AT THE EDGE OF THE WORLDS: Shamanism of the Peoples of Siberia

This exhibition represents a unique phenomenon of world civilization: shamanism, which in different forms and at different times is common to Asia, Europe, and America. Beginning in the Stone Age, shamanism has continued through today. The Museum’s exhibition is centered on the forms of shamanism practiced in Northern Siberia and the Far East. 

Shamanism was based on ancient people’s dualistic conception of the universe. Elements and forces of the natural world were personified in the spiritual world, which thus paralleled the natural, physical world. At the same time, the universe was viewed as having a multitudinous structure, each level of which was inhabited by spiritual beings. The shaman’s role as psycho pomp was to connect the world of humans and the world of spirits by acting as an intermediary between them. During the course of a special ritual called kamlanie (shaman’s act), the shaman would enter a state of trance and cross over into the spirit world. Thus, shamanism is centered on the specific spiritual 
experience of this pivotal figure: the shaman. 

The center of the Museum’s exhibition room, accordingly, has been arranged to convey the image of a strong sacral center, and is suggestive of a human being’s interaction with micro- and macrocosm via the shaman and his assistant spirits. Some articles from a unique shaman structure were used (assembled by A.Makarenko in Central Siberia, the Yenisey region) to depict a scene of the kamlanie of an Evenk shaman in his tent, with its galleries representing the cosmos on both the horizontal and vertical levels. 

In the second circle of the exhibition’s sacral space (the Universe), the four main rituals of kamlanie connected with the most important aspects of life are represented: birth and death, disease, hunting, and the past, present 
and future. Unique articles of shaman’s belongings, costumes and ritual objects are used in this part of the exhibit. One can see the shamanic prayer sites of the Ket, Selkup, Khant and Nenets tribes; a number of funeral belongings of the Udeghe, Nanaians, and Orochi; medical articles used to search a sick person’s soul in the upper world of the Manegri and Orochoni; medical clothing of the Evens, Nanaians and Oroki; a scene of shaman’s fortune-telling typical to the Altaian, Khant and Even peoples, as well as other displays. 

The shamanism of Siberian peoples displayed a number of mythological and cult forms, which preserved many otherwise archaic forms of worldviews, rituals, and artifacts. Some of the materials in the Museum’s exhibit represent this variety of manifestations of the shaman’s cult in Siberia. These materials illustrate such manifestations as family and professional shamanism; male, female and transsexual shamanism; and black and white shamanism. 

The final part of the exhibition shows the stages of a shaman’s development, which was expressed in specific articles that marked each level of his career. At the exhibit one can see a complete set of Buryat shaman’s clothes, the attributes of which indicate that he had achieved the second level of professional attainment. 

The Russian Museum of Ethnography’s collection of Northern Siberia and the Far East includes as many as 250 items and 50 drawings and photographs on 20 peoples, including the Evenks, Nanaians, Khants, Yakuts, Khakass, Buryats, and Selkups. The bulk of the collection is made of objects assembled on the request of the Russian Museum’s Ethnographic Section in the beginning of the twentieth century. These articles were collected by such well-known ethnographers as D. Klements, N. Sokolnikov, V. Arceniev, M. Khangalov, A. Makarenko, S. Rudenko, D. Soloviov, A. Adrianov and Ya. Kon. 

The exhibition is unique in its attempt to view Siberian shamanism through the prism of religious, philosophical, social, and cultural aspects of human conceptions of the world. The systematic, structural approach to the exhibit’s formation, allows us to examine not only the outer manifestations of shamanism, but also its inner meaning. 

 The exhibition consists of the following units: 

 1. To become a professional shaman 
2. The vision of shamanism 
3. The ritual of kamlanie in a shaman’s tent 
4. Variations of kamlanie rituals 
5. Types of shamanism 

Space required – 150-200 square meters; 
Number of objects – 200.