Explorer Mikael Strandberg

Shamans; Do They Exist?

Lessons learned from Siberia 2013:

I met two people with the power, none of them wanted to call themselves shamans, ut others did. Or said they weren´t shamans. Most people I met just felt uncomfortable talking about them. I met a younger one, Alexander “Kulan” Artemyev, and an older one, Afanasiy Semenovich Fedorov. Both would have been imprisoned or killed during the Soviet Era.

Alexander “Kulan” Artemyev:

“You have to let that inner wolf out” , Alexander Artemyev told me, whilst his two handheld metal indicators both shot off the wrong way; “You have so much looked up inside you, so many blocks. You are a very stressed human being.”

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Since I have returned back to Yakutsk I had received emails and phone calls telling me that shamans still existed and that one could be found in Yakutsk. Shaman is a word which originates from the Tungus family of languages, like Eveny and Evenk. And during the Expedition from Oymyakon to Arkah I asked several Eveny´s, young and old, if shamans still existed. They all said that they had heard about it, but never met one and that they were all killed during the Soviet Era. And after all together 1½ year of travelling in Siberia, I have never met or come across a shaman either. So, I was kind of apprehensive when people told me to meet Kulan, or Alexander Artemyev. He even had a personal Facebook page and as far as I knew from the world of shamans, if you are one, you don´t go about telling others. that you are. Which he didn´t on his Facebook page, but do shamans connect with social global media? Why not I thought, we live in a constantely changing world. So, I contacted Kulan and it would be a shocker of a meeting for me.

“I can see you have an enormous amount of positive energy inside you, but it is all blocked and can´t get out” , he continued, checked Yura breifly and said he was much more relaxed, but had som stress symptoms on the right side of his body, and my wife seemed free of stress, he than looked at me seriously and said; “That is why I came today. To help you. Not to do any show for you. The spirits told me you needed help.”

He sat down next to meet, clinched his fists, told me to do the same, and put me feet firmly on the ground and he told me to close my eyes.

“Don´t look at me. Just concentrate. Your problem is that you are rationally trying to understand what I am trying to do. That is the problem with you. You over think and try to understand. To be able to feel better, you just have to let go. this is something that isn´t rational, it is just there, but to find yourself, you have to let go and just try to concentrate to see what appears in front of your mind. And don´t worry about the others in the room. Just let the wolf come out. You are extremely, extremely tired.” 

I was in shock. Now, yes, all he had said so far was spot on. For years I have had an enormous amount of stress due to…life. My brain worked day and night. The reason, I want to be able to support my family. So in 1½ year have done 3 big Expeditions and coming back from this last one, I have been extremely tired. If I had any doubts of is capacity, I believed it now. And since one of the pillars of exploration and life itself, is to dare try things even if they scare you. So, I let go.

“See yourself inside a yurta (tepee)” , Kulan said whilst I heard he took out a drum and started to beat it slowly and suggestive. He than took out like a brush made of horse hair, made a small fire, beat me with something sharp and the pain was enormous. He pressed the back of my head so hard that I wanted to scream, but I still wasn´t relaxed enough. I was to worried what my two daughters would think, but according to Pam, my wife, that looked at it all in silence. Which is very unlike my daughters. I smelt the fire, the smoke, a mouth harp start playing and than again the drum. And the bodily pain.

“I was standing inside the teppee” , I told Kulan after the first session; “Probably the doorway. I saw a small wolf sitting at the opposite end of the tepee.  It seemed far away. He wasn´t aggressive. More apprehensive, observing, waiting to see what to do. And the more I heard the drum, I saw the little wolf moving towards me, suddenly, i was inside the wolf. I saw him from inside, His tongue, his teeth like I was stuck in his throat. Than I saw myself sitting there, dressed in the same clothes I have on now, but it wasn´t me, it was the wolf. He was mostly white, all his paws were white, maybe he had a blue eye, his fur was brilliant and fluffy. It was a beautiful wolf. He looked strong and content, but totally void of any aggression or anger. He was sitting down. Suddenly he stands up on all four and walks back towards the opposite side of the tepee and lie down. I wanted to scream to him that he should stand up. But he didn´t. It felt like I was on the verge of dying. I am that tired.”

“You are not dying. You are very close to finding your own spirit, who you really are and become one” , Kulan said and I saw he was kind of surprised in a good way, so he said with force; “You are really, really tired, so let us try again, a second time.”

I felt more tired than ever. The Shaman told Pam to go to me, hug me and comfort me. My wife is extra ordinary woman and on her mother´s side, originating from the thaidam tribe, they have shamans. I felt an enormous grief, so did Pam. In the meantime Kulan was beating the drum. Afterwards I was told he had put on skins as clothes, the drum was big and beautiful.

