You are on page 1of 11

Agaryn Hairhan, also known as Baglaan Udgan, was a powerful Shamaness that lived on a

mountain with her son and daughter. Her son was born not only with the shamanistic magic that his

mother had but also with the ability to morph into an eagle. Unfortunately, her son chose to use black

forces to do evil works and eventually was shot while in eagle form for this behavior. Because Agaryn

was the only Shaman to ever be able to control the "Fire Black Spirit" and the "Spark Black Spirit," she

had power over internal organs. She used this power to gain revenge on those that shot her son by

forcing them to eat the boiled innards of her son, setting a curse on that tribe forever.(Pegg 121-122)

Agaryn's daughter had the same shamanistic powers of her mother. In a myth telling of her early

death and displaying the strife between Shaman and Lamaism religions, she exhibits her power over

internal organs. In her story a Lama adherent came to her ger and challenged her shamanistic power by

performing a magic feat according to his gods. His feat was to take out his own tongue and let it sit on

his hand still wiggling. To defeat him, Agaryn's daughter cut open her chest and took out her innards to

show to him. He left defeated but not after throwing dirt into her open chest. Once he left she used her

hair to sew up the wound but died soon after because of infection, leaving her mother alone on the

mountain. Eventually when Agaryn grew old and died, the mountain was renamed after her. It is now

held by Darhat shamans as a place of worship since the mountain holds her spirit. (Pegg 122)

Myths and legends such the preceeding one on Agaryn and her children are all historical parts

of Mongol and Siberian folk lore, but they also point towards an intricate belief system that is held by

these peoples. Shamanism, including related rituals and belief systems, have been interwoven with the

fabric of the Mongol people since they first started to settle the steppes of Northern China, continuing

until they almost conquered the known world, and even extending into the present day with its recent

resurgance. Not only does Shamanism represent the Mongol history, but it works to explain their

worldview. Through this paper's examination of the practices, rituals, garments, historical adherents,

and religous beliefs on truth in the Mongol religion of Shamanism, Christians can take an objective
look at how to best respond to Mongol Shamanism and its followers.

• Origin

Shamanism is a religion that possesses many faces and forms depending on what people

practice it. Shamanism is contextualized according to its adhearants and, yet, it remains difficult to

discern Shamanism from other world religions because of its similar animistic themes. According to

Andreas Lommel, author of Shamanism: the Beginnings of art the world's cultures can be split up into

two divisions: hunter cultures and planter cultures. Lommel explains that because of this split up that

Shamanism exsists. He says that the hunterer culture was the earliest culture form and that from it

stems the idea of being one with nature. (Lommel 15)

As opposed to the planter's world view of producing and gaining for self, the hunter only

survives because he kills and eats animals in nature. It then logically follows that the hunter would have

to create a way to free himself from the burden of murdering other creatures and so he creates the

immortal soul and eternal light. However, the human soul, is not the extent of the hunter's creation

according to the book. The hunter needs to make his wrong a right and so he creates the spiritual realm

and includes all living things within it in an effort to say that he reall did not kill the animal but that it's

spirit can, if treated properly, return and restore the animal to life. This eleaborate creation leads then to

the hunter culture's need for a spiritual specialist which is solved by Shamanism. (Lommel 15)

In the book Shamanism by Piers Vitebsky, another view is presented in that Shamanism

actually originated from the Mongolian-Siberian area north of China. This conclusion first is reached

because the word Shamanism, despite critics, is derived from this area and describes all religions

orignially from that area. Although traditionally these localized religions aren't called shamanism (or

have really any name at all) they all share similar in views and cosmology relating to different tall

objects. Another support comes from the make current composition of the Siberian-Mongolian cultures
that are practicing Shamanism today. Most of the Siberian and Mongolian that practiced Shamanism in

their history still practice today. And of these cultures that continue to practice Shamanism, most are

still functioning as hunter based cultures. (Vitebsky 34)

This fact parallels the above statement by Lommel, that Shamanism was born from the early

primitive hunter world view of a spiritual natural world. Cultures today that continue to imploy

Shamanistic belief systems as well as hunter based culture models seem to support the evolutionary

chian of religion belief. This belief states that religion started first with animism and spirit worship until

it eventually evolved into it's dominant cousin, monotheism. Conclusively, this too seems favorable

since Shamanism grew up in the “back-woods” and doesn't include a need to belive in any god's but

rather spirits.

