Shamanic Initiation

     I have heard the Buriat shaman Sarangerel describe initiation amongst her people,. Is it the same with your lineage?

Hi Kris,
     I'll go out on a limb a little by describing the way it is within my lineage. Perhaps this will offer a useful analogy to Saraa's words.
     In our ways, it is the predecessor spirits who watch over the lineage, collectively known as The Old One, who decide who will become shaman. Once this decision is made, initiation is administered under the auspices of the initiate's teacher, whence the initiatory death occurs. For a period of approximately one year, the new shaman is not referred to as shaman nor is the initiation death discussed beyond the confines of the new shaman and his/her teacher. This period of time permits the new shaman the opportunity to recover from the fragile state the initiation has imposed, to re-integrate their soul which has undergone a substantive shattering, and to integrate the teaching and medicine received during the initiatory experience. After this period of time, the new shaman is introduced to the members of the community through an initiation ceremony.
     I see many similarities between our ways and that which Sarangerel is describing.

Hi Nick,
     Thanks for your description. One thing I'm a bit confused about, though, is that in your description it sounds like the initiation is carried out by the "senior shaman." Saraa seemed to indicate that in her tradition, initiation is carried out through illness (specifically) which is brought on by spirits, and that any initiation by a "senior shaman" is done after the fact and regarded as a ceremony to acknowledge what was already done. This seems like a big difference, and I'm curious about these "illnesses" that Saraa and her fellow shamans have been through.
     What exactly is she referring to?  What are the symptoms?  Do you know, or does she describe this anywhere?

Dear Kris,
     Sarangerel and I have discussed this difference. She seemed to have difficulty understanding the administration of the initiatory death by the shaman. She seemed to think it was an arbitrary decision made by the shaman. It is not--the decision is made by The Old One (caretaker spirits of the predecessors). It is my understanding from our discussions that in her people's ways, the spirits who decide these things create an illness within the student carrying the student into the land of the dead.
     It is my understanding that various (I choose not to say all) South American shamanic traditions conduct initiation similarily to the ways I know. I read an account years ago by Augustine Rivas where his shaman teacher administered a poisoness drink (not ayuwasca). He said that some came back alive and became shaman and that some don't.
     Then again, I have heard of Apache initiation where the student jumps off a cliff. If he lives, he's shaman.
      I said that Saraa had difficulty understanding our ways. In fairness, I have difficulty understanding her's. I have lost contact with her. Otherwise, I would be interested in finding out how her people differentiate between a psychotic breakdown and initiation if a shaman is not in attendance and responsible. Or is the shaman there? So, I too have some questions.
     So far as the initiatory illnesses go, I assume (often not a good thing) that they are similar to that described by various ethnographers as reported within Eliade's book. I believe you quoted her as calling the illnesses "near death experiences". I do not care for that description as it could be taken to mean that anyone having a near-death experience is shaman. I don't feel that such is the case. We describe initiation as a "full-death experience" :-)
     Hope that helps a little. Sorry that I am not more knowledgeable of the Buriat shamanic ways. Perhaps, though, the answers are contained within her book, and you have not gotten to that part yet. Also, you might wish to peruse Eliade's book, Shamanism, Archiac Techniques of Ecstacy, which should be available in your library (if you have not already done so).

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