SIBERIAN SHAMANS: Trial by Fire

In eastern Siberia, shamans were healers and seers, and it is said they had the ability to leave their bodies to communicate with, and gain the assistance of, the spirit world. Today, their culture is nearly gone, but extraordinary tales of shamanism remain. I’m Jim Metzner, and this is the Pulse of the Planet, presented by the American Museum of Natural History.

ambience: Shaman chanting

We’re listening to the chanting of a Siberian shaman, recorded one hundred years ago. Anthropologist Thomas Ross Miller tells us that in some Siberian cultures, becoming a shaman demanded a period of rigorous trial and training.

“A shaman would go through three kinds of trials before they had been fully initiated and able to practice shamanism. The first was a mental test, the second was a physical trial, involving dismemberment or other extreme forms of torture and deprivation, and the third was a spiritual test. When the individual had come through all these tests, they could become a practicing shaman.”

“It’s difficult to say how much of the lore was literally true and how much of it was psychologically true. There are fantastic stories of people having their heads cut off, of people having their bodies torn apart and then put back together. There are other stories which we might not find so unbelievable today, as those. But the idea in all of them was that this was a very difficult sort of ordeal. It was a kind of a trial by fire, if you will, that one had to pass through, in order to take up this profession.”

ambience: shaman chanting

More in Siberian shamanism on future programs. Pulse of the Planet is presented by the American Museum of Natural History. I’m Jim Metzner.

SIBERIAN SHAMANS: Trial by Fire

A shaman would undergo three kinds of trials before becoming fully initiated.
Air Date:03/19/1998
Scientist:
Transcript:

In eastern Siberia, shamans were healers and seers, and it is said they had the ability to leave their bodies to communicate with, and gain the assistance of, the spirit world. Today, their culture is nearly gone, but extraordinary tales of shamanism remain. I'm Jim Metzner, and this is the Pulse of the Planet, presented by the American Museum of Natural History.

ambience: Shaman chanting

We're listening to the chanting of a Siberian shaman, recorded one hundred years ago. Anthropologist Thomas Ross Miller tells us that in some Siberian cultures, becoming a shaman demanded a period of rigorous trial and training.

"A shaman would go through three kinds of trials before they had been fully initiated and able to practice shamanism. The first was a mental test, the second was a physical trial, involving dismemberment or other extreme forms of torture and deprivation, and the third was a spiritual test. When the individual had come through all these tests, they could become a practicing shaman."

"It's difficult to say how much of the lore was literally true and how much of it was psychologically true. There are fantastic stories of people having their heads cut off, of people having their bodies torn apart and then put back together. There are other stories which we might not find so unbelievable today, as those. But the idea in all of them was that this was a very difficult sort of ordeal. It was a kind of a trial by fire, if you will, that one had to pass through, in order to take up this profession."

ambience: shaman chanting

More in Siberian shamanism on future programs. Pulse of the Planet is presented by the American Museum of Natural History. I'm Jim Metzner.