However, as discussed in class there are several strong arguements against this view and for the

idea of original monotheism. The first arguement against Shamanism being the base of the evolutionary

chain is that most current forms of Shamanism have not evolved hardly at all from what they once were

. A second validating point to the arguement is that Shamanism is still highly complex regardless of

hold old it is. Thirdly, although Shamanism is about the worshipping of nature and spirits there is

acknowledgement of a single Most High God. Finally as Christian's we should recognize that the Bible

specifically states how God created us and how we and nothing else obtained spirits (Gen. 2:7).

• Beliefs

Due to Shamanism being such an old religion it's system of beliefs have under gone several

changes since it was first used in Mongolia. During the earliest stages of life in Mongolia Shamanism

was set up in a belief system similar to the “everything has a spirit” idea by Lommel. In the beginning

Shamans and their followers had no recognition of the concept of any kind of after life. The only thing

that happened when you died was the becomming of an ancestoral spirit. These ancestoral spirits
inhabited places near buring sites or specifically on the site they werde buried. The spirits were bound

to the burial site and obtained power from similar spirits. As the ancestral spirits grew in power they

manipulated annimate objects as well as caused everyone to fear the burial grounds except the Shaman.

And because of this behavior, Shamen started to specialize in visiting and controlling of the ancestral

spirits (Znamenski, 120).

The belief system of Shamanism grew as Shamen gained more respect and responsibility within

the communities they operated in. Shamen were recognized as healers at first and utilized for this

(Vitebsky 37). It was believed by the Shaman that “a'” (Ripinsky-Naxon 56). This healer prospective

soon became enlarged to fit clan protector, using his magic to ward off evil spirits from not only scaring

or cursing people but also from hurting them.

Then as the civilisations that practiced Shamanism continued their Shamen started civilize as

well. Shaman, next, took on the role of sacrificial priest and gained the responsibility to not only

protect or heal the clan they served but also to be the spiritual mediator between humans and the gods.

Often times the Shaman would have the responsibility of escorting dead spirits of the clan to the next

world (Vitebsky 37). And as Shamanism expanded into a much deeper role for the Shaman a new order

would have to be given. To accomplish this new order, deities and powerful spirits were introduced in a

heirarchy form. However, with the change to having full fledge gods, it became necessary to make a

distinction between right magic (white) and evil magic (dark) (Pegg, 121)

Because of the split, Shamen got even more responsibility than before siding with either side

and practicing that side's magic. White magic consisted hardly of magic and more of prayer and

supplication. Often Shamen would pray to the gods continuously until heir prayer was answered. Also

it was used to protect clan members. On the opposite side of white magic is black magic.The black

magic is the typical style of magic that most think of when you think of a Shamen. Black magic is

practiced by a Shamen who puts himself into a transe and takes a spiritual trip to the underworld or
confronts disease on behalf of the people (Vitebsky 35).

The heirarchy of the gods is made up of several spirits and a lot of deities. Starting at the top the

heirarchy is the deities. There are approximately 55 white deities and 44 dark deities, and since they are

very remote and powerful gods. Next in the heirarchy is the Lord Spirits which represent the spirits of

the past clan chieftans. The third in line are the Protector Spirits of the Ancestors, which are the spirits

of the greatest Shamen and Shameness. The final and fourth heirarchy spot belongs to the guardian

spirits which are the spirits of dead lesser Shaman (Pegg 121)

• Rituals and clothing

Shamanism is a religion rich with diverse appearal and rituals rooted deep within its culture.

The Shaman and his garb is as important as the incantations that he recites. The typical Shaman carries

with him a staff. This is one of his most important personal effects because it is his main tool once he

crosses over to the spirit world. The staff in the spirit realm becomes a multitude of things depending

on what obstacles you must over come. If water is your obstacle then it can transform into a boat and if

a mountain is your obstacle it can be your stairs. The staff is decorated and selected in a way to be

completely helpful to the Shaman while in the spirit world. If it is decorated with and animal parts such

as a horses skull on top then it is understood that that animal is with the Shaman upon entering the

spirit world. Other than those stipulations the rest of the staff is completely up to the Shaman's

disgression (Pegg,125-126).

Another highly important object used by the Shaman is his drum. The Shaman's drum

represents either the animal spirit that a Shaman can use or the invokeable spirit that the Shaman can

summon to himself (Pegg, 127). The drum is a statement of purpose and respect. The most common

drum used by the Shaman is a round drum with crossways sticks. The sound and idea of the drum is to

beclose to that of a Stag and it's call. Also it could be equated with a bull's call as well. The mongolian
perseption is that it will freighten the evil demons and scare them away (Heissig 21).

