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Riding Windhorses and Mongolian Shamanism
by Alida Birch
Any serious student or practitioner of shamanism has studied the Mongolian-Siberian shamans. Mircea Eliade in his classic text, Shamanism: Archaic Techniques of Ecstasy first published in 1951 has 33 references to the Siberian Mongolian shamans not including numerous references to the specific tribes. For decades, anthropologist and ethnographers have been hampered by translations two or three times removed from English making it difficult to understand the nuances of the Mongolian shamans' rituals,ceremonies, and healing powers. Also hampering was the blatant Communist suppression of shamanism. Shamans were forbidden to practice and drums were outlawed. There are many stories of shamans being imprisoned or killed because they found it impossible to stop healing.

So it was indeed fortunate to discover RIDING WINDHORSES:A Journey into the Heart of Mongolian Shamanism by Sarangerel Odigan. Sarangerel is a Mongolian shaman fluent in English willing to share her healing methods. Never before has a Siberian shaman written a book detailing the shamanic tradition, history, and practices of the active shaman. Saraa was trained in the traditional Mongolian and Buryat shamanic traditions by native teachers who are free to practice again following the collapse of the Soviet Union.

She is the foreign outreach representative of the Golomt Center for Shamanistic Studies and the Mongolian Shamans' Association. Saraa has an extensive webpage, The Buryat Home Page: Shamanism, Folklore, and Poetry, located at Golomt means "place of the fire"; it is the place where Father Heaven and Mother Earth meet and is the symbolic center of the world in Buryat-Mongolian shamanism. The tradition of Buryat-Mongolian shamanism is at least 5000 years old, probably much older, and Buryat culture represents one of the oldest cultural traditions on earth. The wisdom of Siberian shamanism is applicable in the modern world today. Its basic principles are reverence for the earth and sky, keeping the world and one's personal life in balance, and personal responsibility and the book gives good examples of how the principles are brought to bear in remote southern Siberia. This is where the shaman is the guardian of the environment, the community, and the natural order.

Riding Windhorses is the first book written on Mongolian-Siberian shamanism by a shaman trained in that tradition. Sarangerel, which means Moonlight Shamaness, thoroughly covers all aspects of the shamanic worldview and practices. Each chapter covers basic topics including Mongolian cosmology, the natural world order, the spirit world, healing, protection, and fortune telling. Chapters conclude with a ritual to help the reader move from concept to practice.

The windhorse or himori, for example, represents personal psychic power that resides in the chest. It is accumulated by actions designed to restore balance in the universe. It is increased by good deeds and decreased by bad deeds or thoughts. Windhorse is the force that allows shamans and other powerful people to accomplish what needs to be done simply and easily. Saraa concludes her initial discussion of himori with a ritual for raising windhorse. I found the author's presentation of the rituals to be clear, easily duplicated, with suggestions for alternate scenarios. This book is helpful for both beginning and advanced students of shamanism.

Saraa lives in Siberia and practices ritual at the shores of Lake Baikal, the deepest and freshest water lake in all the world. This lake has great spiritual power and is revered by shamans (and others) worldwide. Shamans gather here on the solstices to perform ceremony together on behalf of their communities. Saraa lives with very little material means, as do most native shamans. The people in Siberia are destitute; many of them do not have enough food or warmth for the cold Siberian winters. Saraa spends about half her time traveling to raise money so she can return to Siberia and practice her calling.

The Geser Fund, an example of Saraa's work, was created in 1993 in order to promote the celebration of the shamanist epic "Geser" in the republic of Buryatia. This was part of a five-year program to re-awaken the consciousness of the people in Southern Siberia to their ancient and precious traditions. This was a necessary move after over a half century of repression of their traditional culture and religion. The history of this repression has much in common with what was experienced by Native Americans before the American people became aware of the importance of their ancient traditions. Now that the original purpose of the fund was finished there is now a new vision, a wider one, to spread knowledge of Siberia, its ecology, shamanism, and traditional culture throughout the world. It will not only include the Buryats in this new program, but also the Mongols, Tuvans, Yakut, Altai, Evenk, and all other Siberian peoples that will join with us.

Siberia is one of the last places in the world that is still relatively untouched by the pressures of modern civilization. Its peoples are still attuned to a way of life that all our ancestors had -- living in balance with their environment. For the many thousands of years in which its native peoples have lived on this land their lifestyle and culture developed a balance with its environment, which allowed them to follow their way of life with minimal damage to their forested mountainous environment. Contrary to common conceptions, Siberia is a rich environment with vast forests, even more vast than the rainforests of South America -- and thousands of species of plants and animals, many of which are scarcely known. This way of life is threatened by pressures from the forestry industry and from modern industrial culture.

The purpose of the Geser Fund is to promote the preservation of the ecology of Siberia and the lifeways of its native peoples. Furthermore it is our purpose to share the ancient wisdom of its cultures, with their traditions with the outside world. The Siberian shamanist philosophy promotes reverence for Father Sky and Mother Earth and all its

inhabitants, living in balance with nature, and personal responsibility for what happens in the future.

These ideas are embodied in the Geser epic, which is found among the Buryats and other Siberian natives. This epic story in its shamanist form is thousands of years old, and has intriguing parallels to any Native American myths. The hero, Geser, was sent down to earth by the spirits of the upper world to deliver mankind and all living things from extinction. There had been a war among the tengger (sky spirits) motivated by personal selfishness and jealousy, and the world had been polluted from the sky, resulting in fires, disease, mass extinction, starvation, and all manner of suffering. The life of Geser as described in the epic presents all of the major ideas of Siberian shamanism and the ancient oral tradition of this epic was a way of preserving this philosophy for future generations. Now, humankind, similar to the sky spirits, is now threatening itself with the same consequences due to its own selfishness and shortsightedness. The revival of shamanism throughout the world, as in the time of Geser, presents a way of finding a new paradigm for our future.

Sarangerel will be visiting Eugene Oregon on October 7th and 8th to present a workshop on "Healing Techniques of the Siberian Shaman." For more information contact Alida Birch, a shamanic healer practicing in Eugene, (541-686-1610 or Also: Saraa will be discussing and signing her book at Mystic Mountain Bookstore in Corvallis on October 5 at 7pm and at Tsunami Books in Eugene on Oct 6th at 7:30. No charge.