Since the Stone Age, shamans have been the conduits of spiritual power for peoples across Asia, Europe, and America. Shamans, who mediate between earth and the spirit world, have their earliest roots in Northern Siberia, an area considered to be the cradle of shamanism. During a special ritual called a kamlanie (“shaman act”), the shaman enters a state of ecstasy and crosses over into the spirit world. For many tribes, spiritual life centered—and, in many cases, continues to center—around this pivotal figure and this transformative act.
The Shamans: Spirit Guides of Siberia traces the fascinating spiritual and cultural history of the shaman, focusing particularly on the tribes of Northern Siberia. The exhibition draws from The Russian Museum of Ethnography’s collection of art and artifacts from Northern Siberia and the Far East, which includes cultural material, drawings, and photographs from over 20 ethnicities, among them the Evenk, Nanaian, Khanti, Yakut, Khakass, Buryat, and Selkup peoples.
The exhibition presents items such as shamanistic clothing and paraphernalia, which hold unique significance in ritualistic practices; these garments and accessories symbolize the universe and the various spirits that help the shaman communicate with the world of the higher beings. Another area of the exhibition documents the stages of a shaman’s development, often expressed in clothing or objects that mark each level of his advancement. Of special interest is a complete set of a Buryat shaman’s garments.
The exhibition also illustrates the kamlanie’s four main rituals, which are connected with (what the tribe deems) the most important aspects of life: birth and death; disease; hunting; and the past, present, and future. Among the items on display are rare articles of shamans’ belongings, costumes, and ritual objects; a number of funeral belongings from the Udeghe, Nanaian, and Orochi; medical elements used to search a sick person’s soul in the upper world of the Manegriand Orocheni; medical clothing of the Even, Nanian, and Oroki; and scenes of shamanistic fortune-telling typical of the Altaian, Khanti, and Evenk peoples.
The Shamans: Spirit Guides of Siberia examines Siberian shamanism both ethnographically and visually and allows viewers a rare and engaging glimpse into shamanism’s external manifestations as well as its profound inner meanings.
NUMBER OF WORKS: 164 groups of objects and 50 photographs
TOUR DATES: May 2005 - September 2005