Attached to that is the beating stick that is also known as the Shaman's 'Sceptre'. This is used not

only to create noise with the drum by the shaman but also works like that staff once traveling in the

spirit realm. Most likely the beeating stick carved into a pair of 2 such as a beating stick with a horses

head on one and a horses hoof on the other. The beating stick might also be recognized as Mongolian if

the horse has stirrups on it (Heissig 21).

Clothes worn by the Shaman include an intricate headdresses. Mongolian Shaman's happen to

have the widest variety of styles to choose from depending on where your tribe is from. In the North

helmets are used as headdresses and can include a spike on the tops as well as coronets of leather and

strips of cloth. The meaning behind the horn on the helmet, however, has been lost except the use of red

in the head gear which is a favorite cloth type of the Shaman (Heissig 20).

The traditional clothing of the Mongol Shaman is passed down from Shaman to Shaman. This is

a tell tale sign that every Shaman is authenticly garbed and not manufactured. The authority they hold

was given to them out of trust as a good enough predessor. The clothes then are made out of Kaftan and

are very orniate in nature. On it are hanging many metallica peices as well as tiny bells. On each of the

metallic parts hangs another piece of leather facing outwards. This is weaved snake like around and out

the other side of the metallic object. The clothes are like this to imitate a Shaman being a bird, the long

strips on the sleeves are being the feathers on the wings and the strips down the back form the tail. The

meaning of the strips can lead to the bird view so the Shaman gains the ability to fly or it could

possibly represent the Shaman having serpents all over his body (Heissig 17).

On the outside of the Kaftan another peice of clothing is worn called quyay. This looks like the

appearance of a modern apron. It is made out of more leather strips of varying lengthes and varying

amounts of different colors at the discretion of the Shaman. This then acts like armor and takes on the
charactristic of a certain animal protector. The animal chosen to protect you depends on how you elect

to make the strips and what colors they will be arranged in (Heissig 17)

Another common piece of clothing is a belt like hanging with Mirrors attached to it. The mirrors

have no specific number or shape except what the people might hold as sacred. This garment is

especially poignant in today's Shamanistic societies. The mirrors are attached because they hold

multiple functions. The main reason is similar to that of the drum- to frighten off evil forces and spirits.

This is not the only reason, though, because the mirror is also holds the special horse or mount of the

Shaman for fast travel, the mirror reflects secret thoughts, as well as it can stop the firey missles shot at

a person from the evil powers (Heissig 19).

The final important piece of equipment that a Shaman must have is the rituals and songs they

use to do spells. Mongolian Shaman's have done an amazing job at preserving historical information as

well as ritual and belief system recordings. And although a majority of the texts were only from the 19th

century a few major sources do record the belief system of a time in Mongolia before the Christians,

the Buddhist, and the Lamaists. One exceptional piece of work called The Secret History of Mongols.

Was probably written about 1213 and records direct incidents when Gengis Khan led his people in

Shamanistic rituals, sacrifices, and worship (Plumley 587).

In the 19th century famour explorers made it through Mongolia and started uncovering

invocations, hymns and ritual texts of the past Shaman groups. They then in turn published these

findings which eventually turn spurred Walther Heissig to study among the Eastern Mongol. With all

this new information pouring in about the Mongolian past eventually led to the giving of genre's found

in Mongolia. With these mass amount of texts it is much simpler to understand, study and even practice

Mongolian Shamanism if you were interested in it. The Mongol Shaman were very smart to make sure

and write their culture down which as stated later below it is clear that Mongolian Shamanism is a lot

more steadfast than it seems (Plumley 587).

• History

Although Shamanism has been around a while in Mongolia and even practice today, it is

important for Christians to know and understand the who, what, when, where, and why of Mongolian

culture. The first thing that the Christian's will notice when encountering the Mongol culture and that is

who is famous: Gengis Khan. Gengis Khan, also known to some as Chiggis Khan put Mongolia on the

map. His fame was attributed to the fact that he was a highly effective leader that led Mongolia to

almost successfully conquer the known world.

Chiggis Khan, however, was not always the highly effective a respected leader that he ended up

as. His life story is truly a one of overcoming his odds and making something from nothing. Chiggis's

real name was Temudgin and he was born to Hogelun and Yesugei on the same day that an enemy clan

warcheif named Temudgin was captured. His father saw in him much promise and so when he was of

age he took him out to find a suitable daughter for him (Khan 14).

