went to Labõtnang, where Andrei picked us up with his Zhiguli. We spent the next few days at his place.
There were two handi shamans, Lazar and Slava
, actually they were both more like 50/50 shamans as they liked to call themselves. Both had had grandfathers who had been very good shamans at their time. It is said that Lazar’s grandfather had caught a bullet with his bare hands. A great shaman like that.
But then history with its sad turns intervened. Namely, both grandfathers were killed by the communist government, just like most of big shamans in Siberia. My eyes were filled with tears when Slava told about this. He had been ten and thus had had only 3 years during which his grandfather had had a chance to teach him. Now he as a shaman has a problem, he can call the spirits but he doesn’t know how to send them back. Playing his shaman drum he can put you in trance but he can’t bring you back. So he couldn’t play us his drum for too long.
The first night one of the most important wisdoms in Russia revealed: In breakfast table in Russia you first have to drink vodka, and only after that people start talking and themes developing. This is why the shaman boys didn’t want to talk too much. First we proudly had to whoop toasts and clink glasses. For sakuska (snacks) we had Siberian national dishes:
– raw and frozen fish which is very thinly sliced. The slices can be dunked into a sauce or salt. Like ice cream but actually it’s fish, raw fish.
– the same fish slices but now they’ve melted. They’re covered with several herbs, kept under a lid for 5 minutes and it’s ready!
Reindeer sausage and reindeer meat
By the way, Slava made us eat fish brain, too!
All in all we had the most classic nights in Russia. We and the men sat around the kitchen table, drank vodka and tasted exciting sakuskas, the sun was shining constantly. Andrei was a fantastic cook.
When the vodka was already doing its job our discussions took more intriguing turns, which means we talked about Handi culture and Siberian shamanism. Still they were a bit tongue-tied when we touched those themes. For example:
Me: Could you travel between three words with toadstool?
Lazar: What? How do you know things like that?
Me: Well, could you feel the different worlds?
Lazar: Hmm… You know, you have to do a lot of work with it. It’s all I can say.
After a few shots he told me a bit more.
For a while we were left alone with Slava. He organized a little shaman session
. He played bubin (shaman drum), danced shaman dances and while playing the drum above us he tried to find the most problematic areas considering our health. After a short play on the drum he could, with a surprising accuracy, describe our characters. He also gave us some advice for the future.
A common characteristic of Siberian shamans is that they all wear an eye cover when in session. This is for the reason that nobody could see the shaman’s eyes in trance. A shaman in trance can travel in other universes gathering necessary information. The back of the shaman costume is covered with a metal ornament. It should protect from the evil spirits that could attack the shaman behind his back.
The shaman belt has the following elements:
- a hare
- a cold flake
- love for Mother Earth
- a reindeer (probably the most important friends for the Nordic people)
- love between a man and a woman
- a pentagon. That took us with a surprise, but the explanation was the following: for the Russian power wouldn’t kill any of us.
- symbols of the USSR – sickle and a hammer.
Now we were really surprised.
„The USSR killed all great shamans. To keep the shamans not being shoot at they put symbols of the power on their belts.”
Later that night when everybody was still in the kitchen whooping toasts, I sneaked into the other room to play bubin. I enjoyed the shaman drum’s powerful dim sound and practiced the rhythms Slava had taught me. Then the neighbours knocked on the door. Oh, it must be too late.
But the neighbours weren’t angry because of our noisiness.
„Nilzjaa, nilzjaa, nilzjaa! What are you doing here?! You shouldn’t be inviting spirits! Stop inviting the spirits! Nilzjaa, nilzjaa, nilzjaa!“