© 2014 Iliya S. ELISEEV
2014 — №2 (8)
Buryat shamanism; neoshamanism; sympathetic magic; “obyertivanie baranom” rite; sacrifice; field data; method of participant observation; Valentin Khagdaev; healing; folk medicine.
In course of the expedition the author took part in the «obyertivanie baranom» rite («wrapping body in sheep’s viscera») held by a buryat neoshaman Valentin Khagdaev near his house in Yelantsy village. The rite was aimed to help a woman suffering from consequences of chemotherapy. The purpose of the rite was to heal woman from constant pain, infirmity and illnesses, aggravated after chemotherapy. Participants of the expedition took up roles of shaman’s assistants, they helped him to slaughter the sacrificial animal and butcher its carcass. The article represents the description of the rite, based on field data collected during the expedition. To preserve privacy of clients of Valentin Khagdaev, their names are not mentioned in the text.
The ethnographical expedition «Irkursk-Yelantsy-Olkhon-Kapsal» was organised in July 2013 by Vasiliy Telitsin and Ilya Eliseev, the 5th grade students of Lomonosov Moscow State University, Department of History. Their purpose was to gather field data for graduation work. They used method of participant observation in order to collect data on two topics: «Initiation of the Buryat shaman in contemporary Buryat shamanism» and «Healing practices of modern Buryat shamans (XX-XXI c.)». In course of the expedition they took part in the «obyertivanie baranom» rite («wrapping body in sheep’s viscera») held by a Buryat neoshaman Valentin Khagdaev near his house in Yelantsy village. The purpose of the rite was to relieve a woman suffering from consequences of chemotherapy from constant pain, infirmity and illnesses. Participants of expedition took up roles of the shaman’s assistants, who had to aid with slaughter of the sacrificial animal and butchering its carcass.
«Obertyvanie baranom» rite: Brief description of the rite
The rite «Obertyvanie baranom» was held on the territory of the neoshaman Valentin Khagdaev. There were three locations, where all events took place: a wooden yurt, a bathhouse and the house territory. At the wooden yurt Valentin Khagdaev was praying to the spirits of his ancestors and Buryat gods, in the bathouse the process of healing was held and the house territory was assigned for cooking sacrificial meal.
In the morning, approximately at 08:00 a.m., two butchers arrived with the sheep. The animal was bought the day before, when the client and the shaman reached final agreement about holding a rite. The wife of Valentin Khagdaev gave them two shots of vodka. One of them was gravely drunk and due to this could not perform his duties. V. Khagdaev asked me to perform his role. After that the preparation for the rite started – V.Khagdaed began to prepare the bathhouse, his relatives commenced cleaning the territory and the yurt.
At 10:00 a.m. client with 5 her accompanies arrived. All of them were Russian. The client was a woman, suffering from consequences of chemotherapy – constant pain and aggravated illnesses. After the greetings all the participants of the rite moved to the wooden yurt. V. Khagdaev sat on the place near the fireplace in front of the yurt door, others sat in front of him, forming a semicircle. One of Khagdaev relatives lit up the bonfire, formed as a tepee. Then she lit up the ‘bogorodskaya trava’ (dried thyme) in deep dishes to fumigate the participants and the yurt. After that V. Khagdaev said that during the ceremony no one was allowed to move or speak. He began to play his drum and monotonously pray to spirits of ancestors and gods in Buryat language. He did that for approximately 20 minutes than he announced the second part of the rite.
The client went to bathhouse with Khagdaev, were she got undressed and was wrapped in duvets. After that she laid down on a sofa at the bathhouse. Meanwhile I and the butcher transported the sheep to the bathhouse. I took its hind legs, Khagdaev took its front legs. We stretched the sheep body to reveal hypochondrium. Butcher made incision in the midriff, then shoved his arm into the animal’s body and tore out the aorta. After the sheep died, the butcher made a long incision and Khagdaev started to take out the sheep’s viscera and place it on the woman’s body.
The Buryat believe that healthy organs of a sacrificial animal can remove illnesses from the human body if they are placed on the surface of the sick person’s body, in correspondence with the layout of organs inside human body. The sheep’s heart is placed right above the human heart, and so on. This is a typical example of sympathetic magic (Frazer 1980: 20-60). During this part of the rite the shaman prays to spirits, asking them to give his client health and heal from sicknesses. The client spends some time with sheep’s viscera on his body, then sacrificial organs are removed and buried somewhere in the ground.
When Khagdaev began to eviscerate sheep, I was asked to get out from the bathhouse.
While I was taking part in bathhouse part of the rite, my colleague Vasiliy Telitsin was organizing a «kitchen bonfire». He prepared a cauldron and placed it on fire to boil water. Twenty minutes after I left the bathhouse, the butcher brought us the sheep’s carcass. We started to flay and carve it. The meat then was cooked. During that process we saw Khagdaev leaving and entering the bathhouse several times. First time he left the bathhouse with viscera in his hands, then returned with books in his hands. I saw a title of one of these book, it said «Folk medicine». When I asked him what these books were about, he got angry and refused to talk.
After 2 hours from the beginning of the bathhouse part, the client and Khagdaev left the bathhouse. All the participants were asked to go to the yurt. Khagdaev made prayers in the same way as during the first time and told everybody to eat some sacrificial meat. According to him, spirits are eating the aroma of the cooking meat, people have to eat the meat. This meat brings health, as Buryat beliefs go. At that point, around 4:00 p.m. the rite ended.
Khagdaev was paid for this ritual. One of the client’s accompanies gave an unknown sum of money to the Khagdaev’s wife. The neoshaman did not want to touch money, and also refused to say how much he was paid during the interview the day after. Moreover, he got angry as we asked this question. I suppose this was because in public lectures and presentations he claims that shamans work for free, unselfishly serving people (Field data…2013, Valentin Khagdaev).
Besides, Khagdaev said that he rarely does this rite (the rite of «wrapping body in sheep’s viscera»). Mainly he performs family rites for people of village Elantsy where he lives. He also takes part in the Buryat ethnic festival «Yordinskie igry» («Yordinskie games») performing the role of the main shaman.
Khagdaev mentioned during the interviews, that he does not enter trance states and is even afraid of these states. Once he had this kind of experience and nearly died, as he says. That scared him, that’s why he only prays to spirits. Also, he doesn’t believe in that other shamans could do such things like journeys to spirit worlds or anything like that.
Field data (2013). Recorded from Khagdaev V.V. 1959 b.y. village Elantsy, Olkhonsky district, Irkutsk region
Frazer J. G. (1980) The Golden Bough: A Study in Magic and Religion Moscow: Politzdat
Shaman Valentin Khagdaev (2010) Biographya (http://www.valentinhagdaev.narod.ru/biografia.html ) (27.02.2014) (Biography)
IrkipediaRU (2011) Khagdaev Valentin Vladimirovich (http://irkipedia.ru/content/hagdaev_valentin_vladimirovich ) (27.02.2014)