When he was 9 Yesugei took him to the Olkhunugud tribeto pick out a wife because they had

the fairest of women among the mongol tribes. This is where Temudgin met Borte who would one day

eventually be his wife. They didn't, however, get married because before Temudgin could get to know

his bride and her family his father was poisoned by some advesaries of another clan and killed.

Temudgin then returned home also to find that his mother had been abandoned by the clan (Khan 15-


So Temudgin and his 3 other brothers became the new men of the household and helped their

mother care for the house and catch wild game for meals. This worked out very well until the leaders of

their old clan showed up to kill Temudgin and anyone else living with him. Luckily Temudgin made it

out of these adventures only to find that he had more enemies than just his old clan (Khan 16). At some

point things do get brighter for Temudgin because he gets to finally start winning once a powerful
shaman prophetizes that the Most High Sky God, God of war and strength, wills for him to be master

of the world (Vitebsky 35).

This then changed everything for Temudgin and he got his name replaced with Chiggis. He

assembled the clans together and made them strong. He made his warriors sacrifice and follow the

ancient gods so that they to might be successful under him. He believed that they were the reason why

he was also partly because of his belief as well as his personal Shaman abilities. It was known that

Chiggis in many situations went into a trance and predicted his future and what he should do in his next

move with his army (Vitebsky 35).

But the further Chiggis penetrated into Europe the more his ideas and lifestyles were influenced

by those he conquered. The Shaman that once helped him prophesied against him and he had him

killed. This then, became the final straw that led to Chiggis eventually turning from Shamanism and to

Christianity. To this day Mongols highly revverre and respect him for uniting their country from clans

and for introducing first huge movement to Christian in Asia.

Mongolian Shamanism, however, has had to overcome many obstacles as well to continue to

survive. It has adapted, engulfed and defended itself against the many other religions of the area.

Several times it has found itself pushed by missionaries both Buddhist as well as Christian to change

and still it continues to survive. Most often Shamanism employs the use of syncretism in how it accepts

a new religion.

As early as the 9th century you can see the persecuting of Mongol Shamans by many outside

influences. In 821 Khan Bogu ordered all Shaman statues and idols to be burned and that the people

immediately turn to Manichaeism. This also extened even to the worshipping of any Shaman god or

spirit. Things, though, did turn around for the Shaman's during the 13th and 14th centuries while Chiggis

Khan dominated Asia (Pentikäinen 249).

Things, though, took a worse turn when Buddhist missionaries entered the scene in the 16th and

17th century. While there they dominated the religious fronteir and forced Shamanism underground. It

used systematic oppression to subdue Shamanism. Then at the turn of the 19th century Shamanism was

dealt an even harder blow as the government started requiring people to burn their idols as well as

fining people who were underground worshippers of Shamanistic spirits (Pentikäinen 249).

Finally as things turned to the 20th century Shamanism was faced with less of a religious foe and

more of a political one. In the Mongolian constitution Shamanism was banned from practice. Eastern

Mongolia lifted it's ban on Shamanism but then was highly frowned down upon. Things changed in the

1960's when the cultural revolution struck. It then seemed like Mongolian Shamanism should have met

an early demise. The opposite, however, holds true and several people groups remember and practice

shamanism today (Pentikäinen 249).

• Christian Response

The best response to this Mongolian Shamanism is first to understand their culture. Shamanism

is part of the Mongol's genetically make up and that is why it has survived so long in inclimate

conditions. A part of this that is also important to see is how Shamanism has shaped the Mongolian

people and how it currently is. By first taking the time to understand the Mongol people you are

meeting one of their primary needs- the need to be heard and appreciated. Celebrate culture with the

people but understand that the Shaman's are lost and that the rituals they do and the invocations they

say are not summoning the true God but actually spirits that just blind them.

The best way then to minister to the people once you have stuudied and understand the Mongol

culture is to use the bridges that there are to Christianity. First you are connected by the fact that you

both believe in a Most High God but explain further that not only is He in the sky but He is here in us

and with us. Also make the connection with their past, Chrsitianity during part of the Mongol Empire
had quite a foothold. Research and find out what Gengis Khan believed in after he left Shamanism and

see if that inpacts their lifes. Finally provide for their needs physically not just spiritually. Show them

that God is the provider and that he provided us nature but that nature points us right back to Him.