“Let us see” , he said after awhile and I just felt tired and sad when he once again was checking me; “You see, we have moved the level of your body up where it should be, but there´some kind of cold stuck in there, and we need to get it out.”

I felt this chilly cold inside me and this was a very panful time, both physically and mentally. I hurt! I heard myself gruffing, I had an urge to howl, but rationalism mad me avoid it and I was moving together with the drum beats, sitting down. Suddenly it was over.

Kulan gave me a very powerful hug, we hugged and he looked profoundly at me. Than we went in to the kitchen all of us and had lunch. At least I thought it was lunch, because it was almost 5 in the afternoon. It had taken 4 hours to sort out my worries.

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I wrote this about Afanasiy:

“Yesterday I went to the Sakha Theatre to see The Dream of the Shaman By Alexei Kulakovsky” I told one of the best known shamans in the Republic of Sakha, Afanasiy Semenovich Fedorov, whilst Yura, Nadia and me where filming him at his little office; And during endless speeches before the start of the theater, a guy who I never knew who were, showed us all a big certificate saying that the diamond dealers Alrosa have named one of their biggest diamonds after him. Do you think he would have liked that if he had been alive today?”

Not very surprisingly he shook his head.

“Alexei Kulakovsky is the compass for us Sakha” , Afanasiy siad slowly and with a low voice; “He was a very simple man, poor, who travelled by foot throughout our republic to see how people lived. And he died in Moscow, poor and in ill health. For him, he would see them as destroyers of the nature where all big spirits abide. Which is against everything many of us Sakha believe in.”

Once you get to know the Sakha a bit, you realize many of them, especially the elderly, detest the name Yakut. A name given by the Russian colobialists as they see it. They want to be called Sakha. And since they have started to revive their traditions and beliefs that for 50 years where forbidden by the Soviets, they are, of course, in my mind slightly nationalistic today. Most in a good way, some in a less good way. I am personally not very fond of any nationalistic tendencies. But Afanasiy impressed me. Even though the Sakha don´t see themselves as an indigenous Siberian people, which they ain´t, they do revere the nature as any other Siberian group of people. With a mixture of fear and love. They love and understand it, but worry about the spirits. Few know them better than Afanasiy.

“You see, when using the drum, it is divided in three parts as the world looks like. The under and upper world and the middle one we are in right now. And depending who you communicate with, with the help of your body and how you play the drum, that is how you communicate” , he said whilst he showed me how to use it after he had dressed me in a quite proper shamans outfit.

A real shamans outfit weights about 48 kg:s, because it is full of heavy metal plates, which are there to confuse and stop the evil spirits which abide out there. Some have the shape of female breasts, since the spirits fear women, other just a solid piece of metal, just to stop them harshly when they´re trying to take over your being. For me, who have heard many stories about the shaman drum and its potency, I felt slightly uncomfortable, because this was a holy drum done in the right way more than 20 years ago. I drummed hesitantly, but its sound is comforting and exiting. On the wall, Afanasiy had taped up photos of shamans he had aquired during the years, because he is also a great preserver of the Sakha culture and traditions, especially the shamanic part. One of the shamans differed from the rest. Who looked dangerously crazy.

“He was a very powerful shaman” , Afanasiy told us;  “He could cut his head of and put it back on agai and that scared people.”

I noticed he died 1935 during the Stalin purges, when the Soviets were imprisoning or killing all shamans. Everyone except a female shaman on the wall, had been imprisoned. So I asked Afanasiy if this particular shaman had been killed by the Soviets.

“No” , he answered silently and continued; “He killed himself. Cut his head off.”

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Afanasiy is not a very loud person or anybody who needs attention to his own being. And this is, I think, a very much Sakha thing of how to behave. And Anafasiy avoid all modern music, anything load he could, because it was against the proper behavious of the Sakha. But he understood life was changing and it was hard to stop. The theatre play we watched was a modern version of Kulakovskys poem, which basically is full of worries that the Sakha will be overtaken by an extrenal force like the Chinese Japanese or Americans and Kulakovsky was for inegrating with the Russians, well rock music and loud sounds dominated todays version. I liked it. So did me wife and the kids. And I think it mirrored todays Sakha which is quickly moving into the consumer society, but tries to hang on to some of its very sound and healthy traditions which deals with nature. And for me personally, the Sakha are a really generous and ind lot of people, where I have met some of the most ambitious people I have ever come across, one of them travelling with me on the big journey, and some of the most low key and kind I have ever met. A fascinating people!

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