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There are a few reports of international interest from Tuva in the earlier parts of last century. Explorers and ethnographers made some studies, among which Journey to Tuva from 1929 by the German Otto Manchen-Helfen clearly stands out. For the Nobel Prize-winner Richard P. Feynman going to Tuva was one of the dreams of his life, and his struggle to fulfil it became famous through the book Tuva or Bust by Ralph Leighton. For a scientist working in the American nuclear program like Feynman, however, it was impossible to get to Tuva during the Cold War.
When the ethnographer Heimo Lappalainen from Finland arrived in Tuva during the end of the Soviet era he was the first person in a very long time that came to study shamanism. He did not believe in the reports that shamanism had disappeared and his visit raised hope among Tuvans who protected their beliefs. In 1993 Lappalainen and an
expedition from the American Foundation of Shamanic Studies came to visit and support fellow shamans in Tuva. Since the fall of the USSR, openness and interest in Tuva have increased.


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The crisis of modern western anthropology. The European concept of anthropology considers the person as an individual with the essence which in turn consists of moral, spiritual and other beginnings. This approach does not explain actions of the person. In connection with this, for the period of several decades of  years already anthropologists have been trying to find and comprehend, to compile new knowledge which they look for, as a rule, in the East. As far as we know, the connection between the Western and Eastern approaches does not go right to a science even on the conceptual level. The psychology, perhaps the only unique sciences which managed, in the very first approximation to use parts of anthropological practices of the East. Even before crisis of the Western anthropology people studied such masters of psychology as K.Jung and East anthropological experts, they input new and absolutely surprising possibilities to a modern psychology.






The World of Tuvan Shamans

In the past most Tuvans lived as nomads and moved between three or four places every year to get grass for their cattle. They were also hunters and collectors of different plants and herbs. Since immemorial times Tuvans have inhabited Central Asia where they have created and maintained a unique culture. This includes a form of belief-system or religion that once was used by most of mankind - the shamanic religion. Archeological findings of shamanic mirrors, khuzungur, testify to the deep roots of Tuvan shamanism. Researchers from different countries have been interested in Tuvan shamanism for a long time and recently, shamanism in Tuva has greatly recovered. The heritage of the past has been saved.




Algyshes are songs that Tuvan shamans use when they are working with spirits to heal or solve problems. Shamanism, including the algyshes, throat singing: khoomei and the instrumental music, is still the most outstanding element of the Tuvan culture.
An algysh can be an invocation, a prayer, praise or any other type of communication with the spirits, in the form of a song or hymn that a shaman sings during a ritual. It can involve blessings and curses, confessions of love or even calls to fight. An algysh is a working song, a power song and a way for the shaman to talk with his or her helper- spirits. Both men and women can be shamans but from here we refer to the shaman as he. The shaman first tells the spirits the reason they are being called. Then he gets their help in trying to decide about a possible course of action to solve the problem. Most algyshes are designated to healing sick people but they can also be used for other purposes, such as leading dead souls to the right place, for protection and good hunting or for devotions and empowerment. Quite often the algysh describes the power of the shaman, the source of the shaman s power, his or her helping-spirits and the natural environment.


The Bear Spirit


The oldest myths of Tuvan shamanism tell about the creation of the Earth; about Sky as the father of mankind and Earth as its mother. According to these myths the bear Khayirakan, whose ancient motherland is the land of the Azar people in the Ninth Sky, was sent to the Earth to create mankind.Khayirakan is a sacred word for bear deities. Since the bear is so important and sacred it is not to be spoken of in a direct way so when talking about it Tuvan people use nicknames like Mazhaalai or Kara Chuve.The bear is alert, vigilant and physically strong and can hear over long distances. It can bring news to the shaman and protect families. Shamans who can imitate the bear can call it and talk to the bear spirit during his ritual.




