Beware of the fake shaman

From favorable weather and a good harvest, to healing and marriages – in ancient times, shamans were in charge of almost all aspects of life. In Siberia they are still part of everyday life. But beware of fakes.

Valentin Hagdaev gets ready for a day’s work: packing his things, and kissing his family goodbye. But this is no nine-to-five job. Valentin is a traditional Buryat shaman.

“I grew up in a traditional family. We lived at a camp where my ancestors lived. And even though it was Soviet times, we still observed our customs and traditions,” he said.

In Siberia, along the shores of Lake Baikal, the powers of the shaman to channel and influence the spirits of good an evil are still respected by those who live there.

“I think they do trust them, because many turn for help to shamans at some critical points of their lives. A person always wants to have hope, and so they pray regardless of their confession, be it Christian or Buddhist, I just know that people do go to shamans,” says the head of a local nature reserve, Aleksandr Beketov.

It is believed that shamans act as intermediaries between the human, natural and spiritual worlds. A shaman’s healing abilities are said to come from his use of these forces to mend an individual’s soul. So in this modern age, what is involved in this ancient role?

“The main rituals are the following,” explained Valentin Hagdaev. “Every year we call on rain for our crops and ask for other blessings. Sometimes we hold wedding rituals. But we shamans wait for an invitation – we don't impose the practices on anyone.”

Valentin meets people on the island known as the heart of Lake Baikal, sacred to the shamans. A newer side to shamanism includes tourism, as people who visit the Baikal region grow more curious. They come there from all over the world to perform ancient rituals and to keep ancient traditions alive.

“Yes, there are interesting people here. There is not only Russian culture, but also Buryat culture, and you can also learn things about the shaman culture,” said Luisa Lombardini, who came to Baikal from Italy.

But as interest grows, a word to the wise: select your shaman carefully.

“There are huge numbers of shamans now, and the majority of them – I can say this because I see it – are just fakes,”
said Aleksandr Beketov. “I know personally one shaman who used to be a high-ranked official and got to be some sort of glamorous shaman after he retired. He likes to wear expensive accessories, hang out with fashionable people. There are a few shamans like this, but people only go to them simply because they don't know the difference.”

But Valentin claims his bloodline is rich with true shaman heritage, a tradition he plans to continue:

“We respect our history and culture, traditions and customs, worship the holy fire, our great ancestors, gods of the sky, the earth, sun and moon. Worship the Creator of the universe, Mother Nature. We preach living in harmony with self and with the nature.”