Anima comes from the Latin anima meaning spirit, soul or life. The animist idea that all known forms of life have a soul or spirit and is alive is a central concept in belief systems like shamanism. Humans, animals, trees and plants, rivers and mountains - they all have a spirit. Also natural phenomena like storms and rain have a spirit.
The Origin of Tuvan Shamans and their Power
There are different categories of shamans in Tuva: shamans who inherit their power from their ancestors, shamans of divine origin, shamans who derive from spirits of earth and water and shamans who get their power from malicious spirits. Inherited power is considered to make a shaman particularly strong. Usually the gift of shamanism is not passed on from parents to children directly, but from grandparents to grandchildren. When the latter are ten to twelve years old it becomes clear whether they are gifted or not. If the power is inherited, spirits will find and teach the child.
The Worlds of the Spirits
There are deities that are divine beings. But deity is sometimes not so much a word for a god or a goddess, but rather a word for that which is sacred and above normal human beings.
Aza, albys, chetker, shulbus, diiren and buk represent different categories of spirits. You can either turn to, or avoid, these spirits. Most of them are evil, but some of them will sometimes choose to help you or cooperate. Both deities and spirits come from one of the three worlds: the Upper World, the Lower World and the Bright World.
Eerens are another kind of spirits. They are helping spirits personalised or represented by empowered effigies or other objects. Most of the eerens take the shape of animals but they can also be eerens of ancestors or of the shaman s equipment. A shaman may have many helpers.
All places on earth, such as mountains, woods, waters, the sky or the underground are inhabited by spirits, and every place has its Master spirit. Our health, our well-being and our lives depend on these spirits.
The Source of Shaman Power
The shaman gets his power from the spirits. A shaman serves as a link between human beings and spirits and he is a guardian of the humans' interests.The spirits endow a shaman with supernatural powers to cure, to make prophecies and to bring good luck.
The Equipment of Shamans
The shaman dresses in a special coat and headdress and in the rites he or she can use a shaman drum, mirrors or a mouth harp. Usually, they also have a reeds pipe, a stick and a whip. Arrows, bells, pieces of metal and small sacks are often attached to the coat, which can be very heavy. The equipment, or paraphernalia, must not be touched by others since the shaman has empowered them in cooperation with the spirits.
The Cause of Sickness or Trouble
According to Tuvan tradition and shamanic philosophy sickness is rooted in certain actions and in the spiritual world. A person can get sick because of what he, she or someone else, has done and as the result of reactions and intentions of the spirits. Usually a person gets sick by doing something forbidden such as breaking a taboo. For instance, a person can get sick from actions like drinking, eating or wearing something forbidden. Or the sickness can come from going somewhere or doing something on a forbidden day. Forbidden actions enable bad spirits to attack and make you sick. You can also get sick from having disturbed, irritated or offended the spirits.


How the Shamans Work


When shamans work they use different methods such as divination, journeying to the spirits or calling the spirits to come and work through the shaman. Divination can be done as foretelling or bringing back advices from the spirits.

In the process of healing or when performing a ritual of sanctification, the shaman calls the spirits to come and work with him or her. Healing, to alleviate pain and suffering, is the most important shamanic work. A shaman is also often asked to sanctify and purify rivers, springs, and places. To meet with spirits in their worlds, to get answers and avice, the shaman goes on a spiritual journey. For this purpose, the beating of a drum is required and the drum is called the shamans horse. To start a shamanic journey is called to mount a horse in the algyshes. A strong shaman can imitate the sounds of animals and is familiar with the language and behaviour of animals. Through the voices of birds and animals a shaman can foresee the weather, the recovery of a sick person or someone's death.


The Poetry and Language of Shamanic Algyshes


In Tuvan algyshes philosophy, psychology and language are poetically expressed. If you do not know shamanic algyshes it is difficult to understand the spiritual world. The algyshes of Tuvan shamans can not be analysed like ordinary texts, since they are the result of an ancient oral tradition. Words are important tools for a shaman and algyshes are a source of oral creativity. The shamanic power was and is expressed in poetic images created during rituals. Tuvan shamanism could not exist without algyshes.
In algyshes one word can have several different meanings and you can find archaic words that modern Tuvans do not use any more. The poetry is a magic combination of words, sounds and vowel harmonySometimes sounds and sometimes word symbols are magical. For instance, a shaman can call for rain by imitating a crow, express his delight or admiration by imitating a bear, or he can show his power by imitating a bull.
Each shaman works independently and has an individual inner world with personal algyshes and melodies but over time Tuvan shamans have adjusted to common rules for creating algyshes.

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